The publication tunes into our highly textured and complex radio environment by subjecting itself to the unpredictability, seasonality, solar circles of the ionosphere and the current location of the reader. The publication embeds itself by using real time ionospheric measurements to determine how much of the publication and how much of the environment arrives.
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Human multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country, high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug in Mother Earth. This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale-that is, in the spirit of technology
Walter Benjamin, ‘To The Planetarium,’ One-way Street (Einbahnstraße), 1974
A radio line-of-sight differs to that of visible light, and so to human vision. In the radio spectrum, where frequencies are lower and wavelengths larger, a wave will attenuate more slowly, travelling further and existing longer. Lower frequency radio clings to the Earth’s surface in so-called ground waves, while higher frequencies reach over the horizon, reflected and refracted by an electrically charged ionosphere.
The vocabulary of radio traces the invisible contours of its spectral topographies. Rain fade, Earth bulge and backscatter. "Go hill topping when transmitting Very High Frequencies!"
I use radio to refer to both the device that contains an oscillator, modulator, and amplifier, as well as electromagnetic waves in the range of 0.2 Hz to 3000 GHz, corresponding to wavelengths of 100,000 kilometres to under 1 millimetre. The word might sound antiquated but almost without exception all contemporary wireless technologies operate in radio spectra. From Earth Observation Satellite feeds that negotiate Super High Frequencies, to planetary-scale cellular networks, Wi-Fi hotspots, Bluetooth links, television remote controls, and microwave ovens.
The media theorist Mark Hansen considered radio to be neither invention or discovery but a “cosmological revelation” of the Earth’s electromagnetic field. Following Hansen, we can imagine radio’s spectral presence as a kind of disclosure or cosmic utterance. Spectral because we sense its persistence yet it is never fully present.1 And an utterance because to utter or to articulate means to join together, to form “alliances, affinities, and connections”. The argument I want to experiment with is that our world is joined, entangled, fully enmeshed with radio.2 Indeed, it is becoming-radio.
Radio waves blur physis and techne, celestial and terrestrial, ancient and contemporary, human and nonhuman.2 Staying with Hansen, radio possesses a “doublesness” as both human technology and cosmic technology. To describe our world-becoming radio, is to tell a complex, multiscalar and seemingly paradoxical story. A story in which human activity features, yet radio has a “dynamic of its own”4 not subject to human control.
Anyone who has transmitted radio, such as an amateur enthusiast like myself, knows that the act of transmission is a process of negotiation with a myriad of nonhuman actors. From the Earth’s curvature and conductive bedrock, to air humidity and the ionosphere’s electric composition—anthropogenic transmissions are frequently textured by radio of geomagnetic and cosmic origins.
At 290 Kelvin, the thermal noise of the Earth commingles with the hiss of cosmic background radiation that peaks at 120.1 MHz. This is in chorus with the radio hum of celestial bodies, most notably Jupiter just below 40 MHz and our sun’s polyphonic bursts.
These are the noises we hear during so-called radio silence. Hisses, hums and volatile outbursts on so-called empty channels.
What do we learn if we tune into radio noise? In other words, tune into our highly textured and complex radio environment or milieu. Tune into what electronic music composer, Pauline Oliveros, called the “negative operant phenomena of the system”, in her description of the “whistles and white noise between [radio] stations”.5
Our radio milieu is composed of electromagnetic currents that form a wireless infrastructure conducting operations beyond our awareness, and on which contemporary life is contingent.6 Put differently, have developed an attachment to radio and this can be theorised as an ontological commitment. Or, to summon Gilles Deleuze, an “unnatural coupling”.7 A cosmic alliance of multiple and diffuse bodies.
Our commitment to radio binds us to an electromagnetic milieu that is increasingly “dense, codified and politicised.”8 The idea of a divisible radio spectrum is played out in the strata-like bars of frequencies, charts, and regional band plans. These almost entirely enclosed radio spectrum, leaving only an estimated 2% of useable frequencies open access.9 The vast majority are licensed, either allocated by governments or bought and sold at auctions. This is a politics of radio modulated by intergovernmental treaties, corporate monopolies, ionospheric conditions, and the radio-active cycles of our Sun.
As discussed, radio can be understood as both cosmic technology and human technology.
A strategy for understanding how radio as technology acts on our world is to ground its spectral presence in a specific material history. I propose we return to Hansen and his speech on radio that I quoted earlier, which was made at a conference on the Anthropocene in 2015. Geologists, atmospheric scientists, philosophers, media theorists, architects and artists had gathered at the Haus der Kulteren der Welt (HKW) in Berlin to debate the proposition of a new geological epoch.
