Æthertenna

Æthertenna is an installation in which participants are given the chance to listen directly to vibrations in the electro-magnetic field. A composition of electrical devices including fans, aquarium pumps, lasers, lamps, and more is provided for them to experience the full range of unique sounds produced by these electromagnetic fields. A special hand built antenna-wand connected to a portable audio recorder and headphones acts as the interface to this invisible world of sonic delight.


This project coalesced in the Winter of 2020 from the intersection of a number of my interests concerning the electromagnetic field and its possible utilization in art. Since the beginning of the year I had begun to explore the world of amature radio, using a cheap RTL-SDR module to listen in on a multitude of broadcasts ranging from police communications to low orbit satellite transmissions. Surprisingly, while I found these intentional radio sources interesting, I also found myself just as fascinated by the patterns of clicks and static I could hear coming from local sources of interference. Around the same time I discovered the Slovakian experimental record label LOM, and was intrigued to find that a number of artists associated with the group had been using field recordings from electromagnetic sensors in their music. The label currently sells not only these artist’s work, but indeed also microphones designed specifically for capturing electromagnetic emissions as audio. I immediately ordered one, eager to find out what exactly electricity sounded like.

Plugging the microphone in for the first time, I donned my headphones and was stunned to discover a hidden acoustic landscape existing in parallel to our own. Here, ordinarily silent cables and wall sockets came alive with hisses, shrieks, and buzzing unlike anything I’d heard before. The secret conversations of phones and laptops over WIFI rang out with a cacophony of pulses and beeps. Even with one’s eyes closed the position of lightbulbs in the room could be determined by their distinctive humming. I was so enchanted by the world revealed to me by these electric ears, that I resolved to build an installation which would allow others to experience it too.


The antenna itself was built from hand-cut balsa wood glued together into the square head frame and its hollow handle. Its design was based around the LOM Audio Priezor, though there are numerous deviations from this specification, such as the shape of the head and the number of windings. The antenna wiring is very simple, and consists entirely of copper thread coiled around the head which connects to a standard 3.5mm audio jack routed out the handle.