Category Archives: research

A Letter from Sam Belinfante to IYP

Hi guys. It was fantastic to meet some of you and get cracking with some sound recording. Already in a few hours you were making some beautiful tracks.

See/ Hear at

I was really pleased to see that you were all finding your way around the equipment easily – as I write this email there is more equipment on the way, so we are pretty close to getting properly setup to record, play and mix our way across the waterways!!

The idea is that you can use the equipment in whatever way you feel best – gradually learning what equipment is best for what job.

Along the way we will build an amazing archive of sounds that will document the journey into a kind of sonic map – a living breathing archive of the various spaces that you and the boat will slowly move through.

This will also be an incredible instrument that can be played in all kinds of ways -

This doesn’t have to be merely a collection of recordings – but can be an myriad of podcasts, sound works, effects, symphonies, mixes, noises etc. Furthermore, it doesn’t just have to be just audio – but drawings, photographs, sculptures, paintings, performances (just about anything) can all be captured and archived off. As Scarcity Radio develops the ambition and complexity of this archive can continue to grow. It’s totally open to go in whatever way we like.

The key thing, though, is that everything is clearly labelled and saved in a way that we can easily search through and know where everything came from: a kind of library-on-a-boat. It has to be identifiable and easily playable.

Also, by tracking where things came from, we can make beautiful and fascinating maps of the documents as they amass.

Below are some recent examples of artists working in this way – the sounds/ images are fixed to their origins on various kinds of maps.

One easy way to do this to use GPS. By noting each sound/ text/ image with a geographical position it will be easy to retrospectively map each and every event. 

But equally, old-school scribblings on maps and in sketchbooks is just as valid.

I will keep an eye on the blog and will keep in contact as much as possible. You can email me anytime on

When we meet next we should have an amazing resource to start playing with and I plan to ring up some of my musician buddies to join us which should be really fun and exciting for all involved.

Stay in touch!

Very Best


Posted in research, slow boat summer, sound & music, workshop log | 1 Comment

The Cognitive Radio

(Voiceover for film)
When I’m talking about communication, I’m talking about human communication, because that’s where revenue is at the moment. But in future, machine to machine communication is a growing area. They use different frequencies, what are called the beachfront frequencies, that are consumed solely by humans… for our enjoyment, frankly.
And when I’m talking about radio I mean any device that broadcasts and receives – so that includes televisions and mobile phones as well as what we usually think of as radios.
Principally then, cognition is about learning, and about action based on that learning, so you’re being aware of your environment. Radio policy operates from a very top-down level, but this whole notion of the cognitive radio, this kind of metaphor, would enable more local decisions and more spontaneous and dynamic use of the mineral that is spectrum.  This would allow you to detect conflicts with your neighbours, which heretofore would have been dealt with at a higher level, because there would have been that kind of central planning. But now if you take that away, the radios themselves are going to have to do more of that kind of work… looking at who’s around them, how others are acting, reacting to that, negotiating with those radios more locally… People then would see cognitive radio as introducing anarchy, chaos and all the rest of it into a world that’s been highly planned and everything’s highly managed and everyone wants to have fairly concrete expectations of behaviours every time in every frequency  in every jurisdiction.
They assert that then in the same way that they regulate land, they regulate oil, if you think of those minerals that are really revenue-bearing for a government, spectrum is the same thing. But the reason that they do it like that, they regulate the use of spectrum the mineral in that way… it’s in part that so we’ll have harmonisation. The other reason is to do with interference. Because radio spills, it’s not a clean mineral. It’s not like oil, where it runs out. Well, it is and it isn’t like oil, because some parts are more accessible than others. So if you want to give out rights to exploit the mineral spectrum, generally they are given on an exclusive basis.
In the cognitive radio world, we introduce the notion of some autonomy to the radio. So the radio is tasked with actually being aware of its environment. So sensing how busy the radio environment is, how much data is being transferred, sensing how busy those devices are around it… it’s tasked with possibly being aware of the policies acting on it. So it has to be able to be aware of its environment, and it has to be able to somehow take that awareness and make some decision based on that awareness, and act on that. So the old radios, they couldn’t change their actions. They’re either receiving or not receiving, they’re either transmitting according to a standard or they’re not. In a cognitive radio, you’re aware of your environment, you make some decision that optimises your response to that, or you transmit at a lower power or a higher power, heretofore what would have been the very hardcore engineering things that would have been planned in advance, and hardcoded, they become open to the radio to make choices about itself.
So you could restrict the radio, I could restrict it’s decisionmaking so that it’s aware of these things but I can set the decision processes. So it might recognise something is A, B, or C, but I can decide if A do x, and if B do y and so on. However, cognitive radio takes it on a little bit further. The radio can actually decide how it decides. It tries, and it learns. It tries something; it sees that it fails; that goes into its memory bank… so it has memory. Radios wouldn’t have had memory before. Even a radio that could make decisions doesn’t have memory. The worries then would be then how do you bound that, can you bound its outputs? If it’s allowed to do things, if it’s allowed to learn… what happens when you have a room full of radios all observing each other, all learning, what’s going to happen?