Those in favour of the Anthropocene argue that the Holocene has ended, and we are in a new geological age. Depending on which boundary marker subscribed to the nascent epoch began as early as the 16th the century when the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion, namely inorganic carbon, can be first detected. Or as late as July 16th 1945 at Alamogordo in New Mexico, when the first nuclear bomb was detonated.10
Hansen’s provocation at HKW, was to propose radio as a “technological trigger” for the Anthropocene. His comments resonated with those of Buckminster Fuller, who, over a century earlier, had claimed that radio signals do more than stitch the world together: they make the world a world for the first time.11 As Fuller observed, radio does more than connect or image our world, it reorganises it.
If so, how do we understand radio as having a material history? In other words, how do we account for radio waves in a geological epoch written in rock? In other words, in deep time.12 Aside from questions of materiality and immateriality, are the temporalities of radio and geology not irreconcilably different?
First, we must understand the Anthropocene as simultaneously a planetary model, project and instrument. It opens a line-of-sight, which brings into view specific material histories, and occludes others. To the geologists that must ratify new epochs, time is rendered visible and divisible by “stratigraphic signals”. That is to say, petrified plants, animals and “sedimentary pathways”.13 These are found in “solid aggregate mineral deposits”, in other words, rock and fossil. 14
Radio waves draw up antennae, curve parabolic dishes, and coil wires. These are technofossils, evidence in the geologists’ search for chronological markers of the Anthropocene. Radio noise as stratigraphic signal.
In the tale I am narrating of a world becoming-radio, the technofossil renders visible the force of radio in things that are not radio. Both directly by accounting for the future geological traces of telecommunication infrastructure. As well as indirectly, via national constitutions, federal laws, and computer codes that shape and are shaped our environment.
The architect Keller Easterling referred to our radio milieu as “C-band urbanism”. C-band is the microwave portion of the radio spectrum, initially allocated to satellites. Easterling likened electromagnetic radiation, and the first artificial satellites that harnessed it, to an “airborne infrastructure”, “dams on a microwave sea”.15
In their recent work on the Anthropocene, French historians, Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, conceived the Earth’s radio skein as a “second atmosphere”.16 Atmosphere implies something to which we have a reflexive encounter through the vital and involuntary mechanisms of breathing. Read together with reports of climate change it conjures a just fear of environmental ensnarement.
Yet neither description fully accounts for radio’s “doubleness” as cosmic and human technology. Bonneuil and Fressoz’s atmospheric language places emphasis on radio as natural phenomenon. While Easterling’s recourse to urbanism stresses its spatial dimension and prompts us to think of it as architectural material, I would argue the result is an undue emphasis on our radio milieu as manmade.
At a seminar last summer, I asked, theorist of political aesthetics Esther Leslie to describe in her vocabulary the proliferation of radio in the Anthropocene. Her response was simple: “it is an intense agitation all around us”.17
I think Leslie’s notion of radio as agitation is compelling because it belongs to a family of concepts that are able to move between different registers: technoscientific, legal, political and social. This is a multiple belonging, appropriate to a technology that is both cosmic and human.18 For example, political and social definitions of agitate are similar. To agitate, is to arouse public interest in a concern, to trouble, or be troubled. In technoscientific language it means to stir-up, unsettle or disturb. Agitation is also a reference to the essence of radio something. Unlike sound waves that are mechanical, electromagnetic radio waves do not displace material—they excite it. In other words, they agitate it.
We peer at the small monitor on the handheld controller. It shows a large tower. Our gaze meets two outsized, cylindrical drums—the radio relays of financial traders.
The image we are viewing is borne on the radio waves of Global Positioning satellites and tethered by to the ground at 2.4 GHz.
The drone is lost.
It pivots, searching for the signal of the ground transceiver.
We glimpse, what we could not before.
An impossible image.
A topography that extends beyond the limited range of human sensation to the bulk of frequencies that compose the infra and ultra, super and sub. The spectral topography of our radio milieu.
The drone’s movements expose an interference pattern.
To the radio listener or television viewer interference is noise. Yet noise is an “unruly intrusion”, evidence of an “other”.19
Attuned to the hum and rush of electrometric waves
We sense them as they crack into existence, attenuate and vanish.
The hum and rush of an Anthropocene borne on radio waves surrounds and engulfs us.20
The image we are viewing is borne on the radio waves of Global Positioning satellites and tethered by to the ground at 2.4 GHz.
It is also an image of high-frequency trading.
The drone’s movement expose the interference pattern of a no image.
Thursday, 16:34:02 Heated air makes the asphalt dance on half vacant parking lots. Sun cuts into the lens. The many lines-of-sight of High Frequency Trading radio relays pass through Slough, they split and come together in this suburban town best known as the grey backdrop of the comedy series The Office. From the roof of the Royal Posts’ sorting station, to the neighbouring Holiday Inn Express; white teflon wrapped circles. We travel North-East, crossing brick row houses, train tracks and hay fields, to the top of a wing in Hillingdon Hospital. Continuing along steal and glass in the City of London, past medieval ruins in Kent. Lines rejoin at The White Cliffs of Dover, again splitting across the English Channel.
