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Plate 7: Underworld: Journey to the Tippler Room (1930)

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



The coal, having been hewed from the face, is then placed in drams, hoisted to the surface, and sent to the Tippler House. Here, the drams are inverted mechanically, in order to empty their contents into an area beneath the house. There, the smaller and larger coal are separated, and the latter placed upon a travelling table or picking belt where the inferior coal, shale, and stones are removed.

​The spirit is the composition is one of heroic industry. It aim to be both evocative and programmatic in approach. Colliers are ‘heard’ working hard, in solidarity and defiance. Having been summoned to their shift by the colliery hooter, they labour repetitively and mechanistically to the rhythms of the machines and their own actions throughout the piece. Exploitation and necessity are the twin pistons that drive their efforts, relentlessly. Coal and capital must rise together. At the close of the composition (as the shift concludes), there is counterpoise. The mood changes. A seam of melancholy and wistful regret comes to the surface. Struggle and exhaustion, sadness and reflection, become the dominant themes.

The forward momentum of the piece is provided by orchestral motives that fuse samples taken from newsreel’s musical interludes and music from 'Orpheus in the Underworld'. These have been: slowed-down considerably; reversed; interleaved; overlaid; filtered (so as to remove hiss and clicks that are indigenous to the mediums); re-pitched (in order to develop harmonies and counterpoints that are not native to the sources); re-equalised (in order to expand the tonal range of the extracts); and re-arranged (in order to generate new melodic lines).


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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