The future of combat, heard through its past. 2015
The advent of radio communications revolutionised war, removing the need for
human and animal messengers and gave commanders near-instantaneous, long-range
control of troops.
The new crystal radios possessed an almost magical quality, channelling
electromagnetic phenomena in the air directly into electricity, without any need
for power of their own. Today, all wireless communication descends from the
crystal radio - from mobile phones to GPS and wireless networking.
The Crystal Line positions the crystal set at both the root and tip of this
vast lineage. First, a small computer scours the World Wide Web for the latest
developments in warfare and battlefield communications technology
which is then passed to a text-to-speech engine and spoken in the manner of an
English radio broadcaster. This spoken text is then transmitted as an AM
broadcast, which when captured by the set inherits audio properties and
textures unique to the medium; heard just as men in the trenches would have
heard them a century ago.
This project was commissioned by The Cutting Room and Phoenix, celebrating the
centenary of World War One.
The advent of radio enabled near instantaneous transfer of commands and
information on the battlefield and in doing so, radio literally changed the
temporality of war. This new domain of high-level strategic and organisational
abstraction soon ushered deep dependence on signal intelligence and encryption;
tools and techniques for encapsulating, detecting and interpreting information
within the radio spectrum.
Signalling aside, radio also had an impact on the way military ambition understood
and operated upon geography. Command could suddenly reach far into the air and
sea from static posts. Soon after came the locative technology of global
positioning systems (GPS), which in turn enabled missile guidance and ultimately
the nuclear arms race.
Radio, one can safely say, has had a vast impact on the shape of our world today.
Perhaps also not mentioned enough is the cultural and emotional impact radio had
upon troops, (men) who were often isolated for long periods in a very
significant and difficult time in their lives. Simply being able to tune into
music or hear the news back home was vital to the morale of soldiers.
Many images of early radios in WW1 show soldiers huddling around a crystal set
as though it were a fire. For many, music from a crystal set was the last music
The Crystal Line harnesses some of these tensions, casting a line of
inheritance all the way to the present. Through the room’s speakers we hear a
synthetic voice in the accent of an English gentleman deliver what has become
the bleak and bleeding legacy of Cybernetics; a landscape rationalised,
contained and physically transformed by network topologies, cognitive science
(AI, vision systems), servos and explosives. This is Truman’s dream of a ‘closed
world’ wrapped in a skin of sensors. Further, it is the story of how ancient
Euclidean and Platonic models - mathematical abstractions of points and lines -
have enabled a geo-strategic control interface over our complex world.
The Perikon Detector, featuring the Zincite crystal and Galena
Linux based PC (Debian GNU/Linux) with audio output to the AM transmitter
The AM transmitter
The schematic for the simple AM transmitter
Phoenix Center, Leicester, 2015
The crystal set
It was my intention to give Phoenix the most beautiful crystal set possible and
one true to the era. This is something I most certainly couldn’t have done
without the help of master craftsman and radio expert Geoff Roberts.
Working with the below set as inspiration, Geoff crafted the set in his
Birmingham studio. Rather than using modern methods (CNCing, 3D printing), all
brass components were turned on a traditional metalworking lathe.
The W&M Radio, an inspiration for the design
The set uses a ‘Perikon Detector’ form of restitution whose Zincite crystal was
found in the chimney of a zinc refinery in Russia.
The web crawler code itself is very simple, leveraging Scrapy. There are many similar to the one below,
used for each site as they all have particular HTML parsing needs:
from scrapy.contrib.spiders import CrawlSpider, Rule
from scrapy.contrib.linkextractors.sgml import SgmlLinkExtractor
from scrapy.selector import HtmlXPathSelector
from spider.items import SpiderItem
name = 'defensetech'
# URLS to crawl
start_urls = ['http://defensetech.org/category/spec-ops/','http://defensetech.org/category/cyber/','http://defensetech.org/category/space/']
# Pull out the links to crawl
rules = [Rule(SgmlLinkExtractor(allow=[r'page/\d+']), follow=True),
# Our parsing function
def parse_blogpost(self, response):
hxs = HtmlXPathSelector(response)
item = SpiderItem()
# The H1 we're looking for stored in 'title' item. See items.py
item['title'] = hxs.select('//h1/text()').extract()
# The body proper text from a div with the correct class extracted. See
item['body'] = hxs.select("//div[@class='format_text entry-content']/p/text()").extract()
The code is run like so, outputting to a CSV file:
$ scrapy crawl defensetech -t csv -o defensetech.csv
This is then aggregated into one large textfile which is cleaned up with REGEX
and passed to the mbrola TTS engine, all in shell scripts specific to the host machine.
A sample of the content, although not recorded through the set itself, is here:
This code runs once a day as a cronjob on an Intel NUC running Debian GNU/Linux system.
This project was generously supported by: