Fog Tropes: The social and cultural history of the foghorn 1853 to the present day
University of the Arts, London
Supervisor: Professor Angus Carlyle
“The source of one of the most enduring minimal musics around us”. (Alvin Curran, 2004, p2) “...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). “Always comforting...It is the sound of a working harbour, a part of our heritage.” (Maine resident, 2014, Bangor Daily News). These quotations from music, literature, music and popular culture highlight the essentially interdisciplinary nature of the proposed research, which seeks to interrogate the iconic nature of the foghorn. It 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. I will address the cultural and social history of the foghorn through its representation in various art forms, and its signification of complex emotional and mental states. Foghorns first appeared as a result of a shipping boom during the industrial revolution. How does its use in popular culture relate to its history around the industrial revolution 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, as suggested by R Murray Schafer in The Tuning Of The World, be classified as noise? Taking the foghorn as a starting point, I will examine these sound markers of our recent past via their appearance in popular culture, 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.