Light bulbs and electromagnetic sound

The performance ‘delight’ began 3 years ago. I was unconsciously gazing at the light bulbs at night . A question suddenly popped up in my mind, “Does a light bulb make any sound when being switched on or off ?” I tried to press my ear close to the compact fluorescent light bulb which is not yet switched on, and then turned it on. I could hear small sounds. At that moment, I used a contact microphone as the tool to capture the small sounds. The main function of the contact microphone is to collect the vibration, and yet the compact fluorescent light bulb does not make much vibration. At first, I tried to pick up this sound by pushing up the audio level to the highest, but this method of amplification creates a serious feedback problem during my live, improvisational performance. To solve this problem, I searched for other favourable microphones. This process also turned out to be my research for other ways of listening.

My knowledge about sound and listening experience was limited before I started this project. I did not pay much attention to sound and listening in my artworks and even in my daily life. Due to my curiosity with the light bulbs and the question that popped up, my interest in sound has increased, especially those ” small or hidden ” sounds that exist in our daily life but are not consciously recognized .Throughout the process of developing this performance, my knowledge and interest in sound (physics, listening experience etc.) are enhanced, and I surprised myself in that I would enjoy listening to noise in some ways. My adaptability to noise is higher than before. Now I am willing to listen first and enjoy the process by different ways of listening.

About electromagnetic field
At a random occasion, I found a microphone called “induction pick-up coil”. Once connected to the audio recorder, it is capable of detecting the electromagnetic field emitted by various electronic devices. The frequency of the electromagnetic field is then transmitted as sound. Every kind of electronic devices produces electromagnetic fields as electric currents pass through the devices. I would know more about the complexity of a device by listening to the variation of frequency and the pitch of sound emitted by the electromagnetic field . For example, various points located on the laptop computer could be detected with a number of electromagnetic field. The sound of “opening” a file would be heard near the harddisk. This is because of the technology of magnetic recordings in the harddisk. Besides, we can listen to the higher pitch and lower pitch of sound in different locations on the laptop. We can also listen to the router, and the data of the internet that we are searching for in the browser could be heard too! The digital drawing device emits a cicada-like sound, which I find to be the most interesting so far. I associate my listening of the electronic device more or less with the doctor using the stethoscope listening to the living body, checking how the organs are doing. This way of listening makes me feel that things that we have neglected in daily life are alive.
As I let electric currents pass through the light bulbs, listening to the sound of their magnetic field they generate, I realize that the different manufaturers and brands of the compact fluorescent light bulb produce different electromagnetic fields. The sound pitch and frequency could be categorised as high , mid and low range. The layers of sound could be heard by varying the voltage that turns on the light bulbs.
Some audience commented on my performance and said that I was like a sorcerer calling the wind and rain by placing the microphone on different electronic devices. Perhaps this indicates how human beings are not quite sensitive to such invisible signals as electromagnetic field and radio wave . And yet they are all around us in our daily life, and are also a core element to Planet Earth as a whole. Recently, I am moving on with another aspect of research, which is more related to bioacoustics and the sensitivity of living organisms to the natural radio wave and electromagnetic field.

Sound is heard as air particles vibrate and flow into our auditory canal. But now, I believe that there are other ways that sound around us is listened to.


“delight” 這個表演作品源自3年前,一個發呆的晚上,凝視著桌燈,問了一個簡單的問題,「燈泡有沒有聲音?」。起初把耳朵貼近未通電的螢光燈泡(慳電膽),再通上電源亮燈。聽到微弱的聲音後便以當時唯一懂得的收音方式,以接觸式麥克風(contact microphone)收集燈泡發出來的聲音。接觸式麥克風主要收集振動(vibration)產生出來的聲音,但是螢光燈通電後所產生的振動不大,所以初期的試驗是把擴音器擴到最大來收集聲音, 但這種方法令即場聲音表演(live sound performance) 帶來了聲頻反饋(audio feedback) 的問題。為了解決這個問題,我尋找另外合適的麥克風,同時也向另一個層面研究如何聆聽聲音。


