The twentieth century industrial history of Dukes Wood is a fascinating one. Fact mixes with anecdote in accounts of the story behind the drilling that began in 1943 – the voyage of the oil that was extracted (suited to the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine apparently) and the vital presence of the Texas/ Oklahoma ‘roughnecks’ (bizarrely billeted in the nearby Anglican monastery at Kelham Hall). Their quantity is now reduced down to the singularity of the Oil Patch Warrior statue. I wonder if oral histories were gathered when some of the survivors attended its unveiling?
These narratives echo my interest in industrial archaeology (and what can be seen from the air). The nodding donkeys were apparently painted to merge with the foliage – and while only a few remain, still appear odd intruders. But how far could the woodland absorb the cacophonous sound of the drilling?
At ground level, I am curious to find the ‘inaudible’ that can be brought to attention. I wonder about the wells – the sheer number (two hundred at least) that were drilled. Can any enclosed air be sampled from these remaining fissures, to be treated as material (with all its connotations)? Arguably sound is intrinsically suited to an investigation of the relationship between ourselves and between spaces because, to quote Steven Connor ‘where vision only ever gives us information about the surface of things, sound can inform us about otherwise invisible interiorities – the sturdiness of a wall, the state of the lungs…’. The likelihood of extracting this sonic material is of course fanciful but I wonder if an auditory archaeology of sorts could be practiced.
I am reminded of the work of auditory archaeologist Dr Steve Mills who some years ago made a study of a post-medieval mining landscape in Cornwall. He created GIS (Geographical Information Systems) maps to provide a digital interface for the unveiling of sonic layers: the sounds of the past – captured from machines relocated elsewhere – combined with contemporary literary accounts -and his own accumulated recordings (‘data’). It was an endeavour to study the importance of sound in the everyday and importantly to consider the memory of what is heard.
In considering the collision of the natural world with industrial remnants etc. I have a thought about making an audio map of Dukes Wood. I plan to scavenge off the path (carefully) and do some tests with different microphones. Geophones (ie contact microphones in the ground) might pick up soundwaves through the earth (since these can detect sound waves in solid materials). The placement of these being akin to ‘drilling’ down … recording human activity – perhaps extending inside other structures… I need to try some things out. The intention is not to import the sound that apparently displaced the woodland ambience however but to consider the traces of this past and the dynamics of the Wood as it is now. How might it be to spend the night listening (availing oneself of Alec Finlay’s welcoming bowers?): to describe, and to score the shifting terrain of heard and imagined sounds.
 “An approach that studies the important influence and significance of the sound environment in past daily life” from http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/share/contactsandpeople/academicstaff/K-O/mills-steve-dr-overview_new.html