The Electromagnetic Fountain

Posts Tagged ‘electromagnetic radiation

More antenna aesthetics

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Last Sunday I took a long walk on the hills above Bergen which were covered in snow, sparkling under the sun’s bright rays – a surprising occurrence for this time of the year. My mission was to take photos of a transmission tower that can clearly be seen the city below.

Not knowing exactly how to get to it, I asked about 15 Sunday promenaders, skiers and sledgers for directions. To my dismay, no-one seemed to have any recollection of such a tower, even when I was very close to it (though hidden by the hillside). Even more strange, when I actually arrived at it, it appeared that its location at Blåman was a popular destination for tour goers. Had they forgotten where they were going, or has the tower become so familiar, or arbitrary that it has become invisible?

P1050160 Tower with warning

Approaching the tower, I was expecting the warning sign to say “Danger, Electromagnetic Radiation” or something of the kind. I was wrong. It said “Danger. Falling ice.”

Drum machine Grid

It has a collection of parabola dishes with protective covers fixed to it, and looks like the Eiffel Tower  made into a weird drum machine. Looking up from the centre of the tower makes me feel giddy.


Moving around the periphery I at last spot the expected sign: “FM Radiation. Entrance forbidden.” But above it, a small yellow sign exclaiming “turn electricity off when replacing the bulbs on the mast lights”. Delightful! Even I would remember to do that.

P1050162 P1050166

Some 20 or so metres away a hut is kept company by several smaller “totem poles”, and in the distance I can see the more notorious transmission tower at Ulriken’s top.

P1050137 Twins

Walking homewards,  cables are visible that appear to run down the hillside, anchoring the tower to the city below. I wished to get a closer look at it, but time had run out, and my fingers all swollen with cold ….

transmissiontower_ulriken01 transmissiontower_ulriken02

A few days later I was presented with these majestic photos of Ulriken’s Tower, taken by Marcus Held, an exchange student at the Department of Fine Art here in Bergen. He was on the same walk as me on the same day, but on the other side of the mountain.

This tower looks much more like a ginormous syringe when viewed from the city than as it appears closer up.


Written by ajsteggell

February 12, 2009 at 8:24 pm

An EMF presentation

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Here are my notes and slides of a presentation of the Electromagnetic Fountain that I gave at the National Academy of the Arts in Bergen on Jan 12th 2009. It is a bit of a new approach to presenting this project, and revolves around some autobiographical reflections and associative imagery that has emerged through the process of working with the fountain. With only 20 minutes for my presentation, I try to show more and talk less!

[ Slide: I heard Erkki Huhtamo give this advice at the end of one of his
lectures. Though available on the net, I cannot locate the link.

During the mid 1990’s I became involved in exploring the potentials of the net, or the information super highway as it was often referred to then …..

[ Slide: image from The New Wizard from the West,
Pearson’s Magazine, May 1899

……  as a creative platform for artistic exchange.

I collaborated remotely with artists from several continents via the new audio/video transmission and tele-conferencing systems to create performances, installations and social, live art happenings.

One of the rituals of participating in this telematic space was to perform a compulsory “good bye” wave of the hand into the webcam to each other when closing a performance.

[ Slide: MIRAGE. Motherboard, Galleri F15, Moss, Norway and the net, 2000.
Realvideo feedback installation, looping around the globe

This created a simple form of non-verbal communication that could generally be recognised despite the low bandwidth crackly audio and pixelating video transmission.

Today I am interested in exploring the potential of another kind of wave as a source of artistic material, namely the electromagnetic waves and pulses that are emitted from our numerous electric, wireless and mobile communications devices. They pass through our streets, homes and bodies and increasingly carry the raw signals of our wireless communications, and yet they are, generally speaking, imperceptible to humans without some kind of technological intervention.

I am attempting to reveal them and give them a physical presence in the form a fountain whose water jets and coloured lights dance to the electromagnetic activity detected in its near vicinity.

The fountain was conceived as a portable fountain with performance value, designed to appear in urban spaces where there are “hot spots” of electromagnetic activity for a short period of time before moving on to a new destination.

Its bowl is a recycled, redundant parabola antenna dish acquired from the 120 m high television transmission tower on the hills of Oslo (from which Stockholm can be seen with the bare eye from an observation tower when the weather permits).

