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The Foghorn's Lament: the Disappearing Music of the Coast

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A truly unusual and strangely revealing lens through which to view music and history and the dark life of the sea' Brian Eno What does the foghorn sound like? It sounds huge. It rattles. It rattles you. It is a booming, lonely sound echoing into the vastness of the sea. When Jennifer Lucy Allan hears the foghorn's colossal bellow for the first time, it marks the beginning of A truly unusual and strangely revealing lens through which to view music and history and the dark life of the sea' Brian Eno What does the foghorn sound like? It sounds huge. It rattles. It rattles you. It is a booming, lonely sound echoing into the vastness of the sea. When Jennifer Lucy Allan hears the foghorn's colossal bellow for the first time, it marks the beginning of an obsession and a journey deep into the history of a sound that has carved out the identity and the landscape of coastlines around the world, from Scotland to San Francisco. Within its sound is a maritime history of shipwrecks and lighthouse keepers, the story and science of our industrial past, and urban myths relaying tales of foghorns in speaker stacks, blasting out for coastal raves. An odyssey told through the people who battled the sea and the sound, who lived with it and loathed it, and one woman's intrepid voyage through the howling loneliness of nature.


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A truly unusual and strangely revealing lens through which to view music and history and the dark life of the sea' Brian Eno What does the foghorn sound like? It sounds huge. It rattles. It rattles you. It is a booming, lonely sound echoing into the vastness of the sea. When Jennifer Lucy Allan hears the foghorn's colossal bellow for the first time, it marks the beginning of A truly unusual and strangely revealing lens through which to view music and history and the dark life of the sea' Brian Eno What does the foghorn sound like? It sounds huge. It rattles. It rattles you. It is a booming, lonely sound echoing into the vastness of the sea. When Jennifer Lucy Allan hears the foghorn's colossal bellow for the first time, it marks the beginning of an obsession and a journey deep into the history of a sound that has carved out the identity and the landscape of coastlines around the world, from Scotland to San Francisco. Within its sound is a maritime history of shipwrecks and lighthouse keepers, the story and science of our industrial past, and urban myths relaying tales of foghorns in speaker stacks, blasting out for coastal raves. An odyssey told through the people who battled the sea and the sound, who lived with it and loathed it, and one woman's intrepid voyage through the howling loneliness of nature.

30 review for The Foghorn's Lament: the Disappearing Music of the Coast

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Laser-targeted at fans of the artists formerly known as British Sea Power, a history, or maybe more a memoir, of a sound which feels like a thing from deep time, but really was only current for a little over a century, and of debatable use even then. The slippery slope argument transposed from drugs to experimental music, where working for The Wire leads Allan to seek out harder and harder stuff until only foghorns will scratch the itch. An exploration of the subjectivity of sound, where the gre Laser-targeted at fans of the artists formerly known as British Sea Power, a history, or maybe more a memoir, of a sound which feels like a thing from deep time, but really was only current for a little over a century, and of debatable use even then. The slippery slope argument transposed from drugs to experimental music, where working for The Wire leads Allan to seek out harder and harder stuff until only foghorns will scratch the itch. An exploration of the subjectivity of sound, where the great horns can sound lonely or reassuring, romantic or life-ruining, according to the context and frequency of an individual's encounters. Digressions into everything from mythical bulls to HAARP conspiracists, most of which do convince as belonging here, although the attempts to reckon with colonialism, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, seldom feel altogether integrated. The register is often poetic, and successfully so, but I suspect my favourite bit may nevertheless have been where the oft-retailed story of the foghorn's origin turns out to be exactly the same flavour of bullshit as the scene in every music biopic where they write the hit. But then amusing scenes like that, or San Francisco being recalcitrantly and uncharacteristically fog-free when Allan visits, run up against the sheer spookiness of the horns' sounds, or a startling series of synchronicities (Dungeness lighthouse; the Chevrolet Nova; writer and arse Gertrude Atherton - all had popped up in entirely unconnected contexts over the last few days, and here they were again). Probably the best metric on which to judge this strand of non-fiction is how well the author's obsession rubs off on the reader, and certainly by the end of this I found myself wanting to attend one of the grand, ridiculous site-specific musical performances including foghorns which top and tail the book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    This is the third book published by White Rabbit that I've read in as many months. Like the other two, Monolithic Undertow and Medical Grade Music, it's brilliant. This one is that special combination of travel diary, historical research, and theoretical exploration of a niche topic: the sound of the foghorn. The travel and historical aspects of the book set out the foghorn's history, as well as its connections to lighthouses and maritime navigation generally. The theoretical aspect is mainly con This is the third book published by White Rabbit that I've read in as many months. Like the other two, Monolithic Undertow and Medical Grade Music, it's brilliant. This one is that special combination of travel diary, historical research, and theoretical exploration of a niche topic: the sound of the foghorn. The travel and historical aspects of the book set out the foghorn's history, as well as its connections to lighthouses and maritime navigation generally. The theoretical aspect is mainly concerned with questions about how sounds (soundscapes, soundmarks) are related to people and places. The main question that underlies the whole thing is: why foghorns? As someone with an obscure interest or two, I empathised with the self-aware obsessiveness that comes across in the author's enthusiasm for this outdated piece of technology. I may just be easily convinced, but the book made me want to become a foghorn enthusiast too. I now live in hope that the foghorn at Nash Point (with which I am familiar from a childhood visit which ended memorably with a broken hand) will soon sound again. As I did with Medical Grade Music, I listened to the audiobook. This one is also read by the author, who does an excellent job. Highly recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sophy H

    While this title is well written, passionate and immaculately researched, I think there is only so much interest you can have in the foghorn! Jennifer Allan has a PhD in foghorns!! I didn't know this was actually possible! Some of the chapters are interesting but some are far too long and drag on, rather like an annoying bout of sea fog! I think the book could have been much much shorter as I did see some repetition of theme in the writing. The section on San Francisco was interesting, as was Je While this title is well written, passionate and immaculately researched, I think there is only so much interest you can have in the foghorn! Jennifer Allan has a PhD in foghorns!! I didn't know this was actually possible! Some of the chapters are interesting but some are far too long and drag on, rather like an annoying bout of sea fog! I think the book could have been much much shorter as I did see some repetition of theme in the writing. The section on San Francisco was interesting, as was Jennifer's account of staying in a lighthouse cottage alone in a storm. Overall though, you would have to be a serious fan of the foghorn and all the associated paraphernalia to give this book more than 3 stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris Tyson

    If you want to learn more about foghorns from a historical and social viewpoint, then this is the book for you. But that sentence does this work a disservice. The author travels through the history of foghorns, and the lighthouses they accompanied, and in so doing shines a light onto the societies they served for so many years.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    Absolutely brilliant, Ms Allan is a tremendous talent and this is the best book I've read in ages. Absolutely brilliant, Ms Allan is a tremendous talent and this is the best book I've read in ages.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Josh Preston

    A fascinating beautifully written account of a vanishing sound, a travelogue across the coastal landscape taking in some intriguing sights along the way.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    For future editions I hope they move the footnotes to the bottom of the relevant page.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate Connolly

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sheena Ashford

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jurgen Van den Brand

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elspeth

  14. 5 out of 5

    Curt Langston

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Hastings

  16. 4 out of 5

    George Orton

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Jones

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alice Christen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Josh Molyneux

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Mckinney

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Williamson

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Wesley-Barker

  24. 4 out of 5

    Riloai

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tom Orr

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jodeebee

  28. 5 out of 5

    André C.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cecil Cooper

  30. 5 out of 5

    Louis Johnson

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