Detektors is an open and collaborative project which consists in devices capable of recording hidden electromagnetic emissions produced by common electronic tools such as mobile phones, laptops, cameras etc. In addition, Detektors can also capture the high frequency bands: modulation of WiFi, Bluetooth, GSM, UMTS and GPS networks, as well as any other transmission system between 100 Mhz and 5Ghz.

It is curious because, recently, I met Danielle Roberts, a new media artist based in The Netherlands, who was trying to map silence using a similar but more rudimental device (http://www.digicult.it/news/contamination-and-experimentation-an-art-science-workshop-series/). She developed her project in a similar way, by collecting sounds in different locations, and creating an online database with maps and landmarks. It was surprising to see that, nowadays, it is almost impossible to record silence. Every recording included noise.

When I read about Detektors, I realized that almost everything is digitalized, even silence, or what we believe is silence today. Almost every electronic device produces its own hidden rhythms, which can be detected and turned into sound. In Detektors, Martin Howse and Shintaro Miyazaki are applying to a real phenomenon the notion of “Algorhythm” (coined by Miyazaki in 2009), which consists in a combination of algorithm and rhythm and demonstrates that our digital culture is not immaterial, but it is based on highly complex materialities and microrhythms.

Martin Howse and Shintaro Miyazaki are the two brilliant minds that initiated the project in 2010 and are working between new media art, scientific research, engineering, sounds and art. Both live and work in Berlin.

Miyazaki (born 1980 in Berlin) is a media theoretician and synthetic philosopher, he has a background as musician and this could be one of the reason why he is so interested in studying the relationships between sounds, technology and rhythm. He is the co-founder of several collaborative projects such as http://sonictheory.com/ – a series of talks, presentations – and http://www.algorhythmics.com/ – an ongoing independent art, research, curation and design project, which investigates the algorhythmic structures in our contemporary life, culture and society

Howse (born 1969 in London) is a programmer, writer, performer and explorer. He is involved in several projects in publishing, lecturing and exhibiting. He developed several open hardware and free software projects and he founded micro_research, a mobile research platform exploring psychogeophysics http://www.psychogeophysics.org/wiki/doku.php

Alessandra Saviotti: How is your personal research related to Detektors?

Shintaro: The project “Detektors” is very important for my research. All my research is related to the role of media during processes of knowledge, data and information creation and this, especially, with regard to understanding aspects of imperceptible worlds by making them audible, visible or sensible. As a scholar of media technology, I am interested in processes of information storage, transmission and processing. Detektors detects electromagnetic signals in the range from 100 MHz to 3 GHz and transforms – or, to be precise, de-modulates – these inaudible waves back to the “design” they had before they got modulated with their carrier frequencies. Fortunately, it is possible to hear these waves merely by a speaker-amplification set-up.

The project matters for me also because I am interested in the merits of using sound as a mediator for understanding media. The history of media technologies shows that auditory media such as the telephone played an important role for understanding neuronal processes in muscles. Listening was important in sonar for navigating in underwater worlds, for doctors to understand bodily processes they can’t see, for computer engineers to real time monitor computational processes, and for neurologists to understand the activity of neurons in our brains. The list could be extended and Detektors is part of such a history of listening practices.

I was always interested in ways of studying things by doing them, which implies a more synthetic approach, than an analytic approach. The latter is usually the perspective of scholarship within the humanities, but I am much more interested in analyzing stuff by building own tools, software or hardware to understand them. This fits into my recent interest in design theory and critical design. With the project Detektors, in collaboration with Martin, I could build such a self-designed experimental system for understanding one aspect of our current informations society, which is the condition of being connected to media networks by wirelessness.

Martin: The Detektors project sits firmly within a personal research trajectory over the last years, which can be traced in part back to the Maxwell City workshop conducted with Erich Berger in the summer of 2007 in Atelier Nord, Oslo. The focus of the workshop was very much on rendering audible the ghostly electromagnetic (EM) double of any city, and exploring the interactions of EM emissions (from uncountable electric and electronic urban machineries, and senders and receivers such as phones, wireless networks and radio) with often complex architectures and living systems. In preparation for the workshop, both myself and Erich exchanged technical and philosophical ideas (regarding lively questions such as the ontology of these waves). A range of devices, exploring both so called “natural radio phenomena”, and more local, leaked data emissions, was constructed and tested for the workshop, and these devices laid the foundations for my research which encompasses the “Detektors” project. A research which embraces questions of visibility and hiding in the world which are provoked by the liminal, conspiratorial qualities of electromagnetic phenomena.

