A Human Fax Machine

We walked into class and were handed a harmonica, 2 pieces of butchers paper and a set of instructions to research and reproduce the fax machine.

Our “Code”:

We began discussing the potential ways we could communicate images through sound, and immediately ruled out the pixel-by-pixel notation that an actual facsimile machine uses, because to get decent resolution would require a huge number of dots. We considered operating as an etch-a-sketch; signals for up/down/left/right. However, this doesn’t even allow for diagonal lines, let alone curved ones (unless you’re operating on a huge grid).

We settled on communicating coordinates; creating a dot-to-dot image.  A system that proabably had more faults than redeeming qualities.

Our Rationale:

An image, a simple but detailed picture of a mountain-scape, was set in front of half the group. The other half, pen and butchers paper grid ready, must have heard our groans. We would have struggled with curved lines, and this had dimensions and shading.

(I can’t find our actual image but this is similar)
We wanted to reduce our image to a grid

We assumed that we would be able to reduce it to basic lines in a grid, but were unprepared for the complexities.

We were also overlooked the issues that eventually arose when trying to communicate (20,20) on a harmonica in the hands of an asthmatic.


What we were prepared for was “The Handshake”. We had a system for acknowledging the start and conclusion of a transmission. When communicating with sound (or any medium) however, there is always going to be the issue of noise. In a loud classroom with several groups trying to transmit their images signal differentiation became a bit part of that. Which was fine until our asthmatic transmitter ran out of puff. We just needed to try and control, as best we could the Signal:Noise ratio.

But overall the biggest issue was resolution.

How does the artist ‘code’ the information in the line/ abstract drawing/ prints? For example, what information is being omitted? What is being retained? What determines this process?


The original image has already lost resolution. Deliberately. The artist makes decision about what is or isn’t included in an artwork; or what style they chose to communicate that image. And each time we reproduce that artwork we loose more resolution. Just as the original artist reduced perspective, depth and colour to shaded lines ans white space, we reduced his/her artwork to lines and dots.

We like to believe we are retaining the most important information when we compress the image. But that process is completely subjective because have have to interpret where value is placed. And as we began drawing grid lines over someone else’s artwork we made ourselves part of that proccess.

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