Geert Lovink on Fri, 25 Jul 1997 17:45:25 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> interview with Makrolab

note: the interview posted yesterday with Ackbar Abbas was edited by
Linda Wallace.


A visit to the Makrolab in Lutterberg
The Documenta X project - Marko Peljhan/Projekt Atol

Communications equipment check with Marko Peljhan and Brian Springer
Lutterberg, july 20, 1997
By Geert Lovink

Makrolab is a research station up on the Lutterberg, 10 km from Kassel.
It is an autonomous solar and wind powered communication and survival
tent, full of equipment. One night I went there to find out about the
first results of the project. Like Workspace, Makrolab had lots of
technical problems in the first weeks of documenta X, but now the lab is
up and running. In the coming days Makrolab will post an own text on
nettime about the system.

GL: Could you explain us what kind of interception equipment you have
here? This machine here says 'Microwave Videolink Transmitter -
Designed for Makrolab.'

BS: It is a 10 gigahertz microwave link, going to the Documenta Halle
where the video console of Makrolab is located. It is used to relay
video information from the lab's side to the Halle. Beside that  there
is  a video switcher  for the cameras that are related to the
console. Here is some short-wave and two meter gear  which we for
example use to monitor the Mir transmissions.

MP: You must have special decoding software to work with short-wave
digital transmissions and different modulations. All what you hear now
is different kind of HF modems or encoders. Tele-printers which use
different standards.  A lot of it is encrypted and there are specific
NATO and Russian systems with  specific baud rates that are almost
impossible to decode. It is not like baudot weather services or stuff
like that, itís much more complex and hidden and thereís no readily
available information on it. When you hear and identify a baud rate of
81 or 73 or 96  p.e., than it is probably some NATO transmission and you
know that you cannot get the message. But thereís other systems which
are very easily de-codable or even voice services which are usually not
scrambled. What we hear now is p.e. information about the weather over
the Atlantic, the Shannon volmet for the air traffic flying towards
Europe. On another channel we hear  Stockholm Aero, and HF aeronautical
station for transatlantic and transpolar routes. What we can decode
quite easily is the SELCAL signals transmitted by aircraft, together
with their position, wind, temperature and fuel status. With the short
wave setup we have it is of course also possible to transmit, and every
night I try to talk with some stations, yesterday it was Estonia and
Belarus.  In the past two days it was Mir packet radio time, three times
a day and more.
We try to get the Mir signals when it over flies Europe. As you know Mir
was in trouble, but now they repaired their electricity circuit, and
today they were resting, communicating with radio amateurs of the world.
Iíve put some signals information on the website.

BS : On the other machine we are receiving signals in the L-Band around
1.5 giga hertz. It is a communications receiver. It could be use for
mobile phones, but they are mostly regionally located. We were specially
interested in crossing boarders and boundaries. Across five countries
or more, like INMARSAT, which is a satellite telephone system, a
briefcase size. Maybe you saw Peter Arnett using this during the Gulf
War, speaking to CNN. There are still vestiges of the INMARSAT system
that are analogue based, which do not require any special digital
decompression. So here in Germany you could be listening to America,
Ireland or Teheran. This is where communication start to get
interesting, where the medium does what it does best, which is
communicate. And where culture does what it does worst, which is
communicate. We are investigating if the collision of these best and
worst characteristics can create a interesting stage  for intervening in
the trans-national flow of information.

MP: What makes this set of radio amateur gear perhaps specific is the
context in which we are operating. The result is only becoming visible
only after quite a long period of time and a period of reflection. We have
just started.

GL: Brian, you have been doing satellite interception before. You
released a videotape where you see politicians getting ready, doing
tests for an open camera.

BS: In the United States, these satellite feeds which were un-encrypted
video transmissions, either by television networks or by corporations,
were accessible. One could find the Philip Morris Television Network
every now and then, doing a corporate teleconferencing. From their
lawyers point of view it is a private transmission. And then it is my
point of view that this is public transmission because it is not
scrambled. Anyone with a home satellite dish, which is 4 million, can
receive this. The issue here is: what is a common carrier, and what is
a broadcast? A broadcast is something that goes out to a mass public. A
common carrier is something like a letter. But what happens if a letter
is broadcast across a whole continent, when it is not encrypted, not
in a digital but in an analogue form? A lot of contradiction can arise
of what is public and what is private. The satelliteís broad beam pushes
these contradiction to the surface.

