Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
Bob Dylan – Masters of War
It is 2 am UK time – but this designation is meaningless. Time ‘here’ and ‘now’ is counted not in geographic coordinates, but outside of them. My watch shows both local and Coordinated Universal Time. UTC as it is called is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is within about one second at 0° longitude and is not adjusted for daylight saving time. The time where I am, at the peak of Ben Vane is 2:00 in the morning, and in Kyiv, it is 4:00 am. The time that matters for all military and strategic operations is common. The time is 3:00 am for both Glasgow and Kyiv. The ‘hour of the wolf’ as we used to call it in the navy.
Ben Vane is a Munro, a small mountain defined by a height of over 3,000 ft or 914 meters, outside Glasgow, and is abandoned. I am not sure I am on the actual summit, but this is not important now. I am too tired to think about it. Height is might in radio communications. Normally many tourists come here, but not today. The wind chill is considerable and my hands are freezing. I have already set up a small tarp that along with a good sleeping bag should keep me and the radio warm enough. If all goes well this is the be the day where I am testing the theories behind the practice. I am an artist but this time the camera does not belong to the mission-critical equipment. This time the image will give way to sound and transmissions. The mission is to test a configuration of wires (they are all assembled from scrap speakers, so ‘antenna’ here is a misnomer). These wires should carry a radio signal all across from Ben Vane to Kyiv. The radio weighs 8 kilos all in all and it is a source of embarrassment to realise that all these years of carrying a camera took an operational toll. Ben Vane is a steep Munro and I am way out of shape. The cold makes things worse. Things feel heavier than what they are. On top of that this temperature means that the battery will not perform as it should. It is a small miracle really if it works at all.
The plan is to attempt a transmission in the airspace between Russia and Ukraine. To see if it can be done. To see if it works. The transmission is a test of capability and a test of intention. I need to make sure that it works, otherwise, there is no point to any of this. I might as well find something else to do. Not sure what this ‘something else’ is. What can anyone do when one is faced with yet another war? What can be done, or said? I am not sure of anything right now. All I need to do is see if this is possible. All the theory behind tells me that it is. But in war, like art, theories only go so far. I go back under the tarp and power the radio on. There is no cinematic hum. The unit is built in such a case that it is rugged, waterproof and silent. It started to rain. A daily routine in Scotland. I am thinking that this will not have any effect on the test transmission. I may have to throw the wires away at the end.
The core is made of steel, and that means that they will rust. For now this is not important. I attach the Morse Key to the radio, and flex my fingers. Turning the frequency dial I can tell there is a small indication of signal strength. The radio works, they antenna too. Now all I need to do is hunt around the frequencies and see if I can hear anything. If you cannot hear you cannot intercept. Radio works like that. With every click of the frequency dials my fingers hurt. But I think I can hear something. 7050Mhz. It seems like the Russians are up and active. There is a small tone right beneath the noise floor. I am locked in to the signal now.
Excerpt from Radio Diaries Notebook
On the 24th of February 2022, following the public announcement of a ‘special military operation’ in Eastern Ukraine, the President of The Russian Federation Vladimir Putin stated that there were no immediate plans to occupy territory that belonged to Ukraine. He also stated that the right of people for self-determination would be upheld. Within minutes of the announcement a long-standing preparation of the War Machine proceeded to move towards the interior of Ukraine. By the time Putin’s announcement aired and was relayed globally, Russian troops have been already dispatched and landed in Mariupol and Odessa and defence facilities were targeted. Soon after Russian Military Forces began to engage in a large-scale operation. The ‘special military operation’ is a continuation of an ongoing aggression that Russia has been carrying out against Ukraine since February 2014, temporarily occupying the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, and certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The subject of an international outcry, the invasion to Ukraine poses a series of questions to everyone, and ton artists and thinkers in particular. What to do about it? What to do now, why do anything about this at all, especially as there are so many other emergencies now happening, and so many other wars and genocides that have happened in this century? This project is not a proposal for a response to these questions. They are important ones and ones that perhaps require a bigger depth, a greater experience and a greater experience than what I have on offer. This text is a chronicle of a proposed response - a detailed account of an idea towards a response even- one that was brought forward by a couple of factors: first an aspect of personal biography, an inherent attachment to geographical proximity – the war in Ukraine is closer to home than other wars. As a third point, the question of action or inaction can sometimes be answered by a predisposition to make. As makers, we make things that address ideas, bring forward questioning and propose solutions in the form of content.
One can argue that it is this simple act of thinking and making that defines our responses and our work. The question with regards to what makes this tragedy more pertinent to other tragedies may have a simple answer: This is a tragedy I chose to address, one that affected me deeply, as it is connected to a biography that is somewhat related to a form I think I can formulate a response towards. This may not be a full answer, but there is one element that will perhaps fortify this position: the belief that “war is the father of all things1Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι, πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς, καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους, τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους Ἡράκλειτος - Περὶ φύσεως (Fragment101 Diels-Kranz) in Mansfeld, Jaap; Primavesi, Oliver. Die Vorsokratiker. Griechisch/deutsch (2021). Reclam. Ditzingen.”, and that one cannot pick all battles - not all the time.
By picking one battle at a time one can formulate a response and even make a change. Or at least bring together voices of people that aim to be united in the choice of the battle. A quick look at military history through the ages teaches that war leaves no one unchanged. Perhaps there is no right or wrong side here – at least a politically correct position would have us maintain a position ‘on the fence’. Neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’. And it is this position that art challenges. By making something – anything - one leaves the precarious safety of remaining on the fence. This is a precarious position to be in, an unsafe one- but ultimately this is one that we will have to take. There is a deeply rooted instinct with regard to choices. The ultimate choice in aggression in terms of response is to choose between the two: fight or flight. This proposal aims to negotiate ‘fighting’ and ‘flying’, like any other work, the mere making of it is a departure.
