VLF Devised Project

first draft

Initial project sketch

This is the written documentation and contextual analysis submitted as an online presence for my final year artistic project as part of a degree in Creative Music Technology at Bath Spa University, UK.

My project has developed from my fascination with the VLF radio spectrum. Over the past 7 months I have explored how I can incorporate sounds from VLF signals into my artistic practice. I began by making VLF listening devices – wire coil inductors – that allowed me to tune in to the unheard sonic properties of a space or area. Listening to the VLF band reveals electromagnetic signals produced by technology and the natural world, including atmospheric disturbances caused by lightning and the Northern Lights,  and snatches of man-made interference signals which momentarily surface before becoming lost in the swell of noise. My initial idea was to perform a VLF recording with a free flying weather balloon.  This developed into a site-specific installation A Machine To Listen To The Sky

A sketch of the revised concept

A sketch of the revised concept

 which used a tethered weather balloon to create a stronger and more prolonged visual aspect.

During my project I devised further ways of incorporating VLF into my work through a sonic art composition Recording The Spirit Levelmade up from various VLF recordings which were subsequently rebroadcast to highlight interference in the VLF and radio bands.  I also experimented with making recordings in more remote places.  To encourage people to explore VLF themselves, I have also created a user guide – VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide – detailing how to listen and artistically use VLF sound.

A Machine To Listen To The Sky is an audio-visual installation that was displayed at The American Museum in Britain on Thursday, 2nd May 2013. The installation consisted of two inductor devices elevated high above ground level by a tethered weather balloon. The outputs of the two inductors were presented to listeners in the museum’s grounds through a pair of headphones. Listeners were invited to draw graphical representations of the sound world they were hearing.  One of the aims of the project was to demystify these signals that are hidden but all around us and prove that they are available to enjoy and present artistically as much as they are scientifically. I produced a short information sheet explaining what the listeners were hearing. View Here

Recording The Spirit Level is a piece commissioned by Chicago-based experimental broadcast platform Radius. The piece is inspired by interference in the radio band, specifically interference occurring at night, which is often greater than in daytime. The piece was made from large amounts of my raw VLF recordings (over an hour) which I heavily processed and edited to create a hyper real representation of the VLF band. It was broadcast in March to coincide with significant points in the arc of comet PANSTARR through our solar system, as I also wanted to draw attention to VLF’s relationship with space observation.

VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide is a short user manual presented as an ebook that explains how to begin listening and recording VLF signals, and how to use them in an artistic medium. It includes a DIY tutorial on making your own inductor and examples of creative processing where I highlight various tools alongside sections taken from my VLF sound diary detailing various recording expeditions. 

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