Monday, January 2, 2017


The following falls under an instance of finding one thing while looking for something else... I can’t even remember what I was originally searching out to have detoured here, but do know what it wasn't; it had nothing to do with part 15, broadcasting, radio, or anything along that venue..

Yet in spite of it, eventually somehow ended up discovering a very interesting part 15 broadcasting story I have never heard before.

"Humanity's place in the universe is a deep concern of my work with video, and my other installation work that is concerned with how we engage and interpret our everyday environment. "Reception/Transmission" combines these concerns.."
"The (re)broadcast of the soundtrack brings the plasma wave telemetry full circle: what began as invisible light waves returns to them."

Bear with me, I've got to focus to avoid drifting off into the temporary obsession I fell into the last day or two while researching this guy and his work.. fascinating person, but the subject here on this blog is specifically part 15, so I'll attempt to stick to the point.

Nevertheless, a brief, albeit non-part15 prelude is in order.

We introduce Michael Betancourt. Michael is a theorist. He has an MA and a interdisciplinary Ph.D. from the University of Miami focusing on the intersection of history, media and art theory, and he utilizes his own experimental art as a method to develop and test his theories.
His research of history actually began as a child while on his father's archaeological excavations in Greece, while at a palace in Kommos, in the mist of the town which Life magazine coined as the "Hippie capital of the world".

Since then his research and beliefs have expanded covering various thought provoking concepts. His theories claim that there's no distinction between paintings and movies, the  idea of obscenity as logically paradoxical, and the dissections and structures of "digital capitalism", "automated labor", and "aura of information", amongst numerous other themes from thought.

His artistic work played roles in the American Civil Liberties Union's cases against Internet censorship and he has an evident prominence in the legal battle of stopping it.

Betancourt has been published in various academic journals, written a great many books, essays, and noteworthy magazine articles, much of which has been translated into Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish. He's also produced over a dozen artistic videos, plus numerous paintings, and art "installations" which have been featured on tv, film festivals, museums, colleges, art  gallery’s and the like. He's even been/is curator of some such centers. I was surprised to discover he wrote a textbook called "The History of Motion Graphics" while supported by a 2011 Savannah College of Art & Design program (SCAD is right here in my neck of the woods), published in 2013, and now rated as the standard in the history of motion graphics.

"..Most of my work happens in notes and very schematic diagrams that get revised into gradually more specific and detailed things. All of my theoretical writing started with that kind of thing. This is why it’s hard for me to separate making things from my theory work.
The label “artist” got stuck on me by others and, like a lot of labels that people use, it’s stuck even though it isn’t a good description. The same can be said about “theorist” I guess. My interest is mostly in the process of creating and implementing frameworks that determine work, which is why I prefer to identify my movies as “designed”." -- Betancourt from interview in 'Senses of Cinema' 2007

So he sounds interesting, but what does all that have to do with the subject of Part 15?
Well, I'm getting to that..

Noteworthy also was his formulation of the 'Free Art Project' which is accurately credited a being the forerunner of the now established 'Creative Commons' project. Which incidentally, can be considered as indirectly related to the topic of Part 15, as the latter is associated with the use of royalty free materials often used in our broadcast..

So, since I'm featuring him here, you must suspect Michael Betancourt is also a fellow part 15 hobbyist??
Well, no he's not, or rather, maybe he is, I don't know.. but I suspect not..
Ok, enough of my nonsense. Let's get to the point..

Betancourt may, or may not be a part 15 enthusiast, however he is definitely familiar with the with its rules and regulations, as discovered in his book STRUCTURING TIME, in which he had made a specific point to briefly explain and emphasize the legality of Part 15 broadcasting, and how a particular utilization of a part 15 broadcast was a "crucial" necessity in the success of a particular artistic public "installation" event he had created..
To find out how, let's go back in time about ten years to Mars..

