Where the Radio Stops, the Music Begins
Where the Radio Stops,
In 1895, Breuer and Freud published Studies on Hysteria, a seminal account of the development of the first scientific method for analysing the realities of the human mind, which suggested a new way of making inferences from the symbolic forms created in dreams using techniques such as free-association. This same year also saw the development of one of the first motion picture cameras by the Lumiere Brothers. The Cinematograph, a device that acted as a camera, developer and a projector, had its first public demonstration in the form of a twelve-film screening in Paris. The Cinematograph not only pipped Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope to the post as the first publicised machine to enable a ‘cinematic’ event, but also hailed the start of an era of innovative communication, story telling and recording of realities. Thus a new narrative of the anthropological was born, in the moving cultural and social act encased in the archaeological object of film. A key element in this process of encasement was electromagnetism in the form of light. With its interaction, reflection and attenuation on, against or through surrounding objects, light provided the pattern of frequency to allow this recording process to take place. In effect, the moving photographic paper or film had been modulated, a modulation that had witnessed a specific moment in time. For the next half a century, the responsibilities of handling the Cinematograph and other subsequent recorders of social and political relationships, fell into the hands of a select few and in much the same sense as the myth of the artist genius, a myth was created that implied only special types of communicators and journalists should have access to this medium. Post Second World War however, saw the familiarisation with society of the moving image through newsreels, cinema and the television set. With the increased demand for modern expression and a thinking that ran alongside to the American dream1 young people in the 1950’s and 60’s demanded that they be taught the use of the movie camera to record their own individual narratives about the world.
Today the motion picture that once could only be created by film and transparency, is digital. A multitude of easily accessible equipment such as the digital camera, mobile phone or the computer, provide a means of recording personal histories with ever-increasing ease. Now not only imagery can be electronically recorded, but sound and written text. The means of sharing these separate histories has also become commonplace. Email, SMS and Bluetooth are all examples of the way individuals transfer and keep information. As in the days of film where light was modulated into a pattern to create an image, social and political concerns are now carried by radio and microwaves that are manipulated by frequency, amplitude or phase to carry code in the shape of a pattern. Similar to the short paragraph in Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow where the inhabitants of a town mark their every move by unraveling thread wherever they go, today’s inhabitant leaves a modulated thread which is a unique pattern of their journey through life. Thus a saturation of aether space has occurred where threads of personal, sociological, political and military codings exist together; the act of modulation providing the pattern of a history that is sometimes short-lived, but at other times extends outward, traveling through our galaxy forever marking a specific moment in time.
Thus the perceived scale of the spaces we now live within becomes distorted. In parallel to the text Non-Places by Marc Auge, and his description of Supermodernity as a non-place where the ‘capitalist phenomena’ produces a ‘self-contained…logic of excessive information and excessive space’, the electromagnetic spectrum that we inhabit for our communication, work and leisure is expanding with Supermodern overabundance. Internet connections open doors to new landscapes through the mirror2 of the monitor, secret lives exchange communications in textual heavens, housewives draw new social boundaries with the telephone whilst military muscles flex themselves with stealthy anticipation via satellite. Images, words, plans and theories move past each other at nearly three hundred million metres per second facilitated by an ever-increasing expansion of commercial bandwidth. The accumulation of electromagnetic cultural patterning thus has the paradoxical effect of creating an excess of space by the opening of new areas of potential interaction, yet in the same instant making distance appear smaller. Distance in space-time is collapsing, and everything and everyone can enjoy an unparalleled, if disincarnate, proximity. This collapse of distance is not limited to what we immediately experience as ordinary space and time, but includes complex arrangements of knowledge, behavior, values and social structures.3 The proximity of events, social structures and values has the effect of pushing the notion of History further and further towards the present, where an individual can feel his own history intersecting with History, and can imagine that the two are interconnected.4 No longer is History only present on dusty bookshelves that talk of the French Revolution. History is present in the lifetime of the individual. In terms of the microwave and radio sections of the electromagnetic spectrum where communication has its own modulated mark in time, History was created yesterday, an hour ago, or just in the last moment.
