Published: May 15, 2017

PhD candidate in Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance Ryan Wade Ruehlen was recently awarded the Project Society of IRISS CU Grand Challenge graduate student research grant for his dissertation project, "Atmospheric Distrubances."

Over the next two years, Rhuelen will be running experiments with UAV drone technology as an “acoustic prosthetic” to conduct a series of live audio performances composed of ever-changing radio frequencies circulating in the atmosphere. As part of his practice-based research investigation, Rhuelen will ask; “How can drones and the sounds they access in the atmosphere be (re)imagined through a contemporary work of intermedia performance art?”

Whereas drone technology is used by governments as military weapons and law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance operations, they are also now becoming available for more commercial and DIY hobbyist uses. Artistic uses of drones are largely focused on their ocular features and tend to not take into account the ways that these devices may heighten our awareness of the environment's electro-acoustic aspects. Rhuelen’s project goes against the grain of current art practices and uses drones to capture the auditory potential of the atmosphere, instead of representing yet another “bird’s eye view” of the landscape below.

Ruehlen has begun to study and build devices with very-low-frequency (VLF) radios. VLF waves lie between 3—30 kHz, which begin to fall below the audible range of the human ear. VLF is often referred to by hobbyists and scientists as “natural radio” because it acts as a conduit, capturing and translating weather phenomenon. By utilizing the drone as a courier system to construct tall antennas for receiving very low frequencies, the drone acts as an auditory extension for gathering and performing sound compositions. These performances will take place at various locations in Colorado and other rural parts of the United States, transmitting the live signal back to car radios for communal deep listening experiences.