Thursday, 16:34:02 The moist from the sea beneath makes the image blurred yet we make out the approaching French coastal line. Following transmissions to Calais, raggedy white fences topped with barbed wire surrounds seemingly unused lots of land. Further East the boarder walls run along lorry-filled highways. A fly hits the camera lens.
Thursday, 16:34:03 Lammersdorf is a small place in Germany about half a kilometre from the border of Belgium. It’s categorised as that, not a city, or a town, a place: ‘plaats’. Local tourist attractions are an agricultural museum, a Catholic Church and a tele tower. The large antennas are hovering above the trees of this forested region, round and white, clinging to its upper section. Six of their flat-stretched rubber faces point in a North-Eastern direction, the rest, another five look South-East. From here it shouldn’t be more than a couple of jumps and microseconds before the final destination; a data centre in the outskirts of Frankfurt. There are lazy hums of harvesters working fields nearby, and a continuous whizz from the road. A farm house dwarfed by the large metal construction.
In 25 minutes the transmissions passing by the drone, in a 10 mm radius, will be cut off. Tomorrow they will continue to fly through these German woods, to a data center in the outskirts of Frankfurt, back across a hilltop overlooking the old coal factory in Liege, then through the French countryside again across the Straight of Dover, back and forth endlessly, between 9 and 5.
There’s wooden hunting huts with tall legs and overgrown grasslands. We pass a small river and are on the way towards an endlessly forested horizon when the drone slows down until it comes to a complete halt. Its’ signal lost, it pivots, searching for the ground receiver. Stopping again, before pivoting another 20 seconds, slowing down, orienting. Shifting direction slightly, it picks up speed and returns to the tele tower.
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 McCormack, D. P. ‘Remotely Sensing Affective Afterlives: The Spectral Geographies of Material Remains’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2010 Jul; 100(3): 640–654
 Haraway, D. ‘The Promises of Monsters’ in Hustak, N and Myers, N. Involutionary Momentum. 2012; 23(3): 105
 Sheikh, S. On violence: A Posthuman Glossary, 2017
 The idea of agency (the power to act) being delimited by the scale is taken from an article by the geologist Haff, P. in the Anthropocene Review, 2014; 1(2): 126–136, ‘Humans and technology in the Anthropocene’: Six rules’ “(1) the rule of inaccessibility, that large components of the technosphere cannot directly influence the behavior of their human parts; (2) the rule of impotence, that most humans cannot significantly influence the behavior of large technological systems; (3) the rule of control, that a human cannot control a technological system that expresses a larger number of behaviors than he himself; (4) the rule of reciprocity, that a human can interact directly only with systems his own size […]”
 Kahn, D. Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. p. 126
 Hansen, M. ‘Triggers: Introducing the Technosphere’. 100 Jahre Gegenwart. Haus der Kulturen der Welt: Berlin, 2015
 Deleuze, G, Guattari F. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schitzophrenia. London: Athlone, 1988
 P135 Easterling, K. Enduring Innocence. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005
 Bloom, P. Skype interview with Peter Bloom, Co-Founder of Rhizomatica. 18 June 2017. Skype. “My very approximate calculation is that globally, around 2% of usable spectrum is unlicensed. So for 98% you need a license to access it.“
 See the articles: ‘Did the Anthropocene Begin in 1950 or 50,000 Years Ago?’ and When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal
 Wigely, Mark. Buckminster Fuller Inc. Architecture in the age of radio. Lars Müller Publishers: Zurich, 2015
 Deep time is the idea of geologic time. The idea was developed in the Eighteenth Century by by Scottish geologist James Hutton.
 ‘sedimentary pathways’ was a term used by Jan Zalasiewicz at the Technosphere Round Table at the Architecture Association in London on 4 March 2017
 Oldfield, Frank. ‘Can the Magnetic Signatures from Inorganic Fly Ash Be Used to Mark the Onset of the Anthropocene?’ Anthropocene Review 2.1, 2014: 3–13
 p. 142 Easterling, Keller. Enduring Innocence. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005
 Fressoz, J., and Bonneuil C. Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us. London: Verso, 2017
 Ester, L. Technsophere Roundtable. Centre for Research Architecture, University of London: N.p., 2017
 Engelmann, S. Conversation with Sasha Engelmann at Goldsmiths College in London, 7 Dec. 2017
 Kahn, D. 1999. Sound, Water, Meat. p. 22
 Dyer, S. and Engelmann, E. Lore of the radio fossil, Text and sound installation. London, 2017