Why is this battle picked? Perhaps geographical proximity to place is secondary, as is the recent collective memory of wars with catastrophic results. Maintaining that the response to a bully is not to look away, but to look straight on. It may even be an idealistic attachment to Alain Badiou’s proposed three essential functions2See Badiou, Alain. The century (2012, 2007). Translated by: Alberto Toscano. Polity Press. Cambridge, Malden, MA. p.33.of the institution of philosophy: an address, a transmission, and an inscription, and this avoids the pitfall of a ‘right side of history’. As with every border (or in contemporary Continental Philosophy’s terms any ‘shore of politics3Jacque Rancière here quoting Alain Badiou - Rancière, Jacques. On the shores of politics (2007). Translated by: Liz Heron. Verso. London.’), that separates one land from another it may not be essential or even possible to define the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ side, but rather to clarify a position with a relationship to power, its abuse and projection on the weak(er). It is a question of position. Not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ one, but one that addresses the issue at hand, moves forward to define itself and inscribes itself in a place, so it can be encountered in the future. It is also a way of putting together a militant response to aggression and predatory behaviour.
Transmissions – Language and Context
Walking back from Beinn Narnain, I stop to have a cigarette and think about the best way to go back home. The testing was successful. The radio worked. It was not easy to find it, and it took a couple of favours from people I really did not want to meet again. Military equipment is normally properly decommissioned, but not always. Sometimes there are people there who will sell you duds. For most, it does not matter really. Many who buy this sort of thing are collectors and enthusiasts. It does not matter to them if the condition of the electronics inside the case is good. In most cases, it is not. Many of the radios are used to prop up boots or to get a car out of mud. The outside may even be new and shiny, but if the flanges have not been properly treated, there is a good chance that the insides are mouldy. This won’t do. I need to be able to rely on the radio. Without it, there is very little point in any of this. My back is sore, and I am thinking that once I am back I need to find a way of getting a proper backpack for this. The weight is considerable and it cuts in the fat of my shoulder. It does not matter. The people in Ukraine have to endure more than that. I am in a position of safety. Moving the radio around means that along with needed exercise, I also minimize the chances of being triangulated. This is the first thing that they teach you at school. Analogue transmissions may be way more versatile and flexible than digital transmissions, but that does not mean that they are invisible. A keen operator from the other side will be able to seek you out. Normally keeping a transmission less than 60 minutes brings these changes down. Changing location also helps. I cannot afford mistakes here. The whole premise of the idea rests on anonymity. The position needs to shift, the transmissions need to change and the weight of the and needs to shift. Now that is funny. Every operator learns with time a secret that was very popular in the Second World War and in the Cold War that followed.
Every transmission, if it is made with Morse code shows signs of variation. The way the Morse key itself is built, the way metal touches metal and contact is made, the timing between each character and each space between characters. All these things are indicators. Now this is not the same as the serial number of a weapon, or a car, but with time these things can identify you. The anonymity here is key for everything. The operator, the radio, the position, and most important – the text pieces. They all need to retain a level of anonymity. The very use of an analogue radio makes this easy, but easy is not bulletproof. Changing the key will help a bit. The only problem is that I know this one really really well. It is not light or good-looking, but it works and it is practical. I need to see if I can get another one. The Key is heavier than my camera. It does not matter the single image here is simply a ‘proof of concept’. A record of a site that is less about the geography and more about the ability to fulfil the needs of transmissions. It would be funny if I could get a key that is the same colour as the camera. Black like a Crow4‘Crow’ is a designation in colloquial terms that speaks of a radio operator or an insurgent..
Excerpt from Radio Diaries Notebook
‘Transmission for Ukraine’ is a participatory project that considers transmission as a method of exchanging the language of war with the language of poetry. A military transceiver is used to transmit words and sounds on open air frequencies in the shortwave spectrum. The aim of the project is not a military one – but a creative one. It is a gesture in the Poetic. As such it does not seek to interrupt, but rather to allow word and sound to exist in a space in the context of Jean-Luc Nancy’s fait intrusion5See Nancy, Jean-Luc; Hanson, Susan. L'Intrus. in CR: The New Centennial Review. Volume 2. Issue Nr.3 (2002). p.6). Artworks are frequently at a distance to their intended field of inquiry. This project seeks to throw light on the distance between making and the power structures it seeks to address.
Following a semi-open call, participants are invited to submit material to be transmitted in the open portion of the Shortwave Spectrum. A military transmitter is to be used to allow the transmission to occur and to speak formally and conceptually of the possibility of repurposing instruments of war to speak of peaceful resolution. The works submitted must follow this format. Text pieces should be no longer than 500 characters long, including spaces. This conforms to a military standard of communications, and it has been adopted by military services around the world. If the text to be transmitted is longer, then the text must be able to be broken up in 500-character segments. The language of the text can be any. Each text will be transmitted using the standard CW (continuous wave) format in the current international standard International Morse Code Recommendation, ITU-R M.1677-1 in the military NATO STANREG / STANAG proposed by NSSG6https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_69269.htm.. Morse code7See also Coe, Lewis. The telegraph. A history of Morse's invention and its predecessors in the United States (2003). McFarland & Company. Jefferson, N.C. pp.12-17 and and Page, Adrian. Cracking morse code. Semiotics and television drama (2000). University of Luton Press. Luton.p.32 is a method used in telecommunication to encode text characters as standardized sequences of two different signal durations, called dots and dashes.
Named after Samuel Finley Breese Morse8Ibid.p.32 (April 1791 - 1872), an American portrait painter and inventor, along with American physicist Joseph Henry9Ibid.p.32 (1797-1878), and mechanical engineer Alfred Vail10Ibid.p.32 (1807-1859), responded to the need of the era to transmit natural language using electrical pulses and the silence between them. Sound pieces can also be submitted, and the formal considerations are similar. Each sound piece should be no longer than 2.5 minutes long, and as with the text pieces, if the piece submitted is longer, the sound piece will be truncated and broken up in segments to be transmitted. The format of transmissions is in use and widely accepted by the majority of military personnel around the world as the de facto ‘Open Standard format’ Along with Ukrainian and Russian Military Forces the format will allow the reception by both military personnel and the general public. The format is one of convention and does not fall in the area of ‘cryptographed’ or ‘coded message’.
