Ethermapping + Tales of the Ether
Ethermapping explores the density of the radio atmosphere around Auckland, New Zealand. The interactive map represents the frequencies of nearly 6000 registered radio transmissions in the Auckland region, and the physical points from which they originate. By clicking on each point, the user can see an approximation of the physical reach of the frequencies transmitted from it, including their ownership and technical details. In New Zealand, licenses to use most radio frequencies are sold at auction, as a form of property right in the radio spectrum. Ethermapping reveals the pervasiveness and ownership of these intangible resources. The map uses data from the New Zealand Register of Radio Frequencies, found on the website of the Ministry of Economic Development's Radio Spectrum Management group. This information is publicly available, but it is very technical and difficult to find, so the mapping project transposes the transmission data into a more tangible form. The map represents transmissions in ideal conditions, however in the real world, radio transmissions are affected by the salinity of the land surface, shifting atmospheric conditions, interactions with buildings, hills and valleys, and interference from other transmissions. Ethermapping can only suggest the paths and patterns of this invisible landscape.
Tales of the Ether is a companion piece that explores experiential dimensions of the electromagnetic landscape. It is a collection of stories of 'anomalous experiences in radio space', interactions with radio waves that cause unusual interference patterns. Tales of the Ether draws our attention to the effects of the built environment, weather, and topography on the propagation of the radio waves around us - the points of disjunction that the data of the ethermap can't account for.
The data processing, programming, and design of the map was done by Steve Smith, with Igor Drecki, and Alan Kwok Lun Cheung.
The PHP interface for Tales of the Ether was made by Luke Duncalfe, with design by Zita and Jayne Joyce.
Radio spectrum as Knowledge from the Heavens
Since 1990 New Zealand has allocated most of its commercial radio and communications frequencies through the sale of property rights in radio spectrum at auction, framing radio waves as a technological and economic resource. This view of radio spectrum as a commercial property space has however been challenged through the reparations process for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. As Maori could not easily prove knowledge or use of the radio spectrum before colonization as they could with land, the Treaty claim process represents an attempt to work out just what kind of resource the radio spectrum is. This is an attempt to articulate a view of radio spectrum that is not reliant on technology, in which it is described as the entity linking all things between the earth and the sky, and as the conduit for transferring knowledge from the gods. This spectrum is part of a continuous flow of culture and interrelationships between the earth and the heavens. It is unbounded, and global insofar as it extends through the known and imagined worlds. In more contemporary legal terms, this spectrum is a pre-existing natural resource that neither Treaty partner may claim ownership of. This spectrum cannot be property, and it is not a bounded space, it is a site through which ideas and influences flow and culture is exchanged. This paper discusses elements of the Maori view of radio spectrum, and their implications for understandings of spectrum outside the property rights regime.
Zita Joyce (New Zealand) is currently completing a phd in media studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her research explores the radio spectrum, with a special interest in artistic uses of radio technologies, both in traditional and new media. As a member of ((ethermap with Adam Willetts, Zita has organised a number of events relating to radio and sound, including the Radio Kiosk experimental compilation station in the Kiosk public art space, and Trambience, an ongoing series of mobile sound performances on a restored wooden tram in Christchurch, New Zealand. With ((ethermap and r a d i o q u a l i a, Zita was one of organisers of the re:mote Auckland festival. Zita's doctoral research and the Ethermapping project developed out of the Acoustic Space Lab at RT-32 in 2001, and the Locative media workshop in Karaosta in 2003.
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