DRAKE NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS Volk 27 Issue 2 March/April 2006
The arts and music scene has a new venue for showcasing local talent, with the March 1 opening of the independent coffeehouse Mars Café in the Drake Neighborhood’s cutting-edge Dog Town. The coffeehouse/wine bar -- located at 2318 University Ave., in the new University Place Lofts Building will feature art installations and live music on an ongoing basis. The first art show opens Saturday, March 4, at 8 p.m. -- featuring Michael Betancourt, a Drake Neighborhood-based artist who received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Iowa Arts Council to show his video installation called "RECEPTION/TRANSMISSION.
The Mars Café installation is interactive: A soundtrack will be broadcast within a few block radius of the café so that anyone can tune into it on a radio or car stereo. Screenings will take place Friday and Saturday nights through April.....

So lets summarize.. We are finally getting to where Part 15 comes into this story; Its been announced in a college newspaper to take place at a local coffeehouse named the Mars Cafe. Backed by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, Michael prepares to go public with his formulated artistic video installation - Make note; the term "installation" here is apparently often used as an artistic reference which refers to the use of multiple components utilized together to create a single item art production... which, of course also carries the same basic definition outside of artistic circles - but anyway.. 

"..Over the spring of 2006, I had an Iowa Arts Council/NEA grant to do a microwatt broadcast-video piece based on Telemetry called Reception/Transmission that extended some of the ideas in Telemetry and provided a nice conclusion to that group of works. It would have been hard to do the Reception/Transmission piece without the grant support.."

As already mentioned, in Betancourts book Structuring Time, he briefly discussed the exhibition and its use of part 15. Via GoogleBooks you can read those portions of the book on pages 189-190 as displayed below: It's very short, only four or five paragraphs long. If you have difficulty with the Google box, then click here to open in a new full window.

There's two things that made me curious after reading that..

1.Why did he make it a point to emphasize the legalities of part 15, and was it accurate info?
Could it be that he was trying to diffuse a possible visit by the FCC before it happened? Betancourt, wrote this book years after the fact, so the eyes of FCC would not have been a factor.
However, the same info had been provided in the newspapers at the time, with questionable elaboration..

First lets look at what the book said:

“…a radio broadcasting set-up that is compliant with the FCC's Part 15 rules. Broadcasting on FM spectrum at any power without license from the FCC is illegal. However, open-air broadcasting at microscopic power levels below 1/25th of a watt, or 25 milliwatts without a license is allowed...”

– So far, so good, but was it followed by a potential red flag?:

“...transmission distance is variable depending on obstructions, antenna, and other conditions…”

 The potential red flag was the indication of altering the antenna to increase range.. which I didn’t even notice until reflected in how the newspapers had described it at the time.
For example, here's some clips from  various 2006 newspapers:

“... His artwork will be accompanied by a soundtrack that will be broadcast on FM 90.3, a low-wattage station that can be picked up within three blocks of the cafe while the video is on..”

“.. soundtrack will be broadcast within a few block radius of the cafe so that anyone can tune into it on a radio or car stereo..”

 “…The installation is then accessible in a roughly three block radius around the gallery..”

“….through the use of microwatt broadcasting of its soundtrack, which enables anyone with a radio to tune in to it over a limited area, typically up to 3 blocks from the transmitter…”


Well, I only said that he was familiar with part 15, not that he actually knew what he was talking about!  Such statements as those in the newspapers would more likely attract FCC scrutiny then it would deter it..  His initial facts were correct, that is until an indication of antenna enhancement and range of up to 3 blocks away.
We know a truly compliant part 15 FM installation could never achieve any further than a few hundred feet, but I think he believed it… All newbies to part 15 usually have misconceptions.

We as broadcast hobbyist are aware how some 'part 15' stations in the past suffered drastic downfalls shortly after being featured in a public newspaper; The saga of KENC is a prime example (I've been meaning to post an overview of the KENC saga in this blog, although most of us are already know it well), the short of it was; he thought his installations were legal, but the reality was he was far from it.

