An artistic undertaking

Many years ago I got an idea for a rather unusual art piece. To actually undertake this would take a bit of work, so it occurs to me, at the start of a new year — when all things are still possible — that I can simply describe the project, thereby creating a virtual art piece.

The idea is rather simple: Simultaneously stream the contents of all radio stations within a given geographic area (say, New York City) onto some convenient storage medium. Continue doing this for twenty four hours. The data storage required would be a bit large, but not crazily so — there are, more or less, just 36 FM stations and 22 AM stations that can be heard from Manhattan, and audio doesn’t take up all that much space (especially if you compress it a bit).

The total cost of this data capture, if you were clever about it, would be just a few thousand dollars – not all that prohibitive, in the scheme of things.

Here’s the kicker: At the end of the twenty four hour period, just start recording all over again, overwriting the same data files if you’d like (or not — data storage is very cheap these days). Unless, that is, some major event happens on that day, such as a war breaking out, or a financial meltdown, or some other cataclysmic occurrence.

In which case, you have your art piece. Set up an ordinary looking radio, with a nice old fashioned dial, but with the dial connected to a digital server that streams in those audio files on demand. For each position of the dial, this radio snapshot can be made to play exactly what that actual station was playing on that eventful day, at that exact time of day. As the listener turns the tuning dial, the progression of the day, as told by different voices, can be played back and re-experienced in many different ways.

I have a distinct recollection, on a certain day in September a little over eight years ago, of thinking that it would have been an appropriate day to have had my project running. I also remember thinking that it felt unseemly to be thinking about art projects on such a sad day. Yet perhaps it would have been good to have preserved that day — a day when so much of our nation’s innocence was lost, all at once.

I now have mixed feelings about such a project — in particular the way it seems to be tempting fate. Starting such a project is a little like going into business as an undertaker. You’d like to make a living, but at the same time, you don’t want business to be too good.

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