The transmission in the open frequencies means that the text- and sound works can not by definition be classified or understood to be neither pieces that belong to Intelligence services nor operational messages. As the spectrum of Shortwave communication has general guidelines the sporadic transmission will allow the project to not be classified as a broadcast, as there are neither set times of dates of each transmission, nor a constant frequency. As each transmission is made from a different location, and the project will have a finite life span, the conceptual and realistic distance to a form of generally accepted ‘broadcast’ is also removed. Of course, the project does not aspire to any form of monetisation, or advertisement. There is no revenue to be had here in terms of the broadcasting schedule. There is no commercial value here whatsoever.
There is value in the submissions and in their transmission, and this value is one that must be addressed when considering the submissions both as responses to the current situation, as well as pieces of text- and sound works that seek to replace military communications and act as an alternate form of media communication in the battlefield. ‘Transmission for Ukraine’ does not consider language externally to the place where language is heard, deciphered and considered in the Theatre of War. Language as typed in print functions differently than language transmitted. The language of transmission is fleeting and is resistant to both a record and a study. The notion of expertise is fractured, as is the classical methodological approach of semiotics. Language in this context is transient, as is any readership. The sound spectrum is one that is both open to a general audience and concurrently one that is closed to those who do not conform to the medium’s nature. A radio here is not only preferable to listen in to, but more so – it is a prerequisite of transmission language. The transmission in this context has such proximity to operational language that it resists the consideration of an add-on to what is traditional media, but does not fit the space of text- and sound works either. Who here is an expert in the ‘readership’ of these works as they are transmitted? Surely not the military operator, nor the general audience. And in terms of art-critical understanding the radio space is far removed from the sterility of any white-walled gallery. What we have is a departure from an art- art-historical context, as well as a departure from military communication. Instead, language here is becoming through its transmission.
The industrialization of language does not hamper free thought but disseminates it, and in the context of the strife where these transmissions are situated, a paradox occurs, offering both a celebration of the technological age and a savage condemnation of it. The spoken and written word are now in service and in opposition to war. This fragmentation considers the artist as a mediator and a scribe11See Barthes, Roland; Heath, Stephen. Image, music, text (1990). Fontana. [London]. p.74 and Barthes, Roland; Lavers, Annette; Reynolds, Sian. Mythologies (2009). Vintage. London [England]. p.53; the participants' written and spoken work di reduced to dots and dashes. Any social and aesthetic critique that is proposed by the artwork – by this artwork is one that is under tension, enjoys strict formal limitations and finds itself vis-a-vis a number of cultural, political and theoretical ideals of New Media and broadcasting culture in general12Giddings, Seth; Lister, Martin. The New Media and Technocultures Reader (2011). Routledge. Abingdon, Oxon, New York. p.124. The audience is not passive, nor gullible. The honesty of the mode of transmission and the context of it in periods of military activity does not find its recipients defenceless. Far from it. It relies on the sharpens of their listening to allow them to be simultaneously taken away from a narrative of the military-industrial complex and to be instead immersed in a narrative that shares the form, but not the content of war.
If we were to turn our attention towards how language and other cultural tools mediate human activities and social identities in this context, can we perhaps find a position between the extremities that classical definitions of operational semiotics and New Media theories propose? If cultural tools can be either physical (hammers, screwdrivers, computers, radios) or psychological (language, gestures, reading and writing, counting systems, mnemonic techniques, works of visual art) surely the submission to the project exist somewhere in between13Ibid p.21. This is not to say that the messages to be transmitted are novel, but rather that through the process of transmission, language takes on a new dimension that comes from both the technological, is supported by the semiotic and put forward as both signal and proposition.
The landscape of frequencies demands a different approach to both interacting with and reading. All practices in fact are associated with the communicative frame. In Bourdieu’s term the ‘habitus14Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media (2002). The MIT Press. Cambridge (Mass.), London.p.63’ of the shortwave spectrum is a system that is closed and proposes of internalized, durable, and transposable dispositions that generate similar practices and perceptions in all agents that are active inside it15See Costa, Cristina; Murphy, Mark. Bourdieu. The Art of Application (2015). Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke. p.46, but also as a condition in-and-of-itself. A transmission that exists in the ether, may not find a recipient at all, or may in fact find one that was never intended to be an active participant in the environment that Bourdieu defines16Ibid p.35 and 67 respectively. This does not negate the transmission, the intention behind it or the message in and of itself. The transmission puts forward a language that considers disposition, aligns intention, questions language ideology and forces self-reflection and social, cultural, and political awareness. Language in the radio context is both a public and a private act. The participants and the audience simultaneously evaluate objects, position subjects (themselves and others), and align with other subjects, with respect to any salient dimension of their social and cultural understanding. The transmissions may follow a military standard, but in their content – they are as far removed from the language of war as possible. The participants are finding themselves not inside a play in the Theatre of War, but as Brecht would have it, stepping outside.
