Steven Connor

!bat rovta tbe .vv be it.ett. it it rere a vere btav/ orb ot tire tbat aia vot vvttipty it.
.ptevaovr. tbrovgb vittiov. ot ray. retractea ava rettectea. or it it. gtory rere vot evate..ty
cavgbt. .ptivterea. ava tbrorv bac/ by atvo.pberic repercv..iov..

Radio. or. more strictlv because more broadlv. wireless signalling. unleashed
a dream oí absolute communication and uni·ersal contact. (ontemporarv
communications - or the material imagination which makes sense oí them -
still ha·e as their ideal horizon a uni·erse oí absolute transparencv and
tra·ersibilitv. In such a world. e·ervwhere will be maximallv accessible to
e·ervwhere else. and delav. obscuritv and interíerence will be done awav
with. It will be the opposite oí lobbes`s ·ision oí war oí all against all`:
rather. it will the communication oí all with all. Atmospherics are the
buzzing ílv in that utopian ointment.

\.L. Avrton`s e·ocation oí this world during a lecture gi·en at the Imperial
Institute in 189¯ has írequentlv been quoted:

there is no doubt that the dav will come. mavbe when vou or I are
íorgotten. when copper wires. gutta percha co·ering. and iron
sheathings will be relegated to the museum oí antiquities. 1hen when
a person wants to telegraph to a íriend. he knows not where. he will
call in an electromagnetic ·oice. which will be heard loud bv him
who has the electromagnetic ear. but will be silent to e·ervone else.
he will call. \here are vou·` and the replv will come loud to the
man with the electromagnetic ear. I am at the bottom oí the coal-
mine. or crossing the Andes. or in the middle oí the Paciíic.` Or
perhaps no ·oice will come at all. and he mav then expect the íriend
is dead.

1here are two íeatures oí this that are worth comment. 1he íirst is the care
taken to establish that the intercourse oí the electromagnetic ear and ·oice
takes place silentlv and secretlv: the second is the total inundation
notwithstanding oí the air. earth and oceans. No matter where their
ad·entures mav take these wirelesslv-connected Jules Vernes. their existence

Thomas de Quincey, ‘On Wordsworth’s Poetry’, in The Collected Writings of
Thomas de Quincey (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1845), Vol XI, p. 301.

W.E. Ayrton, ‘Sixty Years of Submarine Telegraphy’, The Electrician, 42
(February 19, 1897), p. 548.

will be so tied up with their abilitv to be in contact that íailure to replv mav
saíelv be taken to mean death. \e mav borrow lamm`s words írom
Beckett`s Lndgame: Outside oí here - |the proleptic e·ervhere oí uni·ersal
hearsav| - it`s death.` Some oí us might imagine this situation oí
communicati·e incandescence as itselí lethal.

1his utopia oí absolute communication is írequentlv e·oked in the earlv
vears oí radio In 1912. )be Marcovigrapb reprinted a poem írom the Metbovrve
Pvvcb celebrating the recent achie·ement oí the SS Miltiades. which had
sailed round the (ape to Melbourne without once being out oí radio

1here is no spot now where a man mav go.
Be it burning desert or Polar snow.
But there the ·oice oí a íriend will come
Bidding him hope íor aid:
1here is no place now where the world is dumb.
Or lonelv. or leít aíraid:
But uni·ersal are words like these.
lullo! Miltiades! ` `

But this sociable ideal oí general audibilitv encountered diííiculties. which
the íollowing centurv would slowlv come to suspect were intrinsic rather
than accidental. 1he íirst is hinted at in Avrton`s e·ocation: that oí secrecv.
1he necessitv íor some wav to pre·ent spillage in a transmission svstem that.
unchannelled bv wires. would spread e·ervwhere in all directions. was
understood earlv. beíore the actual technologv oí radio had been de·eloped.
\illiam (rookes saw in 1892 that signalling without wires through space
would bring the possibilitv oí ea·esdropping and interíerence. though he
was sadlv optimistic about the possibilitv oí keeping intruders out through

I assume here that the progress oí disco·erv would gi·e instruments
capable oí adjustment bv turning a screw. or altering the length oí a
wire. so as to become recepti·e oí wa·es oí anv preconcerted length.
1hus. when adjusted to 50-vard wa·es. the transmitter might emit.
and the recei·er respond to. ravs ·arving between 45 and 55 vards.
and be silent to all others. (onsidering that there would be the íull
range oí wa·es to choose írom. ·arving írom a íew íeet to se·eral
thousand miles. there would be suííicient secrecv. íor the most
in·eterate curiositv would surelv recoil írom the task oí passing in

Marconigraph, 2.19 (Oct 1912), p. 275.

re·iew all the millions oí possible wa·e-lengths on the remote chance
oí ultimatelv hitting on the particular wa·e-length emploved bv those
whose correspondence it was wished to tap.

(rookes does not anticipate a world in which electromagnetic ears will be
come capable oí passing in re·iew across all írequencies much more quicklv
than human ears. 1he diííicultv oí eluding other electromagnetic ears was
paralleled bv the necessitv oí excluding unwanted or unexpected
electromagnetic ·oices. lor. towards the end oí the nineteenth centurv. the
air acquired a new accent. Users oí telephones had íor manv vears become
inured to the annovance oí íizzing. crackling and other strange noises oí
electrical interíerence. and íamiliar with the haphazard oí bad lines` and
good lines`. L·en beíore the appearance oí telephone wires. telegraph wires
looped across the landscape íorm what are still in Britain called telegraph
poles` seemed to suggest a kind oí exposure to the air. and the possibilitv
that the wires might leak sound. or the air might somehow become
implicated in the messages transmitted. But the de·elopment oí radio. which
would be identiíied with the air through which it was íor the most part
transmitted. rather than through the sea or earth. made íor a new
·ulnerabilitv oí transmitted sound and. later on. tele·ision images, to the
·icissitudes oí the air. \here pre·iouslv the air had been audible onlv in the
relati·elv íamiliar and recognisable íorms oí the soughings and screeches oí
wind. electriíication ga·e the air a new. more diííuse. unpredictable and
illegible sonoritv. a new. more enigmatic. more anguished music oí the
spheres. Put simplv. the background oí sound would come increasinglv into
the íoreground. lor that to happen. it was necessarv íirst that the
background íirst be constituted as the channel oí iníormation - through the
de·ising and diííusion oí radiodiííusion. \hat came through ov the air was
the sound ot the air. gi·en ·oice bv being gi·en o·er to the electromagnetic
carriage oí ·oice. But. in the process. the air would become a diííerent air.

1his can be seen as part oí a general widening oí awareness within
modernism to include the peripheral. the subliminal - what Michel loucault
has called the eííort to think the unthought`. \alter Benjamin called this
new íield oí ·isual in,attention unconscious optics`: we mav similarlv
designate an auditorv unconscious`. constituted oí e·ervthing that ordinarilv
íell upon the ear without being recognised or registered. but that
ne·ertheless shaped íeeling and perception. More and more. listening was to
be assailed. augmented or interíered with bv what made itselí heard.

William Crookes, ‘Some Possibilities of Electricity’, Fortnightly Review, February
1892, quoted J.J. Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy 1838-1899 (Edinburgh and
London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), pp. 198-9.


History of Atmospherics
1he kinds oí accidental interíerence that radiotelegraphers named. ·ariouslv.
stravs`. Xs`. atmospherics`. parasitic signals`. static` and sturbs` had a
central place in the e·olution oí the theorv and the material basis oí radio.
No sooner were radio wa·es detected and emploved than the problem oí
atmospheric disturbance arose. It was clear earlv in the historv oí radio that
atmospheric disturbances could produce and propagate the same kind oí
electromagnetic wa·es that lertz had demonstrated bv causing a spark to be
transmitted across his laboratorv.

But putting atmospherics back into the centre oí the picture is a diííicult.
e·en a paradoxical enterprise because the point oí understanding
atmospherics was in order to suppress or expel them. Oli·er Lodge. who in
189¯ had taken out a patent on a tuning de·ice that would enable radio to
be transmitted and recei·ed without interíerence. declared bluntlv that
atmospherics are oí no assistance. and are a nuisance which ought to be

Indeed. atmospherics had come to notice e·en earlier than this. L·en beíore
the de·elopment oí wireless telegraphv. telephone users íound that their
apparatus was subject to interíerence too. an interíerence that mav itselí
ha·e predicted some oí the íorms and uses oí radio itselí. though the eííects
were usuallv the result oí electrical induction rather than electromagnetic
radiation. One (harles Rathbone who was listening on a pri·ate telephone
run between his house in Albanv and the Obser·atorv heard singing. which
it turned out was emanating írom an experimental concert transmitted bv
1homas Ldison o·er a telegraph wire between New \ork and Saratoga
Springs. 1he ^er Yor/ )ive. carried a report in 18¯3 oí the strange
interíerences produced in telegraph equipment bv an electric storms. 1he
article explained that the electric wa·e` produced during a storm sometimes
acted to block or obstruct transmissions. and sometimes augmented them.
On occasion. it pro·ided the possibilitv íor a kind oí wireless transmission
oí signals:

\hen the electric wa·e is oí considerable duration and power. the
operators ha·e been known to let go their batteries. detach the wires.
carrv them to the ground. and. bv means oí the electric throbs.

Oliver Lodge, Talks About Wireless: With Some Pioneering History and some Hints
and Calculations for Wireless Amateurs (London: Cassell, 1925), p. 45.

messages ha·e been transmitted entirelv independent oí the ordinarv

1he electrical nature oí lightning had been known since Priestlev and
suspected beíore. but it seems to ha·e been Oli·er Lodge who íirst
proposed that lightning produced impulses oí a speciíicallv oscillatorv
character. just like the spark which lertz used to show the existence oí
radio wa·es. \ith the telegraph or the telephone. reception and
transmission had to be born together - that is. one could onlv a recei·e a
message that has been humanlv sent. despite the íantasies oí spiritualists.
Radio. bv contrast. re·ealed an excited. excitable world oí radio discharges.
audible e·idence oí the uni·erse oí o·erlapping oscillations and radiations
re·ealed bv nineteenth-centurv phvsics. In the ·erv earliest davs oí radio.
one listened to. or listened out íor. atmospheric impulses. since there was
little else to listen to.

Research into atmospherics remained patchv and sporadic during the íirst
decades oí the twentieth centurv. 1he íirst svstematic work was undertaken
bv \.l. Lccles and Morris Airev. who were able to obser·e in an important
paper on the subject oí 1911 that |t|he sum total oí the work published on
the whole subject is ·erv small`.
Slowlv. as experiment and report began to
build up. atmospherics started to gain a positi·e interest in themsel·es.
rather than simplv as a nuisance to be eradicated. A contributor to !irete..
!orta wrote in 1920 that írom the operator`s point oí ·iew. these natural
disturbances. called ·ariouslv stravs. or atmospherics. are particularlv
undesirable. though to the experimenter with non-utilitarian aims thev
present a íascinating íield oí studv`.

lrom 1910 onwards. interest in and understanding oí radio atmospherics
increased markedlv. 1he British Association set up a (ommittee íor
Radiotelegraphic In·estigation in 1913. which undertook a svstematic
in·estigation oí atmospherics. In 1918. Robert \atson-\att began
super·ising research at the Aldershot \ireless Station. In 1920. the
(ommittee íor Radiotelegraphic In·estigation ga·e wav to the Radio
Research Board. under the direction oí the Admiral oí the lleet lenrv

‘The Electric Wave’, New York Times, January 12, 1873, p. 3, reproduced at

W H Eccles and H Morris Airey, ‘Note on The Electrical Waves Occurring in
Nature’, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 85 (1911): [145-50], p. 146.

‘Cantab’ ‘Strays and their Origin’, Wireless World, 8.10 (August 1920), [346-7], p.

Jackson. One oí the íour sub-committees it established was charged with
the in·estigation oí atmospherics.

