Fifty Hertz

Photos by Marcus-Andreas Mohr.

Fifty Hertz: Experiments In The Modulation Of Utility Frequencies And Earth Radio was a bespoke sound piece composed and performed by Ilia Rogatchevski & Laura Michelle Smith at the Radio Revolten festival in Halle (Saale) in October 2016. The piece was a Resonance Extra Strands commission funded by Jerwood Arts.

Event Score

To be performed in a public place, such as a club or concert venue. A location where the exterior meets the interior is preferable, but not essential. Any number of players can participate, however, the piece will work better with a smaller group of about 2-4 people. 

Equipment that is required consists of any number of Very Low Frequency (VLF) receiver(s); a chain of filters, oscillators, phasers etc.; a small mixer; at least three transistor radios (digital radios are permissible, providing they can tune in to the FM band); a corresponding number of mini-FM transmitters and MP3/Media players; a desk, power sockets and mood lighting.

The piece unfolds in three stages. The duration of each stage, as well as the duration of the entire piece is to be determined by the players prior to the beginning of the performance. 

Stage 1: Fifty Hertz (Sixty Hertz in the Americas and Australasia)

The piece unfolds slowly. Using an apparatus that is capable of picking up electromagnetic frequencies, such as a VLF receiver, bring to attention the prevalent hum of the consumer electricity grid, which typically runs at 50Hz.

Hold this hum for a while, before sending it through a chain of filters (these could be shop-bought and/or hand-made and can include stomp boxes, oscillators, phasers etc.). Modulate and play with the potential sounds hidden within the source signal.


Stage 2: In The Field

The field recordings that were collected prior to the performance should be played back through media players with each one being connected to a mini-FM transmitter. A unique FM frequency is to be assigned to each recording/media player. The media players are to be hidden around the performance space and their attributed frequencies are to be known only to those performers who are controlling the radio sets.

About a third way through the programme, the performers must begin to tune their radios to the appropriate FM frequencies. Movement around the space, as well as chance interference from local stations and/or the audience is actively encouraged. The choreography is to be decided by the players.

Photo by Laura Michelle Smith.

Stage 3: Going Off Grid

About two thirds into the programme the modulations from Stage 1 begin to die down, followed in due course by the emissions from the radio sets. What is left is a live transmission (or recording, if doing it live isn’t possible) of a pure VLF signal. This is likely to be in the form of characteristic pops, crackles and whistles which tend to signify electromagnetic activity in the Earth’s ionosphere. This activity includes, but is not limited to solar energy, aurora, thunder and lightning storms. 

The intention of the piece is to highlight the overabundance of electromagnetic activity in everyday life, as well as its social, economic and political implications.