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Plate 3: Sinkers and Sinners (1905)

from Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures [album] by John Harvey



The composition refers to those men who had been converted to Christianity in the Ystrad Mynach district and took-up positions at the new mine. In 1905, when Penallta Colliery was sunk, Wales was in the second year of a religious revival lead by the charismatic former coalminer, Evan Roberts (1878–1951).

In the coalfields of Wales, as elsewhere in the UK, mining and religion were deeply intertwined concepts and experiences. During the 19th century, Welsh Nonconformist preachers frequently used imagery associated with coalmining as metaphors to illustrate the perils of the hell and the necessity of salvation. The Welsh artist Nicholas Evans (1907–2004) developed this theme as an undertow to paintings that were ostensibly about the history of the industry. (See: John Harvey, 'Image of the Invisible: The Visualization of Religion in the Welsh Nonconformist Tradition' (1999).) Thus, for miners – the vast majority of who would have sat under such preaching – the pit of hell and the pit of the colliery resonated one with another. The Religious Revival of 1904-5 was the consummation of that union. The spiritual upheaval among coalminers and their families in the south, particularly, as well as a great many others in the rural areas, resulted in the translation from darkness into light of an estimated 100,000 people.

Penallta Colliery would, five years after the newsreel was released, become the highest-yielding colliery in Europe. It would also develop a reputation for being one of the largest and most technologically sophisticated, modern, and efficient pits of its generation. Thus, immediately prior to after the colliery was sunk, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of coal were, together, in the ascendant.

'Plate 3: Sinners and Sinkers (1905)' is a deliberately portentous composition that aims to summon a heightened drama, dark seriousness, and the great significance of these events. It is cast into the mould of period movie music. It assumes the pretence, too, of being heard on a 78-rpm disc, which was still the commonplace medium of musical recording in the early 1930s, and would remain so until the late 1940s. In so doing, this contemporary composition is also cast into the past. The compositional material is derived from several of the musical interludes on the newsreel. The sources were slowed down considerably, reversed, overlaid, divided, edited, enveloped, imbricated, and rearranged.


from Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures [album], released July 31, 2022


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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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