Requiem for Radio: Pulse Decay
solo performance for theremin triggering audio and image of RCI radio towers
playing the ghosts of the radio towers with radio waves - 2014 and 2016
Requiem for Radio: Pulse Decay is a solo performance for theremin conjuring the ghosts of the RCI shortwave towers.
Control Voltage output from both the pitch and volume antennae of the theremin are run through an arduino analogue to digital converter, and converted into binary slip packets which are then sent to SuperCollider and Processing programs to trigger audio and video of the radio towers.
Audio samples sourced from my contact mic recordings of the radio towers and associated video projections. “pulse” refers to the soft vibrations of the towers that I recorded, almost like slow echoey heartbeats that have now stopped beating, while “decay” refers to the fact that the the pulse (presence and memory of the site) has decayed, it is now a mere echo, growing fainter and fainter every day.
Audio: There were 13 radio towers, which lend themselves to a 13 note chromatic scale from tonic to tonic (C4 to C5). Each contact microphone recording was filtered to highlight the specific frequencies of a note within that chromatic scale.
Image: Each audio sample of a tower is paired with a visual image of that tower. During my time at the RCI site, I made a series of "portraits" of each tower. Most people photograph or draw the towers in landscape format capturing all of them and their webbing on the marsh at once. I, wanted to instead create individual portraits of each tower, singling them out from the group. The images for this performance are composites: a vertical portrait of the tower on the left, with statistical information of the tower's name, height, and other info on the upper right, an aerial map of the site with that specific tower circled in red, a landscape view of the whole site with that tower circled in red, and an image taken looking up from the base of the tower from where I made the contact mic recording.
Obey Convention (Halifax, NS) May, 2014
Paved Arts (Saskatoon, SK) October, 2014
NAISA (Toronto, ON) November 2016
Audio documentation from performance at NAISA (November 2016)
Requiem for Radio is a larger body of work with five separate components
- Requiem for Radio: Pulse Decay (solo performance for theremin triggering audio and images of radio towers)
- Requiem for Radio: New Dead Zones (interactive installation - scale model of RCI radio tower site triggering audio)
- Requiem for Radio: Radio Cowers (instrument built from cow bone, cow hide, electronics, and radio transmitter)
- Requiem for Radio: Full Quiet Flutter (performance that integrates the previous three elements)
- Requiem for Radio: Deviant Receptions (a revisitation of the radio sink from the Marshland Radio Plumbing Project)
History and related projects
My work with radio waves began in 2009 with the Marshland Radio Plumbing Project a still ongoing project which includes a large sculpture (a sink that plays the radio), a series of 4x5foot photographs (in production), hand-made radios, and various maps and electronic schematic drawings. My work with the radio sink, led to further research on radio waves and therefore to analogue television broadcasts, which in turn resulted in a multifaceted projected entitled Last Days of Snow. Last Days of Snow involved several different projects (Nightlights Like Fireflies: a site specific intervention – Waiting for the End: a series of performative loops on CRT monitors – Final Transmissions: documentation from across Canada of the last signals cutting out – and The Begending of the Universe – a performance involving video projections and physics formulae). Some aspects of this project (particularly “Final Transmissions”) are continuing to be developed.
Erected in 1938, the RCI site was transmitting by 1942. RCI broadcast to Europe, Africa, South America, and the Arctic. In addition to Canadian broadcasts, this site also served as a relay for Radio China, Radio Japan, Radio Korea, Voice of Vietnam, and Vatican Radio. It was the only high power shortwave relay station in Canada.
While the broadcasts from these towers were intended for an international audience, they also had an immediate impact on the locals who lived within a 50 km radius. Many local residents reported hearing radio broadcasts emanating from unusual household appliances, including kitchen sinks, bathtubs, toasters, refrigerators, telephones, and light fixtures. On an emotional level, the radio towers tied in to a very deep sense of home for many residents, as they stood as an incredibly distinctive landmark when travelling along the trans-Canada highway. In addition to their striking visual presence on the flat, sea level landscape, they also added to the invisible landscape of the region through the radio waves that they transmitted, as well as through the folklore and rural mythology that they inspired.
A turn of events
In 2012, they announced that the site would be shut down. The last Canadian international shortwave broadcast was sent in June of 2012, the final international relays were sent in October 2012, the last arctic broadcast (and the final broadcast to ever transmit from this site) was sent in November 2012. Here is a quote from Mark Montgommery, host of the Link, from the final RCI broadcast on June 24, 2012:
"It's also being said that shortwave is a technology at the end of its lifecycle or quite simply obsolete. And while there is no denying the importance of the internet, there's also no denying that it can be and is regularly blocked by authoritarian regimes. Shortwave broadcasts on the other hand almost always get through to people hungry for information. Radio has also always been extremely inexpensive and highly portable, easily accessible to everyone around the world no matter what their financial situation. But now I find myself, on behalf of all of us, saying goodbye to 67 years of radio, and so, for all of us, thank you so much, and goodbye."