brian carroll on 7 Jan 2001 08:29:10 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] review: Spectres of the Spectrum

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


 a film by Craig Baldwin, 1999

 SOS available on videocassette.
 see website for synopsis, interview,
 review, clips, and ordering information:

 keywords: New Electromagnetic Order (NEO),
 media archaeology, HAARP, strategic design.

 -- 1st viewing: image/music --

 The only book I've ever read twice was Brave New World
 by Aldous Huxley. And the only film I've ever watched
 twice in immediate succession is `Spectres of the
 Spectrum' (SOS) by San Francisco film maker Craig Baldwin.

 Not a film critic, I will leave most of the details of
 the film up to those reviewers who are much more facile
 at describing the rich and interweaving story of SOS,
 its characters, philosophical basis, and techniques. [1]

 Instead, I will attempt to describe my specific first
 person experience as I watched Spectres and it watched
 me back. This is because, as someone who has researched
 the main subject of the film, electromagnetism and its
 order, I realized that Craig Baldwin was able to capture
 a poetic essence that has so far been ellusive in other,
 more traditional, mediums for its interpretation.

 Instead of accepting the technocratic ways of seeing the
 role of electromagnetism and its role in global society,
 Baldwin investigates and interrogates the subject within
 a rapid and intense flurry of sound, image, and text.

 In an energetic, vertigo-inducing, and hypnotic approach
 Spectres penetrates the senses, excavating the current and
 uncritical glorifications of our use of electromagnetism
 as propagated by traditional mass media. In the ruins of
 mind, Craig Baldwin plants a new interpretation, an anti-
 status-quo vantage of the subversive and mystic, that which
 is deeply rooted in human's development of what Baldwin
 scripts as the New Electromagnetic Order, or NEO.

 Spectres of the Spectrum conveys the NEO within an audiovisual
 assemblage of facts and fictions supporting a parallax vision
 of our electromagnetic environment in super-colliding views.
 It is in the mixing of parts- such as documentary, science
 fiction, conspiracy theory, electromagnetic historiography-
 that a complex and contradictory dissonance transforms itself
 into a force countervailing the prevailing rote knowledge of
 electromagnetism as a utopian scientific, technical, and
 technological reality to exploit. The ghostly apparition in
 the electromagnetic spectrum comes when the film challenges
 the untouchable ideologues and authorities of totalitarian
 power structures which deny public citizens their democracy.

 What results in this most impressive example of the media
 archaeology of film is a wholly poetic and potent realism,
 surrealistically playing on the paradox between truth and
 falsehood. Spectres, in this regard, is the negative force
 to counterbalance the uncritical mass media acceptance of
 the electromagnetic world as it exists, and in this action
 it acknowledges the mysteries, corruption, and the powers
 behind the current New Electromagnetic (world) Order that,
 while documented, remains largely unacknowledged by the
 ordinary citizenry because of the nature of the control
 of electromagnetic media and the information they convey.

 Spectres of the Spectrum is almost a state of mind. But
 not of an answering, nor even of a constant questioning,
 but a pinging back and forth between the two. To put it
 another way, it became necessary for this reviewer to
 play Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's song, The Mercy Seat,
 on a repeating-loop in order to replicate the intensity
 of Spectres and the paradox it represents. [2]

 Upon my first viewing of the film I was caught up in
 a rush of information, streaming at a rate that was as
 fast as one of the main characters, BooBoo, could talk.
 Film at the speed-of-thought. The unorthodox storyline,
 consisting of a resistance network to the New Electro-
 magnetic Order, says what has up until now been unsaid.

