Above pictures: SWIM, 1974; Visualization of circularly-polarized radio waves, as a form of visual art, Impulse Magazine 12(2), 1985; SWIM on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
In my childhood I noticed a transition from transparent easy-to-understand vacuum tube technologies, where manufacturers printed schematic diagrams inviting end users to understand their technologies, to a more secretive closed-source mentality where manufactures started using ICs (Integrated Circuits), and no longer including schematic diagrams. Not only where the schematics absent but many manufacturers took the extra time to grind numbers of the chips to make things harder to understand. So I witnessed the change from manufacturers providing "maps" (schematics = deliberate openness), to manufacturers providing gouges and scratches (deliberate obfuscation).
This was in the early 1970s, and I wanted to be able to see the otherwise invisible radio waves coming from all these new incomprehensible gadgets.
I had an oscilloscope, but it lacked the bandwidth to view radio waves directly. Moreover, its sweep generator was broken: the dot on the screen would only go up-and-down, not across. So I had only a one-dimensional vertically-oriented display. I discovered that if I connected it to a radio receiver, and placed the receive antenna on top of the oscilloscope, while moving the oscilloscope along, that the radio wave from a stationary transmitter would be "painted" out in space. In this sense, I discovered a concept I call "spacebase" rather than "timebase". The result was a display device that:
- makes otherwise invisible sound waves or radio waves visible;
- makes them appear in exactly the same place as they actually are -- perfectly aligned with their actual location in space.
Instead of the oscilloscope, I discovered that I could use a linear array of light sources, electrically controlled, to make a giant augmented reality oscilloscope that, when waved through space, made the radio waves visible in perfect alignment with their actual physicality. I built a wearable computer system to control the lights and display a variety of physical quantities such as sound, video, and radio signals.
I completed this project in 1974 and named it the Sequential Wave Imprinting Machine because it made waves visible by "imprinting" them on the retina of the human eye, or upon photographic film, through PoE (Persistence of Exposure), i.e. the time-integrating property of photographic exposure to light.