The Pier. IAN HOLLOWAY
(Quiet World 2012)
The pier in Holloway’s title was once home to a bustling entertainment site. Built in Swansea, Wales, its elegant Victorian architecture stretches over 200 metres into the local bay. It is now in a state of disrepair, yet Holloway managed to record the pier while it was still a thriving place of recreation for locals and visitors alike. As we listen to Holloway’s recordings the ambience of the pier is brought back to life, if only for a short moment. By the end of “The Pier” we have been presented with a study into a small regional place, the release highlighting some central attributes inherent to field recording.
Recorded in 2008 “The Pier” is divided into two parts, each of which run under 15 minutes. Familiar sounds of arcade games dominate the first section. Bells, digitised voices, and unrelenting computer game music reside in the artificial habitat stationed above the waters of Swansea. It all seems incongruous to the natural setting of this seaside escape. The atmosphere is charged with an impenetrable sonic wall of digital entertainment, the loud computerised sounds marking a distinct territory between the youthful and adult worlds.
[photo of the Swansea pier courtesy of the Chippbutty blog]
In stark contrast Holloway’s second track features the natural sounds of waves lapping the shoreline to the side of the pier. Here the sounds of nature carry an eternal quality. Listening to them the listener arrives at the realisation that the waves existed long before the pier’s construction, and that they will exist well beyond its demise. The contrast between the two tracks again marks a division between territories: the eternal and the temporary, the natural and the constructed, public space and private space.
The pier is now fenced off to visitors. The sounds of young holidaymakers in its arcade rooms have been silenced. Consequently the waves which continue to lap below the pier can be listened to metaphorically, reflecting modern culture’s own ebb and flow. The Swansea pier becomes a microcosmic example of the way in which urban spaces worldwide continue to fall into disrepair and neglect.
Listening to “The Pier” it is difficult to avoid contextualising the demise of this venue into Swansea’s own history of decline. Once integral to the manufacture of the world’s copper during the industrial revolution, Swansea slowly fell into decline in the late nineteenth century, its farmlands barren from acid rain and its waterways polluted. As the sound of the sea returns in the “The Pier’s” second track it feels as though the end of this cycle has been reached.
Holloway’s recordings of the pier is now an auditory historical document of a place whose robust energy no longer exists. Whilst images of the pier may remain they fail to capture the movement of life that once engaged within its space. There is a unique immediacy in the way field recordings transmit the experience of place. Holloway’s “The Pier” showcases this in a way which continues to haunt the audience long after listening.