My original idea for the project was to perform a site-specific installation. However I didn’t realize how enthusiastic I would become about the VLF sound world. My project has led me to achieve a site-specific installation, but on top of this I have also completed a short documentary video, a commissioned VLF piece and a user guide.
My original concept for my installation involved a free flying weather balloon. This was a nice idea but when I began thinking about the practicalities for a participatory performance problems began to emerge. I wanted the weather balloon to be a visual point of focus, but if released it would only have been visible for a few minutes. Broadcasting live signals back to earth would have created unpleasant constant noise in the VLF band that I didn’t want.
This led me to decide on tethering the balloon for the installation increasing visual impact. Unexpectedly this decision made the project much harder to realize. A large open area was needed for a fairly long period of time, and the areas available came with a number of restrictions on health and safety as well as insurance grounds. I prepared a detailed risk assessment to show that I had considered all the potential risks and had back-up plans to deal with them. For example, the balloon would only be suitable for tethering in very light winds below 7 mph.
Another key area was securing helium. I explored various options, and in the end contacted the University of Bath Science Department who agreed to help me. I undertook internet research and contacted specialists in meteorological balloons to get the information I needed to plan the project. This included working out exactly how much helium I would need to support the weight of the inductors, tether cords and the balloon envelope. I also needed to show those who were assisting me that I had planned it out thoroughly, and that it was a viable project.
My VLF project required a great deal of communication and organisation. An example of this is my piece Recording The Spirit Level where I liaised with Radius curator Jeff Kolar. This enabled me to create a piece that was aimed at the right audience and would be broadcast at an appropriate time to match the pieces overall theme.
While preparing for A Machine To Listen To The Sky, I had to communicate with the venue (the American Museum) and University of Bath Science Department to find times that were mutually suitable. I needed to conform with health and safety restrictions. If the weather forecast was unsuitable, I had to postpone the installation performance. I had to do this twice due to adverse weather forecasts, and I had to make sure everyone involved stayed in the loop.
Overall my project has lived up to my expectations. My installation was a great success and went beyond what I had expected and what I had at times thought possible to achieve. One thing that I would have liked to have done was to record really pure natural radio signals, but I was unable to get far enough away from civilization to cancel out the 50hz hum.
Public interest and appreciation of my work has been much higher than I’d expected. I was really excited that people took so much interest in my project, and this was really rewarding for me.
I wrote a blog summarising my A Machine To Listen To The Sky installation for The American Museum’s Blog. View here