13 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

13jan2007-4

13jan2007-2

13jan2007_3

Well, we got a crazy shipment of goodies last night from the Norwegian Troll station. A plane had flown to Troll from Cape Town and Marko had loaded all sorts of goodies into the plane. We got it all except the dead frog. On my biggest hit list was the extra espresso coffee, a wonderful telephoto lens (from which I took the above photos), and the CDs Honor had organised for the station. We also got Mr Snow’s Debian CDs. Hurrah!!!!

I think the later delivery made me realise I have a problem and perhaps it would be good to go to OS Anonymous one day. It seems that at every critical point in a project I decide it’s a good time to re-install my Operating System (OS). So I did so today. I appear to be getting better at it as when i first started my OS addiction it took me several days to get it right. This took about 2 hours. I waved goodbye to Ubuntu and welcomed back Debian. Ubuntu is good but it’s really a user’s operating system (and it’s very good at doing that) but I have often run into problems with development work and Debian is pretty well suited for that. So yes, my name is Adam, I am addicted to installing Operating Systems (chorus : “welcome adam”)…

As for the photos, I am enjoying taking them very much. I haven’t taken photos for years and the need to generate photos for each day of the diary pages has spurred me on to practising (you are welcome to use any of the photos in the diary pages, just distribute them with a Creative Commons licence 2.0, attributive (by Adam Hyde), share-alike – – there are a couple I didn’t take so I will clear it also with the author if you write to me, I can also send the high-res versions if needed). It’s great fun. The telephoto will open the opportunities for shots both scenic and for documenting the projects. I’m looking forward to getting out on the field and using it. coolio….cheers Marko, Siphiwe, Honor, Mr Snow and all those that sent materials for the station.

10 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Today was a great day. I started off a bit sluggish. Not sure what that was, I got up, did the skivvies (chores) at 7am, drank two hard hitting shots of espresso, and went straight back to sleep.

Then we had an I-TASC meeting to plan the AWS scenarios. Seems that we won’t try any more fiddling with the serial ports on the radio modems, we will instead place a computer at the site of the AWS to manage the data gathering and transportation (via the modems) to SANAE. That may change if we have some advice from the modem manufacturers but until then this is the plan. We also spoke about the gear Marko is bringing. He is in Cape Town right now loading a plane with gear for us. The plane flys to Troll (Norwegian base) and it costs 12 Euro per kilogram to ship material. The chopper pilots from here then fly to Troll to pick it all up. I think Marko has done quite some shopping which is great news. He is also sending material for the radio station to play and some radio receivers for the crew here.

After lunch and the meeting, First Born decided he wanted to shoot a video he has been planning for his forthcoming hiphop album. So Remmy (our roommate) and Danny (one of the chopper crew and also a DJ on the radio station) dressed up in their big winter clothes which kind of looks hiphop in a very sub-zero way. Baggy jackets, snow glasses, big boots. They cruised around with attitude on the skidoos while I buried myself in snow and ice trying to get the right camera angles. It was heaps of fun and I think my days filming the trots for TV ONE left me with a steady hand on the cam (it was a bit more fun filming today than keeping a camera on horses going round and round in circles).

We viewed the results and I was surprised they looked so good, I was sure the white balance would be weird or contrast would be bad as I couldn’t see the LCD screen on the camera due to the glare off the ice and I had to rely on the black and white viewfinder. First Born did a good job with miming his own rhymes and Daniel looked mean (although he could only maintain it for so long before getting self-conscious) and Remmy looked like he had been doing this sort of thing all his life. It was a great couple of hours.

Then it was time to try and get the telephone working with the radio station so people could call in live to the station and be put on air. The head of PWD (the people that maintain the base by contract) was real keen to do a talkback slot and First Born was training him (Kim) today. So thankfully Matthew Biederman (a friend from San Francisco/Montreal) answered my query in a previous diary listing where I asked for ideas on how this could be done. Matthew has such a pragmatic turn of mind and his recommendation was really fascinating. He suggested we make an induction coil that would pick up the electrical current of the speaker in the phone’s handset and then plug this into the mixing desk. Sounded crazy to me but Matthew does have a tendency to get things right, so we found a ferrite core from an old power transformer at the base and ripped it out of the old casing.

We then found some about-to-be-thrown-away copper coated wire and wound it around the core 100 times.

Then the two ends of the wire were soldered onto an audio jack. We then opened the handset of the telephone and threaded one of the wires going to the speaker through the middle of the core.

We plugged in the cable to the audio desk for the station – and what do ya know… .talkback radio!

Matthew, I owe ya _another_ one ūüėČ

So First Born trained Kim and Kim is super excited about doing his first talkback show. … in case you are wondering the calls would be entirely from within the base as each room has a telephone.

