Screenshot 2016-06-27 18.18.28
John Hull
On the 1st of July 2016 Notes on Blindness, based on the audiocassette diaries of Prof John M. Hull will open in cinemas across the UK. Last year the directors of the film, Peter Middleton and James Spinney, kindly gave permission for their initial Emmy Award-winning short documentary (of the same name) to open the chalk: time sense and landscape, symposium in Winchester.

The symposium was to a very large extent inspired by the writing of John Hull and I was absolutely delighted when John agreed to open the day as our keynote speaker. I was subsequently devastated to learn of his death on the 28th July 2015. Peter and James continued to support the symposium and had hoped to attend the day in October, but were actually editing the feature length Notes on Blindness at that time. An obituary for John appeared in The Guardian.

I first came across John Hull’s writing in the book Touching the Rock (1990), in which he describes and reflects upon his journey into blindness. The writing maintains the honesty and intimacy of the audiocassette diaries from which it was transcribed, but it is much more than an autobiography of someone else’s experience. As Oliver Sacks writes in his forward to the book: ‘The observation is minute, and it is also profound. The incisiveness of Hull’s observation, the beauty of his language, make this book poetry’ […] Hull reveals a world in which every human experience […] is transformed’.

Notes on Blindness is a beautiful film, which maintains these immersive and poetic qualities. The use of sound in particular holds onto the intimacy of Hull’s writing: ‘Actors lip-synch to the voices of the family, embedding John’s original recordings’ in the temporality of cinematic flicker. The actors breathe in language, synchronising the gestures of utterance to the fluttering memories of sibilance, plosion and fricative.

This ventriloquial vagrancy resonates with Hull’s experience of sight-loss. ‘For the blind, people are not there unless they speak. People are in motion, they are temporal. They come and they go […] Disembodied voices, speaking out of nowhere, going into nowhere. For Hull this loss of place extends into his own sense of being there. He felt himself a memory, a ghost. ‘I want to touch my very lips as I am speaking’, for if other ‘people’s voices come from nowhere. Does my voice also come from nowhere?’
In the world of the blind voice offers only a fluttering of presence, an oscillation between being and absence. Referring to St Augustine, Hull equates this ephemerality with that of the soul which, ‘like a bird…bursts into a large building, flutters for a while… and then finds an escape and disappears.’

Notes on Blindness: James Spinney & Peter Middleton
Notes on blindness flickers in cinemas across the UK from the 1st of July.



symposium programme
Jodie Dalgleish: photo Victoria Rick
Last year the writer and curator Jodie Dalgleish wrote an essay in response to the symposium: chalk: time ,sense and landscape A ‘summary, interpretation and inquiry’ of the sounds, images, and themes of the day, the essay was published in EyeContact and a transcript of the full essay is available here: Time Sense Landscape Essay: Jodie Dalgleish

Jodie has subsequently been working on a ‘sonic continuation of my recall and consideration of the one-day Symposium’, weaving sounds, thoughts and voices into a series of audio essays or reveries. The first ‘mix’ is now available and includes sounds and voices from the short award winning documentary, Notes on Blindness, which introduced the day. The film, based on John M. Hull’s autobiography of sightloss Touching the Rock (1990), has subsequently been made into a feature length film (of the same name) released in cinemas across the UK on the 1st July. The spoken thoughts of Dalgleish mingle with fragments of the film’s soundtrack, Prof John Levack Drever’s keynote address reflecting on John M. Hull’s writing and Nick Thorpe’s archaeological dig through the neolithic monuments and rituals of the chalk landscape. The sonic landscape concludes in dripping fragments of my own talk and the performance of rain choir.
Time, sense and landscape mix 1, by Jodie Dalgleish is available here.

