Like much of Paul DeMarinis’ work, Tongues of Fire recontextualizes functional, yet antiquated, technology in a modern setting. The piece utilizes a precursor to the oscilloscope, the manometric flame apparatus, which was invented by Rudolph Koenig in 1862. The manometric flame apparatus measured sound waves by adjusting the flow of a flammable gas into chamber through a vibrating diaphragm.
In Tongues of Fire, DeMarinis sought to draw attention to the physical embodiment of speech as sound, demonstrating the relationship between spoken word, wave, and signal. DeMarinis played the words of George W. Bush on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq into the apparatus while recording it with a modified antique bellows camera. The modified camera captured the flame using a technique called “slit-scan photography”, which allowed the changes in the flame over time to be recorded continuously onto a roll of film. Every 15 seconds of the political speech resulted in 31 inches of film.
The piece highlights the incendiary and destructive potential of speech by connecting cultural connotations of flame with the image of the waveform, which has become commonplace in modern, digital society.