absolute value of noise
 < 2010 .. shadow H O M E resonant elf .. 2010 > 


The Silent Speaker
An interactive sound installation and CD audio edition
by Absolute Value of Noise © 2010.

In a world where time flows backwards, the listener hears the voices of people as they are reborn from the grave, travel from old age to youth, and finally return to the womb. The piece draws ideas from Philip K. Dick's 1967 novel "The Counter-Clock World" in which time moves in reverse and the cycle of life runs backwards.

Voices by Glenn Skene and Lori Weidenhammer. Clarinet by Roberto Paci Dalò.

Text excerpted and dervived from: "The Counter-Clock World" (1967) by Philip K. DIck and "The Man Who Never Grew Young" (1947) by Fritz Leiber; with references to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922) and a film by David Fincher (2008).


All of the tracks run together in an endless mix, so I have posted the audio as one big file. It's about 37 minutes long.

Track List: 1. Light (0:48) .. 2. Mrs. Tilly M. Benton (4:17) .. 3. Regressing (2:00) .. 4. Sparks (1:05) .. 5. War Vet (4:40) .. 6. Mystical (1:25) * .. 7. Symptom of My Terror (4:30) .. 8. In his Sleep (1:45) .. 9. Magnet (2:00) .. 10. Ocean (2:15) .. 11. Cold (2:35) .. 12. Hiss (2:50) .. 13. It Turned Back Upon Itself (1:10) .. 14. Behold (3:08) * .. 15. Nightingale (2:51).    * (Clarinet by Roberto Paci Dalò).


"The Silent Speaker" is an interactive sound installation that uses extremely low frequency transmitters and a receiver. Sounds from four transmitters are broadcast in the installation space and picked-up by the receiver antenna which sits on a stand (like an easel) in the centre of the space. The listener may take hold of the circular receiver antenna (2 ft in diameter) and move through the space to "divine" or locate sounds.

What the listener will find is a mixture of noise splattered-forth from the electronic world that surrounds us, and the voices of the reborn - people who return from the dead and descend from old age into childhood. The piece merges a primitive form of radio technology with ideas from Philip K. Dick's 1967 novel "The Counter-Clock World". In the novel, time starts to move in reverse. In 1986, the "Hobart Phase" comes into effect and the cycle of life begins to move backwards - traveling from death to birth. Likewise, the piece imagines the radio-sphere moving backwards to a time where transmitter technologies are in their infancy, and one can hear strange whispers in the ether.

The name of the piece "The Silent Speaker" comes from both the look and method of fabrication of the transmitters, which are constructed like giant loud-speaker-coils without magnets and paper cones. These coils output only the magnetic field of the speaker, without making any audible sound.

ELF (Extremely Low Frequency radiation)

"The Silent Speaker" uses a primitive form of extremely low frequency broadcast technology. ELF is electro-magnetic radiation that occurs in the audio spectrum (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz). The ears pickup sound in this frequency range, but only from physical waves in the air or other mechanical medium. We are constantly surrounded by a world of radio-waves that oscillate in this range, but we have no direct way to sense them. "Natural" ELF radiation is caused by phenomenon such as solar-flares, the aurora borealis, and lightning storms. In populated areas, this natural radiation is mixed with and often obliterated by the noise of power-lines, transformers, and fold-down from higher frequency transmitters (radio, computers, monitors, cell phones, neon signs, anything electronic).

A circular ELF receiver is directional, and in a particular installation space, the ELF fields can be mapped by the listener through the act of turning the antenna and moving it through space. The antenna becomes an odd musical instrument that pulls hidden sounds from the ether.

A magnetic field ELF transmitter is similar to the receiver, but larger in diameter. By feeding sound into the circular antenna through a simple amplifier, one can create a magnetic presence that is louder then the background radiation. The quality (or fidelity) of this type of transmitter is unusual in that the low frequencies come through in a very clean and crystal clear manner without harmonic distortion, while higher frequencies tend to mix with spurious radio signals in the air. The range of the transmitter is variable, but can be up to 25 feet with a low-power amplifier.


The "Hobart Phase" was invented by Philip K. Dick in his 1967 novel "Counter-Clock World". In the novel, time started to run backwards in 1986. This reversal of time didn't mean that events were repeated in reverse exactly as they happened when time was moving forward, but rather that the cycle of life moved in reverse: from death, to rebirth from the grave, to youth, birth, in-vitro, and the splitting apart of the fertilized egg. In Dick's world, people come back from the dead, awaking in their coffins in the cemeteries. They cry out for help and are rescued by professional grave diggers and the police.

The process of rebirth and the memories of the dead, create a new fascination with the afterlife, as the reborn can talk about their experiences after death. After returning from the dead, the old-born go through the process of youthing. The body moves from old age to childhood. People loose their adult wisdom and become filled with childhood fears and freedoms. The newly old-born have the responsibility of looking after those who are receding into the womb. There are also people in this world who help along the process of historical and ideological reversal. They are librarians who have the job of eradicating documents and books as time moves backwards ahead of the publication dates. Within the novel, there is a sense that despite the reversal of history and the eradication of certain technologies and ideas, there are also new ideas gained from the process of reversal itself. In the radio-sphere, one can imagine a return to a quieter ether, where we can hear the murmuring of many returning voices mixed with the playful sounds of the earth's magnetic field.


An Audio Gallery at Lucky's 2012: An Audio Gallery is a collective of five Vancouver sound artists who collaborated with Lucky's Comics and Books to present five sound art installations between July and December of 2012. The Silent Speaker was shown from September 7 - 30, with a "middling" event September 21 during the Olio Festival.

The piece is difficult to photograph (all those thin shinny wheels), but here's a picture from Lucky's - September 5, 2012. The antenna-wheel in the front, on the mic-stand) is the receiver.

Deep Wireless 2011: The premier installation of the piece happened at the Deep Wireless festival in Toronto, produced by New Adventures in Sound Art. Installation dates May 27 - June 25 on Fridays and Saturdays.

NAISA Space - May 26, 2011. Receiver on the top. Transmitter below.

Art's Birthday 2011: A generative stream for Art's Birthday January 17th 2011, from noon January 16th to noon January 18th PST. The Live Stream was broadcast on NoiseartRadio. This is an endlessly remixed stereo version of the installation soundtrack. (Also broadcast on the EBU satellite January 17th, 22:40-23:00 GMT).


240p video of the installation setup in my studio October 2010.



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