Audio transcripts of all the contributions to the symposium will be made available later this year. If you are interested in learning more about this or would like a programme from the symposium please contact me via this website.

fossil dissolve: sebastiane hegarty
Remembering Chalk, a day of rain, hand dryers, neolithic landscapes, guttering and singing dunes, exhausted shelves and spectral houses, the last sightings of extinct songs, lavender sellers and the long quiet fall of light through Connemara.
The curator and writer Jodie Dalgleish reflects on the symposium, Chalk: time, sense and landscape in her article for the New Zealand on-line art review EyeContact:

Link to the full un-edited Essay by Jodie Dalgleish available here:
Time Sense Landscape Essay: Jodie Dalgleish

Sally Ann McIntyre
Sally Ann McIntyre: Victoria Rick
Symposium Chair: Marius Kwint
Marius Kwint: Victoria Rick
Symposium Keynote Speaker: John Levack Drever
John Levack Drever: Victoria Rick
Archaeologist: Nick Thorpe
Nick Thorpe: Victoria Rick
Sound Artist and Symposium Curator: Sebastiane Hegarty
Sebastiane Hegarty: Victoria Rick
Geologist: Michael Welland
Michael Welland: Victoria Rick
Architectural Historian: Karen Fielder
Karen Fielde: Victoria Rick
Composer: Paul Whitty
Paul Whitty: Victoria Rick
Sound Archivist & Curator of London Sound Survey: Ian Rawes
Ian Rawes: Victoria Rick
Sally Ann McIntyre and Marius Kwint
Sally and Marius: Victoria Rick
Film Artist: Guy Sherwin
Guy Sherwin: Victoria Rick
Film: Connemara by Guy Sherwin
Guy Sherwin Connemara 2: Victoria Rick

Symposium Photography: Victoria Rick

drumsThe Folkton drums: Nick Thorpe
Dorset Cursus plot by Martin Green2
As part of tomorrow’s  symposium, the archaeologist and author, Nick Thorpe will discuss the prehistoric use of chalk, not only as a place to leave a mark or a rock to carve into figurines,  but also as the material used to create the first British monuments; a form of neolithic land art, existing thousands of years before Smithson. He writes: ‘hundreds of metres across, taking thousands of hours to create.  The visual impact of these chalk monuments may have been just as shocking as modern art, permanently scarring the land.’  As ‘performance spaces’ these sites not only manipulated the visual landscape, but also how it was used and how it sounded.

See programme for full details of this talk and the other presentations at the symposium:


New Zealand ‘trasmission’ artist, Sally Ann McIntyre, has just arrived in the UK for the symposium, together with a suitcase of lost and extinct sounds. Sally will be talking about the missing voice of the ground-dwelling owl: the Huia. She writes: Lost to human hearing all that is left is is a series of thinly transcribed folk notations of their warning calls by bushmen, and one recording of a human voice demonstrating the sonic lure which would call these birds from the forest. This vocalisation is not the sound of the bird, and neither is it the sound of a human imitation of the bird, it’s the sound of a human interacting with a bird. Interacting with a bird that no longer exists. Dugal McKinnon writes “It can be said that recording reveals, but an inescapable aspect of this revealing is to expose the limits of recording technology: the recording (or phonograph), like the photograph, points as much to what it cannot do as to what it can do. In listening, if we start to see these illegible landscapes, it is only with the clarity that an imperfect copy provides. And the glimpse is just for a moment, before the noise drowns it out.’

Full details of the symposium programme available here:


Guy Sherwin: Hand shutter
Guy Sherwin: Connemara drawing
We are delighted to announce that, as part of chalk: time, sense and landscape, the avant-garde film artist, Guy Sherwin will be showing Connemara, a film unseen for over three decades.
Made on a trip to Ireland in 1980, the 16mm film offers a long, slow meditation on time and landscape. Static shots linger and stare into the landscape and upon the traces of human activity, whilst in the quiet collision of imagery and ambient sounds, place waits, returns and repeats.
Only screened a few times in the 1980’s, in 2011 EYE Institute Amsterdam ‘took the film into their archive and restored it with great care’.
The absence of the film extends to its documentation; no extracts are available and only one film still, a low resolution, pixelated haystack.
Sherwin, who originally studied painting at Chelsea in the 1970’s, has supplied one of his own drawings as documentation.
With this new print, light returns to Connemara, as Sherwin projects and perhaps sees his film for the first time in thirty-five years.

