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Listening space: Satellite Ikats

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Listening Space is an artistic research that was born during the eTextile Spring Break camp that took place in upstate New York at the beginning of April 2019. Following their previous explorations of ecologies of transmissions and wanting to experiment with Software-Defined Radio, the authors, setup a DIY satellite tracking station and aimed at intercepting the NOAA weather satellite audiovisual transmissions. During the course of three days, they observed five satellite passes, intercepted successfully three transmissions and decoded the audio signals into images which they later knitted in order to create a textile archive of the transmissions. Conceptually the project seeks to explore transmissions ecologies as raw material for artistic exploration, to understand and re-imagine in poetic means, representations of audio and images broadcasted from space, while regarding knitted textiles as a physical medium for memory storage and archiving.
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Listening Space
Satellite Ikats
Afroditi Psarra
Center for Digital Arts & Experimental Media
(DXARTS)
University of Washington
Sea!le, WA, USA
apsarra@uw.edu
Audrey Briot
DataPaule!e
Hackerspace & Collective
Paris, France
contact@audreybriot.fr
!
ABSTRACT
Listening Space is an artistic research that was born during the
eTextile Spring Break camp that took place in upstate New York
at the beginning of April 2019. Following their previous
explorations of ecologies of transmissions and wanting to
experiment with Software-Defined Radio, the authors, setup a
DIY satellite tracking station and aimed at intercepting the
NOAA weather satellite audiovisual transmissions. During the
course of three days, they observed five satellite passes,
intercepted successfully three transmissions and decoded the
audio signals into images which they later knitted in order to
create a textile archive of the transmissions. Conceptually the
project seeks to explore transmissions ecologies as raw material
for artistic exploration, to understand and re-imagine in poetic
means, representations of audio and images broadcasted from
space, while regarding knitted textiles as a physical medium for
memory storage and archiving.
CCS CONCEPTS
General and reference~DesignHuman-centered
computing~Interface design prototypingHuman-
centered computing~Information visualizationApplied
computing~Environmental sciencesApplied
computing~Media artsApplied
computing~AstronomyApplied computing~PhysicsApplied
computing~TelecommunicationsApplied computing~Sound
and music computing
KEYWORDS
Software-Defined Radio; NOAA; Transmission Ecology;
Antennas; Encoding; Art; Media Arts; E-textiles; Physical
Computing; Digital Craftsmanship; Fiber arts; Machine Knitting;
Digital Fabrication; DIY Electronics
ACM Reference format:
Afroditi Psarra and Audrey Briot. 2019. Listening Space: Satellite
Ikats. In Proceedings of the 2019 International Symposium
on Wearable Computers (ISWC ’19), September 913, 2019, London,
United Kingdom. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 4 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3341163.3346932
1 Introduction
Electromagnetic fields have fascinated both artists and scientists
from the birth of modern communications in the nineteenth
century to the global transmissions of the present day. Following
the path paved by composers like Alvin Lucier, or sculptors like
Takis Vassilakis, contemporary artists like Bill Fontana, or
Dmitry Gelfand and Evelina Dominitch, have worked side-by-
side with scientists to explore diverse atmospheric, and quantum
phenomena as compositional techniques to create poetic
aesthetics and question our understanding of the world. In our
personal work and research, we have been exploring the idea of
using the human body as an interface for sensing the invisible
universe that surrounds us and electromagnetic field detection as
a means of sensing and sonifying low frequency human made
radiation.
Following our previous explorations of ecologies of
transmissions, and wanting to experiment with Software-
Defined Radio, we setup a DIY satellite tracking station and
aimed at intercepting the NOAA weather satellite audiovisual
transmissions. During the course of three days, we observed five
satellite passes, intercepted successfully three transmissions and
decoded the audio signals into images which we later knitted in
order to create a textile archive of these transmissions. This
process served as a fast prototyping technique to give shape to
our idea, but the limitations we had in terms of materials, time,
space for observation and lack of expertise in satellite tracking
were evident. Nevertheless, the idea of listening to these
otherwise hidden transmissions, intercepting them using DIY
means and low-cost methodologies and interpreting them
through digital crafting means aligned perfectly with the idea of
citizen science that both of us are trying to explore in our work.
