Battery Steele

(CD-R cover image)

Peaks Island lies in Casco Bay, but a twenty minute ferry ride from the waterfront in Portland, Maine. During World War II, new fortifications were added to existing ones to strengthen the protection of Portland Harbor, which became the principal base of operation for the US North Atlantic fleet. Among these, Battery Steele was perhaps the most dramatic, an example of the largest battery ever built in the US.

Battery Steele consists of two large emplacements like the one shown below.

These are set about 400 feet apart, and connected by a long concrete tunnel.

While in commission, each emplacement housed a single 16 inch gun capable of hurling a 2000 lb. projectile 26 miles.

These fortifications now lie disused, but are available for the exploration and use of the community thanks to the efforts of the Peaks Island Land Preserve.

In July 2010, I was vacationing on Peaks Island with my family. While exploring the battery, I was struck by the incredible reverberation and reflections that occurred inside the cavernous hallway that connected the two emplacements. After a few days, I returned with my soprano saxophone on a hot afternoon and made the enclosed recording. Positioning myself at the mouth of the hallway on the southwest side, I aimed my flash recorder straight down the hallway, instead of directly at my horn, in order to maximize the hallway’s delay effects. The picture below shows the small table I used to hold the recorder (on the blue hand towel in the foreground) and my saxophone when I wasn’t playing it.

The crunching sound heard between the tracks is me walking on the gravelly floor between the recorder and my playing position about four paces away. The persistant chirping of a bird in the marsh outside is also audible when I’m not playing (and occasionally even when I am).

Thanks are due to Theo Norton who helped me scout the site and carry gear for the recording. In the picture below, Theo is clapping, checking out the sonic effects of the hallway. He is standing almost exactly where I was standing while I was recording these pieces, although I was facing down the hallway. (Please pardon the overexposure and lens flare.)

Much of the information here came from An Island at War by Joel W. Eastman and Kimberly A. MacIsaac (Portland: Fifth Main Regiment Museum).


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