One of the strangest stories in Modernism is the collaboration between Austrian film star Hedy Lamarr and American avant-garde composer George Antheil, who in 1940 received a joint patent for a torpedo-control mechanism, intended as part of the war effort against Germany. The proposal combined Lamarr’s theoretical idea of “frequency hopping” with Antheil’s close practical familiarity with player-piano technology. Although never put into practice, the patent proved in the long run to be the basis for spread-spectrum technology, which became fundamental to contemporary communication devices such as the cell phone. This paper addresses their theoretical and technological insights as it pertains to military targeting, music, cinema and wartime propaganda.
Scott W. Klein is Professor and Chair of the Department of English at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, and, with Mark Antliff, the editor of the forthcoming essay collection Vorticism: New Perspectives (Oxford University Press).
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