We are surrounded daily with both the corporeality and the intellectual concept of waveform data passing our immediate proximity, sounds and visual data chief among these.
In these two categories alone, finding a horrifying example of either is not difficult. For the first, a scream will suffice; for the other, a disembodied head usually has a predictable horrific effect.
Juxtaposition of position or frequency is a pervasive theme in these types of horror – a scream is outside the range of acceptable human speaking tones; a head detached from a body is a perversion of position.
But as physical logistics and relationships are being supplemented by electronic and computational concerns, there remains a question as to the misrepresentation or misplacement of information – and whether it has the same ability to horrify as its physical counterparts.
This is USM Valor, widecasting on all frequencies to USG Ishimura in response to your SOS. We’ve picked up your escape pod number 47, and are en route to your position. This message will repeat every thirty seconds until you respond.
- Dead Space, EA Games
Misplaced information has at its core the power to suggest an uncomfortable truth or possibility. This relationship between physicality and information that represents (or misrepresents it) is perhaps the earliest type of information horror.
I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
In 1792, the first Chappe semaphore message was sent; a contraption of movable wooden arms aligned properly could be decoded into various messages, one configuration at a time. Chappe stations were built across France – similar systems were brought out in Sweden, England, and other countries. The optical telegraphy stations still exist to this day, though far outmoded.
In their heyday, these stations did not impart a horrific message except perhaps through their physical strangeness. Now, abandoned and unused, they exhibit the same creeping discomfort afforded Ozymandias; a reminder of a forgotten age.
With the invention of broadcast, the door was opened to new and unfamiliar signals, and soon, things began to get weird.
The Conet Project details what for years has been only the province of shortwave station listeners, and documented only previously in William Poundstone’s Big Secrets series: the existence of hundreds of enigmatic shortwave stations all broadcasting human voices repeating patterns of numbers, all over the globe, often preceded by simple arrangements of telephone-like musical notes.
Many of these stations were dismantled in the ’90s following the abrupt ending of the Cold War. Inexplicably, many have come back, having shifted the responsibility for vocalizing the numbers to a computer program – you can hear the same subtle idiosyncracies of speech in each number, no matter how many times it’s repeated.
With power remaining cheap, moving parts few, and computers able to handle input remotely, it would be no surprise to find many of these stations abandoned, implying that the information continues to be generated and disseminated, far beyond the lifespan of generators or listeners, who may have all been swallowed up in the sands of time. In information, Ozymandias lives.
Numbers, of course, do not take up the entirety of the VHF spectrum. In July of 1976, shortwave listeners began to pick up an odd, repetitive 10 Hz tone that sounded like a continuous tapping. It interfered with normal broadcasts at every hour of the day.
When clever operators recorded the tone and played it back to its source, the tone suddenly shifted frequency.
Speculation narrowed down to a Russian over-the-horizon radar system, used as part of Russian anti-ballistic missile defense, and by 1989, it was confirmed by the FCC, identified as a Duga-3 array, NATO codenamed “Steel Yard“. That same year, the signal stopped, never to return.
The antenna sits inside the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation, and requests to pull down the array – about 400 feet tall and 1000 feet wide – were met with resistance as the resultant seismic shock from the collapsing tower would kick fallout from the Chernobyl disaster back up into the air with unknown results.
So, unable to be killed and unable to transmit, the Duga-3 array was found by amateur radio enthusiasts who braved heights, winds, and both electromagnetic and ionizing radiation to attach their own transmitters and use the impressive height of the array to gain a horizon advantage for their own signals.
Thousands more signals remain just out of phase to the casual listener: the outdated LORAN system, time synchronization metronomes, binary signals from decaying satellites, each eager and unceasing in their claim that they, too, are entitled to their source and signal regardless of the state of the civilization that built them, much as a disembodied head, seperate from its associated body, might be – your opinion permitting – a thing in and of itself.
I wonder what other types of information horror are out there?
What have you found?