GL:  Could you compare that kind of work with video feed with current
research on the audio spectrum?

Coming from the States, it is such a televised nation. There is a
hoard of images, spewing forward. Everyday at 6 p.m. when the local
news starts, maybe 15 news reporter, are standing in front of chart
buildings, dead bodies and blown down houses, getting ready to report
the days carnage to the local television viewers. With the satellite TV
feed you could see these reporters before they go on-air. These satellite
out-takes can sometimes be revealing.. Now it seems everyone who appears
on a satellite feed knows someone might be watching and/or taping them, so
now that candid stage has disappeared. Here the audio is interesting
because it is still an open stage at times..

MP: I have not worked with satellite video much, just for a year now.
One year ago we put on a 3m dish on the roof of Ljudmila in Ljubljana.
In Europe there are less feeds. What you get is pre-taped material that is
sent to different broadcasters. I have been working with short wave for a
long time, since the early eighties. Short wave is the cheapest and most
accessible way of communicating over long distances and still widely used.
I think that almost everyone has the experience of suddenly hearing a
female voice giving out four-letter codes for five hours on their own AM
radio receiver.  We listen to those here too and try to make some sense
and basically map them.  There is information available on the Internet
about the frequencies secret services use, but things are changing quickly
in that world.  And basically every posted data is already old data. Audio
and data traffic on SW is still not so accessible, compared to video,
where you just hook your TV up to a satellite receiver and a dish and
there you go.

GL: Brian, you experienced the closing of the open video channels. Most
of it is now encrypted. This is also happening in the audio spectrum. Do

you see the same patterns occurring there?

BS: The open windows are slowly closing. It is a unique opportunity to
have one last glimpse at the curve of the analogue spectrum before it
closes forever. Analogue seems to be more natural, curved, not binary,
with less protection for the information contained on these channels.

GL: So we have to move than and crack the digital spectrum.

MP: The big game is to move forward to digital domains. A complete set
of new knowledge is needed. We heard rumors that digital
communications, for example banking information were cracked. That is
illegal and basically a criminal offense but tells a lot about the
safety of our own data being transmitted and re-transmitted over the
networks.  The encryption that is currently used by states in diplomacy
is very hard to decrypt. You must have the key, that's it. Intelligence
services are working more on getting the keys than to decrypt. The human
is the weak element of the chain, not the signal anymore.

Appendix: this is why we built makrolab

the process of following a certain
problem could be metaphorically
expressed as travel through the areas
of a big organism. the existent
cognition systems explain various
parts of  the ur-animal (e.g. the
foot, the organ, the tissue, the
structure, the particle...)

by means of links they create
topographical areas. viewed from
inside in the man who thinks,
explores, learns, experiences and
feels the latter form and organize
themselves as complete experiences,
whereas viewed from outside they
manifest themselves as neutral
objects: tools, books, images, plans,
calculations, data bases, models,

the exhibited object, the
makrolab-console represents the
external, fragmentary view on the
makrolab - research station, which is
set on the hill lutterberg.

makrolab is designed as an autonomous,
modular communications and living
environment, which is powered by
sustainable sources of energy (solar
and wind power). it is designed for a
long existence in an isolated
environment and can withstand extreme
natural conditions.

it has it's own research and experience
goal. the station is built as a
combination of various scientific and
technological logistics systems.
makrolab makes use of scientific and
technological tools, knowledge and
systems, but it projects them in the
social domain of art. we, the authors
and crew make use of the system of art
for the shaping and representation of an
integral empirical and creative experience.

telecommunications as the main aspect of
the project is concentrated on the
discovery and recording of the events
which take place in the densely populated
abstract areas of the electromagnetic
spectrum. the electromagnetic spectrum is
a part of the global socio-political space,
which is invisible and immaterial on one
hand but presents a productive factor of
general living and social conditions on the
other. it can be sensed only by the means
of suitable interfaces and specialized
knowledge. the telecommunication activities
of makrolab are created  as the process of
transcribing invisible and vague
micro-environmental activities into
traditional, three-dimensional textures -

the research station makrolab on the
lutterberg hill nearby kassel (which is at
the same time one of the exhibited works of
art at the documenta 10 exhibition) is the
primary conceptual and material plan of the
project which has yet only started to follow
its objective, and which constantly shapes
its contents and lives its own individual


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