Documentary test

I few months ago I created this documentary test using the music I created from field recordings of Chigwell ROC Post and some excepts from the first interview I conducted.

Now summer is approaching, and looking busy with many projects, I need to start trying to schedule some interviews with more ex-ROC personnel. If you have already contacted me I should be in touch soon, but I am still looking for more people to interview. It probably won’t take more than an hour of your time and I think it would make the piece all the more interesting. I can be contacted via this blog or at

Hatfield Peverel

From the beginning this was unusual. I arrived near Hatfield Peverel Royal Observer Corps post on a cloudless day. The post, clearly visible from the A12, stood exposed in the middle of a ploughed field. Normally these posts are just by a footpath or behind a hedge, in this case I felt I should seek permission to cross the fields to the post. Knocking on the door of what I hoped might be the farmer’s house I was greeted by an elderly couple and an even more elderly lady who told me the land belonged to Lord Rayleigh, but they were sure it would be fine as long as I wasn’t planning to do any shooting, “Only photos!” I didn’t quip.

Having negotiated the muddy field, taking care not to step on any of the freshly sprouting crops, I found the post. There was an old Orlit B aircraft observation tower and an underground post. The shaft had lost its lid and their seemed to be a lot of rubble inside, but the ladder seemed secure so I descended.

The view up the shaft at Hatfield Peverel

The view up the shaft at Hatfield Peverel

The post was in a very poor state, the hatch lid was at the bottom along with a lot of broken concrete. The thing I noticed after the mess was that someone had affixed a poppy to the BPI shaft. Then I saw that ‘Rob Baines, 15.11.2014, Lest we forget’ had been gratified on the wall. Finally I saw some tobacco and cigarette papers on a dry piece on concrete.

I had to assume that these things were connected. Very recently someone had paid tribute, with poppy, inscription and offering, to a departed friend. Was Rob Baines an ROC member? Was the site chosen just because it had some military connection? Perhaps Rob and his friend had played down here as children, the post has been out of service since 1968. I do not know and I am not sure if I want to know.

What I did know, immediately, was that anything I created from my recordings there would not form part of the wider project. Somehow it seemed that it would not be appropriate. It has taken me just over two months to come back to these recordings and create a piece of music, perhaps a tribute to Rob Baines.

Tributes to Rob Baines left at Hatfield Peverel ROC post.

Tributes to Rob Baines left at Hatfield Peverel ROC post.

And this is where another unusual occurrence took place. Once I get going these pieces come together fairly quickly and I had the shell of it worked out. I wondered if, through pitch shifting, I could create a kind of spectral ‘Last Post’ at the end of the piece. So I tried. When I looped and overlapped the high C at the end I thought I heard something odd. I listened again and their it was. A choir had materialised in the music. They were faint, but they were there.

Mark S. Williamson at Hatfield Peverel ROC post.

Mark S. Williamson at Hatfield Peverel ROC post.

Review of ‘Walthamstow Marshes’ from das klienicum

Although my German is not great, and Google’s is worse, this seems to be a fine review of Walthamstow Marshes:

“länger schon wollte ich Euch auf diesen release aufmerksam machen. aber irgendwie passte es stets nicht. mittlerweile aber ordnete sich “walthamstow marshes” ganz vorzüglich in die vorherigen bzw. nachfolgenden posts ein. es handelt sich bei diesen feldaufnahmen, die in einen einzigen track von über 17 minuten kulminieren, um sounds, die an einem nachmittag im londoner eastend in einen recorder gepresst wurden, um sie später etwas manipuliert an den mann zu bringen. leider erschien dieser release nur in einer 10er cdr auflage, so dass man ihn nur noch digital geniessen kann. es hat etwas gespenstisches und zugleich voyeristisches, dem treiben zuzuhören, sei es dem stimmenwabern, dem vorbeiziehen eines flugzeugs, das in der betrachtung durchaus intimen charakter tragen kann, sei es das vorbeirauschen von autos, das rattern eines zuges, das vermeintliche winden, allesamt zu einem soundcharakter verwirkt. mark s. williamson zeichnet für diesen track verantwortlich. neben spaceship, unter diesem moniker veröffentlichte er “walthamstow marshes”, betreut er weitere projekte wie missing robots, mark and rebecca williamson, crock oss und und und. nachfolgend der track, lasst Euch ein wenig mitnehmen.”

From das klienicum.