By the way; don't misunderstand me, I’m not indicating that having your Part 15 station featured by outside sources is a bad thing, it's a very good thing! Probably one of the best things that can happen; but in such cases it's imperative that your installations are in fact truly part 15 compliant, thus, completely legal.
Several successful Part 15 AM stations have been featured in nationwide publications such as Radio World, and Monitoring Times, and numerous newspapers before, and those stations became even more popular because of it. But those were truly compliant part 15 radio stations and not rule-bending pirates.

That said, I really doubt the FCC would have bothered with Betancourt’s installation even if they knew compliance had been bent, would the FCC really waste man hours over a signal going a few more blocks than was allowable?, especially with it being a special event? I certainly hope not.

I personally think he should have gone AM for the sake of legal range potentials alone.

But back to the question of why Betancourt had emphasized part 15 in his book, well, it’s most likely that it was nothing more than just a matter of fact.

 "... audio, that began its life as a form of normally invisible radiation to its original form. This transformation is crucial to the meaning of the installation.." - --Omaha City Weekly Feb. 22, 2006

Conclusion is he wasn't so much emphasizing part 15, but rather only the transmission and reception factor itself, and how it was done without an license. He needed part 15 to achieve the whole point of this particular artistic presentation.

**(NOTE: Be sure to read the update at the bottom of this page which contains a email from Betancourt where he answers these questions).

“..The (re)broadcast of the soundtrack brings the plasmawave telemetry full circle: what began as invisible light waves returns to them…”

2. The thing I'm even more curious about is how Betancourt's artistic installation went over, what the public perception and impression of it had been.. I've found numerous sources which had promoted the event, but no reports after the fact. Nor could I find any photographs of the event.
I had assumed it took place outdoors, but evidently the projection screen was indoors:

“..the video will be shown as large scale projection in the gallery; …. because it enables its audience to encounter the work before seeing it as well as encounter the soundtrack as an anomalous listening experience beyond the confines of the gallery..”

“The installation is then accessible in a roughly three block radius around the gallery,” Boyer said, “so it is literally and metaphorically throughout the entire space. How interesting for someone to accidentally cross paths with

I’ve formulated a scenario in my minds eye after I viewed this "movie" (shown below).. which by the way I watched last night, at home on my Surface tablet and fed from the earphone jack to my transmitter to listen to the audio on my AM clock radio at about 3am (I pondered if anyone had happened to tune in and wonder what the hell they were hearing!). .. ah, but wait..

First a clarification on exactly what this thing was..

It's not what one would call a “movie”.. So, we'll call it an artistic presentation. I searched for reviews about the ‘movie’ Reception/Transmission to no avail, but I was able to locate an archived 2005 review from FilmThreat about the film TELEMETRY, which is from what the RECEPTION/TRANSMISSION installation had stemmed from... and that's when I finally realized just what this thing was supposed to be.. These were not two different films at all, they were in fact one in the same; ‘Telemetry' was the film itself, whereas Reception/Transmission was the name of the enhanced Telemetry movie experience (the installation. I had somehow missed the core concept.

The latter had incorporated a (temporary) separation from visual perception while maintain connection with actual real-world transmission.. and reception, thus becoming the art "installation".

Anyway, you can read the full review of Telemtry, which describes it quite well:
Here’s some excerpts from the article:
This abstract video work consists of 24 short sections, each between one and two minutes long. The soundtrack comes from the actual telemetry of the Cassini space probe, as it sent back data from its journey to Saturn… The soundtrack itself is remarkable and absorbing. The extremely varied sounds resemble crickets, electronic music, flowing water. They are surprisingly musical, but perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising, since they are transmitting data about the “music of the spheres.”.. Betancourt has a subtle eye and ear for balancing simplicity and complexity into a satisfying composition… “Telemetry” is a thrilling vision of cosmic dynamism and balance.

I'll end this post with my "minds eye" visualization of how the Reception/Transmission event played out.. Or in other words, something I'm just making up, a possible scenario that came to me as I was watched it..