 Upon the film's ending, a certain philosophical nihilism
 presents itself which underscores the pursuit of meaning
 in life at whatever price, including death. And the film
 revolves around this subject of death, of the Earth, of
 citizens, of minds. Death is a taboo subject in the West
 except in times of war which reinforces its inevitability.
 From several points of view the film's confrontation of
 this profane subject cancels out the cavil negation of
 its content by making the film's meaning worth dying for.
 This is not by accident, as Baldwin positions Spectres of
 the Spectrum in terms of war and warfare. It then becomes
 clear that in some sense everyone is a soldier fighting
 for some version of electromagnetic reality, but most
 everyone is remains unaware of it. Spectres seeks to
 change this logarithm to benefit the lost public.

 Ultimately the first viewing of the film was an audiovisual
 experience. A battle of my reality with that of the film's
 maker, and a choosing of sides, of sorts, or at least a
 hardening of beliefs, upon what to do next.

 -- 2nd viewing: text --

 While I do not believe any book has all the answers, each
 can be seen as a microcosm and can share something deeply
 unique that can and will never be said exactly the same.
 Yet, my approach to research is to take notes, so that I
 do not have to reread a book and so that I can capture my
 interpretation upon the first reading. And then the book
 can be referenced and reread in part when necessary for
 further investigation. I write this because Spectres, while
 obviously a film, 'read' like a book to me, as it was dense
 with information, and at a philosophical pace of thinking.

 With a pen and pad of paper I `read' the film on a VCR,
 rewinding it over and over, to listen to the dialogue
 and to write an archive of textual fragments, mainly
 disregarding the visual dimension. To my surprise the
 audiovisual poetry of the film translated into a dense
 text of factual references and unique perspectives,
 and I ended up taking as many notes as I would when
 researching a written work on electromagnetism.

 In this sense Spectres is a text in itself and thus taps into
 and contributes to a shared zone of electromagnetic research
 which other thinkers, designers, activists, and writers have
 been developing up until now. But Craig Baldwin's work is
 also something else, as it is strategically different from
 these other approaches. It does not operate by the same rules.
 Baldwin is able to break free of the shackles of interpretion
 through a poetic innuendo, an antithesis to technocratic reason.

 While Baldwin is in full control of the information presented, the
 content is still enigmatic. Before seeing Spectres I could never
 have imagined such a vivid and controversial interpretation of
 the electromagnetic order that is almost immune to categorization
 and the easy dismissal of the radical unconventionality of the
 ideas involved. It is Spectres constitution as a hybrid sci-fi
 & documentary film that enables this freedom of audiovisual
 thought and in turn, the conveyance that our current version of
 the electromagnetic order can be transformed for the betterment
 of humankind, if only we gather up our troops and fight the war.

 -- the NEO War --

 This is the poetry. The mistake would be to literally try to
 reenact the film's science-fiction battle against the New
 Electromagnetic Order as BooBoo does in her homegrown time
 travel. There is thus a limit, a visual fissure between the
 fictive strategy and factual issues that Spectres seeks to
 actively challenge and change.

 The issues Spectres of the Spectrum brings to the forefront
 include a narrative constellation interrelating intelligence
 agencies, agents, the Cold War, remote sensing, Star Wars (SDI),
 nuclear power and weaponry, lasers, stealth technologies, radar,
 transistors, computers, and the behavior control of brain waves.

 This military-industrial analysis is based upon the stories of
 the pantheon of early electrical inventors such as Morse, Bell,
 Watson, Franklin, Edison, Tesla, Marconi, Armstrong, and Farnsworth.
 The common thread details how the democratic promises of inventions
 can be reversed when exploited primarily for financial profit,
 at any other cost. Most reviewers remark about the connection
 between David Sarnoff and Bill Gates in this regard. But from
 my perspective, the film emphasizes the power of individuals
 interacting with institutions, and either being destroyed or
 themselves becoming institutions with ideologies to be fought.

 The mass media monopoly of information is dismantled by Baldwin
 in this regard. Instead of replaying the film's logic, I offer
 a recent bit of media archaeology, which I think clarifies the
 valid nature of media criticism.

