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Day #341/365: All Clear and the (non)cry of forgotten banshees; totems of memory and future lost focal points…

Forgotten banshees-6-A Year In The Country
File under: Trails and Influences: Recent Explorations. Case #49/52.

Recently I was a-wandering around light capturings of the forgotten banshees of air raid sirens (see Day #331/365)…

…and via that I came across/was tumbled towards the All Clear project.

This was a proposed nationwide project that intended to use “the remaining historic World War II air-raid sirens as site-specific instruments, the work is created from live fragments of music that span the country to make a whole live work.

It did not find the necessary institutional pecuniary approval to make it a reality but when I first read the All Clear document, it seemed as though it was describing a now historic event, something that had already taken place.

All Clear’s primary remaining trace in the ether is a particularly evocative read; I suppose in particular if you’re of a certain age/experience (also see Day #331/365) these particular mechanised voices, in both their corporeal forms and potential cries through the air are emblematic of conflicts – real or imagined, hot or cold, that have gone by:

Forgotten heroes. Totems of memory.

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Below is the full remaining trace text for All Clear. Visit its will o’the wisp in the ether here.

“ALL CLEAR is the first piece of sound art to fully encompass the whole of the UK. Using the remaining historic World War II air-raid sirens as site-specific instruments, the work is created from live fragments of music that span the country to make a whole live work.

ALL CLEAR is a piece of work where no one can witness all of it live in person, yet it will touch all of the country, especially those in locales where the instruments are based. There is a hint of the question ‘if a tree falls in the forest…’ about the work for this reason. The work will be performed live just once and will be able to be heard in recorded form or live as a broadcast/online broadcast, with webcam/audio equipment at each location to record the ‘instruments’ as they are cued in.

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Air-raid sirens have two notes available, and these are B-flat and D-flat. This makes composition a challenge. ‘Playing’ the instruments is also a great challenge. They are wound or cranked electrically, which gives them their distinctive build-up whine. They are also scary, broken down or abandoned. Forgotten heroes. Totems of memory. Museum pieces. Many were taken down at the end of the Cold War, but some remain, invisible to all but those who know or who care to look up. Hidden in plain sight, sirens are situated in busy areas such as Hyde Park and Waterloo in central London, yet they are largely unseen.

Air-raid sirens are hugely symbolic in British culture and the sound that they make has been heard in hundreds of films and sampled for dozens of music tracks. The sound is a shorthand for danger, attack and war, yet the sirens and their operators were also responsible for saving lives. The all clear signal was an invitation to take stock, be thankful you had survived and to inspect the damage. The noise of the sirens acts is as sharp an aid to memory as any smell or visual reminder. The final all clear signified a time to rebuild and the start of modern Britain.

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ALL CLEAR will bring together communities of locals, cold war history enthusiasts, World War II veterans, retired ARP wardens, experimental music fans, British culture buffs, schoolchildren, teachers and musicians to explore the history, significance and use of air-raid sirens. Each location will be documented and stories recorded from those in the area. The performance could be made in 2014 or 2015 to coincide with significant dates 70 years back in World War II.

ALL CLEAR is as big an administrative task as it is an artistic one. Sirens will have to be located, tested and permissions for use gained. But this will all be very much a part of the work: with sites crowd-sourced, maintenance recorded and local enthusiasm sparked by every visit. Sirens will be photographed and catalogued, stories collected and media interest planted.

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ALL CLEAR serves as a reminder of and a memorial to the ARP Wardens and civilians who lost their life in World War II. It also digs up forgotten and untold histories from the period, speaking with those who were there and re-examining literature, such as the ARP Warden magazines (which were produced locally) and leaflets from the Government and even the Communist Party about sirens and their use.

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ALL CLEAR will be made in collaboration with local communities as well as with selected musicians and technicians. The work creates site specific interest and location yet is global in its delivery. It will be extensively documented in words, video, photographs and archive material.

Forgotten banshees-1-A Year In The Country

All Clear was put into (non)practise by Iain Aitch. Visit his previous work/scribing here.

Intertwining pathways: see stories of two brown bakelite boxes here.


Re-signposted pathways:

Day #46/365: Threads, The Changes, the bad wires and ghosts of transmissions.

Day #114/365: Waiting For The End Of The World and havens beneath our feet.

Day #302/365: Ms Delia Derbyshire on such banshee wails as electronic music.

Day #306/365: Documentation of earlier preparations; a journey from a precipice to a cliff edge, via documents of preparing for the end of the world, a curious commercialism, the tonic/lampoonery of laughter, broken cultural circuits and quiet/quietening niches…

Day #331/365: A dybukk’s dozen of forgotten banshees…


A midnight dawn.


A previous lost focal point.


Flickerings to view with a certain detachment if possible.


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