The Crystal Line, old radio, new war


Commissioned by, The Cutting Room, and the Phoenix Cultural Centre for the centenary of the First World War, The Crystal Line is the latest work by the engineer, critic and multimedia artist Julian Oliver. This “crystal radio 2.0” was built in 2015 with the same materials and techniques used a century ago. Its faithful realization required the collaboration of master craftsman and radio expert Geoff Roberts, thanks to whom all the components have been specially made by lathe with traditional metals. The Great War was the first act of war in human history during which radio waves were used as a communication medium. Innovative, reliable and virtually instantaneous, the radio quickly became an instrument at the centre of military life before enjoying popular appeal – a bit like the internet is in the contemporary world. The Crystal Line is an ingenious work that while paying homage to history also takes the time to look at the future, reflecting on the sad reality of war. First, a small computer scours the World Wide Web through a webcrawler, collecting information on the latest developments in war from blogs, sites and discussion forums. This is then transmitted to a text-to-speech engine and disseminated through speakers, using a rigorous English accent. The text takes the form of an AM broadcast that inherits the audio and “noise” characteristics of the instrument, recreating the experiences of those in the trenches a century ago. An elegant work rich in quality. Benedetta Sabatini