More specifically, we are interested in exploring non-verbal
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ISWC '19, September 913, 2019, London, United Kingdom
© 2019 Association for Computing Machinery.
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-6870-4/19/09...$15.00
https://doi.org/10.1145/3341163.3346932
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F. Surname et al.
communication systems and the ubiquitous nature of textiles as
memory and archiving mediums.
1 Conceptual Axis
By investigating the energies that have been harvested by
humanity to knit this complex layer, a turbulent sea of radio
waves that penetrates the fabric of our everyday lives even if it
remains unseen and unheard, we aim to create poetic
connotations between textiles-as a means of data detection,
collection and archiving, and bodies as agents of power to re-
interpret current technologies through handmade crafting
techniques. Specifically, the ecologies of transmission that
comprise the Radio Spectrum, are no doubt the ultimate
expression of the Anthropocene, as they permit the operation of
human life as we know it (telecommunications, environmental
monitoring, radio astronomy, FM/AM radio etc) and shape our
understanding of the planet. In this context the research project
Listening Space seeks to explore satellite transmissions as raw
material for artist exploration, to understand and re-imagine in
poetic means, representations of audio and images broadcasted
from space.
2 Development Process
In order to pick up the satellite transmissions we used the RTL-
SDR dongle and the Cubic SDR software. Software-defined radio
(SDR) is a radio communication system where components that
have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers,
filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are
instead implemented by means of software on a personal
computer. The dongle itself has an embedded tuner, a
temperature compensated oscillator, ESD protection, a noise
reduction circuit with built in direct sampling for HF reception
and an SMA F connector which can be used with a coaxial cable
in order to connect to an antenna.
Figure 1: Quarter-wavelength V-dipole antenna connected
to the RTL-SDR dongle using a coaxial cable
After experimenting with several antenna designs (a screen
printed Sierpiski triangle antenna made of conductive copper
paint, a V-dipole using enamelled copper wire), we found that
the most successful was our third prototype, a quarter-wave V-
dipole made using a coat hanger which measured ~54cm on each
side and had a 120 degrees angle between the dipole sides (Fig.
1). Considering that the NOAA transmission frequency is
~137MHz, the length of the metal rods depends on the frequency
transmission and the wavelength of the signal and is calculated
by the equation λ = c/f.
Figure 2: NOAA 14 transmission using Cubic SDR
In order to track the satellite passes we used the online platform
https://www.n2yo.com which provides real time information on
the different NOAA positions. The above figure demonstrates
our setup for the interception of the transmission (Fig. 2). By
using the Cubic SDR software we were able to record .wav files
of the transmissions which we later visualized using NOAA-
APT, an image decoder software for APT signals from the NOAA
satellites. Even though the transmissions we picked up sounded
very clear, our first decoded images were error-prone (Fig. 3) and
did not seem to reflect what we were expecting to see.
Figure 3: Decoded image from the NOAA 14 transmission
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Listening Space ISWC 19, September 9-13, 2019, London, United Kingdom
It wasn’t until the third recording that we had successfully
managed to visualize a good part of the transmission (Fig. 4).
Figure 4: Decoded image from the NOAA 15 transmission
3 Satellite Ikats
The knitted textiles that were produced during the eTextile
Spring Break event were created to comprise a physical archive
of this initial research into transmission ecologies. Namely, we
used a hacked Brother KH-930 needle bed knitting machine to
fabricate the prototypes for the first two transmissions (NOAA
14 & 18), and a SilverReed SK-840 knitting machine for the third
(NOAA 15). Figures 5-6 depict the knitting process and a detail
of the knit of the NOAA 14 transmission.
Figure 5: Knitting the NOAA 14 transmission with the
Brother KH-930 knitting machine
Figure 6: Detail of the NOAA 14 satellite ikat
We knitted mixing four fine cotton, acrylic, viscose yarns of
different colors, while operating in a binary fashion of two colors
(foreground - background, black - white pixelized images). This
variation in color created a blurry effect to the design of the knit
that is reminiscent of the Ikat weaving technique which is
characterized by color binding. Furthermore, the traditional ikat
patterns have a similar rhythmic quality as the NOAA
transmissions, hence we named our knits “Satellite Ikats”.