Field Work I - Remote
The soldering iron cooled down now. So, all should be working. The continuity test is solid, but somehow, I do not trust the whole thing to work. I need a length of 18.5 meters, and I need to be precise. The antenna will be a random wire antenna with a long distance in mind. A simple calculation is not going to be good enough. Exactitude is what is needed to bridge a distance of 2,055 kilometers from here to Ukraine. Thing copper wire around the ferrite core will also need to be cut precisely. The most challenging thing is to wind the copper wire around the ferrite core. Playing rugby for 4 years means that almost none of my fingers are as nimble as they used to be. There are solutions of course, but this will mean that there will be a cost of time. We are already on day 278 since the Russian invasion started. With work picking up, the amount of time I have in the field is not enough. It never is. I either need to work faster. Or get help. Add the limited time to the testing period needed to make sure all is working as it should and I will be running behind with all this. This new wire is good, a bit stiff really. The good thing about it is that the core is copper-clad in steel, and this should make things easier. The Radio does not seem to like many wires, and this is a problem. Finding an original run of wire that was used when the radio was built is a nightmare. If I am right, and if the supplier was honest, the last time this radio saw some field use would be around 1982, in the Falklands War. Finding an opened drum of wire from the 1980’s is hard enough, and finding one that is in good condition is almost impossible. Then of course are the questions that will come with it. Just like dentists collect Bolex cameras, so do Radio Amateurs collect military radios. War memorabilia, pretending to be functional tools. For what? What do they do with it? If not for this project, I would rather repair my camera, not get something like this. The very colour speaks of war. There is this unmistakable smell of oil too. The good old 3-in-1 oil that military surplus stores here reek of. A cheaper version of the much better (and less smelly) German-made WD-40. I guess it is available here and cheap, and in any case, I need to stop treating this thing like a camera. They are not the same thing. I carry both together, but they do not serve the same function. One’s purpose is to document and see, the other is to listen in. Maybe they are not so far apart. Metal and plastic bodies with organs that are electronic. Both registering frequencies. One registers light, the other one sound. Maybe they are the same after all. Now all I need is to make the ends of this wire are sealed. I cannot risk being drenched in water again and water coming in through the wire to the main contact. Best make sure I get more plastic bags for the camera and the film too. May as well. It will rain here. Both camera and radio and film and wires need to be kept dry. Marine-grade epoxy will be fine. Best put in on another layer of it and see if I can find some good waterproof junction connectors. Maybe throw in some WAGO connectors too. If that works I will be pushing both radio and signal to their limits. Once the dust settles, or the project finishes, I will have to see if there is scope to do something with this antenna. I am not sure what. Wound now in a coil to be deployed, it looks like a garotte.
Excerpt from Radio Diaries Notebook
The history of radio is one of an intense desire to reach out and one that was marked in the technological advances that made this reaching out possible. In what we describe today as ‘networked society17Coe, Lewis. The telegraph. A history of Morse's invention and its predecessors in the United States (2003). McFarland & Company. Jefferson, N.C. and Hall, Stewart; Held, David; Hubert Don; Thopson, Kenneth. Modernity. An introduction to modern societies (2007). Blackwell Publishing. Oxford.’, the radio played a catalytic role18Thomas, Julian; Hassan, Robert. The New Media Theory Reader (2006). McGraw-Hill Education. p.121. In the 20th century the ground work was laid out for the possibility to bridge distance – and therefore time. Our networked society was realized by printing and telecommunication first and foremost before data communication and mass communication networks became possible. If one were to think of the radio as a form of telecommunication and mass communication the economic, technological and cultural advancements that made that possible lie in the field of electronics first and foremost. The most significant advance was in micro-electronics in general and the integrated semiconductor in particular. The semiconductor a chip consisting of hundreds of thousands of connections on a plate with a surface of just a few square millimetres. With these chips, microprocessors were developed for several different purposes: operating systems, artificial memories and processes linked to these processes, What used to be made from a simple wired coil, could now decipher voice over long distances, store that information, and separate one signal from other with authority. A new heart of the radio allowed a faster pace, digital storage and called for a uniform language for all signals exchanged in its components19See van Dijk, Johannes Jacobus Adrianus; van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society (1999, 2012). Sage. London p. 45. Before the actual transmission, sound and text are converted to electrical signals. A homogenous approach to anything meant that everything needed to be distilled and translated to ones and zeroes20Jenkins, Henry. Convergence culture. Where old and new media collide (2008). New York University Press. New York.. This in exchange allowed the first form of communication over the air waves to occur. There is no question that the advancement of technology influenced first and foremost the radio. Its biggest proponents and gatekeepers for advancement were of course the military and the news sectors. The radio is both a means of telecommunication (defined as a type of communication using technical media to exchange sound in the form of speech and text over long distances) as well as a means of mass communication mass communication can be defined as a type of communication using media to distribute sound and text among an audience.) Therefore, it is doubly dangerous.
The key to understanding both radio technology and its potential application as a tool first and a weapon of war secondly, lies not so much in the understanding of technologies that support its functions, but rather in our relationship to its intended purpose. Most importantly in the shift of what happens when the radio changes status from a vehicle of reception (akin to being the empty frame of a billboard as we are passing in high speed on the highway), or that somewhat antiquated device in the era of WEB 2.0, that has been disembodied from being an intricate interconnected construction of vacuum tubes to having an intricate array of microcontrollers that allows the listening into music or the news. Radio, much like the camera is not a simple device. more so - it is an intricated framing device for the world around us. One that allows the deciphering of a waveform landscape to acoustic signals. The Radio is not only a Computer that can access information in the same way a Record Player can access the music in vinyl grooves, but rather a Loom that can trace and weave networks of auditory information. This shift - from active to passive tool is one that has been identified in the fields of both New Media and Philosophy and it is perhaps here where the shift occurs.
The history of radio is rife with examples of the shift from ‘simple’ to ‘complex’21Wardrip-Fruin, Noah; Montfort, Nick. The New Media Reader (2003; 2010). MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass. p. 110-117. Enamoured radio amateurs spend a considerable time trying to reach out and make contact. Trying to project where the crossover between signals and reception will come to be, and how to best take advantage of mechanical, electronic and atmospheric conditions to allow a perfect match. For one signal to interject with another - for one voice to reach another. This is perhaps true in the civilian sector - but once we move towards the military sector, the technology, the urgency and the stakes are higher, and sharper. In war, the radio is not simply a frame of content, a machine of communication. More so than a phone it allows the consideration of airwaves that trace the theatre of war, that carry information that is of vital importance. In war conditions, the radio is not only a means of coordination (such as in the air industry or the shipping industry). Its function is more insidious, more urgent and ultimately more dangerous. In war the radio spreads information and disinformation, builds up morale, provides coordination in the battlefield and is even a lifeline. Perhaps more importantly one can speak of a role of the radio that is more akin to a warfare of communication than a dissemination of it22See Wardrip-Fruin, Noah; Montfort, Nick. The New Media Reader (2003; 2010). MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass., esp Ch 2 and 7. In the rich history of modern warfare the radio is not only a mode of communication, but also a machine that traces the invisible and inaudible landscape that shapes not only the actual theatre of war, but also a meta-level that is in essence a theatre of war in-and-of-itself.