A Hole in the Ground Preview: Nazeing

The first time I visited Nazeing Royal Observer Corp post, the hatch was completely covered with earth. However on a second visit access was possible. This post was closed in 1968 and yet, despite fire damage and the passage of time, it still contains the frames of a single bed and a bunk bed.

The springs of the bunk bed form the background to this piece. The main rhythm is a loop of an accidental sound I found on my recorder and the melodic sequence was from the rungs of the access ladder.

Mark S. Williamson stands in front of Nazeing ROC Post.

Mark S. Williamson stands in front of Nazeing ROC Post.

A Hole In the Ground. A multimedia investigation into the Royal Observer Corps.

For the last eighteen months I have been slowly researching, photographing and recording for a project based around the work of the Royal Observer Corps. This, mainly volunteer, organisation would have filled a vital role if the events of the Cold War had led to Britain coming under attack by nuclear weapons.

The ROC was formed in 1925 and its primary function was to search the sky for enemy aircraft. In those pre-RADAR days, getting eyes-on a threat being the only way an attack could be anticipated. These posts, built by the volunteers and often little more than garden sheds, were replaced with more substantial structures during the Second World War, where the Corps came to be a complement to the nascent RADAR system.

Post WW2 the plane spotting role continued, now in standardised posts pre-fabricated in concrete by the Orlit Company, but continuing technological advances were rendering the Corps less and less necessary.

An Orlit B aircraft observation post at Tendring.

An Orlit B aircraft observation post at Tendring.

The advent of the Cold War heralded a new role for the ROC. This was a role of recording and reporting the effects of a nuclear strike. For this purpose a series of, what would eventually be 1,563, small underground posts were built.

These underground posts, arranged into groups, would be responsible for triangulating the location of any strike and for providing data on bomb power and also the subsequent fall out and radiation levels. If the threat level became high enough the posts would be manned by three volunteers, listening in shifts for the infamous ‘attack warning red’, the signal that a strike was imminent.

Following a downsizing of the network in 1968, most of the ROC was stood down in 1991 and since that time a variety of fates have befallen the posts. Some have been demolished by the landowners, some have been stripped of equipment and locked, others have remained open or been broken into. These open posts have often been burnt or otherwise vandalised. A few posts have been privately purchased and either converted to other purposes or restored to their operating condition.

The abandoned ROC post at Great Dunmow

The abandoned ROC post at Great Dunmow

My study has two aspects, firstly I am visiting a number of these abandoned posts, recording the ambient sound and also the sounds made by creaking hinges or rusting air vents, passing planes or roaring roads. These sounds are then manipulated, edited, looped and processed into a sound collage. Many of these pieces have ended up sinister and atmospheric reflections of Cold War concerns and paranoia. At sites where the post has been completely demolished I have just recorded what is there to hear, the sound of birds and traffic.

Recording in a vandalised ROC post.

Recording in a vandalised ROC post.

These pieces become a soundtrack to the journey. Having spent many years visiting prehistoric ritual sites I am interested in whether the journey can be as important as the destination. Can a ‘pilgrimage’ to a series of, essentially identical, practical, secular sites take on an almost ritual and cleansing aspect? Aside from these investigations and creations, I am also interested to find out about those who served as volunteers for the ROC. No so much what they did, the ins and outs of post life, but more ‘why?’. What inspired them to volunteer? How real did they perceive the nuclear threat to be? Was the joining the Corps born purely of a sense of duty or was there, in addition, a desire for camaraderie, a social aspect?

Ultimately I would like to combine interviews with former ROC volunteers with the music to create a kind of oral history piece. Much of the music has now been created in its first draft. The next step is to find some people to talk to, some former Royal Observer Corps volunteers.

If you would like to be involved, please contact me at . Thank You.

Walthamstow Marshes

Last week Becca and I went for a walk on Walthamstow Marshes. She’d been inspired by Gareth E. Rees‘s Marshland, a book I have yet to read, and wanted to see the Marshes for herself. I decided to take my digital sound recorder with me to see what might happen.

What I captured was a lot of birdsong, a lot of aeroplane noises and the sounds that are to be found where the bustle of the East End meets the Lee Valley. Taking these sounds home I realised I has the material for a sound collage of sorts and, being as I am, I couldn’t resist some minimal manipulation to add a more definite ‘musical’ element.

The limited press cd sold out almost instantly, but the music is still available to download at the Spaceship Pictures bandcamp page.

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