Operator? A vintage phone based, oral history project


What is it ?


‘Operator’ is a project borne from the idea the old can be made new, and that stories must be preserved and given new lives of their own. We believe that Vintage Technology isn’t dead technology and that people’s memories and histories deserve to be honoured, captured and brought to new ears whenever possible. In an intimate, ‘phone booth’ setting, ‘Operator’ breathes life into beauitful phones as ways for the participant to both listen to and record people’s memories. Audio is stored ‘inside’ a gorgeous old vintage rotary phone, in a quiet corner of the installation space. ‘Operator’ has been delivered in a number of ways to a number of people in festivals, pubs, malls and parks over the last decade.


Core vision for the idea was delivered and hand built by Heidi Angove, Sasha Grbich and Justin Hawkins and delivered as a part of “Long Distance”, in collaboration with and through support from the Media Resource Centre South Australia and the Port Adelaide Enfield Council in 2009.

How does it work?


In a phone booth or a quiet corner,either indoors or outdoors you’ll see a phone booth or a small table, with an old vintage phone. There will be instructions printed and displayed clearly near the space. Don’t worry, they’re simple to follow and just a couple of dot points really. Participants are invited to pick the phone up, listen for adial tone and via a series of voice prompts, either listen to stories or leave a recorded story / message.


An Old Phone like this:
Sipura SPA 3000 ATA (or other model) / power, RJ45 and ethernet cables
Raspberry Pi 2 or newer / Power cable
8 gig or higher capacity SD card (the better the quality card you buy, the happier you’ll be)
Modem / Router connected to the ATA and the pi (I’ve used a Fritz 7390 before)

Software / code:

  • Latest Raspbian lite release
  • Asterisk
  • Our handwritten config and code available on request via heidi - at - eatmorecode.com (depending on whether your project is commercial or not)

Where the work has been used:

Long Distance - Port Adelaide Festival 2009


5 booths were peppered throughout Port Adelaide. Unattended on plinths in areas as diverse as pubs, lighthouses, shopping malls and visitor information centres in Port Adelaide as a part of the 2009 Port Adelaide Festival, the booths sat as active listening and recording stations. Sasha Grbich collected site specific oral histories for the project. The idea was to pick a phone up and imagine what the space and the story may have been like through a voice that had been there before. It was also a call to action to record your own story about your experience with the spave. It met with great success although being the first time we launched the project, we did have a few tech issues we had to overcome!

What Goes on Tour** - Adelaide Fringe Festival 2010

operator_whatgoesontour2operator-what-goes-on-tour1This closed phone booth was installed in the artists bar for the duration of the Adelaide Fringe ih 2010. The bar was open, often from 2pm until 4am and attracted stories from children who were playing at ‘outerspace’ to drunken revellers mourning lost love. Over 200 stores were collected over a two week period. Here’s a link to a little more info on the project.

Adelaide City Council - Uni SA Hindley St storytelling and placemaking - UniSA 2013

Just ripped the ole phone out for a day of sun and students as a part of gathering ideas and stories centred around the redevelopment of the West End of Adelaide. No visual documentation I am afraid - just a whole bunch of last minute good fun!

My Mate Cath’s memorial - Vitalstatistix August 2018


Justin and I dusted this beautiful old project off and revised the code to suit a new backend and a raspberry pi in 2018. These beautiful audio messages of love and heart were given to Catherine Murphy (Cath Cantlon’s widow and Heidi’s treasured “Honorary Lesbian Auntie”) for her own personal listening and remembering times. We still face a small challenge with regard to the quiet nature of the audio speakers in an old rotary phone and have plans to re-engineer the speakers in our existing kit to suit louder environments.

Would you like to chat about the project ? By all means email heidi– at – slowboil – dot – com to chat.