Derry docks and the Quota 750

John Paul Conaghan talks about his upcoming audio installation which will go on display from Monday 16th January

It may be hard to imagine for a lot of the younger residents of Derry, but the city docks used to be a hive of bustling activity.

The comings and goings of trawlers and ships lining Foyleside as the noise of machinery filled the air, the Derry port has seen a lot of action over the years from trans-atlantic travel to the surrender of German U-boats. The coal yard has played an important role through the decades both in employment and income to the city and two local men are bringing its atmosphere out of the coal yard and into the gallery through a sound installation which goes on display at the Playhouse Theatre on Monday 16th January.

John Paul Conaghan, along with Barry Davies who is engineer for the installation, have created a ‘journey through the enduring audio of what was once a busy dock on the River Foyle’ with their new exhibition 'Quota 750'.

We caught up with John Paul to find out more and started by asking what his inspiration was for ‘Quota 750’. “This year marks the Playhouse Theatre’s 25th birthday, as an employee everyone was asked to do something to mark the occasion” said John Paul. “Before my degree, which was a BA Hons in Drama, I worked in the coal yard and always loved the sound that the hoppers and machinery made. So as a professional sound designer for theatre I thought ! would do an interactive sound installation as a present for the Playhouse.

“This is my first exhibition but apart from working part-time as the playhouses theatre technician I also work as a freelance director/designer for the stage which includes sound, set and lighting. Like most artists I have a lot of ideas for installation work and it’s always great to try new ways of creating work and I felt this merge of my previous working life with my artistic life was a perfect relationship to explore” he said.

I was curious to find out where the title, ‘Quota 750’ came from, “it comes from how many bags you have to do per day in the yard” said John Paul. “It was originally called Quota 700 but it has now gone up to 750 since I left to go to university. It helped me decide on the duration of the exhibition too, that it will last 750 seconds which equates to 12 minutes and 30 seconds.”

The free installation will take the viewer on an audio and visual journey and John Paul warns that it is the exact decibel levels that are heard in the coal yard. “The sounds you will hear are taken from the yard itself, forklifts and machinery, then the pre-pack shed where the hopper is.” John Paul tells me that the Hopper is the machine that loads the various sized bags of coal which are then loaded into bags and stitched, and then put onto pallets.

“I always found when I worked there that there was a musicality from the hopper, but that’s my head. The installation is approximately 80% audio and 20% visual and it’s an interactive exhibition; there are six stations that are triggered by motion sensors.

“There is also Ear Defenders that each participant will be issued with due to the high decibel ratings; I’m using the same DB level that is in the yard itself for a more realistic experience. I just hope I don’t get handed my P45 after it” he laughs.

And what can people expect from the exhibition? “I honestly don’t know” John Paul said. “Some heads might find the installation frighten or nosey. I suppose I’d like people to walk away hearing a sound which they would never have heard before.”

You can hear, and see 'Quota 750' from Monday16th to Saturday 21st January at the Playhouse Theatre and the installation is free to attend. 


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