A requiem for the Souter light foghorn

The Souter lighthouse foghorn in action

The Guardian has this remarkable report this morning:

‘A requiem has been written to mark the passing from use of the last of the UK’s working foghorns, which for the last 150 years have warned shipping about dangerous shorelines and other hazards during foggy conditions. An armada of boats will be taking part in the performance, with their ships’ horns joining three brass bands on shore, plus the star of the event – the foghorn at Souter Lighthouse.

‘Artists Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway have teamed up with composer Orlando Gough to create The Foghorn Requiem, which will be given a single live performance on the North Sea coast on June 22 as part of the Festival of The North East.’

It sounds like a fun event off Sunderland. Read about the lighthouse here.

I gather all the foghorns are going, and I do worry that cutting long standing maritime safety measures in this way assumes every vessel is fitted with GPS, that it’s working, and that it’s being used – and I know that isn’t always true. Batteries run out, including in mobile phones, and chartplotters are expensive and difficult to power in very small vessels with no power system.

And then we have to ask – just how much is turning off this foghorn going to help the nation get out of debt?

And I must say I will miss the foghorns. I’ve always particularly enjoyed the North Foreland light’s slow,deep and tragi-comic cry of ‘Briiiiiaaaaaannnnnnn’.

What’s going to happen next? No more bells and horns on buoys? I don’t want my world any greyer than it has already become thankyou…

Foghorns on the BBC

Foghorns on the BBC

This is a typically quirky and entertaining BBC Radio 4 piece celebrating the foghorn’s place in music, literature and film, and in sailing. If you can, hear it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/yqp5z (If you’re outside the UK you’ll probably need to find a proxy or some other technical fix to hear it.)

Here’s what Auntie Beeb’s blurb says:

‘The foghorn was invented in 1855 by Robert Foulis, a Scotsman living in Canada who heard the low notes (but not the high notes) of his daughter’s piano playing whilst walking far from the family’s fog-shrouded coastal cottage, thus inspiring the first steam powered fog horn. But beyond the sea, it’s “whale-like” sound has inspired artists, writers and musicians to use the foghorn both as symbol and instrument.

‘[Programme maker]Peter Curran hears from foghorn composer of Maritime Rites Alvin Curran, Jason Gorski, aka The Fogmaster, who used to conduct guerrilla foghorn concerts in the Bay Area of California, and takes a tour of Portland Bill lighthouse in Dorset, with keeper Larry Walker, taking the opportunity to set off an almighty Victorian foghorn. He also joins James Bond film music and future 2012 Olympic theme music composer David Arnold, who tries to digitally recreate the foghorn’s cry, and Dr Harry Witchel, who analyses Peter’s yearn for the sound as a child.’

Stand by for the usual BBC mix of inspiration and nonsense!

PS – If you can’t hear the programme itself, you might enjoy the following – though I think they’re best enjoyed with a pair of headphones rather than the tiny speakers you get with many computers: