Two New Proposals for an Overland Telegraph Line from Port Darwin to Port Augusta, from the Perspective of Alice Springs
This piece is inspired by the first piano in Alice Springs, which was carried there by camel when the town was founded in 1872 as a telegraph repeater station, being roughly at the halfway point of the Overland Telegraph Line between Port Augusta and Port Darwin.
In this piece I translated the idea of the telegraph line onto the piano keyboard by utilising the fact that the distance in Hertz between the lowest and highest notes of this instrument (which has a reduced keyboard of 85 keys or 7 octaves from A0-A7) roughly equals the distance in kilometres of the Overland Telegraph Line. Metaphorically, the keyboard thus traverses a line between Port Augusta and Port Darwin, with Alice Springs being signified by the pitch Eb4. This represents the halfway point of the exponential curve that expresses the doubling of the Hertz value of each pitch on the keyboard in successive octaves. I also wanted to represent the halfway point of this distance in Hertz as expressed by a straight line, given roughly by the pitch A6, thus proposing two alternative interpretations for the placement of Alice Springs on this imaginary map.
This Hertz distance is also converted into the duration of the piece, in seconds. The original Overland Telegraph Line had 11 repeater stations along the line, which were used to manually repeat the original message, as it would weaken over large distances. I built the electronics part from the idea that the 'message' in my piece, a morse code phrase on the dyad Eb/A6 that is reiterated continuously by the piano, is similarly repeated by such 'repeater stations', through a series of delays and pitch shifts. Like the pitch (vertical domain), one series of these 'repeater stations' is based on equal divisions of the total duration (horizontal domain) along an exponential curve, and the other along a straight line. The successive pitch shifts also express these same divisions. The overall effect is a gradual fanning out of the original morse code across the entire range of the Alice Springs piano over the duration of the piece, as it reaches towards the two ends of the line, Port Augusta and Port Darwin, on both the vertical and horizontal axes.
The morse code message spells out the text of the most retweeted tweet (as reported on 13 January 2015), originally tweeted by Ellen DeGeneres on 3 March 2014:
If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars
I wanted to use this message as I found there to be some kind of connection between the need to repeat morse messages at repeater stations across large distances and the obsessive retweeting of meaningless messages on social media. The Overland Telegraph Line revolutionised communications between Australia and the rest of the world, at the time meaning mainly London, facilitating the delivery of urgent and important messages. The rise of social media messaging represents a new kind of communication revolution, which has repurposed each one of us as a repeater station of trivial bits of information. We are now struggling not with the speed and reach of data, but rather its excessive volume, as it saturates our lines of communication in an endless and ever-accelerating cycle of self-generated regurgitation.