The Thing
Currently in development - Project Description:

As well as giving the world his eponymous electronic musical instrument, Leon Theremins espionage work for the USSR during the cold war saw the birth of the field of RFID technology.

The Thing was a passive covert listening device, hidden inside a wooden carving of the Great Seal of the United States of America, presented to Ambassador Averell Harriman, on August 4th 1945. This Trojan horse of cold war diplomacy, was donated by Soviet school children, as a gesture of friendship to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s Moscow office, and remained in service until its covert purpose was only accidentally discovered in 1952.

The Thing consisted of a small metal cylinder attached to an antennae. Inside the cylinder was a metal plate that would resonate in response to sound waves generated by human speech. A 330Mhz microwave beam directed at the carving from a remote location activated the device and capacitance fluctuations within it were picked up, broadcasting back secretly, the conversations of those within the room.

This project, also called The Thing, brings together these two aspects of Theremins work to create a mifare card activated musical installation. The Great Seals eagle will sing unique tunes generated by reading data from individual cards. Placing a card over the All Seeing Eye RFID reader will result in the composition and performance of a musical work. Card serial numbers will be parsed and interpreted into musical notation, which will in turn be performed in the style of the Theremin by the Eagle.

A machinic assemblage that emerges out of Theremins technical innovations, The Thing reads a set of stored travel data and outputs musical notes, producing a phase shift in the mode between input and output data, transforming the representation of information from one form to another. While playfully highlighting the history of RFID technology as a cold war tool for surveillance, The Thing also asks users to ponder issues of individual privacy, the gathering and storing of personal information by government agencies and how these records can be misinterpreted and put to alternative uses.

Technical Specification

Hardware; RFID reader, arduino microcontroller, plinth, computer, monitor (in circular housing), audio amplification, speakers, various cables.

Software; program to interpret data, animation of singing eagle, with sound to respond to this input.