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The Elephants

Smokepenny Lyrichord Heavenbred: Two Acts

Jennifer Scappettone


The New General and Mining Code: Alphabetically Arranged, for the Use of Mining Companies, Mining Engineers, Stockbrokers, Financial Agents, and Trust and Finance Companies, priced at one guinea at the time of its publication in London in 1891, harbors within it the political unconscious of the industrial age, and of an imminent century of aggravated conflict between labor and management. Devised by C. Algernon Moreing, Mining Engineer, and Thomas Neal, Secretary of the Montana Company, Limited, & the Mines Company, Limited, the volume was one of hundreds of thousands of such books that attempted to compress and encrypt messages for transmission through the telegraph using natural languages—a precursor to the algorithmically constructed codes that would come to dominate telecommunications over the course of the twentieth century, enabling information to travel more securely and at lesser cost. Now digitized and partially subjected to optical character recognition at, it contains 36,898 terms and 29,632 sentences of particular utility to those in the field of mining — arguably the ur-industry and hoist of the industrial revolution.

Texts for SMOKEPENNY LYRICHORD HEAVENBRED; Or, Last year / By constant penetration / Encroaching on the reserve, a mock musical in progress, was produced by mining Moreing’s code book in tandem with ongoing research into the history and future of copper exploitation. Telegrams housed in Michigan Tech’s Copper Country Historical Collections clarify the various ways in which the telegraph was used to bridle the laborers who constituted the corporal infrastructure of that technology. Baroque code compounds store the brute links between bodies, metal, and the market, sometimes sanitizing, at other times proving grossly expressive. The acts focus on the great strike of 1913 at the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula—a bloody conflict provoked by the introduction of a hazardous economizing tool into the mines: the one-man compressed air drill, known to scholars of modernism through its glorification in the form of sculptor Jacob Epstein’s 1914 readymade Rock-Drill. These acts and others were performed at the Block Museum and at 6018|North for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial with interdisciplinary collaborators Judd Morrissey and Abraham Avnisan, who programmed iPads so that text frames would be advanced via the spinning and circular lurching motions of the trip-up chorus, and punctuated throughout Act V by the flashing of archival 1913 strike posters in English, Finnish, Serbo-Croatian, and Italian.