Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"Not just something that we hear, but something that we feel"

When Jennifer Lucy Allan attended the 2013 performance of Foghorn Requiem, a composition that saw the Souter Lighthouse Foghorn backed by three brass bands and an assortment of ships at sea off the coast of the North East, it was a revelation. She had long been a foghorn fan, but this sealed the deal.

In a programme for BBC Radio, Allan succeeds in making what might seem an obscure and esoteric subject utterly fascinating. For her, foghorns don't merely have a rich resonance in sonic terms, as the creators/projectors of short blasts of low, droning whalesong sounding out across the waves. On the contrary, for many people - whether used to life by/at sea or not - they conjure up deep-seated feelings and memories: of adventure, of safety and danger, of comfort, of yearning, and of childhood.

Today, foghorns no longer perform any practical function, having been replaced by satellite navigation systems, and so are falling into obsolescence and silence. Allan's programme is a surprisingly moving eulogy for a large-scale musical instrument that, without the preservationary zeal of fellow enthusiasts, is in danger of disappearing altogether. As such, it serves as a tasty appetiser for her forthcoming book The Foghorn's Lament, due to be published by White Rabbit in May.

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