Lastly, I got an email today from Julien Ottavi from APO33. It looks like he is keen to help with the DJ Cron script I mentioned a few days ago so we can schedule the station over the net on a 1K connection. This means people in South Africa could control what plays on the radio here even though the connection is a miserly 1K. It would be a wonderful thing to try, and even more wonderful if it works well as there are many scenarios where low bandwidth scheduling could be extremely useful. So, fingers crossed!

Also, a big thanks to Borja Jelic for all his advice on how to set up the AWS computer.

Comment

Hey Adam,
was just reading your Antarctic diaries. Wow what an incredible thing  
to be doing. I was taken with your questioning of the whole  
enterprise of 'art' in such a space, and the potential imposition of  
a 'minimal object' / monolith on Antarctic space. I'm curious enough  
to write and take up some of your valuable email space, I'd love to  
hear more on how this is being resolved for all of you there.... I'm  
only asking because I have been following a rather odd tangent over  
the past few weeks that connects Kubrick, 2001:a space odyssey with  
minimalism - in terms of the monolith being simultaneously inhuman  
and human; and the imposition of human scale onto objects which may  
seem impenetrable. And I was thinking about et al's monoliths which  
crop up on top of Google earth maps in her last installation in Christchurch.  And there you are in Antarctica, with another minimal monolith...

Edward Strickland writes about 2001 saying "the nonhuman arrived in  
utterly nonhuman form: black monoliths ten feet tall ... it was the  
invasion of the minimal sculptures."

But also the minimal sculpture was thought of as site-specific and it  
seems yours is more navigational - a tool rather than an object -
so maybe yours is not an invasion, and maybe it is the opposite,  
actually a way of stating the inhuman in such a wonderfully alive  
space. I really enjoyed all your descriptions of the flying ice and  
snow.

sorry there isn't really a question here , but I guess it fits as a  
comment.

I'd love to see an image of your minimal object...

cheers and warm regards
su

09 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

So today I decided it would be great to try out the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna and receiver with Remmy. The VLF receiver allows you to tune in to, and listen, to the earth’s ionosphere. It is the type of tuner that people use to listen to the auroras, but it conjures up some interesting sounds at any time. Remmy and I had renovated a VLF antenna from the base just 2 days ago. It was sitting on the roof of the base but got destroyed in a storm. So we located an extra filament and reconstructed it. Then we made a nice antenna cable to run between the receiver and the antenna, and an earth cable.

9jan2007-1

The VLF antenna itself is about 3 metres long and looks like a long fishing rod. We grabbed it and the receiver and headed off after lunch to a nice quiet spot about 800 metres away from the base. The problem with VLF is that if you are close to power sources (cables etc), the receiver will pick it up and all you will hear is hum. So we got as far away from power sources as was practical and dug the earth cable into some rocks. We then connected it all up and plugged in the headphones. It was exciting as Remmy is a space scientist specialising in VLF and he had never heard live VLF sounds before. The little INSPIRE VLF receiver worked wonderfully and we could listen to the sferics. They sound (in Remmy’s words) like fat frying in a frying pan. We were hoping to hear some other sounds like the fabled whistlers, but these are rare, especially this time of year. So our tests were relatively short lived, we really went to test the set-up and see how it operated. Next, we will do some longer soundings and record the output. The place we chose to set it all up is pretty beautiful. About 800m from the base and overlooking a huge plateau. There were plenty of rocks for us to lie comfortably on, the sun was out and the wind was almost non-existent. It was a clear and hot day. The scene cut quite a mix of the familiar and the bizarre, and I had to tell myself I must remember this moment as it’s not every day you see a space scientist sitting on a rock fishing for rare radio waves.

9jan2007-2

Remmy explained to me quite a lot about VLF. One of the most interesting things is that VLF travels along the earth’s magnetic field, which means you have points of mirror-like reflection. For example, the sounds we were hearing could have been occurring directly above us in the earth’s ionosphere, but equally, they could have been occurring in the Northern Hemisphere and being communicated here by the earth’s magnetic field. This is a very interesting phenomenon, peculiar to VLF, and it has been suggested that VLF communication could exploit the earth’s magnetic field in a similar fashion and produce a highly efficient long range communications system. Additionally, it was interesting to learn about the rarity of whistlers (caused by large electromagnetic events such as nuclear explosions or lightning strikes), and other sounds that can cause interference with VLF observations and cause problems for scientists (such as emissions from submarines).

In the evening we will go back and record some audio from the antenna which will be used in an installation r a d i o q u a l i a has in Italy in April. In the meantime, it was a nice afternoon chatting and mixing art and science in equal measure.