In my case, the understanding of the radio as an active weapon instead of a passive tool occurred in the military. As a Greek national, the compulsory enlistment for state military service is neither easily avoidable nor socially accepted. There are in theory ways of avoiding it - mostly involving paid-for psychiatric evaluations or extenuating circumstances that can only push that entry point so far. Perhaps a medical condition that is debilitating or a declaration of religious beliefs may be possible. Where the matters become complex however is in the cruel grouping of all the possible reasons that amount to a social score that may be proven to be a debilitating factor in the pursuit of work in the future. The social difficulties that come from this vary from family to family and in many cases, it may not amount to much. Until perhaps such time when an application to any section of public service may raise questions. Questions of competency, of patriotism, of competence. Questions that require a framework where denial of any kind is frowned upon and is equated to treason. There is little room for ethical considerations in matters of the state - at least not when the state has needs that need to be met. In my case, these needs involved a warship that was in dire need of a helping hand in the communication station. A helping hand that would lend itself to learning how to operate a radio, how to monitor enemy and domestic frequencies, how to pick up weak signals from the noise floor of static and electromagnetic interference and how to relay the information confidently and reliably. A helping hand that would also double up as a radio operator for the state apparatus, a war machine with benign intent23See Lister, Martin; Giddings, Seth; Dovey, Jon. New media. A critical introduction (2009). Routledge. London.. A helping hand with the intent to serve.
It was during that time that I learned how to work a radio. How to power it up, how to patch in encrypted modules and how to listen in. It was also that time when I learned how to use it as a weapon. How to follow a frequency, and trance it to its origin by following a small analogue dial to find its direction and it was then that I learned how to transmit a series of times that matched that frequency exactly - in effect cancelling it. The technical term is 'cancelling'. The common term is 'jamming'. The colloquial term is 'radio waltz'. There are many parts in radio dance. As radio signals are so fickle, one must really spend a considerable amount of time learning both the ropes of the machine and ways to navigate a vast landscape of frequencies. The radio spectrum is very much akin to that of the World Wide Web24See Creeber, Glen; Royston, Martin. Digital Cultures. understanding New Media (2009; 2011). Open University Press. Maidenhead.. The civilian frequencies make up a very small portion of what is out there. If one stays within the confines of a commercial radio receiver the effective amount of listening comes to about 0.2%. The commercial radio is a simple record player, able only to decipher a small portion of state-licensed broadcasts. This may not limit one's music pleasure - although many audiophiles will probably disagree, it certainly does not grant access to the remaining 98% of potential signals. The Military Radio, or ‘transceiver’ is another animal altogether. There is a war going on in the radio frequencies, but this is not for civilian ears. Although components of globalization are nothing new, the deployment of business and capital across borders have continued at an unprecedented pace since the arrival of the new technology. This brings with it a different conception of the world we live in; altering our notions of time, space and identity and taking us ever nearer to realizing Marshall McLuhan’s25Ibid p 124 and McLuhan, Marshall; Gordon, W. Terrence. Understanding media. The extensions of man (op. 2003). Gingko Press. Corte Madera, CA. notion of a ‘global village’. However, when it comes to military operations and wars that are not televised, it turns out that Marshal McLuhan's notion of the global village has a high price of admittance26See McLuhan, Marshall; Gordon, W. Terrence. Understanding media. The extensions of man (op. 2003). Gingko Press. Corte Madera, CA..
It is indicative that the British Broadcasting Corporation resumed activity in the Short-Wave Spectrum shortly after the attack on Ukraine. This renewed interest in what was considered by many to be an obsolete technology came as a response to radio communications showing excessive activity, and becoming relevant again as a means of communication that can both bridge large geographical distances and continues to be a method of communication that is reliable, sustainable and easy to maintain for military personal and civilians alike. The Shortwave Spectrum of Frequencies is more accessible to the public, has a broader frequency range and has been a key acoustic landscape that has housed communications since the Second World War. Contrary to more advanced digital radio, satellites, and telephone lines, shortwave radio is less susceptible to interference and remains unaffected by geography and weather, requiring minimum power to operate. The equipment is more battle-tested and reliable and less vulnerable to cyber-attacks, relying on less sophisticated electronics. Shortwave cannot be hacked. It cannot be bombed or otherwise destroyed because it is being transmitted from far outside Ukraine. Shortwave is notoriously difficult to trace and to jam.
Ethics, Morals and the Space Between
Transmission denotes the transfer of information, objects or forces from one place to another, from one person to another. Transmission implies urgency, even emergency: a line humming, an alarm sounding, a messenger bearing news. Through Transmission interventions are supported and opinions overturned. Transmission republishes classic works in philosophy, as it publishes works that re-examine classical philosophical thought. Transmissions is the mane for what takes place.
Alain Badiou27Che-Ying, Tchang. The rational kernel of the Hegelian dialectic (2011). Re.press. Melbourne. p.2..
With language being out of the way for now, one must address Ethics, as this is the dimension of Language that is most relevant to this project, as it touches upon the methodology of the transmission of Word and Sound in an airspace of strife. Can there ever really be a position of safety in any participatory work, where the control is by definition relinquished and the operation relies more on mutual respect and shared confidence? And in any case, can there be a consideration of safety in a piece of work that by definition seeks to position itself linguistically, technically, and conceptually within a battlefield?