 Living in California at the turn of the millennium there is a
 long-term electrical power crisis underway. The CBS television
 station broadcasts a `news' program which presents the renewal
 of nuclear energy and power plants as the obvious solution to
 the problem. The power is cheap, they say, while showing the
 insides of a nuclear plant with gigantic "Westinghouse" turbines
 embedded into the floor. Not surprisingly, Westinghouse owns
 CBS, and no mention is made of the fact that there is no safe
 way to dispose, no less store, nuclear waste for millennia to
 come. The price tag, environmentally, socially, economically,
 is of a great cost, yet goes unstated in this news broadcast.
 There is no way to compete nor critique this institutionalized
 electromagnetic media on its own scale, as it controls the
 entire process of information production and consumption.
 Like the TV, radio, telephony, and now the Internet.

 In this sense Spectres of the Spectrum represents all the
 cultural information which has been rejected or has been
 `lost' in the race for the individual and institutional
 domination of energy, and thus information and power.

 With this as a foundation Baldwin leads 'the moviegoer' into
 the farthest reaches of speculation. Going even further than
 Sarnoff's role in the development of radio and television,
 Spectres launches full force into building up the reasoning
 and logic for the US military's secret "Pulse Project," acting
 the role of a reporter in a country without free media, which
 is represented by the fictional "TV Tesla" pirate broadcast.

 From J.P. Morgan's financing of Tesla's work to the destruction of
 his energy `magnifying' tower. From Dr. Reich's atmospheric orgone
 boxes to Roswell UFOs. From Project Argus which detonated nuclear
 weapons 13,000 miles up in the atmosphere which deformed the Van
 Allen belts for `research' purposes to Project Starfish in 1962
 which used the ionosphere for over-the-horizon radar tracking,
 while causing massive power outages. From `the Father of the
 H-Bomb' Edward Teller's Project Chariot for nuclear excavation
 in the arctic circle to his involvement in the 1984 radiant
 weapons Star Wars project. From CIA Director Richard Helms'
 advocating strategic subliminal messages to enemy populations,
 and brain stimulation and altering behavior via electromagnetism,
 to the large antennae of Bernard Eastlund's "Ionospheric Radiotor"
 of 1985 which focuses electromagnetic waves onto the atmosphere,
 pushing it away from the Earth to disrupt electronic communications
 with 10 billion electron volts of energy. The film's voice then
 states in no uncertain terms: This is not science fiction.

 Some things are beyond words. But the image Spectres creates,
 and the "Pulse Project" its characters organize against is all
 in reference to the mysterious High Frequency Active Auroral
 Research Program, better known as HAARP. [3]

 Speculation, much like that which surrounds the Echelon global
 electromagnetic surveillance project, enshrouds HAARP. Possible
 applications for it include disabling satellites, providing
 wireless power to forward areas of battle, hemispheric weather
 control, the focusing of sunlight on specific regions of Earth,
 and the prediction and triggering of earthquakes. Several of
 these potential uses for HAARP evoke Tesla's much earlier work.

 The film's narrative then reminds one of the potential health
 effects of electromagnetic devices that the fictive "Pulse
 Project" symbolically represents. The `human cost' of such
 projects include include "brain symptoms" such as the breakdown
 of the blood-brain barrier, dementia, and memory loss. No less,
 a conspiracy theorist might say, the mass hypnotism of society
 into a state of compliance with the New Electromagnetic Order.

 For myself, this was the most potent aspect of the film, for
 Spectres was able to find a voice for the growing concern and
 help to increase the awareness of these electromagnetic topics
 that are still guarded in the name of National and International
 Security, while also being a probable threat to the whole of
 humanity if not watched with public and democratic oversight.

 This is not the point when the movie ends, it is somewhere in-
 between. Yogi, the father of BooBoo, living in the wastelands
 of abandoned nuclear test sites in Nevada which look like the
 crater-pocked Moon, then says insistently:

 "Mars lost its atmosphere, Now we're losing ours."