This essence of time is crucial in the notion of non-place, as non-place is a place with no identity, a through point such as the airport, where the individual has had no time to bond with others enabling the formation of a community marked by place. The exemplification of a community would be in the monuments it leaves behind and the codified social structures we would normally associate with place, such as the physical interrelation between church and common, signifying the relationship between religion and community. The airport, the station and the autoroute however are all places of the solitary traveler who through itineraries, timetables and other abundant textual instructions, has no time to create his own inscriptions that would indicate a link to other social identities of place. Yet in the electromagnetic spectrum, we see a History where the modulated wave becomes an inscription, a monument in space and time marking that very development of a modern society. Through their unique patterns and interrelations in time, the inscriptions signify a social and cultural relationship that marks specific codified structures relating to identity, society and community. In this sense then, we can view the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that mankind uses for communication as anthropological; a cultural and sociological record, an artifact crafted by its users where modulation signifies that craft. Much like the potter or the toolmaker, the modulator of electromagnetism creates a pattern code onto an object that is at once both being and nothingness, yet is embodied with our experience, our signature, our past. The act of consciousness becomes the act of handling this world of information.5 Therefore taken as a whole, this ‘sea’ of modulated mumblings could be interpreted as an unspecific space, a cultural reservoir and an open take on the classic Jungian notion of the collective consciousness, where reoccurring symbolic archetypes can be randomly accessed; space in the literal sense is a point somewhere between points, and in a phenomenological sense, a space not distinguished by its various places, but by one’s sense of “being”.6 However, in viewing this reservoir in an opposing light and by looking at the unspecific whole as a set of very specific self- contained relationships, a new narrative of the anthropological appears; that is, the moving cultural and social act encased in the archaeological object that is the modulated wave. Thus spaces whose analysis have meaning because they have been invested with meaning7 become places. The electromagnetic spectrum with its modulated monuments of societal relations, identity and History becomes at one with an ethnological tradition that holds an idea of a culture localised in space and time.8 Therefore with our intervention, the self-contained unspecific non-place of the ‘supermodern’ electromagnetic spectrum, can become a place.
the Music Begins.
In 1854, James Bowman Lindsay the Scottish inventor and early pioneer of telegraphy, patented his ideas for underwater telegraphic communication by the use of insulated wires. However, due to the excessive length of wire that his system required, which was almost double that to the stretch of water that was attempting to be crossed, it was superceded by other more practical designs. Lindsay nonetheless continued with his research, and turned his attention to transmitting messages wirelessly through the water, which he was successful in doing over short distances. Nonetheless, over one hundred and fifty years later, man still retains the inability to reliably transmit wirelessly through the water over any great distance. As regards transmissions from the land to underwater vehicles such as submarines, direct wireless communication via conventional radio and microwave frequencies is virtually impossible when the submarine is at working depth, which can be around six hundred metres for nuclear-powered attack submarines. High-powered signals used for many satellite and mobile messaging systems are simply ‘lost’ in salt water as the sea absorbs or attenuates the electric part of the wave. Radio communications broadcast on even the VLF (Very Low Frequency) range have wavelengths that only penetrate the water to between ten to forty metres, depending on the salinity (or conductivity) of the water. This is barely periscope depth for a modern submarine. To get around this problem, previous American and Russian governments developed ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) programmes that were broadcasting at 76-82 Hz enabling a carrier wave of sufficient length to penetrate the water deep enough so that sub-maritime vessels around the world could receive information. However, similar to Bowman Lindsay’s problem in the 1850’s, the amount of land-based wire that was needed to produce waves of this length was phenomenal. As the wavelength for ELF communication was around 3500km, which is a quarter of the earths diameter, the antennae needed to produce such a wave was so vast that the earth itself was used as an antennae by utilizing base-rock formations such as igneous granite. Due to the amount of power required to transmit this form of radio, it was a one-way system only from shore to submarine, where the data rate took the form of a few characters per hour. Needless to say, in the last five years these systems have been scrapped for communication purposes due to economic pressures, and dialogue with submarines now takes the form of a beacon that is dropped into the water telling the sub to surface. However this method is still dependant on a pre-organised itinerary, where the submarine will be known to be in the localised area as the beacon is dropped. In this respect every Captain of the sub-mariner fraternity retains a certain degree of autonomy, as when he and his crew are at their maximum depth of over six hundred metres, they electromagnetically do not exist; the contained world of the supermodern anthropological machine finds its boundary. In the un-contactable world of the deep then, they retain the myth of the sea monster, the stealth of being at one with the sea where every Captain’s name is Nemo and every craft is the Nautilus.9
