Sound of Coal Mines

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I was born and raised in the western part of the Czechia, the area heavily impacted by coal mining activity. Deep mining started already in the 17th century and had a relatively low impact on the scenery. However later around the 1960s, then ruling Communist party, blinded by greed, decided to exhaust all the nature’s resources and switch to surface mining. The results are devastating. Whole cities and villages were demolished and thousands of people had to move out of the area that today reminds a moon surface. The “roots” of many locals were destroyed and many others moved in a search for employment in the coal mines. This had a significant sociological impact resulting in the generation of people with “roots” reaching no deeper than the 500 meters thick layer of brown coal under the surface.

For my bachelor thesis, I decided to raise awareness about this situation. Although I had the devastated area (more than 1105 kmĀ²) in front of my eyes for most of my life, I didn’t realize how overwhelming and strong emotions are connected to the place until I started with the project. I wanted to mediate these feelings, the vastness, the lost memories, the greed, the violated nature, the lost lives. I find the sound to be a medium most capable of carrying emotions, so I made several trips around the mining area and I collected many audio recordings which I used to create the soundscape. The recordings resulted in three tracks; piano: subtle sounds of wildlife, walking in grass and crumbling of sand under my feet, mezzo: a bit louder sounds clashing rocks, water flowing and pieces of coal rolling down the slope.

The last track, forte, is a combination more sounds. It is the sound of heavy mining machines and conveyor belts echoing through the area. By analysing the sound of machines I discovered that it resonates mostly on a frequency close to C. This musical quality of the mines created another opportunity to carry emotion. I treated the recording with a combination of dissonant and consonant harmonies. Lastly, I contrasted all of this with the heartbeat of my grandfather, who used to work in the coal mines for a big part of his life.

The final installation took place in a dark room, where visitors couldn’t hear any sound unless they made a sound or noise. Thus the mediation of human impact. I’ve set up the threshold for triggering the individual track in a way that sound of people walking around the room would trigger just piano, a bit louder noise, maybe talking would trigger the second track. Forte, the loudest track, could have been heard when people would make a relatively loud noise. After a while, visitors would start clapping, stomping and shouting to hear the sound of the mine.

Learn more about this project on Behance.