March 31, 2004

The Space Station

Proposal for an installation for "radiographic", g39, Cardiff, April 2004


Beaming down from the all corners of the universe are radio transmissions that have been broadcasting 24 / 7 for billions of years. No jingles, no phone ins, no traffic news, no personalities, no adverts, no competitions, no aesthetic . . . or maybe there is, the aesthetic of raw data . . . "a steady hiss type static of unknown origin" *

Visible light includes only a small range of wavelengths and frequencies of energy. At higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths lie ultra violet light, x -rays and gamma rays, at lower frequencies, infra red and radio frequencies. Given the right "eyes" and "ears" we can detect these bands of radiation emitted by extraterrestrial sources.

In radio astronomy the aural can be seen to meet the graphic. RF radiation (radio frequency radiation) induces a very weak electric current in an antenna. This can be amplified by a radio receiver until its strong enough for us to listen to. Just like the BBC or pirate radio . . .

For the purposes of interpreting this data radio astronomers convert it into the visual domain, mapping frequencies, their strength and location.

The Space Station starts from the idea of receiving an extraterrestrial radio source and playing it back alongside a graphic interpretation of the broadcast. Sound can be analyzed in various ways - relative strength of different frequency bands, amplitude, rhythmic content etc - and this information used to modulate and / or create visual information.

An uncompromising approach is to play a live radio source* at high volume and fidelity, allowing it to create a literal visual interpretation of itself through frequency analysis.

In this incarnation various recordings of different radio sources - among them meteor bursts, solar flares, pulsars, broadcasts from Jupiter - are part of a playlist including songs and music selected according to references to space and the universe in their titles. The Space Station orders these tracks according to random selection, music / sound non stop, radio without human interference.

Analogous to the interpretation of radio astronomical data, an analysis of frequency and amplitude is used to both create visual artifacts and affect parameters of found film footage and stills, rendering a real time visual counterpart to the sonic dimension.

*( Karl Jansky 1931)
*direct from radio telescope or internet stream

Posted by Jem Finer at March 31, 2004 4:11 PM