This is my final report on the findings at Colin Campbell house, following Drive In Deco. Part Exchange Co worked at the site from the end of April through the first week in March 2011. Usually I work alone or with a small group of fellow City Tenders. But this project involved multiple signals, a large site and a live audience, so a bigger team was needed. A musical director and musicians acted as two-way simultaneous translator/ interpreters for the building. They were able to present our findings and communicate with the building. We also created some musical and video resources in advance of first contact, which we used to stimulate the building to respond and to guide the reconnection process.
Thanks to our preparations we very quickly established ‘foundation-level contact’ and picked up a strong signal from the building. We quickly set about decoding this and identified six individual voices. Each voice corresponded to a spectral colour and our musician-translators quickly found six distinct rhythms and resonances.
While decoding the different signals we also broadcast archive stimuli from the different decades of the building’s history. She responded well and started to offer selected residual signals in response. She spoke to us through these voices. A historical timeline started to emerge.
• VIOLET 720 HERTZ. Our earliest residual signal came from a seven year old boy called Roy. He seems to have been resident in Summerland Street as Colin Campbell House was being constructed in1938. He played in the building site and once the showroom opened, used to ride his go-cart down the spiral ramp that gave vehicle access to the workshops. His clearest signal is from 1941, when he saw the dismembered body of a woman in a bombed out building. His signal disappears around 1945.
• GREEN 555 HERTZ. Saul Tomlin worked on the production line at Austin’s Longbridge plant in Birmingham. He was engaged as an apprentice mechanic at Turner’s in 1939, aged 19. On completing his apprenticeship under Martin Fleet (see below) he worked for the company until 1956. During the war he served in the Navy and was promoted to Lieutenant. After his discharge he returned to Turners and became the workshop gaffer. But the taste for adventure seems to have taken him away from Plymouth and ‘beyond the sound’.
• CYAN 609 HERTZ. Martin Fleet served in the Royal Navy Engineers in the first world war. After being injured during service, he joined Turners at the Mutley Plain. In the last year before his retirement he was transferred to Colin Campbell House to oversee the set-up of the workshop and training of new staff (including Saul). He retired in 1940 but he frequently returned to see the workshop lads and ‘HMS Gloria’, as he affectionately called the building. He survived the blitz but his signal disappears around 1952.
• RED 437 HERTZ. Charles Brice was the senior salesman at Turner’s. He had a passion for cars, could charm customers and had an eye for women. He married Turner’s daughter Sarah sometime in the early ‘50’s, although it was not a happy marriage. He continued to work at the showroom when it was sold to Mumfords in 1956. His signal disappears around 1963 when he left Mumfords to nurse his wife through a serious illness.
• BLUE 664 HERTZ. ‘Audrey’ (surname unknown) worked as a trainee hairdresser at Colin Campbell House when the top floor was sublet to a salon in the in the mid 50’s. A big movie fan, she would watch the world out the windows, singing love-songs of the era. Audrey became fascinated by the golden couple, Charles and Sarah. But when Charles made a clumsy pass at her, her fantasy world shattered. She identified with Gloria and her lost dreams: ‘So close to the sea but you can’t quite see over the hill.”. During the reconnection Audrey’s songs were Gloria’s ‘safe zone’.
• ORANGE 491 HERTZ. Our most recent signal was from an unnamed woman who worked at the Dragon Chinese Supermarket from 2006. She may have been the co-manager. The supermarket struggled to bring in enough revenue to support the large premises and closed in 2008. She identified strongly the building and talked to her: “We’re invisible, me and you. In city but not part of it. From here, but not belonging.”
So we had decoded a range of strong signals, but there was a significant gap in the timeline between 1956 and 2004. Such ‘mid-section amnesia’ is not uncommon. Buildings, like people, often have their most intense experiences in youth and old age. We were concerned, however, that we were missing a spectral colour: yellow.
A subtle echo across all the frequencies was apparent from quite early in the process. We amplified and isolated this signal and to our great excitement discovered that this was the voice of the building herself. As the process continued on she became more communicative and more aware of us. Imagine the thrill of hearing a live two way conversation with a building! Imagine… finding that she is self-aware and calls herself Gloria! It was my first experience of sustained, active interaction and I was absolutely thrilled.
So why was this level of contact possible? Well, there were a number of contributing factors: the conductive steel structure of the building, the scale and strength of the stimuli and all our preparatory work. But I believe the most important factor was the live audience, which connected the building to the present. In fact, when Gloria resisted the process and blocked our stimuli, it was the audience who kept the connection live by sounding their car horns and turning on their headlights. They provided the seventh spectral colour: yellow. This is something I should have anticipated because scientifically, observation always effects the observed. By observing Gloria we became part of her story.
Which brings me to the surprising conclusion. Gloria had found herself cut off from the city, in a situation eloquently summed up by the residual from the Dragon Supermarket: “The Western Approach is a big river. You were made for cars. Now cars make us into island. Cut off, washed up.” Gloria did not want to continue in her present situation but she couldn’t see a way to reconnect to the city. So she found a third option. She reverted to the spirit of her blueprint: the prestigious, far-sighted, streamline modern building. Gloria turned herself into an ocean liner and took to the sea.
“My foundations will always be here with you. But my spirit is the true mettle of my creation and it is and always will be… Glorious! Extraordinary! Brilliant!”
After those words, the monitors went blank. We haven’t picked up any residual signals from the building since. Although it isn’t an outcome we could have predicted, we are pleased to have released this building to become what she aspires to be. Her shell has been left to the city to become what we would like it to be.
Thank you to everyone who came to the show on foot and in their cars to take part in this extraordinary event. The level of connection we obtained for this building and the resolution she chose would not have been possible without your participation. So thank you from us and from her.
This is Mr Smith, signing off for the last time. Fair seas to you all. Especially Gloria.