From the 1960s onwards there has been a considerable amount of effort to regulate the Shortwave Spectrum28Hamelink, Cees J. The ethics of cyberspace (2004). Sage Publ. London p.58 and Baylis, John; Smith, Steve. The globalization of world politics. An introduction to international relations (2014). Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York, NY.. Due to the nature of the atmosphere, the signals in the shortwave spectrum were capable of traversing long distances and reaching places that were never intended in the first place. The affluent societies already had networks for broadcasting and radios for receiving. The advancements in electronics however allowed for an increased distribution of power. Less affluent countries may not have had the economic prowess to transmit, but the reception of the signals was nevertheless possible. What followed was a significant shift in communication and therefore a significant increase in agency and power. The military complex of course led the way here, with developing both radios, antennas and a protocol of communication that suits its purposes. The interesting thing about the Shortwave spectrum lies indeed in a natural occurrence in the earth’s atmosphere. If the conditions are right, this allows a bouncing of the signal on the ionosphere of the signals. And therefore, the reach is significantly increased. Contrary to a digital signal, the analogue signal has a set of characteristics that make it ideal for the battlefield, as it is for the broadcasting of news.
Simply put, by the very nature of the medium there can not be a complete control of the radio, nor its usage. By definition and through availability the same advances in technology and understanding make it an ideal weapon for war, an ideal companion for the guerilla insurgent29See the harrowing report on Afghanistan: Conetta, Carl. Disappearing the Dead:. Afghanistan, Iraq and the Idea of a ‘New Warfare' as well as Dahlgren, Peter and Sparks, Colin. Communication And Citizenship. Journalism and the public sphere (2016). Routledge. and one that is both effective and attainable. A low-powered radio is capable of traversing significant distances. The same amount of power that is used to charge a mobile phone alone can reach upwards of 1000 miles (1.600 kilometres) in real terms without any special atmospheric conditions to occur. The nature of the airwaves means that despite having regulatory bodies in countries, a bridging of distance is capable, and this can never by definition fall under the jurisdiction of a single regulatory body. The signal is non-discriminatory. Everyone with a compatible radio can receive signals that were not intended from them. The ionosphere of the Earth makes short work of that30van Dijk, Johannes Jacobus Adrianus; van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society (1999, 2012). Sage. London.. Most of the Shortwave spectrum is open to all, there may be regulations that aim to restrict transmission or reception, but by the very nature of the medium, these are most often never adhered to. Without a strict protocol of communications involving set hours of communication between parties, a commonly shared code or even special units that scramble and encrypt the signal, it is impossible to guarantee anonymity. The radio waves are impossible to stop, restrict or police. Existing legislation depends on localized and liable legal persons and ownership titles. Any perception of a violation of the law or an offence is not transparent, and very hard if not impossible to trace. Any evidence that may exist in the first place is fleeting, non-permanent and easily changed or hidden behind frequencies. A jurisprudence will most likely fall under the jurisdiction of many countries. The radio, its messages and its language are not contained within arbitrary geographical and geopolitical borders31Thurlow, Crispin; Mroczek, Kristine R. Digital discourse. Language in the new media (2011). Oxford University Press. New York.especially Ch 4. Any international regulation usually exhausts itself in general guidelines, and general guidelines and basic principles, relying for the most part on good conduct. The practical adherence to whether it is named ‘ethics’ or a perceived notion of ‘morality’ is one that can not have a guaranteed application.
‘Transmission for Ukraine’ does not intend to jam frequencies. It does not purport to be a broadcast of any type and it certainly does not aim to do anything more than what the medium of transmissions in the shortwave spectrum makes possible. It is a benign form of activist art, that is proposing a respite from a language of war and hate. The pieces do not seek to become propaganda of any sort. The Frequencies for the proposed transmissions are not chosen with signal interference in mind., rather they are chosen because of availability. The signal will occupy a short span of the bandwidth for a short period of time, during which a different kind of language and content will be available in a setting that is by context more in proximity to this particular battlefield. There are many examples in humanitarian crises around the world, where a particular range of frequencies are taking over for the purposes of Relief, Humanitarian Aid and even joint ventures of civilian and military purposes32Ignatieff mentions many examples in Ignatieff, Michael. Virtual war. Kosovo and beyond (2000). Metropolitan Books. New York. As an independent art project, it has more to do with an independent radio station than a propaganda propagation machine or a beacon of hate speech. The message here is not news, but rather a culmination of voices that seek to address the current situation. None of the proposed transmissions will aim to carry hate. Rather they will provide an alternative content to military operations.
The questions of morality, or ethics as the formalization of perceived and directed moral values is being called, of course does not seek to avoid the question that remains, and is exterior to any framework of ethics as proposed by many organizations: how can an attempt to react, resist, rethink an unethical invasion be deemed to be unethical itself? This has less to do with an adherence to the logical fallacy33van Dijk, Johannes Jacobus Adrianus; van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society (1999, 2012). Sage. London. two wrongs do not make one right, and more to do with an ethical and collaborative gesture. We are in grey areas now, and the only compass to navigate this is intention – not regulation. Whether by any definition ‘ethical’ is understood to be ‘moral and to what extent this supersedes the ‘legal’ is not only a question of language but also one of definition. Ethical’, ‘moral’ and ‘legal’ are adjectives like ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, and as such all are attributable classifications, and judgements and subject to being questioned by a noun that must supersede all adjectives – intention. By the same token, it maintains that ‘the fact that it is not legal, does not mean it is right’, so the fact that it is illegal does not mean that it is wrong. ‘Transmission for Ukraine’ does not propose to hold a moral high ground, rather it is allowing the creation of a platform for questions like these to be asked. I have seen enough strife to know that war makes moral high grounds unattainable.
Field Work II – On the Ground
There must be something of the intrus in the stranger; otherwise, the stranger would lose its strangeness: if he already has the right to enter and remain, if he is awaited and received without any part of him being unexpected or unwelcome, he is no longer the intrus, nor is he any longer the stranger. It is thus neither logically acceptable, nor ethically admissible, to exclude all intrusion in the coming of the stranger, the foreign.