Thus in the Nautilus or the autonomous vessel of the modern submarine, the theories of place and non-place come back into focus. In his text Non-Places, Auge does not posit a non-place in direct opposition to a place, or suggest that the Supermodern is ‘all-encompassing’. Contrary to a more traditional view where ‘old and new are interwoven’ he describes the condition of Supermodernity as being self-contained where places exist separately and outwith non-place, and likewise the non-place can exist within place. In this self-containment, the submarine has the condition of the Supermodern intrinsicly interwoven into its physical and circumstantial properties. By the very nature of the medium that this vehicle travels through and no matter whether the vessel is of military or commercial concern, movement for a submarine is a necessity and itinerary is always a priority. Complacency is avoided as for every ten metres in increased depth the water pressure increases by one bar, which is one kilogram of weight for every centimetre squared of area.10 Submarines therefore not only have a maximum depth rating but also a collapse depth. A series of continual checks must be made in respect of buoyancy, air, humidity, pressure, fuel, temperature and depth, whereby the actions of these checks have the peculiarity that they are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their instructions for use.11 The necessity for these actions are ones of survival and are evident throughout a vehicle where function takes over from form, where space is a necessary constraint. The containees in this working machine live by timetables, shifts, actions and reactions for the protection of their enclosed environment, a protection that requires focus at all times and a focus that allows no other social codifications or individual identities to form. The submariner becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer or driver.12 If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, historical or concerned with identity, will be a non-place.13 Thus in the submarine we see exemplified the classic notion of the Augean non-anthropological, a place that is only traveled through and holds no identity or social codifications that would mark its relationship to place; although the vessel will be occupied by the same inhabitants for months at a time, whilst in the company of the deep, the human submariner will always be the traveler in the non-place of his container.
So the autonomous submarine skirts stealthily around its deepest depth of six hundred metres, electromagnetically invisible in the Twilight Zone14 of the ocean. For a diver at full saturation this depth is probably at the limits of what human physiology could take.15 Standing at the edge of a Moon Pool,16 the threshold between non-space and the other, the diver prepares himself to enter a new world that places him at the centre of a conjunction of space and place. On entering the pool, he is plunged into darkness where all visual representation that would normally provide a sense of scale in relation to self, is absent. Once underwater he is immediately compelled by the sensation of flying, free falling and suspension as he is in his dreams.17 The aquanaut is thus rendered into a space of consciousness, through which his perception restricts the use of space to a sensory experience.18 For that moment, a human in the state of immersion views the subaqua as a sensory space. A space where no relation to anthropological codifications or supermodernity exists, where the mind moves back to notion of the primitive, where interior and exterior are one and the earthly world joins that of the soul.19 However by recognising that a relationship between air, breath and the spirit occurs when the bio/tech unit sustains life in a saturated environment,20 the diver soon snaps back into the realms of non-place. His body as the traveling vehicle, resuming the focus of checks necessary to sustain his life, and returning him to the textual realm of action through instruction. Yet this depth also signifies the edge of a new kind of place, one where another type of frequency attenuates and therefore another form of anthropology exists. From the depths of six hundred to twelve hundred metres, The Deep Sound Channel21 moves through the oceans and around the world, transporting low frequency sound vibrations for thousands of kilometres. In the upper reaches of this channel the diver thus finds himself at the conjunction of three different worlds; one where the space of consciousness merges with the vibrational place of sensory sound, yet is kept in check by the contained non-place of survival. Existence at this meeting point is fleeting, and with the experience of being part of the Deep Sound Channel for just a very short while, the aquanaut returns to his moon pool and the dry seclusion of his vessel.
