HAARP goes artsy

Art and science are combined this week in a project at the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP facility. Built for military research involving radio transmissions through the ionosphere, the facility in Gakona, has broadened its scope beyond traditional science.

No longer wanted by the military, in 2015 HAARP was taken over by the University of Alaska which has expanded access to the facility’s high power radio transmitter.

“Almost anybody can rent time on HAARP.” said HAARP chief scientist Chris Fallon.

Fallon plugged the opportunity during a presentation in New York last year, while noting it doesn’t come cheap.

“The current rates are about $5,000 per hour of transmitter time,” Fallon said.

Amanda Dawn Christie, a video performance and electronics professor at Canada’s Concordia University, describes herself as a “transmission artist”.

“It applies to artists who make art about or with the electromagnetic spectrum,” Christie said.

Christie says that spans traditional arts, like music and poetry, as well as their transmission via radio waves, like the powerful high frequency variety emitted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks HAARP facility.

“There’s music, there’s poetry written in Morse code, there’s storytelling and then there’s images that will be transmitted in a format called SSTV, which is slow scan television,” Christie said.

Christie’s one hour multi part program is being broadcast over short wave radio, and on the web, with software available to download accompanying images. One part of the broadcast uses recordings of wolves howling.

“I’ve pitch shifted them to create a musical score out of these wolves that go up on two frequencies, and ideally mix in the ionosphere and come down together on one frequency,” Christie said.

Christie emphasizes that project is not just about the art, but testing HAARP’s ability to create, and transmit it.

”All of the movements in my piece do different scientific experiments that I’m hoping to gather a lot of data from that I’m happy to offer to scientists that would find this useful,” Christie said.

Christie says the project also gets at long simmering conspiracy theories surrounding the former military facility, and she and UAF’s Fallon agree it may help dispel misunderstandings.

”Communicating the science we do at the facility and why it’s important is really quite a challenge,” Fallon said.

“People treat it like, ‘Are you controlling the weather?’ and I’m trying to show that it’s simply a radio transmitter,” Christie said.

Christie says he project is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, and note that it includes money to pay UAF as well as carbon offset credits to compensate for the fuel consumed at HAARP this week.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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