08 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

OK… some radio ponderings. The station here is coming along well. We have DJs being trained, jingles are being made, and we are looking forward to the arrival of the first load of radio receivers sometime around Thursday.

In the meantime, I was wondering if there are any keen radio heads that can help us with a few things. Warning : the following is marginally geeky talk, so apologies in advance if it makes no sense to you.

1. DJ CRON
If you are a Linux geek it would be great to have a small script that could schedule some basic content for us. I was thinking an interactive script (or ncurses interface) that would add commands to the crontab for scheduling radio content. We are using XMMS here as the basic playback device. XMMS can be installed with a plugin called ‘xmms-shell’ which allows xmms to be controlled via command line. It’s a pretty commonly used plugin and if you have Debian or Ubuntu it can be added through apt-get.

The idea is simple enough. The script could ask for a playlist name, and then prompt for what time that playlist should be played. It would then add the appropriate xmms-shell command (conceivably the xmms-shell command might not need to be used, just killing and restarting xmms could be enough). That bit isn’t so hard. The hard bit is being able to show the list of scheduled material through a shell interface and give options to delete material from the cron¬†…

We have a system that we will use which will hopefully be written by mid- January, but it uses a HTML interface and mysql etc. What we would like to try is the low-fi way and experiment with scheduling content over the 1K internet connection we have.

2. Phone Hybrid

We have an internal telephone network here and there have¬†been requests to have radio¬†requests and talkback put to air. So, we need to make a kind of DIY telephone hybrid. I was thinking of putting a contact (piezo) mic into the earpiece, or even just a small lapel mic. The caller can then be plugged straight into the desk and the DJ would just have to talk directly into the mic and the phone at the same time… not too tricky but I’m not sure it’s going to work so I thought I would make a post here to see if anyone had any better ideas. We do have a collection of electronic components here so if anyone has an idea of how we could make something out of a simple circuit we might be able to give it a go. Otherwise, any suggestions involving paper cups, chewing gum, no.8 wire and 2x4s (etc) are welcome.

Any ideas please post to me (Adam) at : adam@xs4all.nl

cheers

07 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Nada much to report. Did a short comms test to another site. It was 18km away as the snow petrel flies. I set up an IRC (chat) server and we happily chatted away over the radio link. Next, I would like to try some VOIP (voice chat) tests over the same link. It would also be good to send live video. For those that know the technology, I would like to set up Asterisk and run two software telephones (we will probably use x-lite as there is a version for Linux, OSX, and Windows – although on my machine i will use the nifty Linphone as its light and just works).

Not much to report on really. Marko has got the stuff we require and with luck it will be on the plane on the 11th of this month. I-TASC seems to be getting the thumbs up here. I think they originally wondered what artists were and possibly imagined we were lazy bohemians. I think we have proven we work hard and also proven we know a little bit about what we are doing. We often don’t know what we are doing also, of course, and need help but, additionally, we have helped some of the scientists out with our knowledge of audio, internet tech etc. Surprisingly the radio has been much more of a hit that I imagined. Its really amazing how fast radio adds to a sense of community, if it is a small radio-less community (more receivers coming with Marko’s shipment). People here are so into it and quite amazed we managed to set it up so fast and also amazed that we did it for them in the first place. The video projector has also gained us some good points as there are many people here that have never seen a movie on a data projector. it also helps relieve the boredom of course. So I think the scientists and crew here are beginning to understand why it’s interesting to have artists around.

Additionally, I think some are starting to see that they could learn something from us while we are here, which feels great as I felt a little like it was a one-way street. I have learnt lots from the generous minds of the scientists and thought it would be good to be able to return the favour. Thankfully, some of them were very impressed with the data link and IRCtests we did today. I thought it was the least we could do, really, as it took about 20 minutes to set up, but I’m very glad they think it’s interesting and they want to know more about how its done. It seems what we have learnt along the way as artists has some utility. According to Franz, it’s the first long distance remote tests of this type (IP) done here. Its quite motivating to hear that. I’m keen to try the voice chat and streaming tests as this will show the bandwidth capabilities and latency effects more clearly.

First Born is doing the rounds with interviews. The guy is a natural talent. He sticks a microphone in their face and they laugh and chat away merrily. Not many people can have that effect. He’s also doing great work with the mastering of the audio and very open to direct feedback which makes getting the job done much easier and faster. No need to tiptoe round him too much and if I go too far he laughs at me which softly puts me in my place. I like working with him a lot. We are collaborating on the audio slideshows and will put them on the web when we have enough. Its a good format (1 min audio with 10 images) for uploading as it’s quite light on bandwidth so I¬†think it’s an interesting remote ‘documentary’ format. I think we will also put them online on the local network so people here can see another output from us.