However, much like electromagnetism in the medium of air, sound in water reverberates for long periods of time providing a poetic view that the sound does not disappear, only gets quieter and quieter. Even though the oceans provide man with a new type of space to conquer, the medium of water that we habitually take for granted, provides us with an undiscovered wealth of possibility. Some say that the special qualities of water extend to electromagnetic and acoustic memory,22 the unique hydrogen bonding of the molecules providing helixical structures23 that trap, record or echo specific frequencies. In a world that is becoming increasingly aquatic through Global Warming, our powers of communication would have to realise, adapt and utilise the very unique qualities of water that could provide new ways of thinking about the modulation and combination of acoustic and electromagnetic wave systems. For the radio transmission that continues forever into deep space marking a point in time, the acoustic reverberates through the oceans forever, celebrating the moment where the radio stops and the music begins.
- 1. The American Dream was/is a belief in hard work and prosperity through which any American could realise their life goals on an equal footing to one another,
- 2. The mirror in Foucault’s Heterotopias: of Other Spaces, was a place between a Utopia and an ‘other’ space. The mirror embodied both of these worlds.
- 3. Novak, M. (1998) Trans Terra Form: Liquid Architectures and the Loss of Inscription. Accessed 23/03/08
- 4. Auge, M. (1995). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London: New York Pg 29
- 5. Silva, Camile A. (2006) Liquid Architectures: Marcos Novak’s Territory Of Information Information, Visualization (IV’06), Computer Society, IEEE
- 6. Ibid: Martin Heidegger, “Art and Space,” Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, ed. Neil Leach (New York: Routledge, 1997), 121-4.
- 7. Auge, M. (1995). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London: New York Pg 52
- 8. Ibid pg 34
- 9. Captain Nemo is a fictional character in the novel 20,000 leagues under the sea by Jules Verne. ‘Nemo’ is Greek for no-one and in the book, Nemo was a self-imposed refugee and vigilante from the rest of society. The Nautilus was his submarine that was independently electrically powered by sodium batteries, the sodium for which was converted from seawater.
- 10. BSAC, (2006) Student Manual, The British Sub Aqua Club
- 11. Auge, M. (1995). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London: New York. Pg 96
- 12. Ibid: Pg 103
- 13. Ibid: Pg 134
- 14. The Mesopelagic Zone is the area in the ocean from 200 – 1000 metres deep, where light is very limited thus no photosynthesis takes place. Mesopelagic in Greek means ‘twilight’.
- 15. Cross E, R. (unknown year).
- 16. The moon Pool is an opening in the floor or base of the hull platform or chamber giving access to the water below.
- 17. Pell S, J (2005). Second Nature, Second Skin, Aquabatics as New Works of Live Art, Thesis.
- 18. Silva, Camile A. (2006) Liquid Architectures: Marcos Novak’s Territory Of Information Information, Visualization (IV’06), Computer Society, IEEE. (Merleau-Ponty)
- 19. This notion of the primitive mind that does not separate the earthy world from the spirit was a theory of the anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl (1857–1939)
- 20. Pell S, J (2005). Second Nature, Second Skin, Aquabatics as New Works of Live Art, Thesis.
- 21. The deep Sound Channel is also known as the SOFAR (Sound Fixing And Ranging) Channel, and is caused by fluctuations in temperature and depth that enables sound to move with greater attenuation. It is also thought that whales use this channel to communicate.
- 22. See Jaques Beneviste and Viktor Schauberger .
- 23. Smith, C; Best, S. (1989) Electromagnetic Man, Dent. Pg 115.