Golden Numbers is a sound installation that uses the gigantic speakers that were formerly used at the DMZ (demilitarized zone on the border between North and South Korea) for broadcasting propaganda. In this installation, the numbers from 0 to 36525 are read out. This number represents the number of days in the hundred years from August 15 1945 to August 15 2045. Further, recordings of old radio broadcasts and sounds produced in real-time from encoded signals are heard intermittently, and the audience can also use a microphone to broadcast their own voices through the speakers. All these sounds mingle slowly around a circle, resembling the movement of a clock’s hand or the orbit of a celestial body, and allude to the passage of time and history. The voices recorded into the microphone show that everyone lives within the flow of time, and contributes to history in some way.
On August 15, 1945, the Japanese acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration freed Korea from Japanese occupation, but the country was divided into two at latitude 38 degrees north and ruled as trusteeships by the Soviet Union and US. Then, on June 25, 1950 the Korean War broke out, and after intense fighting, a ceasefire agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.
At this time, a 4km-wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) was set up along the truce line, surrounded with barbed wire and high-pressure electric lines, littered with mines and monitored with a strong search light at night. An enormous quantity of gigantic speakers used to blare loud propaganda calling for people to defect, but these broadcasts were stopped in summer 2004 upon agreement of both sides, and the speakers were removed.
The speakers, lights, barbed wire, fencing and other items removed from the DMZ were transported to Seoul and became the material for works being exhibited at the exhibition From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to DMZ. The theme of this exhibition is the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the end of the Cold War, and the DMZ, which is a symbol of North and South Korea, the last divided state. The exhibition displays paintings, sculptures, video, installations and other works created by several artists including Nam June Paik.
Golden Numbers is a sound installation consisting of 32 gigantic military speakers removed from the DMZ. Three types of sounds are broadcast from the speakers: numbers read out in Korean slowly and continuously; abstract, noise-like music interposed intermittently; and voices of the audience, spoken through the same microphones that were used by military personnel at the DMZ.
The numbers read out start from 0 and continue until 36525. This number represents the number of days in the hundred years from August 15 1945 to August 15 2045.
Numbers are displayed as 5 digits prefaced by 0s, for example, 138 is displayed as 00138. Each digit of each number is read out in sequence from first to last with approximately one-second intervals between digits and approximately three seconds of silence at the end of each number. Thus, a new number is read out approximately every eight seconds, so it takes about 81 hours (three days, nine hours) to read 36526 numbers. However the time intervals for reading the numbers are not regular and change slightly. After all numbers are read out, the process repeats itself, starting from 0 again.
The voices used for reading out the numbers are the voices of several Koreans recorded in Korea. The same person reads one series of digits, but each time the number of days change, a different person’s voice is randomly chosen. The numbers in Korean are spoken as follows, for example 00138 is read as yung, yung, il, sam, pal.
0 ... yung
The numbers are read out constantly at a regular speed, but occasionally abstract, noise-like sounds creep in intermittently. These sounds are produced in real-time using sound files of over 200MB, composed of tones such as old radio broadcasts, Morse codes, sirens and so on. Since these sounds have undergone intense modulation and fragmentation and have been re-synthesized, it is impossible for listeners to pick out the original sounds, but they create a certain aura.
While listening to the various sounds played from the speakers, the audience themselves may sound their voice from the speakers by using a microphone set up near the speakers. The microphone, also used at the DMZ, is operated by speaking into it while pressing the side button. In addition to the audience’s voices being amplified from the speakers, they are gradually broken up and repeated giving an echo effect before fading out. Further, after fading out, the voices will suddenly reappear, affecting the other sounds.
The 32 speakers are uniformly placed in an 11m-diameter ring, forming a perfect circle. All of the sounds move in a clockwise pattern, some fast and some slowly, around the ring of speakers, and each of the sounds have their particular position and speed. Therefore, the audience feels as though the various sounds are running in orbital motion, some sounds chasing and passing others.
However, of these 32 speakers, only eight equidistant speakers are used to play sound at any given time. Further, each speaker consists of nine driver units, of which only one is used. Even with only one unit, the amplifying power is so great that the amp volume must be muted. This should give an idea of the mega-volumes at which propaganda was played.
The following equipment was used to create Golden Numbers:
Golden Numbers is a work that was requested for the From the Fall of Berlin Wall to DMZ Exhibit and was put on display along with Red Symbol, a work created by South Korean artist, Park Lee Chang Shik. Red Symbol is a red art object in the shape of the head and hands of the late Pope John Paul II. Golden Numbers and Red Symbol was conceived as a collaborative work and put together under the title Dream of East.
The place and period of the exhibition are is as follows:
This work was made with cooperation from the following people: