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Street cage records ‘electrical signatures’ of passers-by

'When you are on the street recording, it is a bit like making a ­little documentary'

30 March, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Mark Estall, Garry Hunter and Ged Lynn with Michael Faraday’s invention

IT is 200 years since Mary Shelley created her famous work of fiction in which a famous scientist harnessed the power of electricity to jolt lifeless limbs of a monster into a new and terrifying being.

Not long before Shelley wrote Frankenstein she had attended progressive philosophical lectures in the West End about electromagnetism.

Originally a bookbinder working in Blandford Street, Marylebone, Michael Faraday was at the forefront of an exciting phase of research and was on the verge of making a breakthrough discovery that would later become known as the Faraday Cage.

Now the cage – which can contain electromagnetic fields – has been set up in Church Street and recordings of the vast array of languages, dialects and accents from passers-by are being fed into it.

The process creates “electrical signatures” that crackle like lightning inside the cage and can be photographed to make “kinetic light sculptures”.

It’s all part of a Fitzrovia Noir project set up by Garry Hunter, who lives in Wells Street, sound engineer Mark Estall and musical instrument builder Ged Lynn.

Ged Lynn as luthier

Mr Hunter said: “It’s never been done before. People have used it [the Faraday Cage] for electronic music a lot, but not for language. The middle is a drain pipe, the bottom is a tyre. So it is not a hugely expensive thing to make.”

He added: “When you are on the street recording it is a bit like making a ­little documentary. I find that interesting.”

Touching the cage as the electricity runs through it could be fatal, the artists warn.

Mr Hunter, originally an engineer, said: “Faraday was using the cage to contain electricity, so it doesn’t spill out and electrocute you. Your microwave oven uses the system to keep currents inside.

“With an aeroplane, they stop the lightning getting in. When they are choosing a new pope at the Vatican, they are literally sitting in a room that is a Faraday Cage, so nothing they are saying can be transmitted out.

“They say David Davis’s briefcase is a Faraday Cage. So it still has lots of applications. Unfortunately Faraday has been forgotten – although he was on the £20 note for a bit.”

“The cage itself came later than Frankenstein, but Faraday and Humphry Davy were doing a lot of work on electromagnetism together, at the Royal Institution.

“It was the age of discovery, wasn’t it? All the stuff was coming out. Now everything has been discovered, there’s not even any more countries to discover.”

The space has been offered to Mr Hunter as part of the Church Street regeneration for the next two weeks. Drop-in sessions are on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, and the following Saturday and Monday.

• For more information visit www.fitzrovianoir.com/bright-spark

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