轉折點:電磁場(electromagnetic field )
在機綠巧合之下,找到一種名為電磁感拾音器(induction pick-up coil) 的麥克風。把電磁感拾音器接通錄音機後,能感應到各種電器被使用時所發出的電磁場(electromagentic field),從而把電磁場的頻率以聲音表現出來。每種有電流通過的電器都會產生電磁場,我從聆聽電磁場的聲音頻率及音高的變化,了解到電器設計出來後的複雜程度。例如透過電磁感拾音器,聽到手提電腦裡不同位置的電磁場。在硬盤(harddisk)附近會聽到電腦打開文件的聲音,正正硬盤是運用磁帶記錄文件。另外,在其他位置也會聽到一些音高、一些音低的不同。除了電腦外,從伺服器(router)可以聽到我們瀏覽網絡資訊的聲音;聆聽電腦繪圖板時,會聽到有如蟬叫的聲音,把繪圖筆放置在不同位置,聲音也會有不同的變化。透過電磁感拾音器聆聽電器的聲音,有時聯想起像醫生拿起醫生聽筒聽著身體內臟運作的聲音。這種聆聽經驗,令我感覺到一些平時未有留意的物件,就像有生命存在一樣。

螢光燈泡通電後, 在我利用電磁感拾音器聆聽電磁場所發出來的聲音的過程中,發現不同牌子的螢光燈泡也會有不同音高與頻率,而且燈光因電壓不同而閃動的頻率也不同。在有高、中、低音頻的螢光燈配搭下,令表演的聲音層次豐富。有人說我在表演時很像一位巫師似的,把電磁感拾音器放在不同的位置就像呼風喚雨。大概這感覺是因為人類從生物學上對電磁場和無線電波等一些無形的訊號靈敏度不高。這些訊號卻一直圍繞著我們的日常生活,而且是地球整體的一個重要元素。現在我正向著另一個方向出發,研究有關大自然環境裡的電磁場與無線電波,以及其他生物對此領域的感知。


I used the contact microphone to detect and record the vibration from the tungsten spring in the light bulbs. A series of overtone would be heard. For me, it is beautiful as if it were singing.


I used the contact microphone to detect and record the sound of the compact fluorescent light bulb. The sounds of the light powder tapping on the glass inside the light bulb could be heard.


I used the induction pick-up coil to detect and record the the sound of compact fluorescent light bulbs.


Different brands of compact fluorescent light bulb.


Sounds like sea breezes and cicadas calling


This is an induction speaker. It is for amplifying the volume of sound through the technology of induction when playing music from a smartphone. I inverted it and connected my induction pick-up coil . The induction pick-up coil would receive the electromagnetic field from the speaker. The sound produced are similar to birds calling.


Artist Bio
Fiona Lee was born in Hong Kong in 1987. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts, major in Critical Intermedia Laboratory in School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong in 2011. Her artworks were based on installation and performance.

Fiona’s recent art practices and inspirations come from her feelings of daily routine by exploring a place or community with the adventure attitude. Listening, as an important connection between the world and herself in order to feel the movement of every single moment . She loves to listen the sound from the nature , and yet, she addicted into the noise in the city in certain way. Therefore, she would like to expose her thought on the relationship between different dimensions of sound and herself in her artworks.
 The sound performance “delight” & “Listen to my Journey in Taiwan” seems to be an extreme of the texture of sound, but she rather concerns on the power of sound in the performance. She believes creations of art world be the progress of exploring and accepting different kinds of possibilities of herself, also the relationship between herself and others, in order to share the multiplicity of life to the public.

李穎姍生於1987年,香港。畢業於香港城市大學創意媒體學院,主修批判性跨媒體實驗室。 過去的作品以裝置和表演為主。現階段她的作品多依循當下對生活的感受為主, 在日常生活中以一個獵奇的方式探索一個地方的可愛之處 ,以聆聽作為跟世界與自身連結的一個重要渠道,感受每一刻的流動。喜愛聽大自然的聲音如蟬聲、雀鳥的聲音,也愛聽城市裡的噪音,所以作品多以探索不同聲音的面向與自身的關係。其中兩件聲音表演作品“delight”和“聽。台灣的微風”,正正像是兩個聲境上的極端,卻對她來說是同樣細膩地感受聲音的力量。她希望她的作品類型不會只局限於一個創作媒介上,並認為創作對自身來說是發掘和接受自己更多的可能性。