Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Sound Advice


Since I've been going on about the Sound Mirrors on the Denge Marsh in Kent, I thought I'd better put them up for scrutiny. The most memorable is the 30 foot diameter mirror, still with its microphone stand. Microphone? Is this a Hollywood Bowl-style amphitheatre, waiting for Sinatra to come on and croon across the shingle flatlands? No, this is an acoustic bowl constructed in concrete in the late 1920s in a series of experiments to find a away of foretelling the arrival of aircraft approaching across the English Channel. Next to this mirror is a 20 foot version, like a child next to its mother, and a colossal 200 foot wall which only has one other like it, and that's in Malta. Microphones at the acoustical centres were attached by leads to headphoned boffins hiding in concrete bunkers underneath. They are such a superb example of 'Dead Tech', a brief reaching out into the unknown for the defence of the realm. A narrow gauge railway was built to bring the materials across the shingle, and one can easily imagine top brass arriving for a demonstration in an Avro Andover at Lydd Airport next door. To a degree they worked, except they also picked-up shipping passing by the Ness and were quickly superceded by radar in 1932. But somehow I get the feeling they're still listening to everything going on, and not just the mewing of birds on the gravel pits that now surround them..

37 comments:

Diplomat said...

Did you listen out for Ron whilst "sheletering" here ? I'm sure he's trying to reach us somehow - I DO so hope he's OK and not come down with something.

Peter Ashley said...

I heard from the largest mirror that Ron is sneaking over here next week without telling us.

Thud said...

I do hope these magnificent ceartions are left in peace.

Peter Ashley said...

They're well protected on a little island Thud, by a swing bridge that's kept in the open position until there's an open day, as it were. There's a mirror on a hill at the back of Hythe that's been badly vandalised, but if you're ever on the coastal path between Folkestone and Dover there's a supreme twenty-footer on the cliff edge.

Fred Fibonacci said...

What a fascinating post. Although clearly rooted very firmly in twentieth century Britain, the mirrors evoke pure science fiction. That they are science fact is even more thrilling.

Judged by his fashion sense I suspect Ron Combo gets dressed in front of one of these most days. Should we tell him?

Diplomat said...

I do recall great success in the field of parabolic microphones - in my youth a modified dustbin lid and microphone where put to good use recording dinner party conversations and later goings on from my housemaster's garden at school in the hope of obtaining blackmail material.

Chris Wild said...

Awesome. In all senses of the word

Peter Ashley said...

Oh Diplo that's marvellous. Which reminds me- I'm now short of only 'Pour it on Porridge'in the large size of the limited edition Lyles Golden Syrup cans. So if you see it anyone perhaps you would be kind enough to resist using it as one half of the classic acoustic listening device utilising another tin and a length of string.

A F-A said...

I seem to recall that in York somewhere, there is a mediaeval meeting chamber where the seats have parabolic backs, enabling the occupants to converse across the chamber without having to shout. Which raises the idea that someone could have whispered "I can see you!" into the mirrors at Denge, and warned off a whole German fleet!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Some medieval churches have 'acoustic jars' that are designed, apparently, to amplify the singing of the choir or the voice of the priest. 'Just going out for an acoustic jar,' as the bishop said to the actress.

Peter Ashley said...

And then of course there's the Whispering Gallery around the base of the dome of St.Paul's Cathedral. Position your girlfriend/boyfriend/lover/milkman directly opposite yourself and whisper against the wall. Your companion will hear you quite clearly, providing you are alone and it's quiet, which of course is virtually impossible.

Fred Fibonacci said...

In Unmitigated England, no-one can hear you stream.

Jon Dudley said...

There's a whisper that these are a Turner Prize entry, has it been picked up in London yet? Maybe they qualify under the 'found objects' category. Whatever, aren't they wonderful. They don't make concrete like that anymore, etc, etc, etc.

Diplomat said...

civil defence, war, agriculture - they all leave their reduntant kit lying around, thankfully, and we are able to extend the enjoyment of such gems. I feel sure that the concentration of USAAF bases aorund East Anglia was designed to provide years of entertainment for young "archeologists" keen on detonating 30mm cannon rounds with a hammer and nail gripped in dad's vice in the garden shed. I'm particularly fond of the late cold war stuff, the ICBM site at Draughton is a good one.

Peter Ashley said...

I have a yellow Civil Defence Armband, which when we're under threat from Gordon or Anne Robinson I will slide on and run up and down my village street shouting "Take Cover!", at the same time blowing my Acme Thunderer Whistle.

Diplomat said...

I was once chased up the road by an angry policeman in Lisbon, as he drew his automatic I was able to put on a fair turn of speed, the best bit was listening to his gasping whistle-blowing as he ran faster than he looked like he ought to with the shiny instrument clenched between his teeth. I had the advantage of being behind the wheel of a Renault 4 at the time and he was on foot. Unfortunately he caught up with me as I took a turn into 4 lanes of oncoming traffic - " who ? me? one way stree? ENGLISH ! no comprende - what are the rubber gloves for ? why has your friend got a camera ?".......

Peter Ashley said...

This, folks, is why Diplo is Diplomat.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Forward With Diplo: A New Party, A New Direction. Put your mark here for a fresh approach to Anglo-European relations.

Rubber gloves?

Jon Dudley said...

Explores the parts other gloves can't reach...essential in any Anglo European dealings.

Peter Ashley said...

Jon. I've just realised you've got lobster claws for hands. I'm so sorry. Are you related to Picasso who in one photo of him appears to have bread rolls for fingers?

My noticing of your disability coincides with my recently purchasing John Nash's Shell poster for Dorset, which also features a large lobster. Maybe it's all a precursor to an alien crustacean invasion. Crab Wars.

Jon Dudley said...

Or am I answering Dali's telephone? No, I was born half man half lobster so nail biting is an absolute delight.

Crab Wars - see The Kipper Family for the ballad opera of that name.

Scrumptious Shell poster, that one. Lucky lad.

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