extracts from an interview by Sarah Browne with Tim Forde, Telecommunications Research Centre, Trinity College, Dublin, May 2012
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Independent Television

There’s a more detailed catch-up post in the works about what’s been developing since the last shoot, and the plan for our final shoot at the end of the month. But before that, I thought I’d make this a bit of a visual post that will share with you both a series of stills from last time, and a series of stills from some of the archive material I’ve been viewing – in this case two current affairs programmes from 1985 discussing the riots of that year. I don’t have much comment to make on these images in particular, other than – aside from the striking decor – I think it’s compelling to consider who is awarded the privilege to speak on such programmes, on whose behalf, and how they choose to represent themselves in this context.

Continue reading

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Ether theories

On Saturday we talked about including some definitions of ether in the newsletter that we’re making. As a concept that some of us have found challenging since Geoff’s radio workshop we thought we might have a look at how the meaning of the word ether has changed – possibly by constructing a timeline of definitions. I actually found this on Wikipedia but it would be nice to put together a few concise definitions, maybe including some of our own. The following are taken from books that I had at home but they were all written relatively recently so are quite consistent – if anyone can find a much older definition to compare, that would be great.

ether clear sky, upper air. (The Little Oxford Dictionary, 1994)

ether n. Clear sky, upper air; medium formerly assumed to permeate space and transmit electromagnetic radiation; ethereal a. light, airy, of unearthly delicacy of substance etc., heavenly (The Oxford Handy Dictionary, 1978)

ether, a hypothetical substance formerly supposed to pervade the whole of space and be the medium in which light travelled. The Michelson-Morley experiment, which used interferometry to detect the presence of this luminiferous ether and to measure the movement of the Earth with respect to the ether, has led to the abandonment of this hypothesis and the acceptance that electromagnetic radiation is a wave motion without a medium. (Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Universe, 1992)

Michelson-Morley experiment An experiment performed by A.A. Michelson and E.W. Morley in 1881 in an attempt to demonstrate the existence of the luminiferous ether by measuring the earth’s velocity relative to it. They used a Michelson interferometer to obtain interference fringes and then rotated the apparatus through 90 degrees expecting to find a shift in the fringes, since the velocity of light would be different in the two directions. This difference would result from the earth’s motion through the ether. However, no shift was detected. This negative result led to the downfall of the ether theory  and was explained by Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1905. (The Macmillan Encyclopedia,1988)

Michelson, Albert Abraham (1852-1931) American physicist, of German extraction, who is mainly remembered for his work on the velocity of light. Using his interferometer (invented in 1881), he and Edward W. Morley showed in 1887 that the speed of light in a vacuum is the same in all inertial reference systems (coordinate systems moving at constant velocity relative to each  other). It had been held since the days of Huygens that light travels through a stationary substance filling the whole of space (the so-called ether), but Michelson and Morley’s experiments proved that there was no such thing. This led directly to the development of the special relativity theory by Lorentz and Einstein. (Who Did What, 1974)




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Scarcity Radio Workshop 5: the Geology Museum

Hello IYP!

Our next workshop on April 29th will conclude the section of workshops I’ve been doing with you – focusing on me sharing my research about radio and scarcity, watching films and hosting guests – and move towards a phase of the project where we will produce a work together. So I thought I’d write a blog post that would share a little of the direction of this in advance, because any project like this involves learning on the part of the leader / artist as well as the group.

