Is Digital TV A Problem For Artist Inspired By Static?
GUY RAZ, host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Over night, the country relegated one part of its broadcast spectrum to the history books. The switch to digital television is complete. So, say goodbye to rabbit ears, wavy lines on your screen, and to static.
(Soundbite of static)
RAZ: Few of you listening, I suspect, will mourn the passing of static. But there is one guy who's devastated. That static has been music to the ears and to the eyes of artist Rick Doble. For years, he's been photographing television static to create works of art. This weekend, digital television robbed him of his palette.
Mr. Doble joins us now on the line from his home in North Carolina. Mr. Doble, hello.
Mr. RICK DOBLE: Hello.
RAZ: So, how do you use static from television in art?
Mr. DOBLE: Well, it's a wonderful pattern to take pictures of. It's random and it's constantly changing. And if you haven't looked at static real closely, you may not realize there's a lot of different kinds. You can have large dots and small dots. And I like to think of them like digital, you know, waves breaking. And if you look at them closely, they're kind of mesmerizing.
RAZ: So, you actually take photographs of static from a television.
Mr. DOBLE: Well, I not only take photographs, I will actually adjust the static and play with it with different channels and different settings.
RAZ: And in some you add color.
Mr. DOBLE: Well, first of all, there's color built into a television, for example. So, a lot of the static dots that you're looking at will be tinged with color, and I can enhance that when I process them.
RAZ: So, they sort of come out like abstract paintings, like almost like a digital Jackson Pollock.
Mr. DOBLE: Absolutely. Well said, yeah. I love the Abstract Expressionist painting of the '50s, like Pollock. And I was amazed that some of them, you know, had that feel to them, like a de Kooning or something like that.
RAZ: Why static, Mr. Doble? What was it that sort of moved you to work with television static?
Mr. DOBLE: When I was 12 years old, we got our first television. I lived on a mountaintop in Connecticut. And we were about 100 miles from New York, and we could get very, very fuzzy signals. And this is during the golden age of television. So, I would play hooky and…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DOBLE: …and I would tune the television. I would turn the rabbit ears back and forth, and lengthen them until I could get the clearest fuzzy signal, which is very satisfying to take a marginal signal and turn it into a clear one, and knowing that I wasn't in school, either, it was wonderful.
RAZ: You have an explanation on your Web site about the relationship between static and the Big Bang Theory. What's that all about?
Mr. DOBLE: Well, according to everything I've read, a small percentage of the static that you see on an analog television, when it's tuned to an empty channel, is from the Big Bang. It's really the echo of the Big Bang. It's called cosmic microwave background radiation or CMBR. And this is being picked up by the television signal.
RAZ: So, this echo from billion of years ago…
Mr. DOBLE: Right...
RAZ: …is still echoing…
Mr. DOBLE: …like 13 billion years ago.
RAZ: …is communicating to us through terrestrial television.
Mr. DOBLE: Exactly. In real time, by the way, I might note.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: So, does the conversion to digital TV mean that, you know, you're going to lose your muse?
Mr. DOBLE: Exactly. Yes, it's very sad, except there are ways around it. If you want to see static one evening, what you do is you just pull your converter box off the analog television and then just turn it to an empty channel, and there you go. It's still there.
But, you know, in five or 10 years, it's sort of like a fading. It's like the Big Bang echo, it's fading away.
RAZ: Rick Doble is an artist. He uses television static in his work. You can find a few examples on our Web site, npr.org. Mr. Doble, thanks so much.
Mr. DOBLE: Okay, thank you. Enjoyed it.