Other than that, it was just another day in the long day of an Antarctic summer.

05 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Well! The storm… the storm… according to the old hands it was just a baby, but it’s the biggest storm I have experienced. The constant wind speed peaked at about 53 knots with the highest gust being 60 knots (118 km/hr). It was amazing how the storm entered and left. At the beginning (4 days ago), there was an effect like dry ice. Wispy lines of white smoke gliding effortlessly along the slopes of our Nunatak. The lines of smoke increased in density and speed as the day grew¬†until it took on the appearance of a mass migration of ghosts fleeing from something we knew was coming towards us but we didn’t fully comprehend. Then we started losing visibility, the smoke became a dense fog. It appeared to be still in the air, and it was only by looking down at the rocks immediately near us that you could see the cloud of granular ice speeding past. Still, on the second day, you could see radio antenna emerging from the fog. It was only on the third day that the whiteness became complete, meaning that you couldn’t see anything. It was on this day that we put on our winter clothes and went outside for a beer. Why not.

5jan2007_1

Then we were housebound for another day and finally the storm started clearing. Yesterday, the winds were high but there was cloudy blue sky and today we have a¬†contrast between the blue-on-blue sky above and the beautiful white continent. So marked is the contrast, it has a weird psychological acclimatising effect. Only 5 days ago I would not have ventured outside without my protective clothing. I then weathered the storm from _inside_ the warm building, but now I somehow sensed the warming contrast between the storm and the blue sky day and ventured outside on the roof in my pyjamas (albeit NZ merino jammies). I didn’t feel the cold at all and enjoyed the heat of the sun for half an hour or so. The mind is a mysterious thing.

Throughout the storm, I checked every few hours how my antenna (newly mounted on the roof) was going. There is a plastic bubble on top of the roof, like an upturned fish bowl, and you can stick your head into it from the top floor and see what’s happening outside. It is quite fantastic to have your head in a 50-knot storm but be warm and safe; you feel somehow involved but disconnected at the same time, like some kind of weird storm tourist.

5jan2007-2

The antenna was going well in the early stages of the storm but on the third day, I¬†could see that the top of the antenna looked twice as wide as the bottom. It appeared to me (the antenna is about 15 metres from the bowl and you can’t see it clearly in the storm), that something had ripped off the top of the antenna or that it had split. Tom checked it and suggested it was just that the top was vibrating a lot and the bottom was not as that was where it was mounted. I wasn’t convinced, and finally today I¬†could check it. What it actually was, was the top of the antenna had a thick coating of ice on the windward side. Ice is a hardy beast, and it had clung to the antenna and built up to an inch thickness even though the antenna was vibrating in the gale. Incredible. Also, the antenna is 100% OK which was a relief to me. I am glad I ignored the geeky antenna guy’s advice and purchased a high wind antenna which isn’t really supposed to be used for FM, instead of a more power-efficient FM antenna. The result is that the transmitter heats up a little more than if it was feeding a more suitable FM antenna (and the range is a little less) but the FM antenna wouldn’t have lasted 1 hour in this last storm.

Just two days ago I had talked to one of the scientists about ice and antennas, as it happens. There is an array here that measures the thickness of the ionosphere. The field of the antenna is about the size of a tennis court. The spacing of the short antenna is about the same as the poles that are used for growing grapes, and they are also connected by wires to each other for stability, giving the appearance of a desolate vineyard. One of the scientists explained to me the plans for protecting the antenna. If they have time before a storm comes, they bulldoze banks of ‘snow’ (it’s not really snow, just granular ice) on the same side of antenna field as the storm is coming from. The storm then blows the ice onto the antenna field. When the storm clears, the ice warms, melts a little, and freezes as one big block. The frequencies that the antenna operate at are not affected by the layer of ice and so the intention is to cover the entire array under one big block of ice.

So, now we are getting on with business as usual. People seemed quite cheered by the clearing of the storm and many went outside as soon as they could. The station is pushing ahead, mostly under the fine steering hand of First Born. I am helping out as much as I can but I think 1st enjoys it and he wants to set up a small station in Alex (where he lives, near Johannesburg), so it’s good he learns as much as he can about it while he can. So I have been concentrating on some techy stuff, formatting machines for the use of the AWS and the station, making cables, testing the compression on the radio etc etc. It doesn’t seem a lot but somehow these things have consumed me for the last 4 days.