A re·iew oí the subject in !irete.. !orta in 1923 noted this huge increase in
research. saving that |n|ot ·erv long ago it would ha·e been easv to tell vou
in an hour`s lecture - írom a halí-sheet oí notepaper. so to speak - all that
was known about atmospherics. lappilv. that is not now the case`.
Ne·ertheless. and despite the íact that. between 1906 and 1918. o·er a
hundred patents had been lodged íor anti-interíerence de·ices - or X-
stoppers`. as thev were oíten known - it was still the case that the greatest
unsol·ed problem in radiotelegraphv is that oí interíerence bv
1here were manv íalse dawns. In 1919. Rov \eagant. a
consultant with R(A. announced that he had disco·ered that the radio
wa·es produced bv atmospherics mo·e at right angles to the wa·es
produced bv radio. and alwavs in a ·ertical direction. 1his. he belie·ed.
would enable him to eliminate static altogether.
le was to spend 4 more
vears oí largelv íruitless research trving to use this mistaken insight to
de·elop a íoolprooí means íor íiltering out interíerence. Despite the
ad·ances in understanding. there was no steadv ad·ance oí claritv and
corresponding retreat oí atmospherics. partlv because the ad·ances in radio
technologv itselí. such as the use oí e·er longer wa·e-lengths and more
sensiti·e recei·ers. not to mention the huge growth in broadcasting itselí.
opened radio up to more sources oí interíerence. A report on the \eagant
X-stopper` in 1919 acknowledged that the interíerence due to these
atmospheric impulses e·en in the old coherer davs - bad though it then was
- was almost as nothing compared with the terriíic disturbances experienced
in modern long-distance recei·ing stations`.

Local Habitations
1he íirst eííorts at understanding atmospherics in·ol·ed trving to localise
them. 1he assumption that guided most earlv research into atmospherics
was that thev were the result oí lightning storms. In 1895. Alexander Popo·
connected a coherer to a lightning rod and showed that it was possible to
detect approaching storms. 1hereaíter. others explored the possibilitv oí
weather íorecasting bv means oí radio. In the earlv vears oí the centurv.

R A Watson Watt, ‘Observations on Atmospherics’, Wireless World, 12.18 (August
1 1923) [601-12], p. 601.

‘Discovery In Wireless: "Atmospherics" Eliminated’, Times, 42043 (March 8,
1919), p. 11.

‘The Weagant “X-Stopper.” ’ Wireless World, 7.75 (June 1919): 127-31 and 7:76
(July 1919): 209-11, p. 127.

Albert 1urpain made detailed obser·ations which made it possible to detect
thunderstorms manv hours beíore there was anv other e·idence oí them.

\.l. Lccles and l. Morris Airev de·ised a svstem íor recording stravs`.
which in·ol·ed making ·ertical lines oí diííerent lengths to mark diííerent
intensities oí sound along a horizontal line representing the passing oí time.
\hen thev correlated records taken at two recei·ing stations in Newcastle
and London. thev íound a ·erv close svnchronicitv between the two
recordings. concluding that between 60 and 80 per cent. oí the
atmospherics audible at Newcastle and London. about 2¯0 miles apart. are
due to the same cause. 1his cause is probablv a discharge oí atmospheric
electricitv at places whose distances írom the stations are possiblv oí the
order oí hundreds oí miles`. Lccles belie·ed that most oí the interíerence
aííecting British radio reception emanated írom tropical storms in \est
Others thought that audible atmospherics came írom disturbances
thousands oí miles distant.

1he studv oí atmospherics brought meteorologv and radiotelegraphv close
together. as is suggested bv their conjuncture in the short-li·ed !eatber ava
!irete.. Maga.ive. which ran írom 1923-24. In its pages. J. Reginald Allinson
concluded írom the use oí írame aerials to detect and track the progress oí
thunderstorms beíore there was ·isible e·idence oí them that these strav
wa·es ha·e been captured.` and made to ser·e a useíul purpose`.

But as atmospherics began to be more thoroughlv in·estigated. thev turned
out to in·ol·e more than the weather. Radio emissions írom ·olcanic
eruptions suggested that radio would ha·e its uses íor the geologist and the
·ulcanologist. A.G. McAdie wrote in 1913 that

no great eruption can occur. with its de·elopment oí atmospheric
electricitv. without a corresponding electro-magnetic wa·e
disturbance in the ether. shown in the íorm oí static interíerence on
wireless recei·ers. and more or less pronounced interruption oí
communication bv wireless telegraphv. 1he time is not íar distant
when bv means oí these ·arious records it will be possible íor the
meteorologist to determine the ·elocitv oí propagation oí ·olcanic

Albert Turpain, La Prévision des orages (Paris: Naud, 1902).

W H Eccles and H Morris Airey, ‘Note on The Electrical Waves Occurring in
Nature’, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 85 (1911) [145-50], p. 150.

J. Reginald Allison, ‘Atmospherics’, Weather and Wireless Magazine, 2.5 (1924),
[13-14], p. 14

ash. the detonation or sound wa·es. the pressure or impact wa·es.
and the duration oí thunderstorms and tornadic or whirlwind

Lccles de·oted much attention to the mvsterious íluctuations in the amount
oí atmospherics and in the range oí radio transmissions between dav and
night. lis explanation was that solar radiation must cause ionisation oí the
upper atmosphere - in what was originallv called the lea·iside laver`. aíter
the speculations oí Oli·er lea·iside concerning its existence. and then
·eriíied during the 1930s as the ionosphere - and that this ionisation would
be re·ersed during the hours oí darkness.

(arl Stormer reported the puzzling phenomenon oí echoes oí short-wa·e
signals being heard not just ' second aíter the source sound the normal
period taken íor a signal to orbit the earth,. but also at an inter·al oí around
3 seconds aíterwards. le speculated that the radio wa·es were reílected bv
the aurora borealis.
During this period some remarkable reports began to
be recei·ed regarding the powers oí the aurora borealis both to interíere
with radio transmissions and. more remarkablv to become audible when the
aurora occasionallv came down to ground le·el. \riting in ^atvre in 1931.
S. (hapman summarised the testimonies gi·en bv J. lal·or Johnson. who
had in·estigated low-le·el auroral displavs in Alaska and Northern (anada.

1he sounds are ·ariouslv described as a swishing or rustle like that
oí a silken skirt mo·ing back and íorth . ·erv low. but vet plainlv
discernible`: like those that accompanv small static discharges`: like
the sound made when a couple oí slices oí good íat bacon are
dropped into a red-hot pan`: thev mav attain a loudness comparable
to that emitted bv a high-tension electric current when charging a set
oí horn-gap lightning arresters `:quite audible swishing. crackling.
rustling sounds`: a crackling so íine that it resembled a hiss`: sounds
similar to escaping steam. or air escaping írom a tire`: much like
the swinging oí an air hose with escaping air`: the noise oí swishing
similar to the lash oí a whip being drawn through the air`: sounds
likened to a ílock oí birds ílving close to one`s head`: not musical.
it was a distinct tearing. ripping sound as when thin muslin is ripped
or torn apart`. One man at sea. in an open boat with íour nati·es. on
Oct. 11. 1893. heard the most íearíul whizzling and crackling

A.G. McAdie, Volcanic Eruptions and Their Effect Upon Wireless Telegraphy’,
Marconigraph, 2.23 (February 1913): 488-90, p. 490.

Carl Størmer, ‘Short Wave Echoes and the Aurora Borealis’, Nature, 122 (1928):

sounds. sounding at times as ií thousands oí íirearms were íired
within short distance`: at the time there was no wind and no
clouds`. Another writer mentions loud reports similar to riíle
cracks`. the air was still and the aurora was just abo·e the tops oí
the birches`: the íew loud reports were íollowed bv much crackling.`

Manv oí the radio wa·es emitted bv the aurora occur in audible írequencies
- which is not to sav that thev can on that account be heard. but thev onlv
require a transducer to pass across into sound. rather than anv more
complicated kinds oí radio apparatus.

1here were speculations about the possibilitv oí picking up radio
transmissions írom outside the earth`s atmosphere. Oli·er Lodge had
attempted in ·ain in 1894 to detect radiation the sun. as a result oí mundane
interíerence: 1here were e·identlv too manv terrestrial sources oí
disturbance in a citv like Li·erpool to make the experiment íeasible.`

During the 1920s. when the orbits oí Larth and Mars came close together.
and. íollowing an injudicious hint dropped bv Marconi. Luropean and
American newspapers became íull oí excited speculation about the
possibilitv oí picking up signals transmitted írom the mvsterious red planet.
On April 23. lrederick Milliner and lar·ev Gainer tuned in to ·erv long
wa·elength transmissions in Omaha. in order to detect incoming signals
írom Mars. )be )ive. reported the experiment rather coollv:

At íirst he said, we used wa·e lengths oí írom 15.000 to 18.000
metres. and íor se·eral hours it seemed as ií we heard e·ervthing that
was going on in the world. \e got Berlin. Mexico. and all the large
stations. \e got in on a thunderstorm somewhere. and the crackling
lightning was like hailstones on a tin rooí all around us. About 2 a.m.
it cleared up and e·ervthing grew quiet.

1hen we hitched up a long wa·e length. which took us into space -
bevond e·ervthing that might be taking place on earth. 1here was a
most deathlv silence. \e concentrated our íaculties to catch the
íaintest sound. but there was nothing. nor was the silence broken
during the entire time we had the long wa·e hooked on.

S. Chapman, ‘The Audibility and Lowermost Altitude of the Aurora Polaris’,
Nature, 127 (1931) [341-2], p. 342.

Oliver Lodge, Signalling Across Space Without Wires, 4
edn (London: Electrician
Printing and Publishing Co., 1908), p. 33.

‘No Message From Mars: Marconigrams Into Space’, Times, 42393 (April 24,
1920), p. 14.

1his excitement was renewed in 1926. in which vear Popvtar !irete.. asked Is
it possible that the inhabitants oí Mars will send a wireless message to the
earth on October the 2¯
· On that date. the mvsterv planet makes its
nearest approach to earth. (an the ·ast space separating planet írom planet
be bridged bv radio·`
Popvtar !irete.. put together a poweríul 14-·al·e
recei·er. and claimed on 6 No·ember 1926 to ha·e recei·ed a mvsterious
signal \ho sent the mvsterious M`s that were picked up on the P\ 14-
·al·e set. when listening-in íor Mars·.se·eral expert telegraphists were
among the companv that actuallv heard the M`s. and there is no doubt
whate·er oí their mvsterious nature.`
1he technical press was rather sniíív
about this popular eííer·escence. In 1920. !irete.. !orta published a picture
oí a Mr lrank Marshall recei·ing signals in the cellar oí the Rose and (rown
in Park Lane. which bore the sardonic caption le is NO1 recei·ing írom

1his worldliness was dispersed in 1931. when Karl Janskv. in·estigating the
problem oí atmospherics in transatlantic communications íor the Bell
(ompanv. disco·ered that. e·en when one subtracted the static produced bv
known atmospheric disturbances. such as thunderstorms. a residual noise
persisted. which underwent a periodic ·ariation corresponding to the period
oí the earth`s rotation with respect to the stars.
\hen Grote Reber built
his own bowl-aerial that he could point to diííerent areas oí the skv. he
íound that the radio emissions were strongest írom the parts oí the Milkv
\av in which stars were clustered.
1he disco·erv oí this cosmic static`
would lead aíter the Second \orld \ar to the huge ad·ances in the
understanding oí the uni·erse brought bv radio astronomv.

In one sense. the mapping oí radio space has helped to put and keep
atmospherics in their place. 1he audible atmosphere was an atmosphere that
lost its traditional dimension oí altitude: hereaíter. one might be airborne. or

Popular Wireless, 23 October 1926, quoted in Ron, ‘Mars Calling Earth’, Radio
Bygones, 74 (2001): [4-6], p. 5.

Quoted, ibid, p. 4.

Wireless World, 8.3 (May 1 1920), p. 101.

Karl G. Jansky, ‘Electrical Disturbances Apparently of Extraterrestrial Origin’,
Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 21 (1933): 1387-98.

Bernard Lovell, Voice of the Universe: Building the Jodrell Bank Telescope (New
York, Westport, Conn. and London: Praeger, 1987), p. 21

in midair. communicating with the air bv communicating through it. without
actuallv ha·ing to be aloít. A celebration oí the liíe oí Marconi in the
inaugurating number oí !irete.. !orta said that he íound the bridle which
controlled this Pegasus oí the air. and as a result our second Prometheus
brought down to earth radiotelegraphv` .
But. as radio has been steadilv
spatialised. so space has been radiolised - that is to sav. reconíigured to
accord with a world in which what matters are not points. nodes.
orientations and distances. but ·elocities. írequencies. connections.
transmissions and svntonies. Radio space could come as close to the suríace
oí earth as the ground-le·el aurora borealis. and extend íurther into space
than optical telescopes could reach. Radio allowed the experience oí the íar-
here. or the íar-hear: that which was unimaginablv distant could also ha·e
the immediacv and importunacv oí that which sounded in vour ears.

And a Name
One oí the odd svmptoms oí earlv attention to atmospherics was a desire to
íormalise them in a descripti·e and expressi·e language. 1he noises which
interrupted and sometimes swamped communications were not merelv
random. but had their own acoustic proíiles. A phonologv. and then a
phonetics oí the atmosphere began to be de·ised. as the mouth and tongue
assisted the ear in picking out. naming and echoing back in language the
diííerent kinds oí interíerence. Obser·ing that the electro-magnetic
atmosphere had a language oí its own`. J.J. lahie wrote that the sound oí
lightning discharges registering on telephone lines was ·erv characteristic -
something like the quenching oí a drop oí molten metal in water. or the
sound oí a distant rocket`.
As earlv as In 1913. Lccles proposed a
distribution oí radio atmospherics into clicks`. grinders` and hisses` or
íizzles`,. A writer íor the journal !irete.. !orta in 1919 explained that
|h|issing noises are due to actual static discharges írom the aerial to earth
caused bv electrostatic induction bv charged clouds or winds`. while clicks
and grinders emanated írom lightning discharges. and were most common
in transatlantic communication.

An article in )be )ive. in 1925 added a
couple more terms to this taxonomv: crashes`. which mav last as long as
íi·e seconds and appear to result írom local temperature changes and
squallv weather`. and the íizzlv`. quite a distinct kind oí atmospheric which
oíten accompanies rain and hail squalls. It causes a continuous hissing

‘Commendatore G. Marconi’, Wireless World, 1 (1913), p. 3.


‘The Weagant “X-Stopper.” ’ Wireless World, 7.75 (1919): [127-31], p. 129.

sound in the recei·er. and onlv occurs when showers oí rain or hail ha·ing
charged particles are near or actuallv in contact with the aerial`.

Some researchers de·eloped specialities among the íorms oí atmospheric
disturbance. leinrich Barkhausen reported in 1919 on his work on long
whistling tones. le explained that. during the vears when radio operators
emploved enhanced ampliíiers in order to trv to intercept transmissions
írom the enemv. thev would regularlv hear on their headphones

a quite remarkable whistling tone. At the íront. it was said that one
heard the grenades ílving`. As íar as it is possible to represent it in
letters. the tone sounded somewhat like piov..beginning with the
highest audible tones and then running through the whole scale oí
tones and íinishing with the lowest audible tones. On manv davs
these whistling tones were so strong and írequent that thev
sometimes made listening in impossible.

Barkhausen originallv though that these tones must originate írom the earth.
since the radio apparatus on which thev were detected was oíten deep
underground. but. when he returned to the subject a decade or so later. he
re·ised this opinion. ascribing the whistler to multiple reílections írom the

1he coming oí broadcasting in 1922. and the subsequent crowding oí the
airwa·es meant that manv more listeners became íamiliar with the eííects oí
interíerence. and new sounds began to be distinguished. A íeature article in
)be )ive. described radiation írom oscillating aerials. which is generallv
known as howling` and also two kinds oí interíerence írom Morse signals
- mush.` a welter oí ·ague unreadable dots and dashes. and rustling
noises. whistles. and chirps. produced bv the harmonics oí continuous-wa·e
Specialised terms like heterodvning`. to describe the eííects oí
combined írequencies oí diííerent kinds oí recei·ers started to pass into

‘Atmospherics. Wireless Forecasts Of Thunderstorms’, Times, 43984 (June 10,
1925), p. 8.

Heinrich Barkhausen, ‘Pfeiftöne aus der Erde’, Physikalische Zeitschrift 20
(1919), [402-3], pp. 402-3

Heinrich Barkhausen, ‘Whistling Tones From the Earth’, Proceedings of the
Institute of Radio Engineers, 18 (July, 1930): 1155-9

‘Morse Signals: A Growing Source Of Interference’, Times, 44306 (24 June,
1926), p. 28.

ordinarv use. Describing obser·ations and experiments with diííerent kinds
oí interíerence picked up bv submarine cables. L.1. Burton and L.M.
Boardman careíullv distinguished two new ·arieties oí musical atmospherics
- the tweek`. a damped oscillation trailing a static impulse` and the swish`.
which has a sound such as is made bv thin whips when lashed through the

More recentlv. groups oí radio researchers ha·e taken to listening out íor
VLl or Verv Low lrequencv signals írom nature. the particular íascination
oí such materials being that thev are oíten in the audio range oí írequencies.
and require onlv a transducer to be rendered as sound. 1his has spawned an
exotic zoologv oí sonorous sub-species. including hooks`. risers`. pure-
note whistlers`. 2-hop whistlers`. whistler echo-chains` and dawn-choruses`.
Perhaps the suggestion here is that atmospherics enact a kind oí incipient
selí-naming. seeming almost to speak themsel·es. as though a ·oice were
emerging out oí the íog oí noise as a voice. a roi.e,.

1apping, 1uning, Jamming
But. increasinglv. there was another. endogenous íorm oí interíerence. that
had a less celestial origin. and came írom the inside oí radio
communications. 1he multiplication oí diííerent kinds oí electrical
appliance. including radio appliances themsel·es. brought about íorms oí
human atmospherics. 1he Amateur Notes` column oí !irete.. !orta in 1913
sardonicallv reported the concern oí established radio users at interíerence
caused bv the learners at these schools |wireless schools in London|
transmitting too diligentlv - and. what is more. using magnetic recei·ers.

\e rather gather that the írame oí mind oí those correspondents
who are protesting against the conduct oí these schools is this: Ií I.
bv careíul adjustment. can recei·e signals on mv chalcopvrite-
molvbdenite crvstal - quite íi·e times out oí ten - without missing
more than a íew words now and then when mv crvstal goes out oí
adjustment. where should there be anv need íor anvone else to use
the magnetic detector. which is undoubtedlv less sensiti·e. and
thereíore requires stronger signals which interíere with mv

E.T. Burton and E.M. Boardman, ‘Audio-Frequency Atmospherics’, Proceedings
of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 21 (1933) [1476-96], pp. 1481, 1487.

Wireless World, 1.9 (1913), p. 587.

As the airwa·es began to become congested. the human atmosphere began
to pro·ide new sources oí in·oluntarv or accidental interíerence. (.G. Blake
complained that I ha·e ·erv great diííicultv in mv own station. because
there is a butcher`s shop ·erv close where thev work a sausage machine. and
when it is going it is absolutelv impossible to recei·e signals at all`.
wrote írom (olchester to )be )ive. with his speculations about the origin oí
the persistent atmospherics which aííected radio reception in snowv or
írostv weather. suggesting that thev were caused when the wheels oí
collectors oí local trams no longer made good contact with cables or rails.
and thereíore sparked.

Neighbours using diííerent kinds oí equipment could easilv interíere with
each other`s reception. as )be )ive. careíullv explained in 1926:

1he crvstal set is regarded bv manv as being entirelv incapable oí
gi·ing rise to anv kind oí interíering noises. Actuallv a crvstal set mav
be e·en more annoving to a neighbour than a ·al·e recei·er. should
the respecti·e aerials be close together and run parallel with one
another: íor whilst one is searching íor a sensiti·e spot with the point
oí a catwhisker. one`s neighbour mav be pulling his set to pieces in
the hope oí disco·ering the cause oí a baííling series oí crackles.
crashes. and grinding noises. 1he two aerials are tuned to the same
wa·elength. \hen the catwhisker is raised írom the crvstal the path
to earth írom the aerial oí the set oí which it íorms part is broken. to
be made again directlv contact is re-established. As the catwhisker is
mo·ed o·er the suríace oí the crvstal contacts oí ·arving resistance
are made. Once again the carrier wa·e is slightlv modulated. with the
result that the ·al·e user next door hears a succession oí weird
parasitic sounds. Ií when the sensiti·e spot has at last been íound the
crvstal user lavs his telephones on the table íor a moment and gi·es
·erbal expression to his jov. it is quite possible íor his words to be
heard bv his neighbour. since the diaphragms oí the telephones
·ibrate under the iníluence oí the sound wa·es and the carrier-wa·e
is once more modulated.

E.W. Marchant, ‘Methods of Reducing Interference in Wireless Receiving Sets’,
Wireless World, 12.13 (June 30, 1923): 426-31; discussion, Wireless World, 12.14
(July 7
, 1923): 463-65, p. 465.

B.C.L.,‘Wireless Freaks’, Times, 44173 (January 19, 1926), p. 17.

‘Strange Causes of Interference: Unsuspected Crystals’, Times, 4441 (October 26,
1926), p. 24.

Sometimes. the human atmosphere seemed to be displacing the natural.
Philip Augsburg published in 192¯ a collection oí stories on the theme oí
radio in which he e·oked the human turbulence encountered bv the
northwest wind:

now e·en a plain nor`wester can`t howl a bit without getting tangled
in a most amazing assortment oí saxophone blues. stock quotations.
tenor grace notes. hints on how to hold a husband. and what to do
when vour partner bids three hearts - all pushing relentlesslv to keep
a rendez·ous with the peepul.

Nor are these the sum oí strange things that the plain nor`wester
encounters. Sometimes it runs into a plav being broadcast o·er the
radio. A ·oice cries. Stand back. vou bullv!` and the nor`wester.
amazed. asks. \ho-oo-ooo·`

Not all oí these íorms oí interíerence were accidental. 1here are two kinds
oí distortion possible oí the períect transmission. 1he íirst is an implied
diminution oí the signal. through appropriation or tapping. 1his mav make
the signal intelligible. but imperíectlv transmitted. 1he second is an
unwanted augmentation oí the signal. bv extra sounds that mav make the
signal íullv transmissible but imperíectlv intelligible. 1hese alternati·es oí
diminution and augmentation quicklv became known as tapping and

Jamming began earlv in the historv oí radio. especiallv where ri·al svstems
or commercial interests were at work. 1he íirst congestion was experienced
at sea. and this contemporarv account describes some oí the eííects oí
interíerence and means used to combat it:

1he spark sets oí those davs - rock-crushers.` thev were
humorouslv called because oí the deaíening noise thev made - had so
broad a band oí action and made so terriíic a clamor that two íellows
chatting thus practicallv blanketed anv other ·essel within íiítv miles
that might want to use the air.
1he onlv wav to choke them oíí - and it was írequentlv used
bv some other operator waiting íor a chance to send - was to drop a
book on the kev`: that is. lav a book or some other weight on the
transmitting kev. setting up such a continuous roar oí interíerence
that nobodv within range could send or hear a word - rendering
coníusion worse coníounded. 1hese and the manv other ine·itable

Paul Deresco Augsburg, ‘The Leading Man’, On The Air (New York: D. Appleton
and Co., 1927) [1-14], p. 4
interíerences when e·ervbodv was operating at will on the same wa·e
length naturallv led to wireless quarrels and íeuds. the íilling the air at
times with curses. aspersions and choice obscenities.

