Concrete Noise: Kent sound mirrors etc.

These concrete sound mirrors were made in the 1920’s to ‘hear’ enemy planes approaching the UK.

Concrete Sound

In Kode9’s Sonic Warfare he mentions them:

“In the late 1920s, a series of strange structutres started appearing in Kent on the south coast of England. The plan of the British air force was to set up a chain of “concrete ears” along the coast that would peer out over teh channel of water theat separated the island from the Continent. It was a plan never completed. Looking like prehistoric satellite dishes and resembling the concrete styles catalogued in Virilo’s very Ballardian book of photography, Bunker Archeology, these structures were sound mirrors used as acoustic detection early-warning devices designed to  pick up sounds from approaching enemy aircraft. There were three types of sound mirror. With teh circular, concave 20- and 30- food-diameter concrete bowls, movable, cone-shaped metal sound collectors were used, connected by tubing to stethoscopes worn by the operators. The other type were strip mirrors, curved in elevation and plan of 26 by 200 feet. With these structures, microphones were placed on a concrete forecourt in front of the mirror and wired to a nearby control room. All the sound mirrors were located in positions that attempted silence. A 1924 report suggested that the sound mirrors were ten times more sensitive than the human ear, and they were tested by blind listeners in 1925. Yet operation problems due to noise from the sea, wind, local towns and ship propellers rendered the stuctures on to the sad scrap heap of twentieth-century dead media.”


Since checking out pictures of them – I’ve been thinking about acoustic architecture. Stuff like the Le Corbusier’s Philips Pavilion.

The Philips Pavilion: Home of the Poème Electronique

This structure was built as part of a sound installation at the Expo ’58 in Brussels. Varese used the same serialistic mathematical principles that Le Corbusier had used to design the building to create an electronic composition that was played out of over 300 speakers within the building.

Bringing it back to London… another interesting sound structure is the Scratch Cottage.

The House That Cardew Built

Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra built this for the Art Spectrum London exhibition in Alexandra Palace in 1971.

“The Orchestra effectively came to an end in 1971 after a process of internal wrangling over the purpose of what we were doing. A group around John Tilbury and Keith Rowe, soon to be joined by Cardew, developed a Marxist-Leninist critique which castigated the open playfulness of the Scratch as at best flippant and at worst reactionary.

‘Recognition of the crisis was confirmed with the project to build a cottage as an environment for activity, designed by Stefan Szczelkun, for the contributions of the Scratch Orchestra to the Arts Spectrum Exhibition at Alexandra Palace, for two weeks in August.’ (Cardew 1974 p17)

This cottage was to have housed The Refuse Collection. This was a collection of Scratch members’ conventional (old) artworks. It was also a place for discussion. A series of ‘Discontent’ meetings led to a split between the Maoists faction led by Cardew, another group who were unlabeled but broadly anarchist, and a third group of mainly classically trained musicians who were non-political and bemused by the whole affair.”

If you know of an interesting building that is somehow connected to sound let me know.


2 responses to “Concrete Noise: Kent sound mirrors etc.

  1. the wispering gallery in st pauls
    and aeolian harps come to mind

    like the blog

  2. londonsoundart

    St Pauls is definitely a classic!
    I don’t know much about aeolian harps though… I might have to check some out.

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