The last fog horn sounded by an Irish lighthouse boomed out in 2011, made obsolete by technological advances.
The fog-horn is commemorated in ‘Found Sound (Lost at Sea) 11.1.11’, by sound artist Danny McCarthy, at Crawford Art Gallery on Saturday, Jan 11.
Two speakers mounted over the parapet will project the sound of the fog-horn — recorded by McCarthy at Roches Point lighthouse — at irregular intervals between 10am and 6pm. This will be repeated on the same date each year until 2016.
“I’m very interested in listening,” says McCarthy. “I teach modules on the subject. The sound of the fog-horn won’t appear regularly. You’re not quite sure when it will appear. When you go down to the Crawford, and you’re waiting for the sound, you’re listening to all the other sounds of the city. I find this very important, as well, just to be listening, and using listening as a practice in part of our lives.”
Crawford Art Gallery was built as Cork’s Custom House, in 1724. It is apt, says McCarthy, that the fog horn is sounded in remembrance of light-keeping in a building associated with the city’s maritime history.
McCarthy became interested in lighthouses while living in Cobh in 2000, as artist-in-residence in Sirius Arts Centre. A baby grand piano in a skip was the catalyst. The piano was beyond salvage, but McCarthy saved some strings, from which he made an instrument.
“That’s when I started to fall in love with lighthouses,” he says. “I have always been interested in acoustic ecology and sounds that are disappearing from our lives, which happens on a pretty constant basis.” Recordings from this period form the sound work ‘Beyond the Point’, which was launched on CD and had a 2001 exhibition in Sirius Arts Centre.
The fog-horn’s redundancy was met with mixed feelings. Some were nostalgic for a familiar sound from their childhood, while others welcomed uninterrupted sleep. “The lighthouse is something that people tend to have an affinity for over a long, long period of time,” says McCarthy. “Sound used to play a hugely important part within the community, much more so than it does now. And I like to play with that kind of idea of sound and memory. At one time, a town like Mallow would almost regulate itself to the sound coming from KB Williams Mill, or the sounds coming from the beet factory telling people that their shift was finished at four or starting at eight.”
McCarthy lectures in sound art in UCC. He says advances in technology have contributed to the development of an audience for sound art. A testament to this surge in interest is the collaboration between McCarthy, sound artist Mick O’Shea, and contemporary composer Ian Wilson, in scoring an experimental opera.
“I play in a group with Mick called the Quiet Club,” he says. “I find it quite amazing that, at the moment, if we play we will have a full house, and people are genuinely interested in what’s going on. Whereas, when we started doing this stuff, maybe 20 years ago, you might get two or three people in the audience and they could be the people appearing on stage after you. There has been a huge, huge increase in interest... sound art is sexy now.”
* CDs and books are available from Farpoint Recordings, www.farpointrecordings.com; ‘Found Sound (Lost at Sea) 11.1.11’ is at the Crawford Art Gallery in Emmet Place, Cork 10am-6pm, Jan 11.
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