It has become redundant because analog TV transmissions have recently been terminated in favor of digital signals, and the previously designated bandwidths are being sold off to the highest bidder.

The electromagnetic spectrum, in its entirety, has increasingly become “a hotly fought over political, commercial and private territory” (E. Berger and M. Howse, 2007).

[ Slide: image from: ]

“The spectrum is treated as a `commons´, belonging to every person. It is controlled and administered by governments who, in turn, license the various radio frequencies to commercial and other institutions for broadcast. In other words, in every country the electromagnetic system is owned by the government on behalf of the people.”
[Jeremy Rifkin, 2001]

Sometimes it is hard to remember that the air that we breathe has become colonised by the wild-fire of WI-FI, and the environmental and health risks involved are not yet fully understood. This is reflected by the attempts of corporate network providers to hide their transmission and reception devices from public view with the aim of reducing the fear that the lack of adequate information surrounding these issues inspires.

Take this palm tree for example. I spotted it while driving to the airport in Rome in 2007.

And yet fear is an issue that I deal with each time my cell phone runs out of power, or I forget it. I just don’t feel safe without it. I seldom switch it off, though I often want to. As I feel my ear starting to get warmer, I can’t help wondering whether my brain is getting cooked as well.

Perhaps I should get a pair of these ……

[ Slide: image from Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s website]

…. placebo underwear with silver lining to protect your nether regions from electromagnetic radiation, created by the dynamic duo, Dunne and Raby (UK).

Science is a social activity that we perform in our everyday lives – winning on the roundabouts and losing on the swings. It is a risky business. The question arises as to how much (and with what) we are prepared to pay in the pursuit of high speed, physical and telematic mobility that are a part of modern day life.

[ Slide: image from ]

Life seems so fast these days. There is a pressure to always be available at different places at the same time, yet in different time zones – or going somewhere without actually moving from the spot.

Sometimes I wish to slow down time for a while, and experience the world from the earth up, rather than the sky down  (as I do when I pear down onto my keyboard and into the deep space of my horizon-less screen).

I want to know how things work, under the veil, so to speak. I want to look beyond the ease of the slick point-and-click interface to explore the raw signals of telematic communications – to catch them before they pop out of a screen or speaker. Before they become a cell phone conversation or an sms, a surveillance image on a video screen, an email, a bank transaction, a death match in Unreal Tournament 3 or a new avatar in Second Life. I want to give them a body that can only be experienced locally, yet is made up of a myriad of local and global gestures and utterances, and a multitude of physical bodies. Big aims for a little person!

Marshal McLuhan once noted that electricity is itself a medium with a message. With my current work I suggest that, more specifically, it is the electromagnetic spectrum that is a medium worth paying attention to today. But how can you pay attention to parts of the spectrum that humans cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell?

In the case of the fountain, it is equipped with an electromagnetic detector, or “sniffer”.

Like a dog with a sharp nose,

[ Slide: image from Epica Awards 2007 ]

…. it picks electromagnetic transmissions and transforms them into audible signals, drawing them down to one point on earth and grasping the feeling of the analog waves and digital pulses as they pass by.

Let me give you an example – the sound of a a laptop with a wireless router performing a bit torrent download, recorded by Martin Howse using a sniffer he made for the fountain.

It is the qualities of the screaming, popping and crackling sounds that the fountain uses to control its water pumps, valves and lights.

In other words, it functions like a musical fountain – a famous example of which is the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas.

[ Slide: image from: ]

Fountains generally perform aesthetic functions. When placed in urban spaces the intention is often to bring an oasis – an experience of nature, into the city. The Bellagio fountain, though easier to describe in terms of entertainment than nature, fits naturally into the virtual reality of Vegas. Yet it contributes to sucking dry a valuable natural resource – water. On the surface, what is natural in one sense seems unnatural in another, and yet the twain are unfathomably intertwined.

I do not wish for the Electromagnetic Fountain to fit naturally in with its environment, but I do wish it to establish a playful, aesthetic identity wherever it pops up.

I wish it to misbehave a bit, to become an eye catcher, to create an emotive space, a gathering place, a form of information display – a data stream, wet to the hand and babbling with life – and perhaps even an electromagnetic barometer for those who encounter it.

