…and just like that pyka_workshop’s latest LCS outing with Hawthorn High School was over!
Sitting at the heart of this project was the theme of communication …and working closely with the learners at Hawthorn we ran that theme under the magnifying glass, poked it, prodded it, dissected it, and took a long hard look at the stuff that came spilling out from it.
And in the true persistent pyka spirit, our creative medium of choice for this learning journey - was sound.
Through a 3-part workshop series we used our interactive sound platform - pyka_loop - to help our learners unpack the science of sound, record audio underwater, uncover and capture the hidden world of electromagnetic radiation, used MIDI to create musical
messages, and even explored sonic conversations through morse code. Each of these processes not only immersed our learners in advanced audio and sound production techniques, but it also got them better acquainted with the environments that surround them
while at school: the classrooms, hallways, buildings, fields, wildlife, weather, textures, objects, and even other people.
After much sound hunting, recording, cataloging, and remixing, this project has resulted in the culmination of 3 short music compositions featuring the soundworks of all the learners involved in this project.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Because you see, it felt only fitting to finish up as we started - by pushing the outer boundaries of our theme of communication and transmitting a signal that would carry these tracks into outer space.
The greatest ear of them all. With the Big Bang as their opening support act, the learners at Hawthorn High are playing their music to their biggest audience yet - all things, everywhere.
To fulfil this final step in the project, we set the makers over at pyka_production a brief to run a creative technical exploration resulting in the construction of a prototype device that could help us achieve this goal.
The key ingredient? radio waves.
Right now, travelling away from our planet at the speed of light (which for the record is 186000 miles per second…!) are signals of varying strengths and frequencies that fall within a band of the electromagnetic spectrum know as radio waves.
…and although the first INTENTIONAL radio transmission into space, known as the Arecibo Message, was transmitted in 1974, we've actually been leaking radio signals into the cosmos for well over 100 years now, with the first artificial radio signal generated and broadcast in 1895 by none other than the father of radio - Guglielmo Marconi.
Ever since that point in history, our planet, once a silent pale blue dot in the ocean of space, suddenly become very noisy - and because radio waves travel at the speed of light (at the point of writing this) the Earth is now enshrouded in sphere of radio signals that extend out in every direction from our planet over a whopping distance of 126 light years.
But even travelling at the speed of light, it takes quite a long time for these radio signals to reach other terrestrial bodies in our solar system, and it takes a very long time for them to reach extraterrestrial bodies out further in our galaxy! A fact that was best demonstrated by the legendary Carl Sagan, during his Royal institution Christmas Lectures in 1977 with his ‘Hello Universe’ demonstration - an activity that we actually decided to recreate
during our workshop sessions with the learners at Hawthorn:
Now, in order for us to make use of this wonderful property of radio waves to get our learners’ music up into space, we needed to identify some resources that we could utilise to create these signals. And this was no straightforward task. Firstly, there are legal elements to consider here! Broadcasting comes with regulations and restrictions. Some frequencies are only accessible through paid-for licenses. Other frequencies are completely off-limits to the public, and a select few are completely off-use entirely - one such example being the Hydrogen line.
So, considering all of that, we were left with one simple option - the humble Walkie Talkie! As a commercially available product that any member of the public can own and utilise, Walkie Talkies deal with frequency traffic in the 27MHz and 400-500 MHz area of the UHF spectrum.
So with a little bit of hacking and some ad-hoc jerry rigging we were able to dismantle one of our Walkie Talkies and solder some connection points on the circuit board, bypassing the built-in microphone and allowing a direct line audio signal of the tracks to be transmitted via the radio frequencies emitted by the Walkie Talkie. We then enclosed the modified walkie talkie in a project box fitted with an audio input jack socket, and an extendable antenna with a lovingly made reflective tinfoil dish to boost our signal.
When travelling laterally with the ground this signal would reach other receivers within a 3-mile-or-so radius. But when travelling straight up, unimpeded by buildings and hills, onward it travels… a signal, growing increasingly fainter over time, but traveling forever outward from our lovely blue marble of a planet. Sure, it’ll never catch up with the faint fizzle of a signal Marconi put out in 1895, but it will follow proudly in its wake.
…and don’t worry! If you don’t have a FTL warp engine to hand to race on after it, you can listen to each of the 3 tracks featuring the wonderful soundworks of Hawthorn High School on Spotify, Apple Music, and other major music streaming platforms!
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