The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In his book Sand: a journey through science and the imagination, the geologist Michael Welland writes ‘deserts are landscapes of the mind as much as physical realities, places of metaphor and myth.’ It is fitting then that the title for his forthcoming presentation at Chalk: time, sense and landscape, is taken from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince:

‘Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.’  

Welland writes:
As the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry remind us, the landscapes of the desert notoriously play havoc with all human senses. Rare sounds become amplified, aromas, other than some kind of unfathomable minerality, are entirely absent, and the range of what seems visible becomes exaggerated. Our sense of scale is comprehensively challenged – a single sand grain and a sea of dunes vie for our attention (and seem equally fascinating). The great chronicler of the deserts of the American southwest, Edward Abbey, wrote: “There is something about the desert that human sensibility cannot assimilate.” Our response to what is seen, and unseen, is very much subjective and cultural, the perception of landscape, time, and scale being quite different for the insider and the outsider. And then there are the stories that the landscape tells the geologist…

So looking forward to hearing the deserts tell their stories.

Ian Rawes, curator of London Sound Survey and one of the contributors to chalk: time, sense and landscape, has written a fascinating article on sound as it appears in the poetry of Chaucer. In an acoustical dig through the poem, The House of Fame (1370), Rawes unearths sounds that having once stirred the air, resonate and persist beyond the scope of our earthly ear. The poem begins with a dream in which an Eagle lifts Geoffrey into the air and whispers into his shell like:  

Sound is nothing but broken air and every word that is spoken, loudly or softly, wisely or obscenely, is by nature just air. When men pluck harp strings, whether heavily or gently, with this stroke the air breaks as it does when men speak; so now you know what speech is. Now if you throw a stone into water, you know how one circle causes another, propagating outwards by the others’ movement, multiplying until the disturbance reaches the surrounding banks. In the same way, every word, spoken loudly or softly, first moves the air nearby, which in turn moves air that is further away. So in the air, my dear brother, every parcel stirs up the next and bares speech upwards, magnifying and amplifying until it reaches the House of Fame – take it in all seriousness or in fun. 

The complete article is available here

Poster - chalk: time, sense and landscape
It is with deep sadness that we have learned of the death of keynote speaker, John M. Hull.

John was Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education. Widely published on the subjects of religion and blindness, in 2012 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the RNIB. Born in 1935, John developed cataracts in his youth and lost his sight completely 1983. In the book Touching the Rock, John describes and reflects upon his journey into blindness, a journey that not only offers an insight into a sight less world, but also helps to extend our understanding of how the senses involve us in the world around us. In particular, John’s experience of sound and listening reveals sensual landscapes, which transform our physical and emotional presence in the world. The following is an extract from a lecture given by John in 2001 and published in Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology:

‘I learnt to listen to the sound of the rain. I can remember times when, in my study at home, I would become conscious that there was a storm going on. I would forget about my disorientated and vacated interior and would become aware of the wind, thundering upon the corner of the house, whistling through the eaves. And then I would become aware of the rain, splattering on the windowpane. I would stand up. I would press my nose hard against the window. And gradually it was as if the glass disappeared, because now my consciousness extended out from my nose pressed upon a panel of glass until it became un-conscious […] The rain had turned the light on […] And as I listened to [it fall], I realised I was no longer listening, because the rain was not falling into my ears, it was falling into my heart.’

We would like to dedicate this symposium to the memory of John and offer our sincere condolences to John’s wife Marilyn, their children and grandchildren.

The symposium will begin with a showing of the award winning documentary Notes On Blindness, made by Peter Middleton and James Spinney and based on the audio cassette diaries, which john used to ‘write’ Touching The Rock.

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