Acoustic Radiator is a site-specific sound installation created for Radio Revolten International Radio Art Festival in Halle, Germany in September-October 2016. The building in which it is housed was abandoned for 15 years prior to the festival occupying it for – installation spaces, a radio station, offices and a performance space. The installation uses a high frequency RF receiver to receive the packets sent from a wifi router, and translates them into audible sound. These fast tapping packet rhythms are used as a clock, and sent to a modular synthesizer. The synthesizer subdivides the rhythms, and sends them to three modified speakers that vibrate a door, two radiators found in the building, and a subwoofer also buried under a pile of radiators. The lighting used in the installation was also found in a discarded pile in the building.
As part of a recent yearly theme on “Grids” Radius tackled the electro-magnetic field space of the city by inviting four artists to create new works to be performed near power stations. In his piece electrosmog, Canadian artist Kristen Roos utilized a high frequency receiver to sonify signal activity in the 800 MHz – 2.5 GHz range, which includes mobile phones, wireless phones, wifi, and microwaves. His site-specific performance took place overlooking the Fisk Generating Station in Chicago, and included microwave ovens and micro-watt transmission to a sound system made of radio receivers. Thus the work was site-specific to both the transmission ecology of urban Chicago and the field effects of the electrical grid, mixing material signals with a speculative approach as to what the cumulative effects of living in this built environment characterized by centralized power could be. In Roos’ work, radio space contextualized and revealed the real–though naturalized and often invisible–relationships between people, things, and systems, where a microwave oven gestured at both danger and musicality.
Electrosmog is concerned with themes of electromagnetism and material processes which sonify inaudible events. Using an electrosmog high frequency receiver, Roos captures sounds produced by mobile phones, wireless phones, wifi, microwaves, and other electronic devices (between 800 MHz – 2.5 GHz). Important to Roos’ electrosmog is that wifi operates on the same frequency as a microwave oven (2.4GHz), and when modulated into audible frequencies, wifi sounds like pops and clicks and a microwave creates a deep drone.
The inclusion of the Fisk Generating Station as a site-specific element in electrosmog speaks to the emergence of site-specific sound and radio art. In acknowledging the spaces that Roos creates within, he uses them as an aural palette of sorts. Our everyday lives consist of mixing and creating sound collage and microscopic sound sculptures — largely because sound is constantly entering and vibrating our bodies. With the addition of wifi and other inaudible high frequencies, we are also being confronted by another world of frequencies.
Will the electrosmog created by our North American obsession with wireless devices be looked at in the same way we turn our noses at burning coal and the coal smog that once filled our cities to create power? Roos’ electrosmog explores what the electrosmog equivalent would be to the shutting down of the Fisk Generating Station. Conversely, the work ponders whether we are, in fact, heading down a road that sees an increase in coal power plants and a disregard for all forms of smog. Would this be a place where inaudible radiating pops and clicks of information float in and out of fog as thick as pea soup?