The Electromagnetic Fountain is “location sensitive” in more ways than one. It is not connected to a water supply and therefore has to filled up with it, which it then recycles. Being placed outside and exposed to the elements has its consequences. A strong gust of wind sends the water flying out onto the street. Calling on the fire brigade to fill it up becomes a spectacle in itself – as was the case when it took part in the Article Biannual Exhibition of Electronic and Unstable Art in Stavanger last November.

Getting them to rescue it when the temperature unexpectedly dropped below freezing point became another!

Here’s a 5 minute video of the fountain as it appeared on the town square in Stavanger.

There are a few technological hurdles I wish to overcome before I’m through with the fountain. Shielding the sniffers from the fountain’s own electromagnetic emission is one thing I haven’t adequately achieved yet. It should be done to avoid creating a feedback loop that undermines its ability to detect and respond to other signals. Our physical bodies also emit a certain amount of natural, or bio electromagnetic radiation, but when we communicate wirelessly we emit more, and often unwittingly give up rights to bits and bytes of our ‘selves’ and our world in the process. This is my main concern – though it is the potential health risks that the press has focused on in their coverage of the fountain.

Next time the fountain goes out into the world I intend to give it a speaker so that the noisy, crackly sounds of the electromagnetic detectors can be heard – though they might become too invasive to be tolerated in public space for long. I think troubled times demand a strong voice. By actively addressing both the positive and negative aspects of the coin, it may be possible to negotiate a radiant future in positive terms. That is, for what it is worth, my personal vision.

Thank you. And goodbye.

[ Slide: image from The New Wizard from the West,
Pearson’s Magazine, May 1899

How dangerous are electromagnetic fields?

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During the Article 08 exhibition I was assisted by Geir Tore Aamdal who works as an environmental health consultant in Stavanger. While watching the fountain, we had several conversations about how the health issues connected to the use of cell phones was the main issue that both the public and press referred to in connection with its appearance in the town square.

He asked me what my intention was with the fountain. I told him I was  interested in exploring electromagnetic phenomena as a potential source of artistic material. By attempting to reveal electromagnetic activity in public space, to create a temporary, emotional/emotive place which the public could discover, enjoy and interpret as they wish. Perhaps a playful, aesthetic experience could initiate reflection and discussion over issues connected to the usage of the EM spectrum, in particular the part of it which is used for telecommunications, but perhaps from a wider perspective too. For me the main issue is more territorial. (As such, I am also interested in the appearance and effect of transmission and reception towers, needles, etc, in/on both urban and remote landscapes.) Anyway, I asked him if he could write briefly about his thoughts, and here they are:

How dangerous are electromagnetic fields?
By Geir Tore Aamdal

Lately there has been a lot of attention drawn to the electromagnetic fields in the urban landscapes. Stavanger municipality has been sued for allowing a network of wireless internet in the town centre, parents in Bekkefaret kindergarden demand that a mobile network antenna in the vincinity is removed, and environmentalist Kurt Oddekalv calls electromagnetic fields the largest threat to human health. But how dangerous are electromagnetic fields really?

In my job as an environmental health consultant I get several questions about electromagnetic fields. I always point to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (Statens Strålevern)

The knowlegde we have today about mobile phones and wireless networks shows no connection between these electromagnetic fields and health problems. But these are quite new phenomenons, with not enough experience yet. Many studies show no connection, some few indicate that there might be some connection. Just to be on the safe side, some measures for protection are recommended, like keeping the phone calls short, using handsfreegear, avoid placing the router in the bedroom, and avoid keeping the laptop in your lap.

Antennas for mobile networks are sending the signals horizontally, which means that higher-than-normal radiation only is directly in front of the antenna. Higher values than international standards only occur within a range of 0,5 meter. And the antennas usually do not send at maximum range.

There is little information about young children using mobile phones, so caution is recommended.

My advice to the worried public is to read only serious information on Internet, like the NRPA pages. And in planning new buildings, antennas and home networks having the recommendations from NRPA in mind, just to be on the safe side. When it comes to which is the largest health threath, for instance smoking and unhealty food are much more damaging , and the connection is well documented.

My question to Geir is whether the Electromagnetic Fountain served to cause more paranoia in relation to health risk issues ……

Written by ajsteggell

November 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm

A Radiant day!

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The debate about acceptable levels of electromagnetic radiation continues in Norway ……

See the documentary En strålende dag (A radiant day)
Brennpunkt, NRK TV


NRK skremmer folk med mobil strålingsfare (NRK spreads fear of dangerous radiation from mobile phones)
Mobile Buisiness Magazine, 24 September 2008.

