Thoughts on a Journey to Barnsley...

Sometimes you can’t help but reveal a seam. The surface breaks up, just enough, and it becomes obvious – sitting there just below, behind and in front. Maybe you knew it was there, maybe you had been digging for it for a long time, missing, or thinking you caught a glimpse but just finding dust. Perhaps you thought you were looking right at it, but it was, in fact, obscured. Or maybe you’d forgotten, presumed it had been exhausted, thought you’d escaped it.

And sometimes, it creeps up on you, navigating from deep under the surface, winding and weaving up until something, a sound, a picture, a place, an experience, a memory, explodes the surface – shattering the layer that keeps the seam hidden from view. Suddenly you are staring at it, listening to it, exposed, obvious…

This was, to some extent, the experience of my journey from Brighton to the third Barnsley Ghost Lab – although in this case, perhaps less of an explosion and more of a gradual crumbling away of the obfuscating layer. The final pieces dropping away in a big clump as I listened to the Ghost Lab participants discussing their journeys across, around, over ‘boundary road’, reverberating around the NUM hall.

Partly, this journey was compounded by a stop off in London on the way – and the collision of a number of my communities, the latent seam of the South Yorkshire coalfields somehow running through all of them. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend an event at The Old Vic theatre about the interaction between sound art, sound design and theatre production (an area I spend some time working in), the evening before the Ghost Lab. This also gave me an opportunity to see their current production – The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill.

Although aware of O’Neill’s work (the study of American Literature had been my original route out of South Yorkshire – to Brighton and Burlington, Vermont, USA), I didn’t know the Hairy Ape. The story centres on a stoker on ocean liners in the 1920s and his questioning of identity, belonging and socialism in the wake of an insult by the daughter of a steel merchant. It is run-through with coal, steel and early C20th class politics. It is definitely worth exploring further.

However, it was only really on reaching my destination at the Barnsley NUM hall that the threads came together; exploring the spaces, seeing the walls, photos, banners, and listening to/recording rooms that resonate with the discussions, decisions, people that have occupied them. In starting to think about the creative act – how to shape a story in a three panel comic, how to reveal the multiple temporalities of a space in the sound of ‘nothing’ other than creaks and faint hum – I remembered the other times that the seam had revealed itself, how it quite clearly would always run through me and my relationship to other people, other places. But also how, though it will always be there, how it can be embraced when it does appear, worked with, ghosted, in an attempt to reveal the existence of other seams, to encourage the act of listening out for the ghosts that are potentially there all the time - though perhaps hidden in the noise of ‘nothing’ other than an empty room.

These things will undoubtedly resonate as I now begin to listen back to the recordings I made, start to process them, undertake my sonic excavation - and make work.

Danny Bright

The Hairy Ape - The Old Vic theatre

The Hairy Ape - The Old Vic theatre

Photo of the last hand-dug seam in South Yorkshire

Photo of the last hand-dug seam in South Yorkshire

Barnsley NUM Hall - note the relief of the miner holding an ocean liner

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