One oí the earliest and most highlv-publicised episodes oí deliberate
jamming occurred in 1903. during a demonstration oí Marconi`s svstem oí
transmission at the Roval Institution. Maskelvne set out to show that
Marconi`s svstem oí tuning or svntonv was neither as secure or as immune
írom interíerence as he claimed. Using an untuned transmitter at the
Lgvptian 1heatre. which transmitted dirtv wa·es` across a wide spectrum.
Maskelvne transmitted the word rats` repeatedlv to the technicians who had
their equipment set up to show the Morse receptions on the platíorm.
íollowed bv a limerick beginning 1here was a voung íellow oí Italv´\ho
diddled the public quite prettilv`.
J.A. lleming. who ga·e the lecture. wrote
to Marconi the íollowing dav. alluding to the dastardlv attempt to jamb |sic|
us`. and then. still steaming a íew davs later. to )be )ive. to protest at this
scientiíic hooliganism`. 1his brought a deíiantlv selí-justiíving replv írom
Maskelvne. who claimed that he had undertaken the exercise as a scientiíic
demonstration: \e ha·e been led to belie·e that Marconi messages are
prooí against interíerence.But when we come to actual íact. we íind that a
simple untuned radiator upsets the tuned` Marconi radiators`.

Such episodes became more and more common. \hen. in 1904. the US
na·v set up tests oí an interíerence pre·enter that had been de·ised bv
Reginald lessenden. he disco·ered that the ri·al De lorest \ireless
(ompanv had hired an operator to disrupt its transmissions. 1he ensuing
e·ents are described bv a witness:

In an endea·our to hold oíí this interíerence the Delorest operator
was kept under the iníluence oí strong liquids during the tests. but in
an unguarded moment he slipped awav írom his guards. got back into
the radio station and started up a poweríul transmitter. placing a brick
on the kev. In a íew moments there was a knock at the door oí the

Alvin F. Harlow, Old Wires and New Waves: The History of the Telegraph,
Telephone, and Wireless (New York and London: D. Appleton and Co., 1936), p.

Sungook Hong, Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion (Cambridge,
Mass. and London: MIT Press, 2001), pp. 107-12.

John Ambrose Fleming, ‘Wireless Telegraphy at the Royal Institution’, Times,
37104 (11 June 1903), p. 4; Nevil Maskelyne, ‘Wireless Telegraphy’, Times, 37106
(13 June 1903), p. 9.

Na·v \ireless station and there appeared Mr Dan (ollins. the
Delorest operator. who demanded that íood and drink be supplied
íorthwith. or he would reíuse to take the brick oíí the was not
till Mr (ollins was íinallv induced. thru the supplv oí íood and drink
to withdraw the brick. that the Na·v texts proceeded.

1he lirst \orld \ar saw svstematic attempts at jamming and intercepting
transmissions. One oí the earliest appearances in íiction oí the word
jamming` to mean deliberate blocking oí wireless signals occurs in 1he
Vindication oí Binsted. Lx-P.O`. a sea storv bv Patrick Vaux oí 1914. 1he
storv deals with the detection oí a spv who has stolen iníormation which
enables him to jam the signals oí the na·v in the North Sea írom an airship.

lumberstone wa·es blocked again.` said the (.O in surprise to
Kelsale as he stepped írom starboard on his bleak. high bridge. where
the molecules oí íog bleared the eve and made e·ervthing wet and
clammv. Oh. damn this íog coming down again. Ouch! \e`ll stop
this jamming. where·er it`s coming írom. It almost seems as ií some
íolks ha·e got inside our new transmitters.

lere. the word clearlv reíers to the eííorts oí unknown human agencies. but
the association oí this with the clammilv rhvming conditions oí íog which
seem to exempliív the state oí radio isolation perhaps suggests an
interíerence oí means. lor indeed.. the transiti·e use oí the word jamming`
to signiív the deliberate blocking or coníusion oí signals bv human
interíerence coexisted until well into the 1920s and perhaps bevond. with
another usage which reíerred to accidental atmospherics. \.L. (ollinson`s
record oí his own language use includes jamming` among the words most
widespread among non-technical people in 1925: most such people. he
writes. will ha·e some inkling oí the mvsteries oí tvvivg iv and tvvivg ovt and
the trouble caused bv iav.. atvo.pberic. and bortivg.`.
lere the word
jamming` means becoming jammed`. rather than the action oí jamming
another transmission. \hen Reginald Allinson reíerred in 1924 to the
eííorts being made to rid wireless reception oí Nature`s jammings` `. the

Quoted in Helen M. Fessenden, Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows (New York:
Coward-McCann, 1940), p. 121.

Patrick Vaux, ‘The Vindication of Binsted, Ex-P.O’, Sea-Salt and Cordite
(London, New York and Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914) [39-52], p. 47.

W.E. Collinson, Contemporary English: A Personal Speech Record (Leipzig and
Berlin: B.G. Tuebner, 1927), p. 113.

phrase seems nicelv poised between accident and intent.
1he use oí the
term jamming` in jazz. to mean spontaneous impro·isation oí two or more
musicians together. seems to ha·e been established bv the earlv 1930s. and
perhaps beíore. It is one oí the manv wavs in which the idea oí
atmospherics begins to mo·e írom the distorting outside oí music to its

Probablv the narrowing or íocussing oí the meaning oí jamming came about
aíter the Second \orld \ar. 1his was the íirst major conílict in which radio
was not a mere psvchological or technical accessorv. in which not onlv did
radio become a means oí waging waríare. but sound and the studv oí
conditions oí transmission. audibilitv and intelligibilitv became an important
area oí research. as attested to bv a re·iew article on wartime research that
appeared in 1948. 1he 135 items in the bibliographv appended to the article
include studies with titles such as )be De.igv ot ¡avvivg ´igvat. tor |.e .gaiv.t
1oice Covvvvicatiov.. ´peecb ) )brovgb ´i· Mititary Ca. Ma./..
í·perivevt. !itb íarptvg.: )beir íttect ov tbe ívtettigibitity ot ´peecb. . Moaitiea
)av/ Cra.b·íetvet tor |.e !itb a ´eparate )etepbove í Pby.iotogicat íttect.
ot í·po.vre to Certaiv ´ovva.. Metboa. ot )raivivg )etepbove )at/er.. ´peecb iv
^oi.e: . ´tvay ot tbe íactor. Detervivivg ít. ívtettigibitity. ) ava
Receptiov ot ´ovva |vaer Covbat Covaitiov.. )be íttect. ot ^oi.e ava 1ibratiov ov
P.ycbovotor ítticievcy. íttect. ot íigb .ttitvae ov tbe ívvav 1oice. )be
Deretopvevt ot íar !araev.. .v ítectrovic Derice to ´ivvtate .tvo.pberic ´tatic.

It was out oí this general eííort to distinguish the conditions under which
signals could be distinguishable írom noise that (laude Shannon`s
mathermatical theorv oí iníormation would arise.

1he great generati·e problem íor twentieth centurv communications. which
is repeated in accelerated íorms in the contemporarv race to extend
bandwidth and computing speeds. is the problem oí how both to propagate
and to regulate the space oí communications. L·erv attempt to extend
range. power and sensiti·itv - to open up new radio space - brought with it
the possibilitv oí new íorms oí interíerence. L·erv attempt to extend.
diííuse and ampliív the bodv bevond its limits brought exposure to the
corrupting or complicating bodv oí noise in the channel. As lugh G.J.
Aitken has argued. the rhvthm oí radio. that great rider oí the ·ehicle oí
oscillating impulses. is itselí an oscillation between the opening up oí a new
dimension. whose nature and dimensions could be grasped onlv bv the

J. Reginald Allinson, ‘Tracking Thunderstorms With a Frame Aerial’, Weather
and Wireless Magazine, 2.8 (1924) [50-1], p. 50.

Mark R. Rosenzweig and Geraldine Stone, ‘Wartime Research in Psycho-
Acoustics’, Review of Educational Research, 18 (1948): 642-54.

scientiíicallv trained intellect. one in which there were no íamiliar landmarks
or units oí measurement. one where place. occupancv. and possession had
to be gi·en meanings diííerent írom anv thev had had beíore`. and crises oí
o·ercrowding and trespass in the new electromagnetic continent`. that had
to be met bv struggle or international regulation - or large-scale interíerence
and tuning eííects.

1he 1ime of the Air
In his 1933 maniíesto La Radia`. lilippo Marinetti predicted that radio
would not onlv do awav with distance. it would also abolish temporal
di·isions. as the whole world participated in a perpetual. dvnamic now` oí
radio-time. without time or space without vesterdav or tomorrow.`
mo·ements oí the atmosphere gi·e rise to the weather that is time. In a
certain sense. the atmosphere is time itselí. As we ha·e seen. earlv
measurements suggested that the atmosphere was an arena oí pre·iouslv
undreamt oí instantaneitv. \e should bear in mind that one oí the most
important earlv uses oí wireless telegraphv was to broadcast accurate time
signals. such as those which were transmitted írom the Liííel tower. In
response to a lecture on the historv oí the chronometer. in 1920. a
discussant identiíied onlv as the lvdrographer` pointed out that

It is possible now. each dav. íor all those who ha·e these instruments
and recei·ing apparatus and are within range - bv means oí the
Vernier time signals sent out írom the Liííel 1ower - to accuratelv
determine errors easilv within one-hundredth second oí time. bv this
delicate method. which I ha·e no doubt manv here are íamiliar with.
Bv means oí a chronograph and a relav vou can reduce that error to
something ·erv much less. and the diííiculties oí interíerence such as
atmospherics and jamming are largelv surmounted.

1his seems odd - though it is easv to understand how atmospherics could
obscure a time signal. the suggestion here seems to be that atmospherics and
jamming might themsel·es introduce a kind oí temporal error. 1he
in·estigations oí atmospherics seemed to gi·e the lie to this ·ision. Ií radio

Hugh G.J. Aitken, Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio (New York, London,
Sydney and Toronto: Wiley and Sons, 1976), pp. 33, 37.

F.T. Marinetti and Pino Masnata, “La Radia,” in Wireless Imagination: Sound,
Radio, and the Avant-Garde, ed. Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge,
Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1992) [266-8], p. 267.

Rupert T. Gould, ‘The History of the Chronometer’, Geographical Review, 57
(1921) [253-70], p. 269

could be used to svnchronise the world. it was also subject to more
unpredictable íluctuations in electromagnetic weather. \.l. Lccles led the
wav in in·estigating the patterns oí intensiíication and abatement in
atmospherics. le was curious about whv radio reception was better at night
than during the dav. and whv atmospherics should exhibit the kind oí
íluctuations he described in 1909:

Starting to listen at about a quarter oí an hour beíore sunset the stravs
heard in the telephone are íew and íeeble. as thev ha·e been all dav.
1hen. at íi·e minutes aíter sunset. a change sets in. the stravs slowlv
get rather íewer and íeebler. till at 10 minutes aíter sunset a sudden
distinct lull occurs and lasts perhaps a minute. Occasionallv at this
period there is a complete and impressi·e silence. 1hen the stravs
begin to come again. 1hev quicklv gain in number and íorce. and in
the course oí a íew minutes thev settle down into the steadv stream
oí strong stravs proper to the night.

Part oí Lccles`s explanation was that when the rotation oí the earth carried a
portion oí the atmosphere out oí the sunlight. it íormed a region in which
the ions caused bv solar radiation began to recombine. Lndlesslv re·ol·ing
round the globe. this twilight belt was the seat oí perpetual electrical

\hat was heard in atmospherics was the íracture and íluctuation oí time:
atmospherics suggested a time out oí joint. As broadcast radio became more
established. atmospherics oíten took the íorm oí an iníuriating íringe oí
Morse signals. which seemed more and more to inter·ene. not just írom a
diííerent írequencv. but írom a diííerent epoch oí communicati·e time.

\hen Leon 1heremin toured his electronic instrument around Lurope. it
seemed both the sign oí a íuture oí complete gratiíication. in which will and
desire would be íree oí the limits oí the bodv. so that bodilv wants. like
monev cocktails and cigarettes. could be conjured out oí ether-stuíí. and the
long-·anished past. Recalling the nineteenth-centurv belieí that the ether
was a kind oí limbo or aerial gra·evard oí lost sounds. the Daity Cbrovicte
proposed that the eloquence oí (icero and Demosthenes mav be
recaptured íor all to hear`. Lmile Vuillermoz similarlv spoke oí the
instrument`s power to e·oke the great pathetic crv oí the subjugated

W.H. Eccles, Atmospheric Telegraphy and Telephony: A Handbook of Formulae,
Data and Information, 2
edn. (London: Benn Brothers Ltd, 1918), p. 177.

