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From Turing to Abbey Road, Kentish Radar Stations to Bletchley Park

September 12, 2013 1 comment

I am writing a chapter for the Routledge Companion to British Media History. It’s on media archaeology, and I try to offer some insights to how we can decipher British media history through contemporary media arts. This is what I call a minor perspective to media history of Britain – often such a glorified master narrative.

This is just a brief glimpse to the beginning of the chapter. The book should be out in 2014.


Media Archaeology: From Turing to Abbey Road, Kentish Radar Stations to Bletchley Park

British media history has many great stories to tell. It has been one of the biggest inspirations for a range of accounts and for scholars that have tried to decipher the main trends of the media of modernity; from the nineteenth century establishment of standardized mail to the twentieth century Britain of the BBC that, for instance, for this author became a central symbol when he turned on the television in 1980s Finland. BBC content traveled across national boundaries, both in the structural form it provided for public broadcasting as well as through Bergerac and the FA Cup Finals over the years. British exports from television to microcomputing continued, and have established such a status that writing Britain into media history is rather redundant. It is already there, and always was there; even before actual media technologies became subsumed into the consolidated consensus about media as mass media emerged. Indeed, Britain was already there with its investment in transatlantic cables as well as pioneering scientific inquiries, in electricity and electromagnetism, prehistories of computing from Babbage to Turing and so forth. Early on, British media history was already transnational, like the transatlantic cables and telegraph clicks. It is irreducible to a simple national story, and more like something that presents an interesting case for consideration in relation to both the master narratives and the minor themes of media history.

Teufelsberg – The Listening Post

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Teufelsberg, Berlin.

After the humans had left, what stayed were the ruins of buildings. Time had passed for the place to reach this silence; the graffiti filled walls, beer cans, glass from broken bottles stayed after as such monuments. There was something else too, in the air. A radio signal lost, a ghost signal. It is completely silent for human ears. Only the buildings echo, concrete walls.

The listening post, a Cold War relic. It had that Soviet science fiction quality about it, even if it exactly tried to listen to signals of communist origin. The ferris wheel in nearby Zehlendorf acted as an amplifier of its signals.

If Cold War started in Potsdam, then it primarily took place  in non-places — like on this hill. Itself a monument, built from the rubble from the bombings during the 1940s War. And yet, non-place is hardly the term when you look at the concrete and now weirdly past-utopian looking listening domes. They stand out. You can imagine this as a setting for a Thomas Pynchon novel.

But it is a non-place because probably nothing much happened. Signal traffic, capture, listening. Procedures of monitoring, reporting, and then it starts again. Signals don’t occupy a place anyway, just a time and a pattern of regularity. And yet this place is one of those iconic, media theoretically significant places: Bletchley Park, Peenemünde, etc.

 

It starts to make sense when you think of it as a network of such posts. ECHELON – characterised by a European Parliament report much later:”If U.K.U.S.A states operate listening stations in the relevant regions of the earth, in principle they can intercept all telephone, fax and data traffic transmitted via such satellites.” There are no borders to national security.

It feels natural to imagine this place without any humans, just like mathematical communication theory works best without them. Only the ghostly shouts and echoes that ensue. Ping, echo request.