Does Agatha Heterodyne whistle while she works?

Here's one of the portrayals of Agatha heterodyning, from 6/6/07 (Volume 7):

Agatha heterodynes while building a coffee machine

Very cool image, but I'm having trouble figuring out precisely what's going on! Is Agatha actually singing? The speech bubble indicates yes, but what about the ghostly music that seems to be floating around the machine - is the music coming from elsewhere too? If so - where? Krosp says she "does that all the time" - does that mean that whenever Agatha is working, she's singing along, too? In other words, just what is Heterodyning, anyway?

Here's the earliest reference (AFAIK), from Volume 1:

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But it's obviously very broad, and it seems contradictory - Agatha knows that the music can be heard ("Listen!"), but she also describes it as "making noises in her head".

In Volume 6, we also see Agatha get her clanks to heterodyne for her - which might imply that anybody can heterodyne (that is, produce the music), though it seems only actual Heterodyne sparks will actually benefit from it.

In short: What is heterodyning? Is it audible music, and does it require Agatha to be singing? Could other sparks heterodyne as well, or is this a magical family-only ability?


2 Answers 2


From what I understood, anybody or anything can perform "heterodyning". The clanks are the best example of this. The main problem must be to do it properly (i.e., produce the correct noise-cancelling noise). Agatha can do it naturally, and could build clanks to do so, but I don't think others can do it so easily.

People seem to recognize the performance, but we never see anyone else doing it by/for itself. and they all seem to be impressed in some way. Of course these are people versed in the history of the family, and in information about sparks.

Last, I would think that while anyone can perform (again, the clanks are an example), the noise is individual-specific. Agatha heterodyning must perform well on herself, but perhaps not on anyone else. Sparks such as Tarvek immediately recognize the song, but concentrate on the effect ("the effect on your mind...") so they may have experimented with such a state, at a lower level. There is a reason why it was called "heterodyning", and Agatha is a Heterodyne.

  • The "doing it yourself" might fit very well with Agatha's gift for making tiny self-replicating, self-improving, clanks. She can heterodyne, and then heterodynes her heterodyning, upon a clank. One wonders if one day some number of them, un-supervised, might author a gray-goo (nanobot) apocalypse. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 20:31

For what it's worth, the source here seems to be real-world heterodynes.

In the real world, heterodyning is the production of two frequencies at once, upon which the two frequencies interfere and form yet a third frequency, or even more. An example is humming and whistling at the same time. Another example is the "beats" produced when two instruments are just slightly out of tune with each other. Heterodyning is also widely used in radio transmission and reception.

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