Paddling erratically through the stagnant backwaters of the scientific occult, retro-death-telegraphy clumsily bumps into spectres mumbling schizophrenic voices through fraudulent crystal mediums. Maverick scientists explain in the best way they can messages received from the Unknown. The hidden has been revealed and radiates its crackles and hiss through the air and the earth, spiralling through electromagnetic currents to disturb its targets in the aether. There is a coded message inside the noise of the earth.
Retro-death-telegraphy was initially devised as an experimental workshop exploring and building a range of technological devices which have at some point been believed to have the potential to aid in communication with the afterlife. It refers to the pre-cursors of digital technology and wireless communications of the Victorian era as these then new devices were situated within a popular spiritualist religious context with many scientists of the day regularly attending seances. For some the new devices being developed held potential spiritual powers, where others were determined to expose the mediums as fraudulent.
The materials used to make these devices are mainly elements such as copper fillings, chunks of germanium crystals and galena crystals with their signals being amplified into audible frequencies. Some of these techniques were explored previously in the The Crystal World, a project in collaboration with Jonathan Kemp and Martin Howse which examined the material make up of contemporary digital culture.
Exploration of the pre-cursors of digital technologies uncovered devices such as the coherer, a primitive radio receiver made with two electrodes and metal fillings (copper for example). The coherer was in turn a pre-cursor to crystal radios which used materials such as germanium and galena. These devices were developed during the Victorian era, a time when spiritualism and mesmerism were popular beliefs. Many scientists of the day were regular attendees of seances and mediums, such as William Crookes and Oliver Lodge, both of whom were distinguished scientists but also belonging to groups and organizations such as The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the The Ghost Club, with Crookes also belonging to the Theosophical Society and an initiate of The Golden Dawn. Their spiritual and scientific beliefs were intertwined.
This infusion of science and spiritualism holds a specific interest and appeal as the beliefs may not be scientifically valid but the technological advances were of great importance to the development of modern day technologies.
Following the trail of Crookes, Lodge, and the SPR, we stumble across a group who appeared more recently in the 1990's in a small village in the county of Norfolk, U.K. They were known as the Scole Experimental Group and carried out hours of experiments and seances which allegedly provided many physical objects appearing in the room, images and texts appearing on blank film, balls of light appearing and two-way conversations taking place via a technological device constructed by the group but dictated to them from a "spirit team." The experiments are reportedly one of the most scientifically scrutinized and observed projects to attempt to prove the existence of life after death.
Of specific interest is the Scole Experimental Group's Germanium Trans-Dimensional Communication Receptor; a technological device constructed to aid in two-way communication with the afterlife. This device consists of a piece of germanium crystal with a point contact attached to two 5000 ohm coils and the signal of this is passed through a battery powered amplifier to loudspeakers. Through this device they reported having many conversations with the "spirit world." This device was recreated last year and was one of the devices built in this year's workshop at the Subtle Technologies Festival. As yet there has been no communication with anything, merely static howls and screams of white noise. The reader is also encouraged to look up simple examples of germanium crystal radios and compare them with the Germanium Trans-Dimensional Communication Receptor. Were the Scole Group a case of the modern day fraudulent medium? Instead of spewing ectoplasm and levitating tables, are they revisiting early technology and misinterpreting the signal? Or perhaps it really does work and we have yet to decode the message hidden inside the noise of the earth.
This year's Subtle Technologies Festival will took place June 7 to 9, 2013. For more information, please visit subtletechnologies.com/festival