This photograph shows the rather fantastic but little-visited Lapworth Geology Museum at Birmingham City University, which will be the main location we’ll be working in. I’m drawn to this place not only because of its beautiful display architecture and amazing crystal collection, but also because the idea of placing ourselves within the surrounds of a geological collection somehow makes sense to discuss ideas of scarcity, abundance and the mining of resources. Being surrounded by objects that seem impossibly old -  including a cast of dinosaur footprint, a huge lump of Spanish pyrite and a T Rex tooth – it also potentially connects us to a much longer trajectory of time and history than we might be familiar with.

Unexpectedly, there is a direct connection between mining and telecommunications too. You already know of my interest in fool’s gold, used as a detector in early crystal radios along with galena or germanium. Crystals such as these are still vital for electronics: coltan for example (the African name for the minerals in the spectrum of columbite – tantalite) is aggressively mined for its applications in a diverse range of consumer electronics, including video games and mobile phones. And this article points out why it’s due to mining resources, rather than cheap labour laws or lax environmental regulations, that the iPad must be made in China. Crystals and minerals such as magnetite, loellingite (nickel ore), cinnabar (mercury ore), phlogopite (mica ore), wolframite (tungsten ore) and quartz are vital for the production of watches, LCD screens, resistors, capacitors, transducers and circuit board components.

I was invited to work with IYP not long after the 2011 riots, and this moment of crisis has always formed something of an implicit backdrop to my interest in pirate radio and telecommunications. Many pirate radio stations in the 1980s, including PCRL, were formed after the 1981 or 1985 Brixton and Handsworth riots, and were imagined and articulated directly in relation to scarcity: not a scarcity of radio bandwidth so much as a scarcity of political representation and participation. Many of the films we have looked at together were also made around this time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the last period of major global recession (the oil and energy crises in the USA spreading globally, with massive unemployment and government cutbacks in both the United States and Britain, some of the factors which led to the 1984/5 the miner’s strike). Even though the films included genres such as horror and sci fi, it’s arguable that this social backdrop remains present in films that pluck scenarios from fantastical contexts.

I’m imagining the space of the museum in our film as a little like the space of the radio station in some of these films we’ve seen  – The Fog, Pontypool for example – a space for discussion and relative safety as we can reflect on issues happening on ‘the outside’. Our point of connection with these events will most likely be a customised radio – perhaps the pyrite radio that you’ve seen already, or a version of that made for / in the museum. The unlikeliness of this object should underline that our film will not be a straightforward documentary, and even though we’ll be trying to connect with these events, there is still a space for the unknown. Our discussions may not be direct either: the riots for example may be present through the use of archival film footage or audio recordings. We’ve touched on how radio in its early days was seen as something rather magical, a connection with an ethereal world. (The contemporary Radio Spirit World makes good use of these occultist overtones!) Our film will likely also connect with a different sense of time, or shifting senses of past and present, than might be expected.

Our first filming session will be this Sunday April 29th and I hope we can complete the shooting of the film in a further two days in May – its direction and content will continue to be refined as we keep working on it. Two important texts we’ll be looking at reading and discussing are Stone Age Economics, by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, and Resistance through Rituals, by the then Birmingham-based cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Chris Keenan will be our cinematographer, who some of you will have met before. While I’m directing the film and providing the overall context, it’s content will be very much shaped by you and your thoughts. Some of you may be happier in front of the camera, behind it, speaking as narrator, handling objects, or not speaking at all… No one will be put on the spot, and no one will be forced to participate! The idea is to release the film in instalments, or episodes, online over the summer, in parallel with your Scarcity Radio broadcasts as Slow Boat travels to London.

Photo by Jon Hancock on Flickr, 2011.  ‘Reading the Riots’ infographics found on The Guardian website, here; there’s also an interesting rumour-tracker of Twitter here. Detail of Sarah Browne, How to Use Fool’s Gold (Pyrite Radio), 2012. Tyrannosaurus tooth from Lapworth Museum, photo by Sarah Browne, December 2011.
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Canal Heritage Walk

The Canal & River trust will be having volunteer led walks, taking place between the 29 April and the 30 May. This will allow visitors to take in a number of canals in the West Midlands including those around Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Kidderminster and Stourport. As well as being able to explore and find out more about these historic waterways, local people will also be able to visit a pumping station and view a lime kiln – both of which were important to the waterways during the canal building era.

More details for anyone interested in taking part are on Waterscape’s website here.

Posted in canal, heritage, history, research | Tagged , , | 3 Comments