…Earlier this year, after a decade of slowly losing his hearing, Frank Swain found himself donning a pair of Starkey Halo hearing aids. The bluetooth-connected buds, which wirelessly stream audio from an iPhone, are some of the most technologically advanced on the market. It got Swain, a writer for New Scientist, thinking: Hearing aids have always been considered a band-aid to hearing loss, but what if they could be used for more than just bolstering the performance of failing ears? What if he could use them to hear things other humans were totally deaf to?
For a project called Phantom Terrains, Swain and sound artist Daniel Jones hacked the writer’s hearing aids in order to translate the unseen world of wi-fi signals into alien soundscapes. Walking through the streets, Swain is able to listen to the changing melodies of wireless networks and gather a supplemental layer of information about his surroundings inaudible to anyone but him. With Phantom Terrains, Swain has effectively turned a disability into a superability.
The sound of each wireless network is based on a number of criteria. For example, the background layer—a crackling, clicking noise—reveals the density of networks in a particular area. The greater the number of networks, the denser the clicking. The data is geolocated, so the closer you get to any one router, the more frequent the clicking becomes; if it happens to be to your left, you’ll hear the sound in your left ear; to the right, and you’ll hear it in your right ear. In the foreground you hear a faint melody, like a song drifting into range from a distant radio. This is the network ID being translated to musical notes. Each letter and number elicits a different note, so while the mass of British Telecom routers might begin with the same pitch, the melodies will quickly change as the individual router numbers emerge….
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