cipher songs

‘lifelines, deathlines, over, under, burrowing, buried… swallowed-up threads of a story that has no ending.’
(wieland schmied – mark tobey – p.52 [intertwined 1959], thames and hudson, 1966)

chalk reef (st margaret's bay, kent, 2018)


project: cipher songs
status: in progress
title: tracing pieces part two, cipher songs
single cipher duration: 2 minutes
duration of track:
10 minutes
total duration of music: 50 mins
scale: pentatonic

sound pieces
improvisations derived from the subjective interpretation of flint pebble surfaces
ciphers 1.1 – 1.5 – being (russell burden)
ciphers 2.1 – 2.5 – 
ciphers 3.1 – 3.5 – 
ciphers 4.1 – 4.5 – 
ciphers 5.1 – 5.5 – 

november/december 2015
location: sandgate, kent
criteria: flint pebbles showing form and taphonomic markings that reveal them to be the worn casts of cretaceous echinoids
derived from: the chalk of southern england
epoch: late cretaceous – 100 – 65 (ma)
lithostratigraphic unit: chalk group
subdivision: white chalk subgroup
stage: maastrichtian 70.6 – 65.5 (ma)
stage: campanian 83.5 – 70.6 (ma)
stage: santonian 85.8 – 83.5 (ma)
stage: coniacian 89.3 – 85.8 (ma)
stage: turonian  85.8 – 93.9 (ma)
stage: cenomanian 93.5 – 103.5 (ma) no flint seen

cipher stones 1.1 - 5.5

notes for collaborators

the pebbles
derived from various horizons in the white cliffs of the south coast of england,  these pebbles have left their place in the the geological succession and journeyed over land and under sea for millions of years. through both natural and un-natural means, they have now amassed as banks of shingle on sandgate beach. throughout the unremarkable shapes of the stones, one can find rarer forms that, through the examination of their markings and more ordered morphology, one can picture the worn and now barely recognisable remains of cretaceous echinoids, the fossil representations of the cretaceous animals they once were.

collecting conditions
pebbles, grains, particles, flowing on mass through a fluid medium that transmits waves of cyclic energy. a murmuration of stones that twice a day become fixed like a photograph, through wind, air pressure, the orbit of our moon, the play of energy that created the image no longer present. at this ever changing interface between land and sea, the sculpted form of a beach, mark making, rhythmic fluidity, sifting and sorting vast banks of flints into rises and rills, each stone an individual in its own right. and when the pulse of conditions is somewhat consistent, maybe after several tides, one begins to discern that the constancy creates a sparse order temporarily raised from the chaos. types of pebbles that at least for this moment, gathered in loose proximities through the motions of spent weather, appear to have found each other. the flattened urchin stones stranded on the upper reaches of the tide after skimming out of reach of the moon’s influence. spherical stones that rolling up the finer shingle banks and subject to a lack of purchase, roll back a little way as the surge recedes,  they are clearly discernible as one walks the twenty foot shingle rise, sparsely dotted throughout but only here, no where else, no longer needles in a haystack. the specific biological form risen above the general hum of forms, each zoic pebble unique, its personality still transmitting. through millennia of tumbling and smoothing, wearing slowly away against like matter, they still hold the symmetries of life, distinguishing themselves from the irregular mass.

21st november 2015:
moon – 9.78 days, illumination 74%, waxing gibbous. tide – high 06:18 (6.30m), low 13:19 (1.80m).
the sea-states of the past few days have varied considerably. the pebbles scattered with no particular sense of sorting either in size, weight or shape. two larger sea-worn mesolithic hammer stones found on the lower beach.
23rd november 2015:
moon – 12.02 days, illumination 92%, waxing gibbous.  tide – high 08:16 (6.90m), low 15:32 (1.10m).
thick white mists today rolling in off the sea and after two days of a gentle lapping sea-state, the shelving banks of pebbles have been partially sorted into various sizes and shapes, conducive to finding globular or ovate forms at the top of the tidal reach.
24th november 2015:
moon – 13.15 days, illumination 97%, waxing gibbous. tide – high 9:05 (7:10m), low 16:36 (0.90m). folkestone station significant wave height – 2.2m at 10am).
a solid ground swell has flattened out the beach with waves breaking and rushing in 10cm washes for many meters, at high tide hitting the sea wall. the background shingle is fine with flat larger pieces pushed beyond the upper reaches of the tide. many of these are struck flint scrapers in various stages of wear that have skimmed cleanly over the rounded shingle.

predominantly forming, nodular and tabular structures that mainly lay in defined horizons within the chalk sequence, flint is a micro-crystalline mineral quartz classified as a variety of chert formed specifically in chalk or marly limestones. The genesis of flint is not well understood. it is possibly the result of chemical changes in highly compressed sediments during the a diagenetic process and possibly formed by a gelatinous dissolved silica that precipitated into cavities such as crustacea burrows, the silica derived from organic sources such as sponge spicules and siliceous micro-organisms. such species such as echinoids, bivalves, sponges or corals are fairly common amongst the generic flint pebbles of the south coast beaches. prehistoric struck flint tools, derived from river terrace gravels, are also washed up on the shore, some possibly from the mesolithic tribes that lived on the land between the uk and the continent, now under the english channel.

the succession of physical and chemical alterations that occurs post during death and during the process deposition culminating in differing qualities of fossilisation.

the study of post death decay and fossilisation – leading to: ethological implications. environmental, oceanographic and climatic reconstructions. expanded biostraticgraphies.
stage one – biostratinomy (events between death and burial)
stage two – diagenisis (post burial process)

trace fossils
or ichnofossils comprise forms of evidence left by various organisms in the geological record
bioturbation – burrows and borings
sedimentary structures – deposited laminations delivered by organic processes (stromatolites, microbialites)
infills and impressions – moulds and casts
excretions or chemical markers (coprolites)

elegy for remote surfaces

bound to the earth mass
the ceaseless tug and release
of flint against wet flint
the slow rubbing and revealing
of long lost taphonomies
and unnamed surfaces

ancient animal
the geologic mind
now barely reads your shape
your marks and traces
an intriguing
but obtusely
eroded calligraphy

texture maps


1.1 – 1.5

2.1 – 2.5

3.1 – 3.5

4.1 – 4.5

5.1 – 5.5