Ibid, p. 164.

Siegíried Sassoon tuned in to the common íantasv that the ether.
and especiallv the regions oí it inhabited bv radio static. might pro·ide a
carrier wa·e íor the ·oices oí the long-dead - in his particular case. the
person oí the eighth-centurv wild and warring` Oueen Mathilda:

Did ·oices walk the air. released írom death.
lers might be heard when. ·erv late at night.
I turn the wireless on and catch no sound
But atmospheric cracklings. moans. and thuds.
lers might be heard. associate with this ground
\hereon her house once stood.

Sassoon picks up the language oí picking up and tuning in. oííering a
strangelv apt prepositional in·ention in his use oí the phrase on the dark`. in
place oí the more íamiliar or expected in` or through`. and thereíore
suggesting that the dark was not so much a medium as a programme or
broadcasting station

.Ií on the dark
I heard shrill Norman lrench and stood between
1hat utterance and eternitv! Ií. so
Attuned. I could watch Oueen Matilda go
lunched on her horse across the crunching snow!

It could onlv be a matter oí time beíore spiritualists and supernaturalists.
who had kept a close eve on electronic communications írom the beginning.
would see the opportunitv that lav in atmospherics. In the 1950s. lriedrich
Jürgenson thought he heard anomalous ·oices on recordings oí birdsong. In
1964. the Lat·ian parapsvchologist Konstantin Raudi·e read oí Jürgenson`s
claims and began working with him to trv to detect and record Llectronic
Voice Phenomena. the ·oices oí the dead. oíten bv tuning a radio to the
static between broadcast írequencies. or recording írom an untuned diode.

‘The Music of the Spheres’, Daily Chronicle, December 10, 1927, Emile
Vuillermoz, ‘Music and the Ether Waves’, Christian Science Monitor, January 21,
1928, both quoted in Albert Glinsky, Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Urbana
and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 71.

Siegfried Sassoon, ‘A Remembered Queen’, Collected Poems 1908-1956 (London:
Faber and Faber, 1984), p. 238.

Ibid, pp. 238-9.

1he ·oices. who were oíten those oí recognisable media celebrities. spoke in
a polvglot jabberwockv. their preíerred mode oí address being the gnomic
velp or bark: Mark vou make belie·e mv dear ves`. was \inston (hurchill`s
puzzling admonition. 1he breakthrough. and the breaking through oí the
·oices. was announced in a book oí that name in 19¯1.

1he atmosphere has oíten made its moods and powers known through
sound - in wind. and rain and thunderclap. But the sound oí the
atmosphere is no mere accompaniment or correlati·e. in the manner oí an
animal`s crv. 1he atmosphere sounds in the mode oí irruption. or
intemperate exclamation. as though in agonv. prodigv or augurv. Something
that is ordinarilv mute and impersonal suddenlv seems to sound`. to gi·e
·oice  or be gi·en to it. 1he ·oice oí the atmosphere is not something
that it has as a resource or propertv. lving. as it were. readv to hand íor it.
lor the atmosphere to sound is íor it to brea/ ivto sound. to pass across some
inhibiting boundarv. o·ercome some blockage.

Radio represented the uni·ersal trumping oí gas bv electricitv. Gas was
organic. approximate and aleatorv. Llectricitv was instant. mathematical.
absolute. Radio wa·es were thought oí as penetrating. 1he atmosphere
constituted a distance to be tra·ersed or an obstruction to be pierced. In
Julv 1909. )ecbvicat !orta Maga.ive carried a report about the work oí a
lrench in·entor named Maurice Dibos. who claimed to ha·e in·ented a
de·ice that would clear the air oí íog bv broadcasting radio wa·es in
combination with hot air.
1here is in íact nothing wrong in principle with
this idea. though it does not work in the wav that it seemed to. Dibos mav
e·en ha·e known oí Oli·er Lodge`s earlv work with electrostatic
precipitation. which showed that electrical íields could clear regions oí the
air oí particles oí matter. which could be charged and then attracted to
plates írom which thev could be mechanicallv cleared. Lodge had
experimented with íog dispersal aerials in Birmingham in 1903. and his work

Friedrich Jürgenson, Radio- och mikrofonkontakt med de döda (Uppsala: Nybloms,
1968); Konstantin Raudive, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic
Communication with the Dead, trans. Nadia Fowler, ed. Joyce Morton (Gerrards
Cross: Colin Smythe, 1971).

Edfrid A. Bingham and John Parslow, ‘Fighting Fog With Hertzian Waves’,
Technical World Magazine (July 1909): 520-3, reproduced at

was suííicientlv ad·anced íor him to íorm the Lodge lume Deposit (o. Ltd
in 1913.

1he atmosphere emerges as a medium to be tra·ersed and thereíore a
resistance to be o·ercome. But the obstruction oí the atmosphere is not like
obstructions to light. which result in a ·isible subtraction or diminution. 1he
absence oí sound is not a dimming but an augmentation and a complication.
1he shadow that íalls across radio-sound is made oí radio-sound itselí.
Because the nuisance will alwavs assume the íorm oí a noise. the accidents
and iníiltrations oí the atmosphere can alwavs come to constitute the signal.

\hen the atmosphere itselí broke into radio. it was an in·ersion oí the usual
pattern. 1he obstruction had penetrated the penetrating medium. In its
mildest íorms. atmospheric sound is mere distraction or nuisance: in its
major íorms. it is oíten associated with crisis. catastrophe. e·en
annunciation. 1he e·ent oí sound is ne·er a completed arri·al or coming to
rest. Sound is ne·er complete or deíiniti·e. Sound is alwavs interrogati·e.
asking. or prompting the question - what am I·` No serious examination oí
atmospherics could be done bv ear alone. since the ear ne·er captures aural
e·ents: rather it is exposed to and taken bv them.

And vet there was a strong impulse to bring atmospherics into a condition
oí what might be called aural presence. as though to hear these phenomena
was to be in their ·icinitv in a wav that transcribing their traces could ne·er
pro·ide. It was not that one could whollv capture these sounds: but one
could organise and orchestrate one`s exposure to them. 1homas Ldison`s
assistant wrote in 1890 to Proíessor lolden. the Principal oí Lick
Obser·atorv in (aliíornia. oí their ideas íor detecting the electromagnetic
radiation oí the sun: Along with the magnetic disturbances we recei·e írom
the sun which. oí course. vou know we recognise as light and is not
unreasonable to suppose that there will be disturbances oí much greater
wa·elength. Ií so. we might translate them into sound.`

But whv·

Ldison and Kennellv anticipate more recent attempts to realise
electromagnetic perturbations as sound. Perhaps there is an implicit
understanding here that sound is alwavs a matter oí what breaks out írom a

J. Patrick Wilson, ‘The Technological Heritage of Oliver Lodge’, in Oliver Lodge
and the Invention of Radio, ed. Peter Rowlands and J. Patrick Wilson (Liverpool: PD
Publications, 1994) [173-92], pp. 189-90.

A.L. Kennelly, letter to Professor Holden, Principal of Lick Observatory in
California, 2 November 1890, quoted, F. Graham Smith, Radio Astronomy, 4
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 18.

background. 1his anticipates radio astronomv. which. íar írom allowing us
to hear the eternal and unchanging music oí spheres. gi·es us the sounds oí
·iolent catastrophe. As l. Graham Smith points out.

Radio wa·es pick out the ·ariable objects: these are oíten exploding
·iolentlv. sometimes as indi·idual stars but more usuallv as the central
cores oí galaxies. 1his ·iolence maniíests itselí in radio emission.
since radio comes naturallv írom the not ionized gas surrounding
exploding objects: íurthermore this gas. and the radio wa·es it emits.
can change much íaster than the more condensed objects which
radiate most oí the starlight. 1he radio sun is extremelv ·ariable: at
times it can burst out with dazzling brightness on the longer radio

1here were benign íorms oí this breakthrough. Since sound was thought oí
as a kind oí spontaneous spilling or o·erílow. it could also be the warrant oí
a personal presence. a kind oí authenticating parasite. Radio would supplv
those tones oí ·oice which were not seeminglv not a·ailable in the encoded
íorms oí signalling which characterised the telegraph. But e·en the telegraph
had de·eloped a complex kind oí interíerence oí its own. an interíerence
that did not inundate or impede the message. but was rather con·eved with
it. as a timbral aura or noisv ·oice`. gi·ing expressi·eness and character e·en
to Morse transmissions. Nothing could be simpler than its alphabet oí dots
and dashes`. wrote L.(. lall. in 1902. \et it has come to pass that out oí
the manner oí rendering this simple code has been e·ol·ed a means oí
communicating thought and íeeling ri·aling in ílexibilitv and scope the
human ·oice. .. A telegrapher's Morse. then. is as distincti·e as his íace. his
tones. or his handwriting and as diííicult to counteríeit as his ·oice or
lall tells a storv oí an acquaintance oí his. whom he had known
onlv bv his call-sign oí (.G.. but whose character and disposition had been
con·eved in the manner oí his Morse. le reports that. when (.G. lav dving
in a hospital. all his eííorts were to get a message through to him. 1he
alternation between internal speech and attempted communication was
expressed in an alternation oí diííerent ·oices: \hile he tapped out his
messages he spoke in a tense halí whisper. like one trving to project his
·oice through space. Between times. howe·er. in communing with himselí.
he spoke in his natural tones.`

Ibid, p, 29.

L.C. Hall, ‘Telegraph Talk and Talkers: Human Character and Emotions an
Old Telegrapher Reads on the Wire’, McClure's Magazine, January, 1902, pages
227-231. at


1he indeíinable personal qualities that are con·eved in the rhvthms oí the
Morse are also themsel·es subject to noise and obnubilation. 1he accepted
patois and abbre·iations oí Morse. directlv equi·alent to the txt-talk` oí
contemporarv text-messaging and chat-lines. could throw up interíerence ií
thev were transcribed exactlv as thev sounded. especiallv ií in the kind oí
hog-Morse` transmitted bv an inexpert or clumsv operator. 1he literal
sound oí the Morse could also generate interíerence. an interíerence that
then becomes the characteristic sign oí certain personalities:

1he mere sound oí the stvles oí some transmitters is irresistiblv
comic. One oí these natural humorists mav be transmitting nothing
more than a string oí íigures. and still make vou chuckle at the
grotesqueness oí his Morse. It is an e·erv-dav thing to hear senders
characterized as Miss Nancvs. rattle-brains. swell-heads. or cranks. or
"javs." simplv because the sound oí their dots and dashes suggests the

1he Work of Listening
1he breakthroughs oí atmospherics consistentlv construe listening and the
íorming oí sound as an ordeal - in strong contrast to the e·ocations oí
eííortless o·ercoming oí distance. Larlv radio constituted an arduous.
attenti·e. in·enti·e labour oí listening. Ií atmospherics íorced themsel·es
into audibilitv. then the earlv radio listener was all the time exerting his own
reciprocal pressure to grasp at the íugiti·e sounds he sought. Listening was a
work oí eve and hands as well as oí the ear. in which there is not much that
looks or sounds like passi·e reception`. 1he work oí listening was an acti·e
interception. 1he hams. amateurs and hobbvists who took radio íorward in
the teens oí the centurv. íilling the technical journals with the excited buzz
oí their witness. disco·erv and speculation. constituted a laborious manual
imagining oí the immaterialitv oí a culture constituted oí wa·e-íorms. Radio
equipment was cumbrous. mvsterious. írustrating. íascinating - the coils.
wires. batteries. crvstals. chokes. condensers. capacitors. coherers. diodes
and triodes. and all the maniíold wavs in which thev could be coníigured
and conjugated. Apparatus had to be designed. assembled. tested. adjusted.
reworked. íor radio to be de·eloped. Listening in was itselí a kind oí R and
D. Later. as radio transmission was taken o·er bv oííicial agencies.
especiallv. during the lirst \orld \ar. the armed íorces. and. írom the
1920s onwards. broadcasting companies. amateurs came to constitute a kind
oí íringe phenomenon. a íorm oí interíerence themsel·es.

