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Disinformation – National Grid

My collaboration with Disinformation is going to be broadcast as part of the Transmission Ecologies series on Movement Radio tonight, 8pm GMT. It was recorded in 2018 as part of Disinformation’s ongoing National Grid project. Listen here http://movement.radio

Transmission Ecologies ft. Disinformation

Track List

Disinformation – National Grid – remixed by Bruce Gilbert – 1997
Disinformation – National Grid (VLF radio version) – (original LP version) – 1996
Pathé News / British Pathé – Pylon Men (documentary) – 1956
Disinformation – National Grid – remixed by Bruce Gilbert – 1997
Pathé News / British Pathé – Pylon Men (documentary) – 1966
Disinformation – Radiate + National Grid + Loran-C – 1999*
Moscow Popular Science Film Studio – Plus Electrification (documentary) – c.1960
Disinformation – Live in Moscow – featuring Mike Walter + Andy Knight – 2000
Moscow Popular Science Film Studio – Plus Electrification (documentary) – c.1960
Disinformation – National Grid – featuring Ilia Rogatchevski – 2018*
Disinformation – London Underground (VLF field recording) – 2002*
Disinformation – Bexleyheath to Dartford (VLF field recording) – 2002*

* NB: tracks remixed January 2022

“National Grid” is a pioneering and highly influential electromagnetic sound artwork, created by the artist project Disinformation, which uses interference from live mains electricity as both a literal and metaphorical source of creative energy. The lowest “G” on a piano keyboard resonates at a frequency of 49Hz, while live mains alternating current resonates (in the UK and Europe) at a frequency of 50Hz, manifesting as a very pure musical sine-wave. “National Grid” was originally recorded and performed, “played” live using the Upper and Lower Side-Band filter on a VLF-converted shortwave radio. Since then “National Grid” has been realised using direct line outputs from mains electrical transformers; with the 50Hz sine-wave being subjected to microtonal re-tuning techniques, which transform the slightly sharp “G” note into a rhythmically pulsing and deeply immersive and hypnotic low frequency sound mass. 

“National Grid” performances and sound installations are literally electrifying. The VLF radio version manifests as a work of exhilarating intensity, exploring the aesthetics and symbolism of electricity and of pure vibration; while the mains transformer versions manifest as highly site-specific three-dimensional sound installations, which produce a range of powerful physical, psychological and physiological resonances. Trebuchet Magazine described “National Grid” as (quote) “one of the most important and impressive sound art works of recent times”.
“National Grid” was first published on LP (by the record company Ash International) and first performed live at the Disobey club night (organised by the record company Blast First), both in 1996. The sound installation version premiered at the Museum of Installation (art gallery) in July 1997.

Since then “National Grid” has been performed and exhibited nearly 40 times – at (among others) the Royal College of Art (London), South London Gallery, Volksbühne (Berlin), ZKM (Karlsruhe), Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge), Hayward Gallery (London), Fabrica Gallery (Brighton), Dom Culture Centre (Moscow) and Fort Process (Newhaven). “National Grid” has been exhibited in an underground nuclear warfare command centre (the former RAF “Rotor” bunker near Anstruther, Scotland), and performed on the very desk in London’s Royal Institution where the scientist Michael Faraday demonstrated some of the most important discoveries in the history of electrical science. Several versions have been released on CD, and collaborative interpretations have been produced by Bruce Gilbert (from the punk band Wire), Jim O’Rourke (from Sonic Youth), the saxophonist Evan Parker, the noise musician (Paul) Nomex, and with the pioneering noise group Test Dept.

This podcast – produced by Disinformation for Transmission Ecologies – features original and collaborative versions of “National Grid”, including contributions by Bruce Gilbert, the saxophonists Mike Walter and Andy Knight, and the sound artist llia Rogatchevski. The podcast also features historic documentary material, exploring the history, culture and politics of electrification. The Pathé News documentary “Pylon Men” speculates that “in days to come, (electricity) pylons… may have their champions, eager to preserve them as historic monuments”, while Soviet propaganda footage discusses Lenin’s famous assertion – recently quoted in a notorious speech by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – that “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification”.

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