“Bombing the Channel Ports” by Eric Ravilious, then and now

A comparison of the 1941 watercolour painting “Bombing the Channel Ports” by war artist Eric Ravilious, and the same view of the Abbott’s Cliff sound mirror on 13 August 2017.

Bombing the Channel Ports
Bombing the Channel Ports © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1588)

The painting is described by the Imperial War Museum as showing “a deserted coastal road that leads past an ‘acoustic mirror’ early warning device. In the top right of the composition there are searchlights beaming up into the sky, and a large circular glow of light to one side.”

Huw Morgan’s Sound Mirrors

Huw Morgan is a composer, organist and conductor is “drawn to the power of ancient, haunted landscapes and their lost inhabitants; fascinated by impermanence, space, and time.” This is the first perfomance of his new piece Sound Mirrors for organ and fixed media electronics, inspired by the Denge listening ears: “alien structures haunting the coastal landscape, still listening to the skies…”.

It was given by the composer as part of an Automatronic concert in the JAM-on-the-Marsh 2015 festival. Field recordings were made at St-Mary-on-the-Marsh and elsewhere on Romney Marsh.

Sound mirror art at the Royal Academy

Two pictures of the 30 foot sound mirror at Denge by Ian Chamberlain are included in the Royal Academy summer exhibition.

Chamberlain says “The idea of recording this defunct out of date technology relates with my current interests and proved to be a tough technical exercise capturing the form and surface quality of the dishes.”

Abbot’s Cliff hum and gusts

A 75 second recording of the wind at the Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror on 2 April 2009 by Steven Rowell. Evident in this recording, with mic placed directly on concrete mirror concave face, is a noticeable, resonant hum below 150Hz. Wind gusts on the cliffs were quite strong.

It is from radio aporee ::: maps

an open project about the creation and exploration of public soundscapes. it collects and organizes recordings of daily surroundings and other sonic habitats from all over the world. the sounds are organized within a mashup system of mapping software, databases, telephone networks and the Internet. sites and sounds can also be explored and accessed in situ by recent GPS-enabled mobile devices.

Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy

On February 23 2009 The Prodigy will release an album called Invaders Must Die, which features a track of the same name for which a video was shot at Dungeness. The Denge sound mirrors feature from about 1 min 15 sec in.

‘Invaders Must Die’ is 40 minutes of having your head battered by future nostalgia, serotonin levels twisted by feel-good horrorcore and your synapses snapped by whiplash attitude. It’s the sound of The Prodigy mixing up genres, contorting the past and rewiring the future, ram-raiding through the tranquility of music’s status quo like a blot on the landscape of England’s dreaming.
Source: Invaders Must Die

So now we know. I just hope no morons get it into their heads to try vandalising the mirrors as depicted in the video.

The mirrors have been used by a variety of musicians, including Turin Brakes, Bass Communion and Blank & Jones.

(thanks to Ken Morrow for letting me know about the video)

The ice mirror cometh

It’s a bit cold outside — but not cold enough to make a sound mirror out of ice, which is what has been done in Alaska!
Freeze project sound mirror by mayer sattler-smith and Marisa Favretto
The mirror was created as part of the Freeze celebration of Alaska and life in the North held in Anchorage during January 2009. It was designed by Klaus Mayer, Petra Sattler-Smith and Marisa Favretto, who were inspired to create the ice mirror by the British sound mirrors.

Sound Mirror is inspired by Northern states of change and flux in weather, environment, light and atmosphere. We are interested in emphasizing these juxtapositions, highlighting the states in nature that are significant to states of perception. We are interested in the work acting as a mirror to the elements – light, landscape, passing birds, planes, sounds, while creating a space/form specific to viewer interaction – via size, orientation, composition.

The form is inspired by sound mirrors – a form built around coastal towns in England between 1915 and 1930 to function as an acoustic radar for approaching war planes. The first one was carved out of the chalk cliff on the coast in 1915.
Source: Freeze project

Photographs of the mirror being built from blocks of ice.

The PDF explaining the initial design concept includes a photograph of the Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror near Folkestone.

