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Such a noise as if all the hedges about were tore to pieces

from Noisome Spirits [album] by John Harvey



As in ‘Such a noise as if all about was going to pieces’, the witness encountered an alarming, loud, and utterly disconcerting noise within a landscape setting. Here, however, it was preceded by an aerial sonic phenomenon, along with an equally strange and abstract visual counterpart. The witness endeavoured to convey the character of sounds in terms of a simile (‘like the braying of an ass’) and an illusory and approximate impression (‘as if all the hedges about were tore to pieces’), respectively. In the account of the inn-keeper’s son, the sonic disturbance appears to have been ambient. David Griffith’s experience was, by contrast, site-specific; the sound emanated from a bush, radiated outwards, and summoned what he perceived to be the acoustic undoing of all the hedges in the vicinity. The concept of a hedge that sounded as though it was being violently dismantled while remaining intact has a biblical resonance. It is reminiscent of the bush that burned with fire but was not consumed, in the story of Moses’s encounter with God (Genesis 3.2). The image is one with which Griffith would no doubt have been familiar.

Jones’s narrative is dealt with programmatically. Correlations are established between the principle sounds referred to in the account and those constructed for the composition. The sequence of events is also honoured. There are other sound elements beside. These serve variously to suggest a space congruent with the landscape setting, and to evoke the witness’s experience of dread, disorientation, and assault.

The noise of the disintegrating hedges was derived from a field recording of dry twigs being pulled to pieces. All the other sounds were constructed from a reading of the source text, and noises produced by a letterpress printing machine – not unlike the mechanism that would have been used to print Jones’s books. The samples were slowed down, re-equalised, delayed, and treated with reverberation.

Source Text
About the year at 1757, David Griffith (a carpenter in the parish of Caerwent) was going from his work. Being a little past the river rheen, he was suddenly and exceedingly terrified by a sound in the air – like the braying of an ass, but more disagreeable (something hellish and more tangible in the sound). To add to his terror, he saw a dark roller, rolling by his side, and passing on to a hedge before him. It made such a noise as if all the hedges about were tore to pieces – so amazed, and terrified, and confounded he was. (Who, in his case, would not have been so?) He knew not how he went home. When he came to light, he fainted and became as a dead man, and was ill about before night after that.

Here was a witness of the being of an evil spirit, both in his eyes, fears, and feelings. Oh, that a Sadducee, an Atheist, or one of the ridiculers of apparitions had been in his place to be cured of his foolish infidelity. Here was also a witness of it to others, and to those who saw him fainting, and to those who saw and heard of his keeping his bed upon this account, and losing his health for it time upon this occasion.

Source Reference
'The Appearance of Evil', 96.


from Noisome Spirits [album], released July 15, 2021


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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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