Looking for Armstrong
Edwin Howard Armstrong (December 18, 1890 – January 31, 1954) was an American electrical engineer and inventor. Among other things, Armstrong invented the modern wide band FM (frequency modulation) radio, an invention that would eventually lead to his death. His lifelong struggle for the rights for his inventions is a prime example of how the copyright and patent laws have never functioned to protect artists and inventors, but have instead always been a tool with which the dominant businesses can maintain the status quo. His legal battle with RCA (Radio Corporation of America), whom not only made it almost impossible for Armstrong to develop his invention by intense lobbying against the technique, but finally plainly stole it from him, lasted for years and in the end it left him financially broken and mentally exhausted. On the last day of January 1954 he wrote a letter to his wife, whom he had violently split up with some time before, put on an overcoat, hat, scarf and gloves, and transmitted himself out through the window of his 13th floor apartment, moving through the air one final time, towards his death below.
Soon RCA started using the FM technology for Television transmissions, blatantly claiming that they had invented the technology. For six years Armstrong fought to defend his patents, ruining himself in the process. RCA intentionally delayed and prolonged the legal case, awaiting the date when Armstrong’s patent would expire. After Armstrong's death his widow finally won the lawsuit against RCA, and since the 60's FM has been the obvious way to transmit radio signal.
Today RCA Records (a subsidiary to RCA, now part of Sony Music Entertainment) is fighting technological development on Internet in a similar manner. New ways to distribute culture are threatening their stronghold over the music industry, so again copyright and patent rights are used to fight development, rather than to protect it.
"Looking for Armstrong" is a scan through unused FM frequencies recorded on the 31st January 2012, exactly 58 years after Edwin Howard Armstrong threw himself out of his window, making himself airborne, if only for a moment, before his brutal end. The piece is often shown as a diptych together with As Above, So Below.