Demons in the Aether

Demons in the Aether, a three-day workshop at the Phoenix Halle HMKV exhibition venue in Dortmund as part of the Waves festival. The workshop was run by Berlin-based artist and programmer Martin Howse and was a practical investigation into our electromagnetic environment. The main aspects of the workshop focussed on circuit building of mini amplifiers that converted the EM signal into sound. The Demons (workshop participants) started off with a 'theory' morning where Martin took us through the basics of EM experimentations, history and diversifications into his own interests and work, this being naturally contextualised by the exhibition in the adjoining hall. Our initial circuits were very basic but very effective, with a linear and easy to assemble design consisting of a limited number of resistors, capacitors and a simple wire antennae. This enabled a plethora of 'noise' to be recorded, the basement of the building proving to be the most harmonic and devoid of the 'radio fog' that dominated the majority of the environment due to the local transmitter towers adjacent to the venue.

Day two focussed on the building of a second circuit that was slightly more complex in nature, the added components limiting the Em energy received to a lower frequency. The day also saw the development of varying antennae, which according to their construction offered yet another rich layer of sounds. Martin also made a recording using two iron stakes that had been placed in the ground by construction workers. The stakes were approximately six metres apart to which he connected each side of his receiver to, in effect using the space between the stakes and the ground as an antennae. This technique is used in ELF transmission where the power antennae needed to produce wavelengths of under 100Hz are so huge that the earth itself is used as an antennae. Martin's recording however, provided an insight into the rich variations of electric sound that one could find, and along with the endemic 50Hz mainline hum, there were high-pitched microwave whisperings and cracklings of distant thunderstorms.

Day three of the workshop saw the development of antennae and the building of EM emmittors (image above). These were quite complex circuits and had a variable switch allowing the frequencies to be increased. We guessed by the number of oscillations that the lowest frequency must have been around 30Hz and the field surrounding this small device appeared to stretch to around one to two metres. Some of us were convinced that whilst standing in this field that we started to feel strange. I felt that my arm was oscillating like I had an electric charge running through my limb, much like when I was a child and had put my fingers round a half inserted plug to see what happened. A plant had been placed in the centre of an emmitting field, but we did not have enough time to expose it sufficiently to see if it had retained any charge. This would have been interesting particularly with the suggestion that water appears to have the potential to retain frequency; earlier experiments of mine in the local botanical gardens around cacti seemed to suggest that there was a higher proportion of microwave 'noise' around these species. Thus the apparent 'screaming' of cacti could perhaps be due to the fact that they contain high proportions of water that is stored as reservoirs within the walls of the plant flesh.

Towards the end of the day last minute recordings were made, and antennae tested. I took my 'electric chair' out for a walk, which was a stool wrapped with around 60 metres of copper wire. This amount of hardware hardly covered half a leg of the object, therefore to cover the whole of the stool would have required in excess of half a kilometer of wire. The sound however was a rich and strong input of low level frequency, for which there is already a downloadable sample in the audio section. Although the powers that be of the institution had insisted that I return the chair to its former glory of non-communication object, I took away with me some fresh ideas of methodological approaches that could be interwoven into my main research project. The notion of the reductionist testing of the medieval witch hunters became apparent to me, whereby the 'witch' was strapped to a chair and ducked into the water; if she survived she was burnt, and if she was drowned she was exonerated by God. This systematic reductionism, and how I, as the 'witch hunter'/ female/ scientist/specialist/ methodological hacker could utilise this electric chair object in my investigations of the ghost ship Saucy, started to make sense as a dipping/testing/electromagnetic antennae chair to aid a construction of a truth about nature.

Martin Howse will be presenting another workshop 2nd - 5th July in Berlin as part of. Tuned City. Tuned City - Between sound and space speculation is an exhibition and conference project planned for July 01.-05. 2008 in Berlin which proposes a new evaluation of architectural spaces from the perspective of the acoustic.