Ok, college students, many of them recreational plant tokers. They go to the Mars Cafe to hang out, relax, drink some wine and to experience an new art happening.. There's a lot of other students there, many of them know each other. I am inserting myself as one of those students..

Someone hands me a portable radio which is tuned to 90.3FM and tells me that a special presentation will begin soon... I like the poster, it's cool looking. I'm already high, but a few of us take a stroll outside and go around the corner to partake another toke or two.

Suddenly strange sounds begin emitting from the radios in our hands.. what the eff is that noise? We walk back to the galley and go in to discover colorful abstract imagery being projected on a large movie screen, which are kind of pulsing in sync with the sounds coming from our radios... We gaze at the weird images, mouth agape, and murmur dumbfound comments amongst ourselves…

Wow... wow.. oh man.. wow... cool.. this is cool man.. wow.. Whoop! is it over?.. nope.. it's just a transition.. groovy.. wow.. wow..  Did you just say groovy man?.. Yeah, heh heh heh heh... wow... wow.. check that out.. wow... cool... Did I just hear an astronaut say something?.. wow... what??.. uh?.. what did you say?... when I graduate I'm moving to Colorado.. wow.. wow.. wow.. Oh, the omega sign!.. oh... so that's why there was an A at the beginning.. yeah.. alpha to omega man.. That was cool, play it again.... yeah..


I wonder how it really went down.

Telemetry (2003-2005) from cinegraphic on Vimeo.

Before I exit..

I realize this post kind of went a little off-course from the theme of this blog --I had gotten so carried away discussing specific details and curiosities about it, that by the time I had finished, and read it back, the topic of part 15 had become so diluted that it hardly appeared to be there at all.. So I edited out about 60% of it, so if this blog post seemed a little disjointed, that's the reason why.

A couple paragraphs would have brought the point across, but without at least some details of Micheal Batancourt’s position, theories, and work, then the beauty of this particular utilization of a Part 15 broadcast could not have been adequately conveyed.

I should also mention that I choose to feature the Reception/Transmission event which had occurred at the Mars Cafe (I liked the name "Mars Cafe"), but it was not actually the first presentation of this installation,.. The original "Reception/Transmission event occurred about a month prior in Omaha at an Echotrope art festival.

Reception/Transmission was installed in Des Moines, IA and Omaha, NE in the Spring of 2006 at 2318 University Ave, Des Moines and the Hexagon Gallery, University of Nebraska, Omaha.

It's unclear to me just how many different locations this event took place, but they all obviously incorporated the "crucial" part 15 broadcast...

Michael Betancourt ‘Installation’ was the most unique use of part 15 broadcasting that I can recall hearing about.

Cinegrapic the avant-garde movie, motion

Last night I sent Michael an email after I had finished writing the above:

I had stumbled across your Reception/Transmission installation event on the web, and being a part 15 hobbyist I wrote about you on my Part 15 blog here:

Would be interested in any comments you might have about it.

Best Regards,

I  was pleased to have received a reply this morning, in which he addressed the two things I had questioned in my blog post above....

Hi Rich,
Thanks for sending this! Your coverage is pretty good, and it's always nice to see a write up of something I've done :)
There's two very minor things. My emphasis on Part 15 rules needed to be there because of the grant. While the broadcasting was really a major part of the exhibition, it was also something that could make problems for it getting the supporting money, so I included the explanation. (The three block range was the manufacturer's claim for the unit.) The other minor point is about the antenna--receivers with larger antennas could pick it up a few blocks away if they had a clear line of sight, but that generally wasn't the case; most cars needed to be parked right at the event to hear it.
The UNO installation attracted a lot more attention, but also had a much shorter range, extending only into the lobby and right outside the gallery door, but not through the heavy concrete walls, maybe 35 feet at most. I don't think the college students in Iowa really cared much, but the UNO students were quite engaged with it!
Your write-up was a nice way to start the new year!

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