CoDI Webinar: Penallta Colliery | Video of the Week

CoDI: Penallta Colliery – A Sonic Intervention | Video of the Week

Introducing Video of the Week from Wales Arts Review. We’ll be showcasing some of the best new art in Wales with a new video shared every week. From music to drama and everything in between, videos will not be limited by medium. Today we take a look at a free lecture  from John Harvey who discusses the compositional process and technology of sound construction behind his fascinating sound work ‘Penallta Colliery – A Sonic Intervention’. 

Today our video of the week comes from John Harvey – a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University – shared with special thanks to funders Arts Council of Wales, PRS Foundation, Lottery and Welsh Government.

In this fascinating free lecture, Harvey explores an overview of the many sounds produced by Welsh coalmining which has been pictorialised ever since it emerged as a cottage industry in the early 13th century. From the second half of the 19th century until its demise in the 1980s, what grew into a large and complex technological means of production became a significant genre in Welsh landscape art. However, little attention has been paid to the unique and powerful acoustic character of the industry, other than the textual testimonies to such recorded by workers and visitors, that is. Until the development of electrical sound recording in the mid-1920s, and the increase in fidelity and capacity to record a wide frequency band, it was impossible to capture and preserve the actuality of the collieries’ sonorities.

In 1930, the British Movietone newsreel company recorded South Wales Colliers Go Down the Mine. It represented the ‘first sound pictures of a British coalmine’. The film’s sonic profile embraces the wide range and the peculiarities of noises produced by, for example, machines, steam, hydraulics, pneumatics, pit-wheels, drams, and cages, as well as the colliers’ voices and the movie’s accompanying musical interludes. This source represents the primary material for a suite of sound-art composition entitled Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures, which will be released by the Screen and Sound Archive of Wales in July 2022.  

The presentation from Harvey provides an overview of the sound work, including an account of: the source material; the conceptualisation of the project; the methodology and technology of sound construction; the compositional process; the suite’s relationship to my previous sound, visual, and art historical work; and the problematics of engaging with coalmining history in a post-COP26 world.

You can watch the full presentation from John Harvey below.