The showers have been off for the last two days, and the laundry has been closed for four days because the storm doesn’t allow people to walk the 100 metres to the ice smelter (where we convert ice to water for the base). My roommate Remmy… ah my roommate Remmy, what a guy!… well, I was cleaning the bathroom with him yesterday on skivvy duty and he went to get a bucket of water from the laundry to mop the floor. He came back quite bewildered as the laundry was locked. I suggested it was because we weren’t allowed to use the laundry. “What?!” proclaimed the bewildered Remmy, “That can’t be, I just did my laundry last night!”…he also had no idea of the ban on showers… quite amazing somehow that Remmy had missed the half-dozen in-house PA announcements (which can be heard in every room) stating that showers and laundry were off limits. It’s as if he had just walked in this morning from the outside world to give us a hand… you gotta love the guy.

02 January 2007 – Comment

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Comment

We have our first comment. If you would like to send us comments/questions etc we will post them on the diary pages.
Please email them to : adam@xs4all.nl

hello I-Tasc crew,

Thanks for the work and stories from there. I am reading them daily. Slowly I begin to have questions. I am also motivated by the last posts by all of you about the meaning of doing this adventure.
I see that your objectives are scientific so I am wondering if there would be some way for you to measure how polluted Antarctica already is or find access to this data. I mean electromagnetic pollution and also from fuel, from radiation, etc.

I had some conversation some days ago with a friend here in Barcelona.
Some kind of end-of-the-world conversation (is a surprise for me but people keep bringing this subject up). Anyway, he was describing to me how he thought, the poles would become the next colonisation ends. Due to global warming (and Mars being still too expensive). So he was saying that Antarctica will become a site to be colonised by the rich and the elite.

You know I think artists sometimes are used to present in a friendly way the work of scientists or governments or 'foundations' (i.g.people with power/money) so, in this case perhaps you are in the role of explorers for a tendency to inhabit this remote end. How remote the possibility of colonisation is in the treaties already existing for Antarctica? Even if this sounds like bad conspiracy theory or sci-fi, I would just keep the idea of colonisation and consider tourism as a form of it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

I don't think that one is necessarily cynical for wondering what the
reasons to be there are. I think this wondering is healthy but must lead to a decision, not only in the realm of the symbolic (like making a statement by not doing anything). I would just ask if is possible to find out how far this agenda has already gone. How many non-scientific people are reaching this far end including tourists that come to different bases, journalists, artists. And what does this mean in terms of pollution.

I really would like to know how far pollution in Antarctica has already
gone and what are the measurements being done to quantify it.

About your worries of polluting, I think you are right, that you are part of a movement/change/ in the world where there are very few places left that are not wasted and some are exploring, measuring, estimating how possible a new colonisation is or at least how to make available new ends for leisure (so, touristic colonisation). I mean, 10 years ago perhaps, this kind of adventure such as yours could not have taken place, because really only scientific people and military could be there.

I also wonder where are the animals in all this, have you seen them?, is there life in the ice or rocks around (lichens?), is all white, like a steppe of ice? I saw something like this once, in Chile while we were
doing  a trail in Parque Torres del Paine. Going up a mountain, from the top you could see Campos de Hielo Sur. Also in Argentinian Patagonia although the fields were of low bushes and not from ice. Some feeling of immensity I guess.

best wishes for you all,

pueblo

Well, thank you Pueblo for the post. You have asked very many questions and I can’t answer them all but we will endeavour to respond as much as possible to your points.

I have taken the questions about the lichens and animals to one of the scientists here.

Ian Meiklejohn is a geomorphologist from the University of Pretoria (he studies the changes to geology over time). The photos taken are by David Harding, another Geomorphologist from the University of Pretoria, and they were taken from around the base and at Roberts Colony. Ian confesses to not being a lichen expert but he was kind enough to give me quite a bit of information anyway. Lichen are not actually an ‘entity’ in their own right, rather they are a symbiotic process between algae and fungi.

They are very primitive, and together with moss, are the only forms of ‘vegetation’ in this part of Antarctica. In other parts of the continent you can also find a particular species of grass and a species of flowering plant. However, that is about all that survives here as far as plant life goes.

The moss supports invertebrate which include mites and springtails. The lichens live off the moisture in the rocks and they settle when their spores land in cracks in rocks.

There are several types of lichen but not many are known or studied in Antarctica. The two mainly found here are Crustose and Folisoe. Crustose forms a crust on the rocks and the Foliose look more plant-like.

Lichen play an important role in turning the rocks into soil. They do this in two ways, one is that their hypae (‘roots’) bury down into cracks and split the rocks over time, and the second is that they break rocks down by an acidic residue they deposit. Some scientists believe that because of their role in making soil, they are one of the earliest indicators of global warming. If more lichen are found more southerly than usual then this could be the result of global warming.

The birds here (Snow Petrels, Scue, and Fulma) don’t eat the lichen, they eat mainly fish and other birds. However, the birds may help feed the lichen through guano deposits (bird excrement).