Written by ajsteggell

October 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Sniffer sounds from Martin Howse

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Martin Howse has been working in Berlin on the sniffers for the Electromagnetic Fountain.

He has sent me nine audio samples from 4 different detectors where he mainly focused on placing a mobile phone close to different antenna/detector pairs while making incoming and outcoming calls.

You’ll find links to the sounds below as well as location details and notes that he enclosed with the sounds.

Backyard (hinterhof) studio in berlin, Mitte – plenty of 50 Hz power
lines, laptop in 30 m2 room and wireless router at other end of
room. Around 20 wireless networks close by in the yard. Also worth
noting is that the studio is very close to the huge Alexanderplatz TV
and radio transmitter (Fernsehturm).



This is using a detector based on the AD8307 chip which is looking at a
low/mid range of frequencies (DC to approx 500 MHz). I’m using it here
with the largest printed antenna which is kind of A4 sized (all the
printed antennas are the green ones for which I sent you the link
before) and is for 400 to 1000 MHz. As in most of the recordings the
mobile phone (standard Nokia on network – see below) is moved
around 1 to 3m from the detector. In this case the signal is not
amplified much (all recorded to minidisk and then transferred to


As above but with a bare wire antenna of maybe 1m length.


Using a detector based on the AD8313 chip which demodulates (roughly) in
wide band, high frequency range of 100 Mhz to 3.5 GHz. This is used with
a medium-sized printed antenna for 900 Mhz to 3 GHz. This one needs a
bit of amplification but the phone signal is very strong and clear even
4m away from the device.


As above but coming from 10m outside street door into studio with phone
ringing and then talking on the phone.


Using a detector based on the AD8318 which demodulates (again in rough
terms) a very high range of frequencies from 1 MHz to 8 GHz. Used with
smallest printed antenna (maybe 6 cm long) for 2-11 GHz. Amplification
is needed and the phone is quite close (maybe 1/2 to 1m) to get a


As above but with a laptop (external wireless card, bittorrent
downloading) providing this strong noisy signal up to 5m away. The
regular beating is from the wireless router which is then turned off
towards the end of the sample and turned on again. The other signals I
have no idea!


This is my own designed sniffer (from the Maxwell workshop but altered
with filter removed for a stronger signal). Here it is used with a tiny
coil (enclosed in plastic) – the one for this recording is 10
microhenries (Mh). Little amplification and a good signal from 2 to 3
metres away


As above but using a wire coil around 1m diameter and made from 2 km
thin copper wire. Power lines 50 Hz overwhelms all signals. Phone is
maybe 2cm away to be heard.


As above but with a chain of six 1mH tiny coils arranged in a circle.


The “ownsniff” detector (with small coils) covers a good, general range
and the other three focus well on more defined parts of the spectrum,
with 8313 working well for GSM900/1800 network devices (mobile phones),
and the 8318 for wireless networked devices (2.4 GHz and UMTS/3G –
around 2 GHz (untested)). These detectors are particularly sensitive
even at around a two metre distance and with only one phone. It may be
necessary to avoid overloading the detectors.

**further notes

The standard Nokia phone ( network) used is a dual band GSM900/1800
model (operating at both 900 MHz and 1800 MHz). These frequencies are
common throughout Europe. The high frequency signals are detected by the
devices and demodulated – what we here is the lower, now audible
frequencies (for GSM900 apparently 217 Hz) which pulse the higher
(carrier) frequency, and the overall envelope of the signal (a rough
analogy would be to standing outside a room with a cocktail party
happening inside – we can’t hear the individual voices or listen to the
conversations but we have an idea of how many people there are, when
they start and stop talking, and how loud they are).

Lonely battle against electromagnetic radiation

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Here’s a link to an article published in Aftenposten (Norwegian, 22nd August, 2008) about 12 year old Gaute from Oslo, and his battle to ward off the effects of electromagnetic radiation.

Photo: Christopher Olssøn for Aftenposten

Written by ajsteggell

August 24, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Sniffing in Stavanger – Electrosmog Detector

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Here’s a video of the Electrosmog Detector in action during location scouting for the Electromagnetic Fountain in Stavanger.
Frequency range: 50 MHz to 3000 MHz
Conditions: very humid, sunny period between heavy rain.