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"It was Dust, 1916 2016. Localism and Legacy  Sound work made using field recordings gathered at Uplees Kent in the present to recreate the sound of the past. Made with the help of Milo Thesiger Meacham. Recording contains very low frequency sound - please listen on headphones.


On Sunday, 2 April 1916, a series of 3 large explosions occurred at the Explosives Loading Company works at Uplees on the East Kent marshes near Faversham, when 15 tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up after some empty sacks caught fire. Windows across the Thames estuary in Southend were shattered, and the tremor was felt as far away as Norwich. The explosions killed 109 men and boys and injured many more. Women didn’t work at the plant on Sundays.

The work considers the landscape of Uplees as somehow still retaining trauma from the event, and the possibility of “playing” the remains of the buildings to release a sonic memory as part of the continual soundscape of the site. This acoustic memory allowing one to hear the past in the present, through the sounds of surviving material and artefacts. This work was an attempt to recreate the sound of the 1916 explosions, using the site as the material. 

The piece is constructed from sounds gathered at the site and recorded by my son and I by moving through and touching the remains of structures and surfaces and "playing"  them using cat’s whisker (vibrissae) needles connected to contact mics. We also recorded and captured the ambient natural sounds of the site, grass, wind and bird- song together with water and subterranean cavities using hydrophones. The collected sound fragments were then digitally layered and mixed to reconstruct the sound of the 1916 explosions, based on research into ear-witness accounts of what was heard and felt on the day in 1916 from Faversham, including the deep echoing rumble which followed the initial blasts.

I was interested in an immense explosion rendered inaudible by distance, resulting in something slight, visual and almost unnoticed. The distant massive destructive force manifest by a soft gentle cascade of dust. I made a sound activated Dust sprinkler using material collected from the site. The device is activated by the deepest rumblings of the piece, the sound becoming “visual” as it descends below the audible, but still felt. The piece uses a large Genelec 7060B subwoofer speaker.


It was dust 2016 - Tim Meacham & Milo Thesiger-Meacham
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