Roberts Colony, about 30km north of here, is a site where many lichen and moss are found. It is a Nunatak and because of the abundance of lichen, moss, and birds, some scientists are working towards keeping Roberts Colony a managed protected area. There are also three protected areas around the base where people can’t go and this is to protect damaging the lichen. In fact, many of the rocks around the base contain lichen and we were briefed when we arrived about not stepping on them.

That’s all I can answer for now. I hope it gives you some of the information you want… if there are any other questions just send them to me (if anyone else would like to post a comment here or ask questions please send to: adam@xs4all.nl and I will put them on the webpage and I-TASC will respond also).

thanks again!

And for a brief update. We have been housebound these last days in a storm. Apparently, it moved from ‘just a windy day’ to a storm – Franz Hoffman (the boss) couldn’t see the caterpillar trucks parked about 20m from the door, so this is the official word! The winds are about 40 knots and only a few of the experienced hands go outside. I peeked at my antenna on the roof for the FM station and it’s still there so that’s really great news. The radio is getting people quite excited but I feel a bit behind on it so we have to get things going tomorrow.

When the storm clears, Tom and I have organised to hitch a ride with the caterpillar drivers back to the ship (still by the ice shelf). It’s 200km or so over Antarctica and it takes 15 hours each way. Apparently, it’s not good for the kidneys as the trucks rattle a lot but according to the drivers it’s the only way to see Antarctica. Looking forward to it but might get back exhausted. We will also do some communications tests on the trip to see how far the High Frequency Radio modems can reach.

Thanks to all the people that have written to say hi and wish us a lovely Christmas and New Years. Especially thanks to my wonderful partner Lotte for spending a stuttery new years eve with me over IRC from Amsterdam :)) and also thanks to Mr Snow for offering to send us some Debian Disks, and Honor for doing the call out for the material for the station. Thanks also to all the people that are trying to send material to us for the station – I hope it gets here in time! (thanks also to mum for the early Xmas prezzie of the merino and possum hat).

Antarctica – New Years Day 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Happy New Years Day. Last night we had a party for New Years with everyone having a boogie and some had lots to drink while others took it easy. I took the later strategy and I am thankful not to have a hangover. It was a great party though and everyone had a great time. The PWD guys (they do the maintenance for the base) dressed up as if it was Carnival and did a street boogie with ringleader and limbo and were generally the life of the party.

Now there is a storm building up outside. The sky is as white as the land so all you can see are floating rocks which make up the Nunutaks. If you look at the rocks around the base, there is a wind-strewn fog running along the ground. It will probably be a small storm, running just for a day or two, with relatively low winds. Even so, as I look out the window now, this is what I would call a windy day in Wellington – the fog is moving at quite a pace and I can easily hear the sound of the wind from inside the noisy lab (and this is just the preliminary build up to the storm). I asked one of the experienced SANAE crew to check the antenna and apparently we mounted it fine. In the winter,¬†apparently, the whole base shakes to the storms. One of the over-wintering crew said that you can feel like you are in a boat in a swell. I don’t know if the pictures so far have given you an idea of the scale of the base, but suffice to say that it is massive and it’s difficult to believe this base would move at all. So the storms must be amazing. At times the crew felt the base was going over the hill, they always knew it would be OJ but the shaking was so fierce it freaked them out anyway. I also heard a story from Tom about one of the crews that helped build the base. They stayed in a container bolted to the rock and they had one storm where they knew the container was going to be blown away. Thankfully it didn’t happen.

We had an interesting discussion yesterday about the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) and art. Part of the installation is sculptural, it is a functioning AWS, but also deliberately a monolith. I had not previously understood that the AWS had this artistic sculptural component and I felt very uneasy about it, especially since the casing is larger (quite a bit larger) than necessary to fulfill its desired aesthetic.

For me, this is quite close to the heart of my questioning the role of art/culture here and our presence in Antarctica. It was a great discussion, and I especially appreciated some of Amanda’s comments. I will have to think about it more. There is a balance to be met somewhere, if there is to be a cultural presence here, then it must draw its own lines as to what is acceptable. Art in itself is not a justification for just doing anything that an artist desires. The base has a quite strict environmental policy and the Antarctic Treaty is also quite strict (I haven’t read it, I am taking this information from discussions with Tom who has read it). If anything is to be installed, it needs to have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The AWS will probably pass this threshold (the Environmental Officer arrives on the 11th of Jan to do this and other evaluations). However, even if it does pass, I am not sure if I enjoy the idea of an overly large object being in the space if the justification is that it is sculptural. It’s a difficult question, as I understand the artistic motivations of the AWS project and I think it is good art, but is that enough?