Figure 7 depicts the decoded image from the NOAA 18
transmission, and figure 8 depicts a close up of the knit version
of the same transmission.
Figure 7: Decoded image from the NOAA 18 transmission
Figure 8: NOAA 18 satellite ikat close-up
4 Knitted Textiles as Memory
Knotted textiles are the result of looping, an ancient and
nomadic crafting technique which in contrast to weaving, does
not require a sitting structure for its shaping. Their design is
based on gaps and counts creating a form of textile memory
anticipating linear forms of writing. Throughout history there
have been significant examples of textiles being used as a form
of memory and archiving. For example, the Incas were using
Quipus, bunches of knotted cotton cords as means of data
storage. In their highly quantified society, the color of cords, the
way they were connected to each other, the type of knots and
their positions are thought to constitute compact portable
recording devices.
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Psarra and Briot
F. Surname et al.
In her talk How to Knit a Popular History of Media at the
Office for History of Science and Technology (OHST) Colloquia
at Berkeley, researcher Kristen Haring describes the binary
relationship between knitting and programming: while
executing a knitted work, the knitter is executing a series of
encoded instructions, by compiling them row after row. On that
basis, she designed knitted pieces with embedded messages using
Morse code. Furthermore, e-textile designer Claire Williams in
her Knitted Spectrograms, encodes sounds recordings of
electromagnetic walks using her handmade antennas as EMF
detectors.
In our previous explorations in knitting, we have explored
the idea of encoding data into with projects such as Asciimage
and Oiko-nomic Threads. In Asciimage Audrey Briot created a
series of knitted textiles memories, in which each letter of a
selected text is encoded in binary code on 8 bits according to
ASCII codes. The binary result is then knitted with a hacked
domestic double bed knitting machine. Likewise, Afroditi Psarra
in her collaborative project with Marinos Koutsomichalis and
Maria Varela, Oiko-nomic Threads, she explored knitting as a
way of archiving the recent financial crisis in Greece, by
visualizing in a generative manner the financial data from the
Manpower Employment Offices in Greece between 2008-2013,
using traditional folk-art motifs. Furthermore, we both form part
of the speculative community of Woolpunks first introduced in
summer 2016 at the E-textile Summer Camp in Paillard, France.
There, in collaboration with designer Martin De Bie, Audrey
Briot encrypted into the width of stripes of tartan knits the
identities of members of the Woolpunk community, and Afroditi
Psarra together with e-textile practitioners Liza Stark, Anna
Blumenkranz and Ingo Randolf, created a wearable wool felted
and crocheted rope-core memory cape.
Therefore, although not equipped with embedded
technology, we consider our Satellite Ikats as a continuation of
our research into textile computer memories, since they
encapsulate the information of the system in which they are
createdthe SDR radio, the error-prone nature of the handmade
antennas we used, and the encoded information of the NOAA
transmissions of Earth from space which indicates our geospatial
location in this observation, transforming the knitted fabric into
an object of open interpretations and possibilities that can be re-
evaluated, or re-appropriated and incorporated into soft sensing
systems, or into wearables.
5 Conclusions and Future Steps
The Satellite Ikats that are presented in this abstract showcase a
DIY approach into developing new methodologies for space
exploration through combining traditional crafts with hacking
and open source technologies. We are delighted to have secured
funding to develop our idea and visualization techniques further
and collaborate with Libre Space Foundation and SatNOGS, two
exciting platforms of technologists using open source tools for
space exploration, in order to create wearable satellite stations,
and compose new textile works using sounds and images
broadcasted from space.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We would like to thank the organizers of the eTextile Spring
Break camp 2019 for providing the space and opportunity for us
to develop this project. Taeyoon Choi for helping us setting up
and documenting the NOAA satellite passes at The Wassaic
Project. James Rosenthal for introducing us to Software-Defined
Radio and for providing useful feedback on antenna design and
RF sensing. DXARTS and the University of Washington for
supporting this research project, as well we gratefully
acknowledge the grant from the Bergstrom Award for Art &
Science which will help develop this project further.
REFERENCES
[1] Marcia and Robert Ascher. 1997. Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu.
Dover Publications Inc. New York, USA.
[2] Andrew Barron ZL3DW. 2019. Software Defined Radio for amateur radio
operators and shortwave listeners. San Bernardino, CA, USA.