The completed mirror was praised by Michelle Mitchell in The Freeze Art Show at a Healthy Ten Below at Scribbit:

The most beautiful of the exhibits was a sound mirror that must have been fifteen or sixteen feet high and was built from this gorgeous frosty blue ice that almost looked like it was resin rather than ice. The blocks fit perfectly together to form this giant slab with a concave center so that if you stood on the platform opposite and spoke toward the dish it would reflect your voice back at you.
Source: Scribbit 2009-01-12

There is also a picture of the finished installation on Flickr. Anyone got any more good pictures of it?

Sites of Special Sonic Interest

Scott Hawkins has been documenting, cataloging and performing at Sites of Special Sonic Interest across the UK. I classify a performance as any kind of physical interaction resulting in an audible product. Here, looking into the eye of the Sound Mirror at Kilnsea on Spurn Head, the wind (persistent ghostly presence) combined to produce and aerophonic ambient extravaganza.

Disinformation and Sound Mirrors

Roadside Picnics – Disinformation and Sound Mirrors

by Joe Banks & Caroline Grigson

The following text was written in 1997, but did not appear in print until it featured under the title “Antiphony Architectural Supplement” on pages 57-64 of issue 6 of Sound Projector – an experimental noise magazine published in 1999 (Sound Projector is still going strong, but issue 6 is no longer available). The “Antiphony Architectural Supplement” was published to document and explore ideas suggested by the imagery of the Disinformation “Antiphony” double CD and “Antiphony Video Supplement” (later retitled “Blackout”) – both created in 1997, which featured images by photographer Julian Hills and film-maker Barry Hale of air defence Sound Mirrors found at various sites on the UK coast.


The solution was provided by an article by W. Harms in Shortwave Magazine, which described a series of massive concrete monoliths which still stand, slowly crumbling into waste-land at a site near Dungeness in Kent. These structures, built in the 1920s and 1930s, formed a primitive experimental early-warning system – several elegant, but extremely austere concave shapes designed to allow the precise triangulation of directional-fixes on the distant sounds of incoming enemy Zeppelins, aircraft and ships.

These shapes rise up out of the Kentish shingle like the strange ceremonial relics of a dead civilisation or unknown tribal culture (and if you consider military R&D as an anthropological entity as well as a purely technical enterprise, then perhaps this interpretation is not as wild as it seems). Appearing alongside a picture of the abandoned Church of St. Giles in the village of Imber (the ghost-town on the tank-ranges of Salisbury Plain) and digital artwork representing the anthropomorphic slang of the RAF, the sound mirrors provided photographer Julian Hills with his Disinformation ‘remix’ for “Antiphony”.

Extensive literature and archive research has so far uncovered a total of seventeen mirrors, sixteen on the Kent and Yorkshire coasts, and one at a site in Malta (which, according to Casemate magazine, is “approached through a slurry of cow muck and dead chickens”). Ten of these can still be visited today, one is buried, two have collapsed, while there are four more mirrors whose status remains, from my point of view, unknown. Architecturally many of the sound mirrors look as though they could have been designed yesterday, and it is on close inspection that they their true state of distress is revealed. It is hard not be impressed by this geometry – the striking contrasts between elegant, concave parabolas and their rough textures, their impressive solidity and substantial physical forms.

More at /seconds

History of the Future of War Noises

The Sound Mirrors: A History of the Future of War Noises is a July 2008 article by Ithamar Silver from Le Panoptique.

Although “not part of architectural history proper,” a series of moss and graffiti covered ruins along England’s southeastern coast belies one of the more grandly misguided displays of national insecurity to be produced by the tumult of the twentieth century. The remains are as imposing and impenetrable as any fortress—yet these were not traditional fortifications meant to withstand an enemy onslaught, a fact that renders their solidity largely palliative.

They were, essentially, ears.

(where it says one in Boulby that had somehow been transformed into a private residence, it should presumably read “Selsey”)

Abbot's Cliff sound mirror
Meanwhile, Peter Frost has sent this photo of the Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror, which he came across whilst walking towards Dover from Capel-le-Ferne in Kent.