Poetry: John Wedgwood Clarke
Field Recordings: Rob Mackay
Featuring 'Longplayer' by Jem Finer
Voice Over Water (VOW) is a poetry soundscape in three sections that explores parallels between human and marine-biological communication systems in the context of the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf. If, through ocean acidification, the pH of the sea falls, as predicted, to 7.7 by 2100, then many aquatic organisms dependent on chemical communication will be effectively rendered blind. This is the central idea that Voices Over Water explores and seeks to communicate to a wider audience through a range of metaphors and procedures.
Section one, which makes use of hydrophone recordings, and ambisonic recordings made on the bridge over the lock gates at East India Dock, sets up an analogy between the tidal flow of the Thames and human breathing. The text, timed to the lapping of the Thames, is a litany of breaths that forms a transect through the historical and biological significance of this great river. The Thames is heard as London’s aquatic respiratory system.
Section two, recorded on ‘the brow’ or bridge between Trinity Buoy Wharf and the adjacent pontoon, situates the voice of the speaker precariously within the non-human, energetic flow of the river Thames. This section develops VOW’s central analogy between navigation systems related to Trinity Buoy Wharf, human speech, and the chemical communications between the aquatic worms upon which the ecosystem of the Thames Estuary depends.
The final section, recorded at Hungerford Footbridge, enacts the analogy made between the disruption of chemical signals in the sea and disruptions in human communication. It does this by colliding two historic texts: extracts from Michael Faraday’s public science lecture titled ‘Gravitation—Cohesion’ and William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. As this section develops, the mixing of the two texts intensifies. Faraday’s lecture was chosen because of his ground-breaking experiments conducted at Trinity Buoy Wharf, and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 because of its literary familiarity and to clinch the analogy, set up in section two, that chemical signs are, effectively, the love-songs of aquatic worms.
After a process of increasing linguistic and sonic disorientation, which involves a sound spatialisation process that replicates the turning of the lighthouse lens, the piece closes with two unmixed quotes from both texts. This sudden return to clarity reminds us how much we depend on the agreed functions of our linguistic systems of communication, both as a bridge between ourselves, and towards an understanding of the otherness of the ecosystems in which we are the dominant, if precariously positioned, species.