Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Stone Tape

In 1982 the landlord of the Prince of Wales in Kenfig claimed that he could hear organ music emanating from the walls of his Seventeenth Century pub. Two rational, scientific men John Marke and Allan Jenkins decided to tape the noises. They both had proper degrees. Marke, an electrical engineer from Nottage, had been attending the pub ever since he was old enough to drink. His collaborator, Jenkins, was an industrial chemist specialising in crystallography.

The theory was that ferric salts and silica in the walls had the potential to retain sound energy from previous centuries. Chemicals present in the stonework were similar to those found in recording tape and microchips. In order to stimulate the silica and release energy they hit upon the idea of attaching electrodes to the 4ft-thick walls and then passing thousands of volts through them.

They set up their recording equipment in a room above the bar. Between the hours of 1am and 4am they set to work. For four weeks they passed an electric current through the walls and recorded the results. The fruit of their labours (now known as the Stone Tape) was a tape which contained some weird sounds. Amongst the noises picked up were ghostly voices (possibly speaking an ancient form of Welsh); organ music; footsteps; the sound of a key turning in a lock; and a ticking clock. The room contained no clock.

Their activities attracted much interest from the media. The Welsh scientists featured on an American TV show called That’s Incredible! They also appeared on BBC’s Newsnight, as well as being interviewed by Japanese and Canadian film crews. In recent times the scientific credibility of the tape has been called into question. Technicians at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop are said to have described the sounds on the tape as being similar to distortion and feedback, possibly caused by the generator used to supply voltage to the walls.

Marke also carried out wall recordings at the Jolly Sailor pub in Porthcawl. The results are not known.

*In the above picture John Marke is on the left, while Allan Jenkins is on the right attaching electrodes to the wall.