It is common knowledge that the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) is no longer on Wall Street but in a data centre, near a car park in sleepy Mahwah, New Jersey. And that the once glorious Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) now lies peacefully next to marshy fields in Aurora, West Chicago. And that the time it takes for data to be transmitted from one centre to the other via a network of carefully placed microwave repeaters is in the region of 4.01 milliseconds, the time of a blink of an eye.
These microwave repeaters are placed on towers that follow a geodesic path between the two exchanges. The actual route of the towers takes you over the Allegheny mountains of rural Pennsylvania and past many an Amish homestead, through the flat plains of Ohio, and in front of the immaculately mowed lawns and the blue ‘Make America great again’ flags of Indiana.
Some of the towers are a requisition from the AT&T long lines network and can be found at the end of long dusty roads where the presence of new comers is instantly noticed. Some are new and specially commissioned for the purpose. They are unremarkable, just another shape in amongst the spikey cell phone antennas that litter the interstate.
Our ‘slow’ high frequency round-trip took 6 weeks. Along the way we documented these outposts and their surroundings using image and sound. We learnt about the past and present uses of these transmission towers that are both a material memorial to radio history, and a physical reminder of passing time.
In Chicago we were lucky enough to meet Bob Van Valzah whose highly informative posts on the Sniper in Mahwah blog got us up to speed on the use of short-wave radio by HFT firms to cross large distances, like oceans.
Our extensive field and radio ‘noise’ recordings plus the many pictures made around the towers will be edited in a book and on vinyl sometime in 2019 by the sound and audiovisual art label, Art Kill Art.
Below you can see some photos from our journey and a few unedited raw audio extracts.
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