Julian Oliver – The Crystal Line

6 - 30 Mar 2015
Created by internationally-renowned artist Julian Oliver, The Crystal Line reconstructs a World War One crystal radio as a way to hear about the future of warfare.

The advent of radio communications revolutionised war, removing the need for human and animal messengers and giving commanders near-instantaneous, long-range control of troops.

The new crystal radios possessed an almost magical quality, channelling electromagnetic phenomena in the air directly into electricity, without any need for power of their own. Today, all wireless communication descends from the crystal radio – from mobile phones to GPS and wireless networking.

The Crystal Line positions the crystal set at both the root and tip of this vast lineage. First, a small computer scours the World Wide Web for the latest developments in warfare and battlefield communications technology, which is then passed to a text-to-speech engine and spoken in the manner of an English radio broadcaster. This spoken text is then transmitted as an AM broadcast, which when captured by the set inherits audio properties and textures unique to the medium; heard just as men in the trenches would have heard them a century ago.

This project was commissioned Phoenix with support from The Cutting Room, to mark the centenary of World War One.

A sample of the audio broadcast to the radio set is here:

The Crystal Line
received attention in the international press, including articles in Wired and Creative Applications. More details about the design and construction of the work can be found on the artist’s website here.

Images of the The Crystal Line radio set, designed and made with the help of master craftsman and radio expert Geoff Roberts can be viewed below.

Julian Oliver is an artist and Critical Engineer based in Berlin. His work and lectures have been presented at many museums, international electronic-art events and conferences, including the Tate Modern, Transmediale, the Chaos Computer Congress, Ars Electronica, FILE and the Japan Media Arts Festival. Julian has received several awards, most notably the distinguished Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica 2011 for the project Newstweek (with Daniil Vasiliev). He is the co-author of the Critical Engineering Manifesto and co-founder of Crypto Party in Berlin, who’s shared studio Weise7 hosted the first three crypto-parties worldwide. He is also the co-founder of BLACKLIST, a screening and panel series focused on the primary existential threats of our time.

Julian has also given numerous workshops and master classes in data forensics, creative hacking, computer networking, counter-surveillance, software art, object-oriented programming, radio, UNIX/Linux, (and previously) augmented reality, virtual architecture, video-game development and information visualisation worldwide. He is an advocate of Free and Open Source Software and is a supporter of, and contributor to, initiatives that reinforce rights of privacy and anonymity in networked and non-networked domains. He has often donated his experience in these areas to the support of activist initiatives, and at-risk groups, with a focus on environmental defence.