But there was a secondarv work which was eííected on this work. Just as the
transíormation oí the phonograph into the gramophone turned what had
been a kind oí alternating current. in which production and reception
repeatedlv changed places. into a direct current. in which the production was
concentrated at one end oí the process. and reception at the listening and
purchasing, end. so the roles oí transmission and reception were
increasinglv polarised in the experience oí radio.

1his resulted and was expressed in some striking modiíications oí recei·ing
apparatus. \here earlv radio apparatus had been ungainlv and distributed.
in·ol·ing a number oí diííerent components. radio sets írom the 1920s
onwards tended to take a more and more integrated íorm. Radio apparatus
came indoors írom the sheds. basements and workshops. into li·ing rooms.
where the radio set was disguised as íurniture. 1he word set` changed its
meaning - no longer a collection oí components that needed to be careíullv
set up. the set had settled into a single. bounded íorm., Much oí this work
oí remo·ing the work oí listening in·ol·ed the simpliíication oí tuning.
1uning to a particular wa·elength is achie·ed bv ·arving either or both oí
the inductance or capacitance oí a circuit. 1uning in earlv wireless set-ups
was a complex and delicate aííair. usuallv requiring three separate knobs to
be turned until a signal or station was heard. 1he station would then be
íixed with small adjustments oí all three knobs. and their positions recorded
- though a change in the position oí aerials or the replacement oí
components could mean that that the settings would ha·e to be recalibrated.
1he íirst de·ice to allow tuning with a single switch or knob was patented in
1925. and thereaíter was quicklv established.
Pre-tuned push button
controls appeared in the 1930s. 1he control oí the wavward emissions oí
radio led to the de·elopment oí radio as a method íor remote control. At
the Radiolvmpia show in 1933. Marconi exhibited a radio that would
automaticallv tune into a desired station when its name was called out.

1he deíeat oí interíerence and the growing regulation and regularisation oí
the airwa·es was accompanied and svmbolised bv the appearance oí the
tuning dial. Although newspapers and specialist radio magazines carried
details oí the location oí stations and their schedules during the 1920s. there
were usuallv no names oí radio stations inscribed on the apparatus itselí:
instead there was usuallv a strip calibrated at 100-metre wa·elength inter·als.
Aíter the international agreements oí the earlv 1930s had more or less

Arthur P. Harrison Jr., ‘Single-control Tuning: An Analysis of An Innovation’,
Technology and Culture, 20 (1979): 296-321.

Jonathan Hill, The Cat’s Whisker: 50 Years of Radio Design (London: Oresko
Books, 1978), p. 77.

stabilised the positions oí diííerent stations. dials began to take a circular
íorm. with stations arranged in a kind oí zodiac. as in the íamous Lkco AD

\here pre·iouslv the radio listener was in the midst oí the circuit. radio
de·eloped a íace. and listening began to be a íace-to-íace acti·itv. with the
listeners placed in íront oí the source oí sound. a principle that seems to
ha·e been grasped earlv on in the design oí the German People`s Radio`. or
Volksempíänger VL 301. oí 1933. 1his too reiníorced the sense that radio
had a íinite itinerarv. with the broadcasting source at one end oí the process.
and the listener at the other end. as the destination oí the sound. 1his was
the period in which listeners clustered round the radio to look at it. as
though radio were alreadv turning into tele·ision.

All this time. atmospherics were apparentlv being slowlv squeezed out oí the
svstem oí radio. which became e·er cleaner. more eííicient and more tuned.
But atmospherics did not therebv simplv recede írom notice. Instead. ha·ing
been remo·ed írom the medium. atmospherics returned as part oí the
message: atmosphere came into the íoreground. One wav oí deíeating
atmospherics was to exclude them írom awareness: the other was to bring
them to attention.

Atmospherics began to be thematised. 1he Irish writer Lord Dunsanv
published a radio plav called Atmospherics` in 193¯. in which a train
passenger íinds himselí alone in a compartment with an escaped lunatic who
belie·es he is recei·ing radio transmissions telling him to murder his
tra·elling companion. le buvs time bv persuading him to wait until the
order has been repeated three times: Are vou quite sure that wireless brain
oí vours is in good order this morning· \hat I mean is. are vou sure it`s not
atmospherics· \ou know the ·erv best sets do sometimes.` `
the passenger escapes bv pretending to be the lunatic himselí so that he is
taken oíí the train. \e assume that the crossed wires will be sorted out.
though the sketch ends with the transmission being swamped in
intradiegetic noise: )be re.t ot tbe covrer.atiov i. arorvea iv tbe trivvpbavt
e·vttatiov ot a traiv tearivg a ptattorv.`
Another Dunsanv radio plav takes us
into the dream oí a delirious composer who has a con·ersation with
Beetho·en. Shellev. Keats who urge him to lea·e earth behind. le has

Ibid, pp. 73-9.

Lord Dunsany, ‘Atmospherics’, Plays For Earth and Air (London and Toronto:
William Heinemann, 1937) [147-63], p. 155.

Ibid, p. 163.

arranged with his landladv to be woken bv a scheduled broadcast oí
Beetho·en`s Se·enth Svmphonv. but is plucked back írom eternitv bv a
mistuning. which plavs a raucous jazz programme - a kind oí human static -
which breaks into and wakes him írom his etherial ecstasv:

I can barelv hear Larth now. low rich are the colours oí sleep. 1hat`s
not the Se·enth Svmphonv! \hat`s that· I`m waking! Oh. I`m
waking. All the colours are íading. Masters. I don`t want to go!
1hev`re waking me up with the world`s noises: with all the clatter oí

Radio places the sublime and the debased adjacent to. oí just the click oí a
switch awav írom each other. 1he atmospherics now break in. not írom
outside the transmission. but írom within it. as part oí the spectrum oí radio

\hen the re·iewing oí broadcast music became an established part oí
musical journalism. complaints about the degradation oí music bv the hit-
and-miss conditions oí radio reception were common. \e ha·e all`.
complained one re·iewer. at times had to lav aside the head-phones in
disgust or in despair. because oí the hoots and shrieks. groanings. hisses.
and gurglings that proceeded írom them.`

During this period the word
atmospherics` was sometimes carried across írom the material context into
the content oí the music being transmitted. In his inaugural column íor the
Mv.icat )ive. in 1929. the radio re·iewer Auribus` reported that a broadcast
oí chamber music he head recentlv heard was comparati·elv íree írom
atmospherics. although the principal composer was Schonberg and the
others were two oí his pupils`.
le maintained the blurring oí medium and
musical íorm to the end oí his re·iew: \e seemed to be spending our time
on the ·erge oí suicide or the end oí the world. listening in suspense while
throttled words were wrung írom a sibvlline ·oice to the accompaniment oí
apparentlv idle successions oí notes and chords. I gi·e up Schonberg.
weaklv. ií vou like. to people who can more easilv get his wa·e-length`.

Siegíried Sassoon wrote similarlv. in a poem about a períormance oí

Ibid, p. 110.

Arthur L. Salmon, ‘Is Broadcasting a Disaster?’ Musical Times, 66.991 (September
1, 1925) [796-7], p. 796

‘Auribus’, ‘Wireless Notes’, Musical Times, 70.1042 (December 1
, 1929) [1092-
95], p. 1095.


Stra·inskv`s Rite ot ´privg. oí ·ibro-atmospheric copulations´\ith mezzo-
íorte mvsteries oí noise`.

lrom the 1930s onwards. there are growing eííorts to control atmospherics.
not bv expelling them. but bv incorporating them. It was during the 1930s
that íilm and radio technicians began the practice oí capturing and
manipulating room-tone` and en·ironmental backgrounds. using what
became known as atmosphere microphones` in order to gather these
bottled atmospherics. A number oí composers literallv did begin to trv to
harness and orchestrate the sounds oí the atmosphere. and to de·elop
methods and musical languages in which atmosphere was integrated into the
íoreground íorm oí the music. One oí the most notable oí these was
Ldgard Varese. the title oí whose íovi.atiov oí 1929-31. scored íor
percussion instruments alone. hinted at a radio context. In his attempts to
widen the scope both oí music production and íorms oí listening. Varese
incorporated music íor an instrument which dramatises the entire spectrum
oí attitudes towards the idea oí auditorv interíerence and atmospherics: the

Le·. later Leon 1heremin. was a Russian radio scientist. who was working
on de·ices that would automaticallv sense human bodies. when he
disco·ered that. bv introducing his hand into a tuned circuit in·ol·ing a gas.
he could induce a change in the capacitv oí the circuit. which altered the
pitch oí the tone that the circuit deli·ered. lrom this was born the idea íor
an instrument that could be plaved bv hand mo·ements in the air alone.
Soon he had added a second circuit. a horizontal loop to be manipulated bv
the leít hand. which controlled ·olume. Bv 1920. he had completed the íirst
working ·ersion oí an instrument he called the etherphone`. le quicklv
became a celebritv in his nati·e Russia. at that period still enthusiasticallv
encouraging technological in·ention. In 192¯. 1heremin set out to
demonstrate his instrument in a series oí concerts and períormances in
Lurope and the UK.

1he instrument caused rapture and suspicion in equal measure. Some saw in
the new instrument an actualisation oí the desire to escape the íixed pitches
and inter·als bequeathed bv the \estern musical tradition. \ith an
instrument like the theremin. as it was now increasinglv known. it was
possible to plav between established pitches and colours. It was an
instrument oí inbetweenness. the musical equi·alent oí tuning between
stations. in a kind oí íree. as vet unpopulated and uncharted radiomusical

Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Le Sacré du Printemps’, Collected Poems [158-9], p. 158

space. In a sense it was pure atmospherics. promising a world where there
would be no necessitv íor instruments at all. Later in his liíe. 1heremin
would experiment with instruments that could be plaved simplv bv
mo·ements oí the eves. or e·en bv thoughts alone. Such íantasies had
alreadv been encouraged bv earlv experiments in wireless telegraphv. which
suggested that. ií electrical impulses could tra·el through thin air without the
need íor anv inter·ening medium. perhaps the bodv could also be remo·ed
írom the circuit. lenrv lighton. who experimented with his brother
Ldward on wireless telegraphv in the 1860s reported in 18¯2 on an
apparatus that emploved a thermophile. which created current írom ·ariable
heat: \ou mav judge oí its delicacv when I show vou that the warmth oí the
hand. or e·en a look. bv means oí the warmth oí the íace turned towards a
thermophile. can transmit an appreciable signal through a resistance equal
to that oí the Atlantic cable`.

And vet. the music which the theremin produced was a product not oí
remo·ing the bodv írom the circuit. but oí introducing the bodv into it. In a
sense. it was all interíerence. 1he report oí 1heremin`s Paris períormance
that appeared in )be )ive. emphasised this. explaining the workings oí the
instrument bv reíerring to the experience oí users oí ·al·e sets |who| are
íamiliar with the phenomenon oí howling` which occurs as the result oí
electrical oscillations under certain conditions`.
Larlv audiences were
írequentlv reminded that the sensiti·itv oí the instrument made it apt to
produce alarminglv grotesque noises. Reporting on 1heremin`s lecture-
períormance in the Albert lall in December 192¯. the ßirvivgbav Po.t was
struck bv the examples oí mere noise.highlv suggesti·e oí the range oí
tones obtainable írom the taming` oí the wireless howl` `.
On the one
hand. the theremin was capable oí tones oí an ethereal puritv that was hard
to achie·e with anv other instrument: on the other hand. the cracklings and
buzzings` and the strav bleats and wheezes` Glinskv 60. 251, were onlv a
twitch oí the íingers awav. 1ime magazine would later describe 1heremin
as the Russian who makes music out oí radio static`. while Samuel
loííman. one oí the later exponents oí the theremin. himselí described his
technique as controlled static` quoted Glinskv 146. 2¯9,. 1he musical

Henry Highton, paper on ‘Telegraphy Without Insulation’, read before the Society
of Arts, May 1, 1872, quoted Fahie, History of Wireless Telegraphy, pp. 42-3.

‘ “Wireless Music”: A Novel Invention’, Times, 44759 (December 8, 1927), p. 15.