During an intense micro-residency in Berlin (at _____-micro-research) with Shintaro in 2009, these questions were further explored, paving the way for my more technical work with the Detektors project. Over three days, using soundcards and more complex software-defined-radio as exposing tools, we attempted to examine the covert materiality of networked technologies such as Ethernet and wireless networking; taking apart coded protocols which nevertheless rely on a material base within a form of reverse engineering practice or sonic archaeology.

These interests for me coalesced within the Detektors project, with a desire to make such explorations accessible and to establish a worldwide psycho-geophysical mapping of electromagnetic oscillations.

Alessandra Saviotti: How has Detektors evolved since 2010?

Shintaro: The idea of “Detektors” as a project evolved between my stay at Martin’s studio in May 2009 and summer 2010. It was first presented at Interferenze 2010 in Bisaccia (Italy) and then at ISEA 2010 in Dortmund (Germany). Then it wandered to different places such as Dublin, Brussels, Vienna, Winnepeg (Canada), Tokyo. The electronics themselves were already developed before 2009 by Martin alone. He used the circuit in different artistic contexts. Basically, the project started in 2010. And in 2011 we did several presentations and workshops on the projects independently. The latest developments after 2010 in my case were done during my residency at National University in Singapore in September 2012, where I started to do experiments with directional antennas. I am now trying to develop the project further so that it could fit in the context of urban studies especially studies on mobile network usage at specific places in an urban context.

Martin: I’ve been involved primarily in discussion with Shintaro and in designing the electronics. Until 2012 the electronic design was very much ad-hoc, and with only a few examples existing in very delicate, prototype form. This year, thanks to Shintaro’s residency support, I’ve found time to test various new design possibilities in the field, and to slim down the design to robust essentials enabling amplification and detection of low and high frequency emissions and further amplification for headphones. Both signals can be recorded. Detektors can now be easily produced in quantities, for other users (they’re available for sale), and for workshops and exhibitions. This should result in more maps online, and greater interest in the project.

Alessandra Saviotti: According to your research, do you think that mapping silence could be possible?

Shintaro: It depends on how you define silence! As John Cage experienced in an anechoic chamber, there is no complete silence. He later tried to digest this experience in the famous piece 4’33”. And, as projects such as “Detektors” reveal, even when there are no acoustic waves, there are maybe electromagnetic waves and other physical processes, which can be turned sound by set-ups of antenna, receiver, coil, amplifier and speaker. There is no silence, there is always noise. It depends on the level of measurement and aesthetization whether you define something as silence or not.

Martin: I’d like to answer with a specific anecdotal example. During one workshop in Berlin a few years ago, we were testing an early prototype of the Detektor close to Alexanderplatz. Several of us were scouting around the U- and S-Bahn halls plugged via headphones into the noisy space of high frequency emanations from all the shops, mobile repeaters, and cashpoints within this dense space: a close to unbearable experience for the ears. Yet, as the doors facing the tall, iconic TV broadcast tower (Fernsehturm) slowly opened automatically on our approach, the deafening noise sharply reduced in intensity, and as we emerged to the grounds of the tower, only a thin white noise, the sound of a distant sea shore, could be heard, punctuated occasionally by a tiny beep. Wandering with the Detektor around the Fernsehturm, was a near-silent, information-free experience. Yet, the only way to explain such a silence, within this active and intense broadcast radio space, was as an overloading of the Detektor circuit, resulting in over-compensation, and thus in the near silence of a raised noise floor. Several subsequent attempts to “map this silence” using a GPS and modified detektor circuitry, in the hope of obtaining a kind of inverted bell space mapping surrounding the tower, have failed, due to circuit malfunctions, low batteries and the like.

Alessandra Saviotti: Shintaro, in a interview I read that you don’t consider yourself a scientist even if  your practice is in between science and engineering.

Shintaro: To make it clear: my background are the humanities. I studied media theory, musicology and philosophy. I studied no science nor engineering. In my childhood in Switzerland, I played around with chemistry, electronics kits and my friends had an AMIGA, Macintosh or PC286 in their cellars or attics. I also played violin, since my parents are classical musicians. In school I selected “maths and science”, but I was too bad in those things, so I needed to switch to “music and art”. During my late teens, I was completely involved with philosophy, literature, classical music and fine arts. When I started to study at university, this started to shift then into an interest in contemporary music and art. Thanks to the world wide web, I began to learn and self-teach myself to program music with Pure Data, Supercollider and then later learned Arduino. Fortunately, I had good lecturers and professors at University of Basel, so that I got a nice combination of post-structuralism, Heidegger, German media theory and strict methods of musical analysis, historical source readings and history of music notation. This background combined with my desire to tinker with electronics or computer code builds the basis of my “practice.” Most the time I do the same stuff like all scholars in the humanities do: I read, think, write and present my works. And then, sometimes, like during my stay in Singapore, I act to be an artist and build devices, which make strange noises and wander around in the city or on campus to map inaudible infoscapes. I would like to build more devices, which reveal hidden processes, help me analyze big data or complex situations such as network breakdowns, but until now there was no time and occasion to do so.

Alessandra Saviotti: How do you see the relationship between art and science?

Shintaro: The boundaries between art and science were always blurred. Scientists, engineers and artists influenced each other all the time. There were even times, when the roles were mixed in one persons such as Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Wilhelm Ritter or Hermann von Helmholtz. Even Alan Turing had been educated both in humanities and in science and maths. Nowadays, we have artists and designers doing scientific research and scientists/engineers doing art, but there is a more closer and basic relationship between science, art and technology. In the history of science there are always situations when scientists detect some new aspect of organic or non-organic matter. In such situations, they use technologies, which lets them see, hear or feel the process they want to understand. They use media technology. The microscope, stethoscope, telescope, telephone, loudspeaker, oscilloscope, vacuum tube, geiger counter, electron microscope and so on. All these media technologies are revealing processes, which were before their development imperceptible. Influencing the way we perceive things and processes is the task of art and design or, to be more precise, of aesthetics. Without aesthetics there is nothing to understand. In this sense art, science and technology come together right at the forefront of scientific progress.

Alessandra Saviotti: Martin, your studies about psychogeophysics are very important to understand your practice. How do you see a connection between psychogeophysics and Detektors? Do you think that it could be possible a concrete relationship with nature?

Psychogeophysics can be considered, in some ways, and not exhaustively, as an investigation of different methods for exploring the relations between code, materials (the earth) and the psyche, expressed within the collision of psychogeography with geophysics, the study of the earth’s magnetic field, which we also extend into broader interactions with man-made signals (power lines, radio transmissions, mobile phones, radar, wireless networks and so on). The detektors project, in rendering audible these interactions and drawing attention to potential geo-located actions on the human psyche, is definitely well connected to psychogeophysics and can be considered as an element within the framework and toolkit. As an extreme hypothesis, psychogeophysics considers that we are literally coded by electromagnetic waves (following Michael Persinger), or whatever language we can apply to signify these invisible but appreciable and important oscillations; the detektors project aims to make these codes accessible, aside from the language of science, in relation to local geography and to common devices.

In relating electromagnetism and fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field (subtle interactions of local computational geology with solar/atmospheric events), to both psyche and (always electronic) life forms including humans, animals, plants and fungi, psychogeophysics does aim to establish a concrete and animistic relationship with both the earth itself and what I like to call, after Gustav Metzger, already “damaged nature.” So through a complex relation with technological animism (technology as the plague), and psychogeophysical practice in sites which come close to the notion of damaged nature (which is not a fascination with ruins), such as Peenemuende (the former V2 rocket test site, which has now been more or less closed to human intervention for the last 25 years) I do believe that a concrete relationship with “nature” is possible.

http://detektors.org/

http://www.1010.co.uk/org/execution.html

http://www.algorhythmics.com/persons/miyazaki/

https://vimeo.com/album/2115281