Jennifer Lucy Allan
2015 - 2019/20
Jennifer Lucy Allan is a writer and researcher living and working in Southend On Sea. She is currently in her final year of a PhD on the social and cultural history of the foghorn, looking at its significance as a massive sonic sound marker along our coasts and at sea.
She also runs the record label Arc Light Editions, and previously worked as online editor for The Wire magazine. She has also contributed to The Guardian, Wired UK, and others, and taught a six week journalism course with The Hackney Citizen/East End Review, along with workshops on writing about sound at Sonic Acts in Amsterdam and Edition Festival in Stockholm.
Recently she has hosted BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, produced Ecstatic Material for the Outlands touring network, and is curating an edition of Kammer Klang with Annea Lockwood.
Fog Tropes: The social and cultural history of the foghorn 1853 to the present day
“...Like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door... a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it” (Ray Bradbury, 1953, p3).
“The source of one of the most enduring minimal musics around us”. (Alvin Curran, 2004, p2)
The foghorn can be understood as one of the few sonic markers of the scale of technological advancement wrought by the industrial revolution on coastal areas, and is used as a powerful trope in composition, film, fiction and poetry. It sounds when visual information is eliminated or reduced, giving primacy to the auditory, and as such has been used to signify complex emotional reactions and represent mental states. I am exploring these relationships via the Trinity House and Northern Lighthouse Board archives, and 20th century lighthouse keeper memoirs. Foghorns first appeared as a result of a shipping boom during the industrial revolution, but how does its use in popular culture relate to its history around that time, and beyond? What is its commemorative significance now that industry is in decline and coastal landscapes are changing? Does the foghorn have different associations in North American ports like San Francisco and Vancouver? What about the sound of the foghorn – should it be classified as noise?
Taking the foghorn as a starting point, I will examine these sound markers of our recent past, to explore questions of nostalgia, safety and danger, power and melancholy inherent to the call of the foghorn, and crucial to our understanding of our changing sonic environment.