JL Nancy the Stranger / L'Intrus34Nancy, Jean-Luc; Hanson, Susan. L'Intrus. in CR: The New Centennial Review. Volume 2. Issue Nr.3 (2002). p.1
Shops in Lviv look very much to be working as normal. This is the second day here and my head is still spinning. Adrenaline. I am actually quite surprised that the move across the border was that easy. Most people were crossing Ukraine to go to Poland, not the other way around. The passport stamp is so small, almost imperceptible. Almost like there is a reluctance from the state to acknowledge this. When I arrived, there was a drone out of 9 that failed to be shot down. It fell at the base of a small hill on the outskirts of Lviv. A good omen – to land away from me. I woke up today to the sounds of an upset woman. Looking outside on the street I noticed that the woman was beside herself. She was talking to someone at the shop opposite the hotel, but I could not see who. I am not sure my sound recorder picked this up. She was crying. There is a perversion in the documentation of this exchange. My Ukrainian is not as fluent as I would like to think. The trigger was not what she was saying, but rather her audible upset. I am not sure how comfortable I feel with doing this. Somehow the intercept of the signals from the hotel window seems safer, more comfortable, better. Perhaps this is because I have been doing this for a long time now. Even the recorder is set up in a way that the audio signal should register a safe -12dB. The woman’s voice is probably too loud, so clipping will occur.
The cables on the window are forming a rhombus. The setup is crude, but it works. The antenna picks up with good gain the signals. Then this is all fed in a transcoder and then to a secondary phone with software installed. From there sound goes to the recorder. The signals are string here. I can intercept. It was risky to bring all this with me across the border. One can easily mistake that as a weapon, or something bizarre in any case. A camera is handy to have with me. The wiring of the camera masked the wires well enough. Along with the headphones, this looked like an audiophile’s setup. Sound is sound, and not all music is melodic. There is rhythm is the signals. And it turns out that from here you can hear how the Buzzer has changed in the last couple of months. It is weird to think that a change in a repeated and monotonous signal can signify anything of importance. It does. On this frequency, the signal serves as a placeholder. To avoid jamming and to have an open channel of communication that is not reliant on complex electronics. The number station serves that purpose – alongside a simple piece of paper with complex numbers on it, this makes communication direct, easy and untraceable. There is a sense of urgency here on this signal. It was not called ‘Buzzer’ for no reason. During the last couple of months, the tone and pitch changed. No one knows for sure, but I have a couple of ideas as to why that was. If one had a receiving radio, the audio wave would register differently with a changed pitch, signalling that the piece of paper would be changed. Trade trick or simple coincidence. It does not matter. For now, I need to make sure that the window is clear and clean. I have traced all signals and coming here was not easy, so I need to make sure all files are safe home... As the night falls in Lviv, we move across the hill over to the other side. On the right, there are the remains of what looks to be a medieval tower. P. says that at night there are all sorts of things you can hear. The alcohol in combination with the humidity makes us all rush past that and head towards the final destination. There is a place at the back of what used to be a KGB building. There was a drone that fell there the other day, and I needed to collect 360 grams of earth from there. T. equally dizzy is keen to get back home. As we are walking we talk about his life here. He has a family. And friends. Some of my friends are drafted, and some are dead. He made a conscious choice to stay. And work and live. I understand. Now that I am here I understand. We go past the dense woods and see the building. It is now a base of sorts for the army. The guard is looking at us as we are heading towards the back. I use an old spoon to dig the earth. The idea is not formed. I know the quantity is to approximate the weight of an exsanguinated heart. I am not sure T. understands why I came all the way here. I am not sure I can explain fully. Many thousand years ago, the messengers from a battlefield, used to always carry with them a handful of earth as proof. They would empty their hands in front of the recipient of the message and deliver the message. Carrying the earth from a battlefield is a symbolic gesture – and in my culture, it still carries to this day. I am not sure what to do with this handful of earth, only that I need to work fast, and put it before we make the guards nervous. The ground is wet. Best take more. To allow for evaporation. I am leaving tomorrow. I need to make sure I have everything I need.
Excerpt from Radio Diaries Notebook
Visiting Ukraine has been a necessity on many levels and unexpectedly it was easier than I thought it would be. At the Polish border, the barbed wire is a precursor of an attempt to contain the grief and upset. An attempt to contain the war that is going on 125 kilometres to the north of here. The signs are all here. Small huts that have been hastily built that house a single person for one night only. Barbed wire that was put up in a hurry. Containers to assist those who come here to enlist. On my way to cross the border, I saw two men from the UK. Their backpacks had clearly seen some action before. Judging by the make and model - I would say that they were ‘grunts’ from Herefordshire. Both are older than me. A sense of urgency is everywhere and people are on edge. Just when I arrived there was an Iranian drone operated by the Russian military that escaped the countermeasures. It landed one kilometre away from the edge of the city. There were no casualties – not this time. The UNESCO World Heritage site at the centre of Lviv35https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/865/ Is now boarded up. There are steel cages installed to protect what is still standing. There are drone attacks almost daily here. Sacks of earth stacked up against structural significant places of buildings, covering low windows. Patriotic graffiti everywhere, and messages of resistance and hope. Skeletons are everywhere in the city. Just today there was yet another set of funerals in the city. A long cue of men and women in uniform. Funerals are so different here – there is no wailing and no commotion. The queue is orderly, flowers are put up, and then the vehicles take the soldiers away.
I am standing outside the church trying to process all that my time here is limited. I am not here to satisfy morbid curiosity, nor am I here to be a dark tourist. I came here to do ‘fieldwork’. To work in proximity. Up to this point, I was working remotely, intercepting signals, and trying to decipher them. Writing down frequencies, and trying to effectively create a map temporal and geographical of all this. Now that I am in proximity, a couple of thoughts are going through my mind. There is value in fieldwork, and there is no substitute. I did not come here to take pictures. There is enough misery being recorded here by news agencies. The last thing I would need now is to record more. Actually, I am here to do a couple of things: The work of the first order is to conclude the work on intercepting and mapping the chatter on the airwaves. Using a range of military transceivers, I have been working for over a year now intercepting signals from high ground in Scotland, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Serbia following the initial invasion. I am effectively working on an acoustic archive of horror. It may be that by now I familiarized myself again with the intricacies of what is essentially a ‘dark art’. I can see the files amassing a considerable size in the hard drive. A sound archive of current warfare. A war for the 21st century that is reliant on long-range weaponry and long-range communication. And with a far-reaching consequence for everyone36van Dijk, Johannes Jacobus Adrianus; van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society (1999, 2012). Sage. London..