I also enjoyed some of the points made about the fact that we live in this world and people should come to Antarctica, and culture has a place here etc. It was a position that was touted as being more realistic than my suggested idealism. I’m not sure I am an idealist. I am just a bit depressed about the damage that we have already done to the planet, but I take their points. Perhaps there could be a role for artists here, but that is ‘perhaps’ with a capital ‘P’. If this were to be the case, I think there need¬†to be some lines drawn. One of the advantages of having SANAE governed by the government¬†is that most governments are slow moving and conservative (I never thought I would see the day I thought that an advantage!). This brings quite a strict and procedural process to the activities here, which minimises the environmental impact. Everything done has to be evaluated, checked, and then checked again. Activities that are too dangerous or which do not conform to the environmental policies cannot take place. Having said that, there is, of course, inevitable leakage and some pragmatic bending of rules. It would be good for any group (such as I-TASC) to consider where their own lines are, and how these would be maintained. I don’t think artists should be given free reign to do as they wish, the environment here is just too important for that…

As for my own work, I am still working through my own position in this with regard to the work I am doing here. In the meantime, I am getting on with the chores at hand. This at times makes me feel like quite a hypocrite when I am exploring a line of thought which is sometimes against us being here. I have to acknowledge to myself that my thoughts are evolving daily and I feel I have not yet reached my final point on these issues. So I continue to work on the tasks required. It is difficult to do this at times and feel good about what I am doing, but I must give myself some time to reflect on all this and assist my colleagues at the same time. Yesterday, I did some work on the radio terminal, making some new serial cables to try and crack the mystery of why it’s not working. So far, nada. I should have gone and had more of a party instead but at least we have eliminated some possibilities. I think now I am going to write up everything I have tried, and Marko (in Slovenia) said he would contact the manufacturers and ask for their advice. They don’t get back from holidays until the 5th so in the meantime I will set up the radio station with First so it gets into a more regular schedule. Below is an announcement my colleague Honor (r a d i o q u a l i a) sent out yesterday.

In addition to this call,if anyone can send a full set of Debian CDs (Debian Testing) to the below address, that would be fantastic. We need it for the station and also there is one of the crew that has just done one full year here and will do his second full year to replace our colleague that was killed. He would very much appreciate these CDs as the ones he had sent with the boat are corrupted.

r a d i o q u a l i a call for content

r a d i o q u a l i a have just begun broadcasting a new FM radio 
station in Antarctica.

'Polar Radio' is Antarctica's first ever artist-run radio station. 
It transmitted its first programme on FM on 29 December 2006.

Polar Radio is part of a series of projects run by I-TASC - the 
Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation  

Please see the below announcement for more information about Polar Radio.

CALL FOR CONTENT - DEADLINE: 10 JANUARY 2007

Do you have a song, a message, or a sound that you want broadcast in 
Antarctica?

We are looking for your music, sound art, radio plays, radio 
documentaries, and any phonically interesting artifacts you have to 
broadcast on Antarctica first artist-run radio station.  There is a 
supply plane leaving for Antarctica from Cape Town on 11 January.  We 
plan to have a shipment of CDs sent on that supply plane.  We are now 
looking for CDs of:

- music of all different kinds
- radio art
- radio plays
- audio documentaries
- audio books
- archived news reports
- investigative journalism
- podcasts
- any other audio material you would like to have broadcast in Antarctica

If you have sonic material you want broadcast, please make a CD and send it to:

Siphiwe Ngwenya / I-TASC
c/- Pitch Black Productions
7 Prince Street
Gardens
Cape Town 8001
South Africa

The best formats to send are:
- audio CDs
- MP3 CDs

So send what you can ūüôā

New Years Eve 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Last night First Born and I did a radio show till 2am or so, playing mostly for the people in the bar that were listening and having a good time. Then up at 7am to do the skivvies (chores). Now I am sorting cables and getting things together for the full-time running of the station.

30 December 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Eeek…. just woke up. It’s almost 1300. First Born and I did a radio show for the drivers (they left at 2am), while we made jingles for the station and cables for the ‘studio’. I think we finished about 0600 or so. It was lots of fun.

We struggled with the communication between the AWS (Automatic Weather Station) and radio modems today. So far no success. We know we can install a low-powered computer in the unit containing the AWS but this is not the most efficient or preferred method. So we will methodically try all options in the configuration of the modem tomorrow.

In the meantime, the station is up and broadcasting loud and clear FM. We need some radios (receivers) so we are hoping that ¬†Marko can get some on the plane that will bring us gear on Jan 11th. The good news is also that we have been given a desk in the HF Radar room that we can use as a studio. It’s perfect. We have plenty of desk space and a nice view etc. It even has a PC running Linux that we can use for the station’s music library. It took a little bit of work to get the cables through the ducting system but we managed with the assistance of our roommate Remmy.

