AER 2016: Día ocho

Día ocho: 31/08/16

The change of millennium was marked by a prophecy: computers were going to stop working properly and, consequently, so would aeroplanes and nuclear bombs. It was the end of the world: the start of a new millennium. None of that happened. (Nieto, 2016: 52)

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The place was deserted. Nobody for miles around. Who knew if they were ever coming back. The people that had lived here before the end, packed up and left in a rush. A light still on over the stove, the washing machine still flashing a notification to say it had finished its cycle, the solar and wind transformers perched above the lead battery stores blinking flashing lights. A cat left to its own devices slept in the shade and relative dampness of the boiler room and a dog lain prone by the kitchen door.

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I put my recorder towards the whining chirps of the circuit board, the breaker, the transformer, the battery columns and listened to these nonhuman but not of this world sounds. Louder, more present than anything I had heard whilst walking through the mountains a few days before. The relative quiet of outside, ruptured by the storage and distribution of electrical current… 50V, 48.6V, 49.3V, changing according to sun capture and wind velocity.

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I prepared a coil tap microphone, that could transduce the electromagnetic frequencies in the air and turn them into sonic noise. The battery column emanated electromagnetics more than any other place I’ve ever been before. Even in the huge cell banks of colocation data centres. Perhaps in the larger spaces, the electromagnetic shielding is more robust, but the magnetism leaped from the boxes and batteries and I scanned the space with the transducer, listening for quirks, powerful bodies and fluctuations in the electromagnetic sonified universe.

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I followed the cables and found myself outside in the blistering heat. Scaffolding with half finished paint jobs, re-whitening the yellowing walls. The connection to the universe pricking its antennae into the sky. Three satellite receiver dishes side by side, reaching to the stars, transmitting messages to the edge of the orbit where a satellite repeats the signal back down to earth… Somewhere in Italy I was once told… And then from there onwards through the cables buried deep within the earth, across oceans and land masses, to terminal sites in data centres in foreign lands such as Ireland, Northern Sweden, Iceland, Shanghai, Texas.

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I tried to listen in to the transmission but could only hear the flies and wind so applied my transducer contact microphones to the dish, in the hope to reveal more of the signal there only to find the wind rustling the metallic disc, and no sign of signal. In the future, nobody will know how to work one of these without the preinstalled proprietary software, user account, password and three step mobile phone authentication protocol.

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At night I listened through the recordings and began to catalogue them, as if they might become useful for future generations, to understand what it was like in these days, how the human-nonhuman dichotomy collided through technology. And how the nonhuman survived.

Note

The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) was launched in 2015 by Professor Lucy Orta, UAL Chair of Art and the Environment. Between August and September 2016, I spent two weeks at the arts-led field research centre Joya: arte + ecología. This is my journal.

References

Mandel, Emily St. John . (2015) Station Eleven. Picador Pan Macmillan, London, UK.

Nieto, Mikel, R. (2016). Dark Sound. Gruenrekorder. Gruen, Germany