I am working around the clock as my time in Ukraine is limited. I need to give an account of the project to the people here that has been on my mind first of all. It needs to be here and in person. To explain the project, and my involvement in it and to hopefully begin a dialogue about a piece of auditory work that considers contested territories in using a methodology that is auditory, simultaneously reactionary and deeply militant. I need to find out if the project makes sense to the people here. The work so far was remote and from a distance. I am well aware of my intentions here. What I want to give is solidarity. The whole project is relying on this. The project is participatory in essence and there are about 160 submissions until now, so there is a responsibility to give an accurate account. A revised method that considers both the public sphere in the airwaves and the individual dimension of readership. A project on the edge of the academic, the theoretical, the utilitarian and the operational. The radio bridges territories and allows for a certain degree of increased reach and accessibility. The transmissions don’t follow the traditional communication model of one-to-many’’. Instead, they challenge this traditional model to become a ‘many-to-many’ system. Bringing voices together. Now I want to know if this connects.
What I would like to take back from Ukraine is a handful of dust. A symbolic gesture that acknowledges a tradition of messengers bringing back a handful of dust from battlefields to prove the honesty of the account. Herododotus (Ἡρόδοτος,; c. 484 – c. 425 BC) mentions it first when he mentioned the story of Pheidippides (Φειδιππίδης), a dispatch runner who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the victory of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) over Persia to the people of Athens37See Herodotus. The Histories (1975). Translated by: A. R. Burn; Aubrey de Selincourt. Penguin Books. New York, NY. Herodotus. There is an ambiguity in the translation – the second most common one is here: The Histories (2011). Translated by: Robin Waterfield; Carolyn Dewald. Oxford University Press. Oxford.. The gesture of bringing back earth and depositing continues in my culture to this day. From diasporic mementos to funeral rites. Even in the army. The tradition of the transposal of earth carries weight. One carries it close to oneself, so if anything happens then the burial will not be on entirely foreign soil.
The day goes on without any incident. Soon after there the sirens in the air. More drone attacks. This time there was a drone that fell inside the borders of the city. People go about their lives here – still. It is remarkable to see them endure, and resist and move on. Before I crossed the border to come here I would believe that there is nothing remarkable about that. A politically correct perhaps even stoic idea that moving on and carrying on living is something that is easily done. Not so now. Now field work educated me, as did the people here: the idea to resist and maintain all these attributes that are important is not a question of morality or a blind adherence to set values, but more so a predicament that is rare. The people here are preparing to have a music festival tonight. My idealism found a subject, and I am reminded of what and who the work is actually for. It is worth it to get out of the shadows.
To this day a new joint assessment released by the Government of Ukraine, the World Bank Group, the European Commission, and the United Nations, estimates that the cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine has grown to US $411 billion (equivalent of €383 billion). A current estimate calculates 21 million civilians being directly affected, 18 million are identified as ‘in need’ with a further 18.000 civilian casualties reported so far. Currently, NATO is continuing to provide financial, humanitarian and military assistance. Encrypted and proprietary social media and individual accounts support media communication, whilst the airwaves continue to show an increased level of activity.
The war has been going on for 491 days to this day.
Call for Participation
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Conetta, Carl. Disappearing the Dead:. Afghanistan, Iraq and the Idea of a ‘New Warfare'.
Creeber, Glen; Royston, Martin. Digital Cultures. understanding New Media (2009; 2011). Open University Press. Maidenhead.
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Hamelink, Cees J. The Ethics of Cyberspace (2004). Sage Publ. London.
Herodotus. The Histories (1975). Translated by: A. R. Burn; Aubrey de Selincourt. Penguin Books. New York, NY.
Herodotus. The Histories (2011). Translated by: Robin Waterfield; Carolyn Dewald. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
Ignatieff, Michael. Virtual War. Kosovo and Beyond (2000). Metropolitan Books. New York.
Ignatieff, Michael. The Terrorist as Author. The New York Times.
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence culture. Where old and new media collide (2008). New York University Press. New York.
Lister, Martin; Giddings, Seth; Dovey, Jon. New media. A critical introduction (2009). Routledge. London.
Lyotard, Jean-François; Jameson, Fredric. The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge (2005). Translated by: Geoff Bennington; Brian Massumi. Manchester University Press. New York.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media (2002). The MIT Press. Cambridge (Mass.), London.
Mansfeld, Jaap; Primavesi, Oliver. Die Vorsokratiker. Griechisch/deutsch (2021). Reclam, Ditzingen.
McLuhan, Marshall; Gordon, W. Terrence. Understanding media. The extensions of man (op. 2003). Gingko Press. Corte Madera, CA.
Nancy, Jean-Luc; Hanson, Susan. L'Intrus. in CR: The New Centennial Review. Volume 2. Issue Nr.3 (2002).
Page, Adrian. Cracking morse code. Semiotics and television drama (2000). University of Luton Press. Luton.
Rancière, Jacques. On the shores of politics (2007). Translated by: Liz Heron. Verso. London.
Thomas, Julian; Hassan, Robert. The New Media Theory Reader (2006). McGraw-Hill Education.
Thurlow, Crispin; Mroczek, Kristine R. Digital discourse. Language in the new media (2011). Oxford University Press. New York.
van Dijk, Jan; The Network Society (1999, 2012). Sage. London. Wardrip-Fruin, Noah;
Montfort, Nick. The New Media Reader (2003; 2010). MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass.