Clapham South Shelter: A Collaboration

And now for something a bit different…

Last year I went on a tour of the abandoned parts of Euston station. You might have seen the video. These are naturally excellent content producing opportunities as the subject matter is always bound to draw viewers and readers into Calling All Stations. Sure, visiting these abandoned spaces is nothing that hasn’t already been done on blogs and YouTube, but I always feel duty bound to provide my subscribers with my accounts and experiences of the visits. Abandoned stations tend to be very photogenic so there’s also plenty to snap.

Except this isn’t always easy. The juggling act of getting great shots that I can work with afterwards whilst still listening and paying attention to the LTM guides (of whom you’ve paid good money to follow round) is somewhat of a challenge. This is made even harder if you’re trying to shoot video, especially if you’re trying to frame out the rest of the tour group – who are also trying to get that perfect abandoned-look shot! There’s certainly a sense that the tour guides want to move at a fairly swift pace as well, and I’m reluctant to hold up the group or miss out on any juicy facts just because I’m at the back taking a picture of that empty tunnel behind us. I’m not sure if this was always the case, I remember a tour of Aldwych around 4 years ago where the guides allowed more time for people to get ‘that shot’ of the empty platforms that they so craved. Perhaps LTM are trying to pack more tours into a day, or maybe the Aldwych tour is at a more relaxed pace, but I’ve come to realise it is what it is and I’ve got to work with the time I’m given.

With all this in mind I figured that perhaps a different stance was needed on the visit to the deep level shelters at Clapham South. Instead of producing a narrated video like the one at Euston, I decided to make a return to shooting higher-quality stills and using these to develop a more artistic approach. Whilst I realise applying Instagram filters to plates of chips is somewhat of a cliché, I am however all in favour of doctoring images in post to enhance the viewing experience in a more creative setting. What I mean by this is in reality the shelter was well-lit and full of the people on the tour group, whilst what I wanted to create was the sense of a gloomy, decaying, empty and desolate place. This is naturally not something I normally get to do for my documentary videos.

Now creating spooky images is simple enough, but a silent slide show of the collection would be… well a bit boring really. What they really need is some suitable music to go with them. So it is with great pleasure that I get to collaborate with friend and colleague Robin The Fog, a leading Musique Concréte artist, in creating a the full audio-visual experience that a space like Clapham deserves.

Robin creates his music, not by fancy digital means, but by using tape loops. Taking any old sound as mundane as a squeaking gate or slamming door, Robin loops these sounds through tape recorders and varies the speed in which they play back. The process is then repeated and layered with delayed loops running at different speeds until the sound is unrecognisable from the original recording. The effect is a rich and colourful yet slightly chaotic sonic masterpiece that will likely amaze and terrify you at the same time. Think 1970’s sci-fi film score meets Radiophonic Workshop.

Writer Leila Peacock explains a little more about how the sounds you’re about to hear were created,

The ruins of the Spanish House stand on the banks of the river Sava at the heart of the Savamala district of Belgrade. Originally a decadent customs house in the heart of a bustling port, this decaying structure bears the imprint of many generations. Now an empty echo chamber, its walls reverberate with the rumble of the passing freight trains like the sea inside a shell; songs and shouts return distorted from a trip around the flooded basement and exposed structural supports become an unholy set of chimes. All the sounds you hear on this track were recorded on site and nothing has been added that is not of the building itself. This echoic palimpsest is architectural portraiture in sound.

The track used in the video is called ‘Savamalan Rust, Parts 2 & 3,‘ and is a previously unheard outtake from Secret Songs Of Savamalathe 2nd album roduced and released by Robin’s band, Howlround. The sounds you hear are exposed metal structural supports recorded in the flooded basement of an abandoned customs from that Serbian subterranean world. A very fitting marriage, I hope you’ll agree, to the imagery of Clapham South shelter.

To hear more of Robin and Howlround’s work head over to their website.

Clapham South Shelter was opened to the public in 1944 and offered shelter to some 8000 people during wartime London. After the war the shelter was repurposed and has seen action as a temporary hostel, a hotel and a government archive store. London Transport Museum now offer annual tours of the mile long complex of subterranean passageways and bunkers.

One thought on “Clapham South Shelter: A Collaboration

  1. […] And lastly, an excursion to another historic location of a less sacred nature, with transport historian Andy Carter and his recent trip to the deep level shelters of Clapham South, a mile-long network of tunnels, passages and bunkers below South London, part of his ongoing project to shed light on the secret civic history of the nation, that has included recent visits to the abandoned platforms at Alydwych station, Euston and others, all documented on his Calling All Stations blog. He decided that the photos he took there deserved the ‘special sound’ treatment (to quote the BBC parlance from the days when people actually did this sort of thing for the Corporation, rather than in spite of it), and asked if I had anything suitable. Sadly the aforementioned hectic schedule meant that I was unable to come up with anything bespoke, but a quick rummage in the Foggy archives dug up some outtakes from the sessions that went on to make up the second Howlround album, Secret Songs Of Savamala, which with their stark resonant tones and metallic clangs worked a treat. Check out the finished prodcut  below and read Andy’s orginial blog post on Calling All Stations here. […]

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