Appliance As Instrument, Instrument As Irritation
William Du Bois Duddell and the "Singing Arc"(1899)
Before Thomas Alva Edison invented the electric light
bulb electric street lighting was in wide use in Europe. A carbon arc
lamp provided light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes which
would then separate, creating a phase. The problem with this method
of lighting, apart from the dullness of the light and inefficient use
of electricity was a constant humming noise from the arc. The British
physicist William Duddell was appointed to solve the problem in London
in 1899 and during his experiments found that by varying the voltage
supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies
Duddell toured the country with his invention which unfortunately never became more than a novelty. It was later recognised that if an antenna was attached to the singing arc and made to 'sing' at radio frequencies rather than audio it could be used as a continuous radio wave transmitter. The carbon arc lamp's audio capabilities was also used by Thadeus Cahill during his public demonstrations of his Telharmonium ten years later.
The Industrial Museum of the Peaceful Arts has received
from Cornell University a piece of the underground electric arc light
cable which is believed to be the oldest in the country and which was
buried on the Cornell Campus for over forty years. The cable was 500
feet in length, carried 20 amperes and conveyed current one way to two
arc lamps in the steeple of the university chapel.
A similar method of tuning appliance can be seen below.
When reducing the current supplied to a fridge (normally at 50hz from
220v.) one can trace different notes. Only ranging a few notes difference
in the modification of 100volts (less than half its power supply), the
pitch of a fridge can best be heard by means of contrast in the presence
of a second pitch. In this manner, to create a 12 tone fridge instrument
would be impossible. At a low voltage (around 70 volts) the given fridge
engine would turn itself off. This threshold varies from fridge to fridge.
Excerpt from a text by Gerry Vassilatos
The central research theme of Dr. Vladimir Gavreau was
the development of remote controlled automatons and robotic devices.
To this end he assembled a group of scientists in 1957. The group, including
Marcel Miane, Henri Saul, and Raymond Comdat, successfully developed
a great variety of robotic devices for industrial and military purposes.
In the course of developing mobile robots for use in battlefields and
industrial fields, Dr. Gavreau and his staff made a strange and astounding
observation which, not only interrupted their work, but became their
major research theme.