Just As I Thought

Signals from above


The other evening, I noticed a strange set of four circles, rotating, on the Adobe corporate headquarters downtown. Surprise! It’s art!


The other evening, I noticed a strange set of four circles, rotating, on the Adobe corporate headquarters downtown. Surprise! It’s art!
I wrote it up over at Silicon Valley Visitor for those of you who are interested.
It’s called San José Semaphore, and it is sending out a coded message — it is left up to the viewer to decipher, a task aided by a continuous radio broadcast of letters, numbers, and musical tones. (You can watch and hear a simulcast of the Semaphore here.) Parts of the broadcast are from “numbers stations,” the mysterious shortwave broadcasts that experts agree are meant for spies.
I’ve always been fascinated by the numbers stations, partly because they are endlessly creepy — a weird, usually computer-generated voice, reading what seems to be a random list of numbers, eerily plucked from the skies late at night. San José Semaphore takes it a step farther, adding the lit circles and bloopy sound effects to create a little whimsy around the creepiness.

SEMAPHORE: a visual apparatus for communicating messages over distance.

San José Semaphore, by artist Ben Rubin, is a permanent public artwork commissioned by Adobe Systems Incorporated in collaboration with the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affair’s Public Art Program.

Located within the top floors of Adobe’s Almaden Tower headquarters in San José, California, San José Semaphore is a multi-sensory kinetic artwork that illuminates the San José skyline with the transmission of a coded message. Cracking the coded message is posed as a challenge for the public.

San José Semaphore’s four ten-foot wide illuminated disks rotate every 7.2 seconds, engaging viewers with a steady, glowing, and purposefully moving presence. The artwork’s illuminated disks perform a kind of mechanical dance as a method of communication. A low-power radio broadcast provides a soundtrack that is audible within 2-3 blocks of the Almaden Tower on AM 1680. An online simulcast provides a way to see and hear the piece remotely.

San José Semaphore began its transmission on August 7, 2006.

1 comment

  • Cool! What an innovative work of art. Ah, the numbers stations. Reminds me of when I was a kid and came across shortwave radio… all those numbers and beeps and ticks. Fascinating.

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