‘Drawing Music From the Ether: Demonstration of Russian Professor’s Invention’,
Birmingham Post (December 12, 1927), quoted in Albert Glinsky, Theremin: Ether
Music and Espionage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 66.
References in the text hereafter.

interest in controlling. and unleashing íeedback that has been a íeature
especiallv oí rock music. írom the 19¯0s onwards is in a direct line írom the

As Albert Glinskv suggests. the real importance oí the theremin mav ha·e
been the íact that it seemed to make the matter oí sound a·ailable to be
manipulated in an iníinite number oí wavs: the raw materials oí sound were
now exposed and could be molded in e·erv dimension` Glinskv 6¯,. 1he
theremin intimated a world in which music could be anvthing - and
anvthing could be music. And vet. despite 1heremin`s own large ambitions
íor the instrument and the support oí pioneers like Varese. the theremin
itselí graduallv came to be quarantined in a tinv portion oí the musical
spectrum - its use in íilms like litchcock`s ´pettbovva meaning that it was
stuck with signiíving weirdness. psvchic or psvchological. and then. írom the
1950s onwards. with otherworldliness and extraterrestrial íorces. 1he slee·e-
notes to Mv.ic tor íearevty ßoaie.. an album oí theremin music issued in 1958.
promised listeners that it would gi·e them the awe-inspiring íeeling oí
asteroids and comets. oí íalling oíí into the whistling world oí iníinite
space` quoted. Glinskv 290,. 1he theremin arose during a period in which
music was opening up to the intrigues and enigmas oí unearthlv sound: but
it plaved a large part in bringing them down to earth.

Radio did not just ampliív or enhance. as the microphone or telephone did.
Radio belonged to a new. mixed sense. and sense oí the mixed. in which
oscillations oí anv kind could be rendered as sound. Ií one side oí this
íantasv oí intercon·ertibilitv was the soniíication oí matter. the other side
was the prospect oí the manipulabilitv and transíormabilitv oí sound itselí.
which became a kind oí ideal. maximallv mutable matter. One oí Leon
1heremin`s more (arrollian competitors claimed that the theremin was an
iníerior ·ersion oí a much more poweríul instrument oí his own in·ention.
which was capable not onlv oí producing music. but odors and light
beams - and con·erselv. capable oí annihilating sound. absorbing it.
transíorming it into silence`.

Digital technologv has accelerated the in·ol·ement oí sound in this kind oí
intermedialitv. L·ervwhere. sound artists are dreaming up wavs oí using
non-sonorous actions. conditions and e·ents to generate sound. In a project
entitled .tvo.pberic.´!eatberror/.. íor example. Andrea Polli has de·eloped

‘Asserts Device Produces Odors’, Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 2, 1928,
quoted Glinsky, Theremin, p. 83.

soítware that will soniív the data representing storms. cvclones and other
dramatic meteorological e·ents.
One oí the odd things about this project is
the idea oí replacing or supplementing the natural sounds oí hurricanes and
cvclones. which one might ha·e thought were more than adequatelv
íurnished with sound. with soniíied data deri·ing írom windspeeds. In part.
this is in order to satisív a desire to hear what can ne·er otherwise be heard
the sound oí winds at 50.000 íeet,. Radio allows one the experience oí
proximal distance. oí being in the presence - the ·erv eve. or ear oí the
hurricane - oí what is phvsicallv inaccessible.

L·ervwhere. it seems. there is the desire to expand the reach oí the ear. both
in terms oí what can be brought to its notice - whether the microscopic
munchings oí snails. or the howlings oí superno·ae - and in eííorts to
integrate into listening the backgrounds and atmospheres that ordinarilv
remain unnoticed. 1he contemporarv íascination with sonorous immersion
and ambience. in atmospheres and soundscapes. which has been so
assiduouslv traced bv Da·id 1oop. belongs to this ambition to open one`s
ears to the iníra and ultra-sonic atmospheres that surround sound itselí. to
introduce space and air. chance and memorv into an otherwise
claustrophobic world`.

But the more we enlarge our tolerance oí noise. the more we process noise
into signal. and thereíore make it o·er into our terms. 1he soniíication oí
the world is not so much a (ageian tuning into the sounds oí things as a
modulation oí things into our írequencv-range. lor when atmospherics
become constructed atmospheres. thev are a kind oí autistic insulation. as
much a wav oí keeping out as letting in. 1he rhetoric oí the atmospheric
enjoins ·igilance. exposure. a permission gi·en to the unpredictable: but the
more we enlarge our tolerance oí noise. our apprehension oí the
atmospheric. the more it becomes an atmosphere tor v.. Ií the work oí
contemporarv composers and sound artists seems aimed at íinding sonorous
correlati·es íor that which lies bevond or beneath our sensorv notice.
allowing it to break in upon as sound. this is accompanied bv a denaturing
oí sound itselí. Rather than the spontaneous o·erílow oí meaning and
being. sound is just one processing outcome. just one oí the manv íorms
into which data can be translated. 1he press. the presence. the intractable

Andrea Polli, ‘Modelling Storms in Sound: The Atmospherics/Weather Works
Project’, Organised Sound, 9 (2004): 175-80 and ‘Atmospherics/Weather Works: A
Spatialized Meteorological Data Sonification Project’, Leonardo, 38.1 (February
2005): 31-36. See too

David Toop, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory (London: Serpent’s
Tail, 2004), p. 100.

demand on us oí sound is being diminished. as the realm oí the inhuman
has been contracted to the human.

And vet uncertaintv. the hum or hiss oí background noise. remains. and not
just at the edge oí the svstem. but in its midst. At its extreme limit. total
iníormation is indistinguishable írom total noise. It mav be that the
alternation between meaning and chaos is constituti·e oí the kind oí
intelligence we possess and represent. Aristides. writing probablv in the
probablv in the late third or earlv íourth centurv. oííers a musical allegorv oí
creation. in which the bodv oí man is created when the soul descends írom
the realm oí the empvrean. where it is composed oí pure geometrical lines
and planes. into a condition oí materialitv. Its materialitv is a kind oí
atmospherics. brought about bv the increasing humiditv and adulteration oí
the air through which it íalls. As it approaches the airv and humid region oí
the moon. which makes much and ·ehement whistling because oí its
natural motion`. the soul precipitates a bodv írom wet breath.
lere. rather
than being the ultimate destination. the resting point or or ve ptv. vttra oí
sound. man is. like the earlv radio operators. is alwavs in the middle oí
listening. As such. he can come to rest neither securelv on the side oí
iníormation nor oí noise. neither oí signals nor atmospheric. but is a
transíormer. who repeatedlv recreates the diííerence between the two. and is
thus himselí the precipitate oí crossed lines. oí interíerence. oí

Aristides Quintilianus, On Music: In Three Books, ed and trans. Thomas J.
Mathiesen (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 152.


% 8 !& : " ! # "2 !; + ' 3 )' ; < ; < # , 8 8 8 , 2 8 8 , , % ' ()3 $ ! 1 4 4 = "< = /> ! 9




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Marconigraph, 2.19 (Oct 1912), p. 275.


0 0

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William Crookes, ‘Some Possibilities of Electricity’, Fortnightly Review, February 1892, quoted J.J. Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy 1838-1899 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), pp. 198-9.


. . p. " 2 # % + ! 2 5 I ' (*> . 1925). @ H Oliver Lodge.4 . 5 . " 5 ! "G ! " !" !" ! " ! 8 2 ' ()* " ! & ? 2 $ . & . 45. Talks About Wireless: With Some Pioneering History and some Hints and Calculations for Wireless Amateurs (London: Cassell.

5 J . 8 $ 8 $ ' > )' ' ( )' % $ % .us/1873wave. 8. C 0% ' )3A ‘The Electric Wave’. 8 7 6 . 2 ? % H 1 0 . 1873.10 (August 1920). ‘Cantab’ ‘Strays and their Origin’. Wireless World. [346-7]. $ ! 0 C ' A )' . p. New York Times. 3. Proceedings of the Royal Society A. 346. p. p. January 12.htm W H Eccles and H Morris Airey. % & ? ? ' )3A " ( ! < $ ' ' )' "9: * !. reproduced at http://earlyradiohistory. ‘Note on The Electrical Waves Occurring in Nature’. 146. 85 (1911): [145-50].

42043 (March 8. Times. ' A % B K 0 $ % "G0 ! 0 ' ) )' " ' !' . ‘Discovery In Wireless: "Atmospherics" Eliminated’. . p. 11 10 9 .6 6 $ 2 ? "9 : ! 0 ' )3> 0 ! ' J )A 0 ' ( )' "G0 " ) ! . 5 ! ' ) )' $ . p. 601. ‘The Weagant “X-Stopper.” ’ Wireless World.75 (June 1919): 127-31 and 7:76 (July 1919): 209-11. 127.18 (August 1 1923) [601-12]. ‘Observations on Atmospherics’. 11. ' ()@ $ . Wireless World. p. 12. 1 R A Watson Watt. 1919). 7.

Proceedings of the Royal Society A. 2. La Prévision des orages (Paris: Naud.5 (1924). ' 3 & < $ 5 " ! H " 5 . p. ‘Atmospherics’. p. Weather and Wireless Magazine.7 $ % % . J. !& $ . 1902). / 0 6 " ' !B $ ' > JA H (A 3*A 8 2 % 12 13 Albert Turpain. 85 (1911) [145-50]. Reginald Allison. ‘Note on The Electrical Waves Occurring in Nature’. 150. W H Eccles and H Morris Airey. 14 14 . ? ' )3>03B 8 $L < $ ' > )' 0 . [13-14].

Nature.8 ' @ & " 2 ' )>A . / 4 0 0 0 /4 /4+ /4 $ O / 4 / 4 /4 /4 / 4 ! /4 2 15 /2 ' ' ' ()> - A.23 (February 1913): 488-90. McAdie. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Effect Upon Wireless Telegraphy’.M ? N F > ' J ! 0 E K % 6 ' )>' 6 5 . Marconigraph.G. p. 2. Carl Størmer. 490. 16 . 0 . 122 (1928): 681. ‘Short Wave Echoes and the Aurora Borealis’.

127 (1931) [341-2]. 342. Oliver Lodge.9 / 4 / $ // 4 < + . H K $ 2 $ < $ E % F % + . 1908). p. Signalling Across Space Without Wires. % ' ) S. p. Nature. Chapman. 19 18 17 . 33. 8 < 3> C < 2 L ' )3A ? & < < ? ' * ! + 2 H ' ( ! & # ' AA @ A ' AA ( A $ 3 . p. ‘No Message From Mars: Marconigrams Into Space’.. ‘The Audibility and Lowermost Altitude of the Aurora Polaris’. 4th edn (London: Electrician Printing and Publishing Co. ! ' ()B # ". 42393 (April 24. 1920). 14. Times.

21 22 23 20 Quoted. 2 . 8. 74 (2001): [4-6]. Karl G. O <! 3' !. p. Conn. ' )3A " 1% ' B0 < C 1 H 33 < ! . ibid. Jansky. 1987). 5. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers.3 (May 1 1920). and London: Praeger. Bernard Lovell. Radio Bygones. Westport.3A ! J5 "% 0 ' )3J < ' B0 ' )3J <! < . Voice of the Universe: Building the Jodrell Bank Telescope (New York. p. 21 (1933): 1387-98. ‘Electrical Disturbances Apparently of Extraterrestrial Origin’. 4. 101. p. < " ' )>' P 6 8 52. % 3B 3> % L < " ! . quoted in Ron. % . p. # Popular Wireless.10 . ! 0 % . Wireless World. ‘Mars Calling Earth’. 23 October 1926. 21 24 . 2 3* .

1 (1913).” ’ Wireless World.11 $ " 1 /" 8 + 0 3@ < 1 0 0 # 2 . ‘The Weagant “X-Stopper. Ibid. . p. p.75 (1919): [127-31]. 7. 3. $ 2 " + 3J ! $ 0 ! 66 C " " ' > & )' !" ! ' ) )' ! " !E " ! $ F "9 : ? 3* $ #" !" ' )3@ + ! " !"+ + 25 26 27 ‘Commendatore G. Wireless World. Marconi’. 129.