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[4] eTextile Spring Break. 2019. Ritual. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from
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[5] Bill Fontana. 2013. The Universe of Sound. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Zjy8v7BRaQ
[6] Dmitry Gelfand and Evelina Domnitch, in collaboration with Paul Prudence.
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[7] Graham Harman. 2018. Object-Oriented Ontology. A New Theory of Everything.
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[8] Kristen Haring. 2011. How to Knit a Popular History of Media. Retrieved July
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media/
[9] Patrice Hugues. 1982. Le langage du tissu. P. Hugues, France.
[10] Douglas Kahn. 2013. Earth Sound Earth Signal. Energies and Magnitudes in the
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Threads. Proceedings of the 2014 ACM International Symposium on Wearable
Computers: Adjunct Program. Pages 59-64. Retrieved July 17, 2019 from
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[12] Brandon LaBelle. 2018. Sonic Agency. Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance.
Goldsmiths Press, London, England.
[13] Libre Space Foundation. 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019 from https://libre.space/
[14] Alvin Lucier. 1981. Sferics. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from http://www.alvin-
lucier-film.com/sferics.html
[15] SatNOGS - Open Source global network of satellite ground-stations. 2019.
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[16] Jim Sinclair. 1997. How Radio Signals Work: All the Basics Plus Where to Find
Out More. McGraw-Hill, Australia.
[17] Liza Stark. 2016. Woolpunk. Retrieved June 18, 2019 from
http://thesoftcircuiteer.net/projects/wool-punk/
[18] Becky Stern. 2010. Hacking the Brother KH-930e knitting machine. Retrieved
June 9, 2019 from https://learn.adafruit.com/electroknit/overview
[19] Takis Vasilakis. 1981. Espace Musical Beaubourg. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from
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[21] Claire Williams. 2014-15. Knitted Spectrograms. Retrieved July 17, 2019 from
http://www.xxx-clairewilliams-xxx.com/projets/knitted-spectrogrammes/
[22] Woolpunks. 2016. Coding Tartan. Retrieved June 4, 2019 from
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[23] WXtoImg Restored: software to decode APT and WEFAX signals from weather
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Oiko-nomic Threads is a collective art project for an algorithmically controlled knitting machine and open data. The installation represents a system commenting on the notion of work through the production of a textile in real-time. By means of rethinking, modifying and redefining the functionality of an obsolete knitting machine and employing financial data from the databases of the Greek National Manpower Employment Offices as well as selected patterns inspired by Greek folk art, a textile is generated algorithmically. This way, the woven textile is to be understood as both a document of its own making as well as a dynamic base of archival resources which presents a computer-generated interpretation of the original financial data.
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Object-oriented ontology (hereafter ‘OOO’) is relatively new, and hence not as well known among film and television critics as other theoretical standpoints. For this reason, the discussion that follows must take a somewhat circuitous path. First, I will give a brief history and conceptual overview of OOO itself. Second, I will give an assessment of how OOO might fit with some current discussions of trans- and posthumanism. Third and finally, I will give some basic examples of how OOO might be applicable to film and television criticism.
Energies and Magnitudes in the Arts
  • Douglas Kahn
Espace Musical Beaubourg
  • Takis Vasilakis
Takis Vasilakis. 1981. Espace Musical Beaubourg. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZYc_a8gJQY
The Universe of Sound
  • Bill Fontana
Bill Fontana. 2013. The Universe of Sound. Retrieved June 5, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Zjy8v7BRaQ
How Radio Signals Work: All the Basics Plus Where to Find Out More
  • Jim Sinclair
Jim Sinclair. 1997. How Radio Signals Work: All the Basics Plus Where to Find Out More. McGraw-Hill, Australia.
Semaphore: Acoustic Space Lab
  • Ewen Chardronnet
Ewen Chardronnet. 2003, 2005. Semaphore: Acoustic Space Lab. Retrieved June 4, 2019 from https://www.ewenchardronnet.com/semaphore/acoustic_space_lab/
How to Knit a Popular History of Media
  • Kristen Haring
Kristen Haring. 2011. How to Knit a Popular History of Media. Retrieved July 16, 2019 from http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/knit-popular-historymedia/