Silence of the Suns

By Simon Worthington, 21 January 2004

It's midnight, the dead of night. The earth's dark side provides shelter from the solar winds: a barrage of electrically charged particles caused by plasma shockwaves surging out of sunspots. Shielded from the solar winds, the upper atmosphere's reflective underside - known as the 'radio mirror' - becomes more robust. As the solar radio noise lets up, 'Very Low Frequency' (VFL) radio signals can be picked up: a mix of magnetic storm emissions, atmospheric nuclear explosions, naval nuclear submarine communications, meteor showers and spacecraft launches and re-entries.silence of the sunIt is this pulsing, crackling miasma of radio noise that the artist Joe Banks records and uses in performances like the recent Disinformation, a noise installation in a cold war nuclear bunker at Anstruther, Fife. The bunker Banks used on this occasion was already surrounded by a Faraday cage which neutralises dangerous impulses such as those radiated by atom bombs. Quite apart from their lethal radio-activity, as electromagnetic emissions go these are like the equivalent of enormous, man-made, lightning strikes. On a more modest scale, the Faraday cage functions as the earth does, creating Banks' very own protected dark side. silence of the sunIn this artificial dead of night, or night of death, Banks created two noise works: National Grid NO5608 and Thoephany. In a service corridor 150 feet below the ground he fed the bunker's mains AC supply into one side of his sound equipment, outputting subsonics on the other side which, in turn, were audible on the surface (National Grid NO5608). Deeper down, in the bunker's chapel Theophany's recordings of VLF radio signals generated a different kind of noise: military intelligence communications and the universe's radio storm folded together.

Banks himself relates his work to the project of intonarumori, or noise machines, of Italian Futurism - drawing not on a stylised simulation of industrial processes, but directly upon electricity itself as both real and metaphorical source of creative energy. Banks' noise machines are plumbing the hemispheres for sonic truth, paving their immaterial way around what he describes as the "semi-skimmed" philosophical and deconstructive levities of the contemporary arts. Like lie detectors, Banks' sound machines make recourse to the objectivity of scientific measurement and relay. Unlike lie detectors, Banks is more than happy to undress the military technologies and history of warfare that make his experiments possible. silence of the sunJoe Banks was at Interference, the Lux Cinema 9/12/98. Tel: 44(0)171 684 0201.