The Mute Still Air is a sculptural sound installation, musical instrument, and graphic score project by Ed Carter, performed with Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and filmed by James Lockey.
Originally commissioned for Elsecar Heritage Centre, the piece reflects on the significance of social responsibility within a brutal commercial industry, taking inspiration from the cultural impact of Benjamin Biram’s pioneering engineering work at the Elsecar coal mine in South Yorkshire.
Biram introduced many safety improvements, including a new safety lamp, an anemometer to monitor airflow, and giant mechanical fans to ventilate the mines. The constant breeze from the fans reassured those working underground, mindful that it was providing fresh air and preventing the lethal build-up of explosive gases.
The Mute Still Air takes its name from a line in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Eolian Harp”, written the same year that Elsecar New Colliery was sunk (1795). The poem describes the sound of a wind harp, which is named after the Greek god Aeolus, who reputedly kept the wind in an underground cave.
‘O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought,and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so fill’d;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.’
The Eolian Harp (excerpt), by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Mute Still Air was a commission produced by Beam as part of the Wentworth & Elsecar Great Place Scheme. The installation was originally installed at Elsecar Heritage Centre in July 2021 and a short film by James Lockey of the work insitu, with performance by Ed Carter and Grimethorpe Brass Band can be viewed here –
The Mute Still Air has also been exhibited at Wentworth Woodhouse, as part of the WE Noir Festival 2022.
Artwork and composition by Ed Carter.
Performed by Ed Carter and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Film by James Lockey.
Fan control system designed and built by Matt Jarvis.
Commissioned and produced by Beam for the Wentworth & Elsecar Great Place scheme, supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.
Thanks to Fran Smith, John Tanner, and Dominic Somers.
Image credit: Scott Merrylees