So now if anyone wants to make some radio, they need just creep into that room and do a show. Already we have First Born doing interviews, and as I write he is DJing with a couple of the over-wintering crew from last winter.

Meanwhile, Tom and I had a good conversation about the AWS. I had understood the AWS unit (a metal box which will house the AWS, computer, batteries, solar panels) was a foundation stone for the lab Tom and Marko had envisioned would be installed in Antarctica. However, it seems actually the unit is for testing the remote communications systems and power systems. Hence there is no real need to host the unit remotely, it might as well be installed in the scientific area at SANAE, making it easier to monitor and maintain but also it can serve as a good prototype for the power and communication systems during a full cycle of seasons in Antarctica.

It also seems Tom is not so keen on making a remote lab for art and is more interested in trying to establish a unit for scientific purposes, something like an ‘away station’. I believe the idea that the lab would be portable has been current in most of the plans so far for this development. I will help think through these ideas but I think it might be more interesting to think through whether cultural residencies in Antarctica are a good idea, and then if the answer is ‘yes,’ then how this could be achieved. I am still very unsure as to the necessity of this but I am enjoying the discussions with Tom and I am keeping my mind open to alternative reckonings.

As for what I am specifically doing and its relevance- again, I am unsure about it. As I said in earlier postings, it is an amazing experience being here in Antarctica and I must say just being here has taken Antarctica out of the realm of mythology for me and placed it firmly in my emotional landscape. I now feel somehow that I have more of an understanding of our planet just by being here. I have visited many countries over the last few years on every continent (except Antarctica of course) and feel I have learnt something about cultures and people through these experiences. I have often come away from these travels with a feeling I have learnt something about our species. However, this is the first time I feel I have gained such a feeling of connection with the planet we all share.

So, why am I here, in this last wilderness, setting up a radio station? Well, I am not really sure. I was invited to be part of the I-TASC crew and then the FM station was added to the list of projects which I would install as a
r a d i o q u a l i a initiative. There are many reasons for doing the project, one of the most interesting is to experiment with hybrid radio, mixing high frequency radio with FM. We will, for example, start experimenting with the link we have established with the radio modems doing audio broadcasts from remote locations and putting these live-to-air on FM. The station is also a community station for the isolated individuals over winter and it is for the summer team to have some fun and help build the feeling of community. I can plainly see on the faces of those involved and those listening the enjoyment and pleasure the station brings.

However, just two days before turning on the transmitter, I sat in my room and while drinking a coffee, I turned on my portable radio. Over the next few¬†minutes I ran up and down the radio dial on FM, LW, MW and 12 channels of Short Wave. And what did I hear? Static. The sound of the earth’s natural spectrum. There was no ‘artificial’ source of radio emissions anywhere on any dial. I have never had that experience anywhere, and it was a very moving experience. I was reminded of a project r a d i o q u a l i a did in Mexico. It was called ‘.sol’ and we travelled to an isolated spot in Mexico to record sounds of the sun using a large array (collection of antenna) and to mix this with recordings in the same frequency range made in Mexico City. In Mexico City you could not hear the ‘sound’ of the sun as you could only pick up the interference made by so many spurious electromagnetic emissions. The result was a cacophony of artificial buzzes and hums. The recordings of the sun we had from Morelia, on the other hand, were clean lovely rolling static noises. The point was, that in the heart of Mexico City is the sun temple, an important cultural center for the ancient cultures of Mexico. However, now the sun is obscured by the noise of modern electrical life.

.sol made me more aware of the electromagnetic spectrum as an environment, one that we should consider has a natural state, a modified state, and a polluted state.

The question confronting me now is whether I should have occupied this space, however small, with my own transmissions?

Comments
A few people have said that they would like to post comments. Unfortunately, we cannot check web pages from here in Antarctica, so if there was a comment option on the site we wouldn’t be able to read and respond. So, perhaps a way round this is if you would like to make a comment then perhaps just send an email to me : adam@xs4all.nl

If you send a comment I will put it on the diary page of the same day (layout the text as you wish). Please feel free to comment, critique or reflect on what we are doing. We will also be happy to answer questions about what we are doing or our experiences. Additionally, we are very happy to research questions for you as there are many knowledgeable people here that know a lot about Antarctica, the base, and the science that takes place here.

We have about 1K of connectivity so the ‘usual’ length of comments would be fine (a paragraph or two) and obviously we can’t handle attachments. I will then upload the comments when I upload the website every day.