October 02, 2004

oh that ether!


More on Sky Ear

Rereading David Pescovitz s article State of the Artists, where he discusses Sky Ear a surreal electric cloud of mobile phones and helium balloons that connect participants with the electromagnetic ether ,” I am reminded of early radio.

It was Guglielmo Marconi who first exploited Heinrich Herz s discovery of electromagnetic radiation and demonstrated that radio waves could be used to transmit morse code over hundreds and then thousands of miles. When he first introduced wireless to America, during the popular America Cup races in 1899, the press hailed him as a hero and a wizard. Wireless itself evoked psychic metaphors (see Susan Douglas great book, Listening In). It was magic; Popular Science Monthly wrote that it was as if the nerves of the whole world (were) being bound together. And the reputable scientist, Sir Oliver Lodge, one of the leaders of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, suddenly began praising mediums, insisting the dead don t die and describing contact with the spiritual world. The connection between radio, the ether and spirituality ran strong.

Sky Ear, which is designed to acquaint you with these same “hidden mysteries of the wireless spectrum by triggering high-intensity colored LEDs within the cloud, seems to be falling on a different sensitivity in 2004, with one correspondent remarking that putting mobile phones into the clouds just to blink colors is ridiculous.

Sky Ear had its last public launch in England on September 15, and according to its web site, there are no confirmed “flights” planned for the future, although talks go on. For more on Sky Ear and other works by Usman Haque. For more on radio: Susan J. Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, Times Books, 1999.