 This is the result of the electromagnetic Pulse Project,
 Yogi knows, and then declares:

 "The planet can simply not tolerate these gigawatt probes!"
 We need to understand our environment, electromagnetism, and
 its interaction with our selves and the technologies with which
 we control it. To do this requires awareness, and discussion.
 It requires questioning the prevailing paradigms of knowing,
 and testing new hypotheses. It may mean losing certainty in
 the name of gaining a more complete view of the whole. It will
 mean something different to everyone. And that is the promise
 of democracy, freedoms of thought and speech, and the right
 to dissent a system which destroys these values and beliefs.

 The war against the New Electromagnetic Order, I would contend,
 is not against electromagnetism per se, but against its current
 interpretation, that which I believe Spectres of the Spectrum
 directly and indirectly challenges. But change will take more
 than any one film, one book, or one piece of artwork will ever
 be able to capture. And this is good. Change will require many
 people, many points of view, raising awareness of the topics
 that sit before us as we read on our computers, while our rooms
 are filled with pulsing electromagnetic waves of information
 that we have yet to begin talking about. If you want to begin
 talking about this electromagnetic nature, this reality, and
 the paradoxical nature of our technologies and the forces which
 direct their use, please support Craig Baldwin and all of the
 people whom helped create the film Spectres of the Spectrum.

 It is an education that will never be found in a book, a song,
 a painting. Only a movie, and only this movie, can convey the
 message in this uniquely existential way. For it creates an
 unanswerable question and a questionable answer, both to ponder,
 to debate, to wonder, to have nightmares over. As much about
 the loss of power and alienation and corruption as it is about
 resilience, working on shared goals, and public consciousness.

 Spectres of the Spectrum is a bold step for the arts which have
 up until now remained silent with regard to electromagnetism. It
 should be a shared duty, as designers, to increase the public's
 awareness of our electromagnetic environment so as to redirect
 its use for the safety and benefit of all people. Baldwin's
 strategy of `electromagnetic awareness' is shared by a handful
 of designers, architects, songwriters, painters, sculptors,
 video and net artists, whom have been in pursuit of issues
 directly related to our electromagnetic order, such as global
 warming, pollution, power outages, energy inefficiency, energy
 wars, and surveillance.

 The public will remain powerless until we can work together,
 as electromagnetic researchers, to raise awareness with design,
 our intellect, and imaginations as our only weapons. The war
 is against ourselves. Against our ingrained interpretations.
 Against our negations of alternative views than those fed
 us by the 'certainty' of the electromagnetic Megamachine. [4]

 The war has started and Baldwin has fired the first shot. We
 need to support work such as Spectres of the Spectrum, and
 use our freedoms and speak up- through collaborative work
 towards shared goals. For `questioning authority' only works
 in groups, and the questioning needs to start with ourselves,
 to dismantle the importance of our individual authority and
 reconstruct a shared author, or text, to which we can all
 contribute our unique skills. See the film. It is important.
 It is my hope that Spectres could be freely released on the
 Internet in a smaller format so that millions of people can
 see the film. Its value is in its message. And its message
 needs to travel to all nodes of the global internetwork.

 In summary, Spectres of the Spectrum literally glows as an
 example of strategically designing information to reveal the
 paradoxical nature of the new electromagnetic order of things.
 While this is not the only possible interpretation it is a
 very important one, for these views have unsaid for decades if
 not forever. Please support Craig Baldwin's effort by seeing
 Spectres and developing your own strategic designs to raise
 the public's awareness of electromagnetism and its reality.

 The electromagnetic network is in-formation.

 brian thomas carroll
 architectural researcher

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 [1] For example, see David Cox's analysis of Baldwin's work:

 [2] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The Mercy Seat. lyrics:

 [3] Official HAARP Home Page, US Navy:

 [4] orig. Lewis Mumford, Pentagon of Power, volumes 1 & 2.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Nettime-bold mailing list