Institute of Radio Engineers. 28. 18 (July. (1919). 43984 (June 10. p. Heinrich Barkhausen. Physikalische Zeitschrift 20 Proceedings of the Heinrich Barkhausen. p. < 0 " ! + ‘Atmospherics. pp. Times. " /" ' )33 + $ " - / >' ! . ‘Whistling Tones From the Earth’. 44306 (24 June. 1925).12 3( ! . [402-3]. 1926). 8. 8 ' ) )' + " !$ $ O 2 + 3) 8 ? >A . Times. 1930): 1155-9 31 ‘Morse Signals: A Growing Source Of Interference’. 402-3 30 29 28 ‘Pfeiftöne aus der Erde’. Wireless Forecasts Of Thunderstorms’. .

1487. ‘Audio-Frequency Atmospherics’. 1. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers. . pp. 587. 21 (1933) [1476-96]. >> / 0 H : ' > )' E. Burton and E. "$ 5 ! " 9 % # ? + ? + .M. 1481.13 K &. 33 32 Wireless World.T. . 0 !" E " 0 ! F ! !" " !" 0 0 ! !"30 1 0 8 . Boardman. 8 8 " ! >3 &< " ! ! " " ! < 7HC + 7 H C + + . p.9 (1913).

‘Wireless Freaks’.13 (June 30. ‘Methods of Reducing Interference in Wireless Receiving Sets’. discussion.14 $ L 8 " ! >B ! "8 H! >@ 5 ! . 1926). 44173 (January 19. 12.W. p.14 (July 7th. 465. 4441 (October 26. 1923): 463-65.C. Wireless World.. 35 36 34 B. Wireless World. % 0 2 $ ? >J + 0 E. Times. 1926). p. 1923): 426-31. Times. Marchant. + ' )3J# $ 4 ! . p. 12. 17. ‘Strange Causes of Interference: Unsuspected Crystals’.L. . 24.

.. 4 37 . On The Air (New York: D.15 . 1 $ # ! ' )3* ! + 5 . / 4 . ‘The Leading Man’. + - Paul Deresco Augsburg. . 1927) [1-14]. Appleton and Co. 0 / . # . + ? 6 . . . $ % 5 . p. / >* ! ! . 0 0 = / .

and Wireless (New York and London: D. 37104 (11 June 1903). Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion (Cambridge. John Ambrose Fleming. 449. 37106 (13 June 1903). ' B )A % D. ‘Wireless Telegraphy’.. Nevil Maskelyne. Mass. 1936).16 + >( 2 ? < & < + + < ! " < #"% ! . p. >) ! 6$ C " !. 107-12. BA ! < ! ! Q % ? 0? < 9 : " . Old Wires and New Waves: The History of the Telegraph. Alvin F. pp. 2001). Times. 4. Times. Harlow. 40 39 38 . p. and London: MIT Press. p. Appleton and Co. Sungook Hong. 9. Telephone. O8 /< % C # K C + K C . 0 ' > )A < D " ! < ". ‘Wireless Telegraphy at the Royal Institution’.

W. 2 2 =% ! ". ‘The Vindication of Binsted. 47. Ex-P. Patrick Vaux. ' B . p. 113. 1914) [39-52]. 121. Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows (New York: Coward-McCann. )' C ' )3A %& "? 0 " " "? ! " % ? ! $ "5 B> ! "? ! ! ! ' )3@# ? ' )3B !? /! Quoted in Helen M.O’.E. 43 42 41 . 1927). p. New York and Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton. "? 7 C % 2 ! 8 ? P 2 ? ! B3 < K B' % & 012! ? 1 5 / 7 . Collinson. Contemporary English: A Personal Speech Record (Leipzig and Berlin: B. Fessenden. 1940). Tuebner. Sea-Salt and Cordite (London. p.17 5 % K C < 5 .G.

& & $ $ " J. % ( ( % . B@ ) /0 & . 2. % . . ‘Wartime Research in PsychoAcoustics’.* ) . Mark R. ' #! % 0 ' $ %* % % & ' + ' . ' >@ # % . 50. Reginald Allinson.* ) % -' % 1 # 2 % & ) ) . ? ? ' )B( . 18 (1948): 642-54. ' . . ! . % % .18 BB . ( . ‘Tracking Thunderstorms With a Frame Aerial’. 45 44 L6 . . ' )>A "? ! ? 1 . Rosenzweig and Geraldine Stone. 0 . 0 #! . Review of Educational Research. Weather and Wireless Magazine. p.8 (1924) [50-1].

J. “La Radia. 37. Mass. p. ? & . F. 57 (1921) [253-70]. Sydney and Toronto: Wiley and Sons. Geographical Review. Gould. 269 48 47 46 . Marinetti and Pino Masnata.T. London. pp. Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio (New York. ed. 33. and the Avant-Garde. Hugh G. 1976). and London: MIT Press. Radio. $ % & ' )3A " ! 7 0 8 ? .19 ! " 0 BJ ! ' )>> 0 " "H !C < " ! 47 / . Rupert T. Aitken. Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge. 267. B( . p.” in Wireless Imagination: Sound. ‘The History of the Chronometer’. 1992) [266-8].

164. ' A 2 . (London: Benn Brothers Ltd. p. . Atmospheric Telegraphy and Telephony: A Handbook of Formulae. Data and Information. 177. .H. Eccles. 2nd edn. . p. ? 0 " ! 49 4 $ ? & 0 # + !& " 7 ? K ) 0 W. 1918). + B) + 1 & ! & " @A ! % ? < + % H . 50 Ibid.20 % ? & ' )# )A .

" ! " " ! ! @3 O 5 . December 10. Daily Chronicle. Emile Vuillermoz. ‘Music and the Ether Waves’. January 21. Siegfried Sassoon. 238-9. 1927.21 @' ! . 53 52 51 H P 6 S & ! Ibid. Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. . 238. 2000). 71. 1984). 1928. ‘A Remembered Queen’. . Collected Poems 1908-1956 (London: Faber and Faber. $ C = R < @> = ' )@A C 6 S ' )JB 7 1 + ‘The Music of the Spheres’. p. 0 0 " ! R < # K 8 % . both quoted in Albert Glinsky. p. pp. Christian Science Monitor.

us/1909fog. reproduced at <http://earlyradiohistory. Edfrid A. Nadia Fowler. 1968).och mikrofonkontakt med de döda (Uppsala: Nybloms. K H ! H 8 ' > )A 2 Friedrich Jürgenson. ‘Fighting Fog With Hertzian Waves’. ! K . .22 . ed. Radio.htm> 55 54 . Technical World Magazine (July 1909): 520-3. Joyce Morton (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe. Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead. Bingham and John Parslow. trans. 6 C ' ) )A < @@ ! % ! . ' @B )*' . 8 !  C L & . 1971). Konstantin Raudive. ? # "< . " .

8 @J C K H . Peter Rowlands and J. p. .23 H ' > )' . 57 56 . 1 ! . 189-90. & P 1 J. 18. 1974). Principal of Lick Observatory in California. Patrick Wilson. in Oliver Lodge and the Invention of Radio. 4th edn. quoted. F. A. 1994) [173-92]. Graham Smith. 4 ? . Patrick Wilson (Liverpool: PD Publications. letter to Professor Holden. Kennelly. Radio Astronomy. . ed. 8 % . pp. 2 November 1890. (Harmondsworth: Penguin.L.5 ! ! ' ()A 2 # "$ 1 . . ‘The Technological Heritage of Oliver Lodge’. + 4 $ # & H O @* !8 0 0 " .

58 59 Ibid. 8 " < ! $ @) ! ! ' 3 "I )A T< + "5 H 0 L < #"% ? 8 ! L . @( # . January. pages s 227-231. . p.24 . 29. at http://www. McClure' Magazine. $ CL . ? 4 ? . ? 4 .com/pages/Telegraph_Talk-McClure1902. L.telegraph-office. Hall.C. ‘Telegraph Talk and Talkers: Human Character and Emotions an Old Telegrapher Reads on the Wire’.html . 1902.

2 + < U U ? JA . 60 Ibid. & H " . < 0 " 0< ! < + ? < 0 . # . ? 0 + ? K H C ' )3A % % $ H ? !.25 . . + " 0 ! < 5 0 0 0 ! .

20 (1979): 296-321.26 8 6 E F . 77. % ' )3A E . 62 . Jonathan Hill.. ? . ‘Single-control Tuning: An Analysis of An Innovation’. 1978). . Harrison Jr. ' )3@ 0 " ! + ' )>A . F< . The Cat’s Whisker: 50 Years of Radio Design (London: Oresko Books. p. Technology and Culture. $ ' )3A 4 'A A0 $ 61 ' )>A Arthur P. + . ' )>> < J' 1 0 $ J3 .

pp. Lord Dunsany. ‘Atmospherics’. "$ ! ' )>* + $ H K #" $ . p. p.I % # * 8 63 64 + ! /! & JB ! . P ! !$ J@ K Ibid. 65 Ibid. "1 ! J> $K ! $ 8 # 2 # ".% .27 & J@ % 0 0 L 7 V 7& >A ' ' )>> . . 155. Plays For Earth and Air (London and Toronto: William Heinemann. . 73-9. 1937) [147-63]. 163.

Ibid.991 (September 1. 69 68 Ibid. 1925) [796-7]. Musical Times. p. 1929) [109295]. 796 ‘Auribus’. ? # & . . W 0 . 1095. 70. p. ‘Wireless Notes’. ! < ! ? . Salmon. $ . 110. . . ! JJ + % ? 0 " J* ! K "% 0 " ! " .1042 (December 1st.28 8 !. p. 66. 66 67 J) ! . W ! J( 0 ! " ! ' )3) "$ # "% . =% . ‘Is Broadcasting a Disaster?’ Musical Times. ! ! 4 ? =2 ! ! = . Arthur L.

8 ' )3A " ' )3* . p. ‘Le Sacré du Printemps’.29 . C . # C !2 % ! *A " 0 Q % 0 ' )>A ' )>A " 0 " $ 2 ! ! & 7 X . ' )3)0>' 7 X # H H . + % + DP + . 158 . & . % ! + 70 Siegfried Sassoon. Collected Poems [158-9].

66. 1927). p. 1927). 3 ! *> /! 2 0 " . " !E + L ' 3*)F . + + $ " ! " + 71 *' ! . . read before the Society of Arts. ‘Drawing Music From the Ether: Demonstration of Russian Professor’s Invention’.30 H . 2000). History of Wireless Telegraphy. " JA 3@' F . & # "I ? ' (JA ' (*3 + $ $ . . 15. ! . Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Times. 42-3. 44759 (December 8. " / !1 9 *3 ! & : K O / 4 ' )3* !E L . quoted Fahie. quoted in Albert Glinsky. BJ Henry Highton. 72 73 ‘ “Wireless Music”: A Novel Invention’. 1872. References in the text hereafter. Birmingham Post (December 12. p. May 1. paper on ‘Telegraphy Without Insulation’. pp.

31 ' )*A $ $ L # " !E L $ + !% ' )@A 0 ! O !E + L 3)A . Theremin. . March 2. ! 7 X J*F . quoted Glinsky. ! " *B ! H O K & 0 ' 74 ? 4 $ 1 ‘Asserts Device Produces Odors’. 83. Philadelphia Public Ledger. 1928. p. F 4 3 " 0 . 0 ' )@( . ? 2 .

2004). Organised Sound.1 (February 2005): 31-36. 38. 9 (2004): 175-80 and ‘Atmospherics/Weather Works: A Spatialized Meteorological Data Sonification Project’. 76 . See too http://www. 75 ? Andrea Polli. Haunted Weather: Music. 4 C ? . " ! 8 . Silence and Memory (London: Serpent’s David Toop. p. Leonardo. K 0 *J ! .andreapolli.32 *@ 2 ? + E @AA A A F & . 100. ‘Modelling Storms in Sound: The Atmospherics/Weather Works Project’. + ? 0 .

On Music: In Three Books.33 $ ? $ $ $ " ! $ ** Aristides Quintilianus. 1983). Mathiesen (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 152. ed and trans. 77 . Thomas J. p.

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