Radio art

Overview

As a virtual listening gallery and museum for sound, Radio Nouspace is inspired by the legacy radio culture and medium with its emphasis on sound(s) consciously curated and broadcast as related knowledge modalities (i.e. programs) for the purpose of interpreting and distributing information to a broad public. Part of this legacy is the idea and practice of using radio technologies (transmission, airwaves, reception, etc.) as both an artistic medium and a site for creative practice. This inquiry explores radio art as a collision/collusion between the ancient traditions of orality and radio as an instant information access mass communication system. Radio art creates immersive contexts rich with aural and acousmatic narrative opportunities. The transmission capabilities of the radio medium are highlighted because of its ability to reach large audiences, because of the opportunity to utilize the medium in new and different ways, and because the artifact may promote close, attentive listening. Radio art provides new opportunities for sounds from various sources and cultures to create and sustain new narrative strategies and subvert historical media conventions. The result: a new art form, using sound to create art. By broadcasting that art, radio art provides a bridge between art and popular culture.

Outcomes

Presentations and publications based on this inquiry include . . .
Barber, John. "Radio Art: A (mass) Medium Becomes An (artistic) Medium." Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, 17, 2017.

Introduction

Soon after its implementation, early in the 20th century, radio was seen by artists as both a site for artistic practice and a challenging art form in its own right. Called "radio art" or "transmission art," this interplay provides an intermedia framework, prompts a multiplicity of practices, and redefines the relationship(s) between artist and audience, transmitter and receiver, along with the telecommunications airwaves as the site for its practice. [1]

Another, perhaps more accessible metaphor for radio art is experimental, underground, avant-garde sound art created for and distributed via radio. It is a creative practice to explore the potential for radio as an art medium.

Radio art uses radio technologies to create radio art and then transmit (broadcast) a signal containing the radio art to distant listeners for their consumption via receivers, or radios. Radio art is always open to redefinition, intent to put communication tools in the hands of artists / the public for the realization of democratic cultural communication. Radio art addresses the imbalance of sight over sound, how the visual overly influences the way we relate to and think about our daily lives.

Radio art is considered from the perspective that sound, listening, and hearing are real and concrete participatory practices. As a result, radio art is characterized as a collision / collusion between the ancient traditions of orality and the instant information access of mass communication systems.

Radio Art: Roots

Roots of radio art might be seen in the Futurist and Dada movements in Europe. Both movements provide insight and inspiration to contemporary radio artists across a wide range of theory and practice. See the Sound Poetry inquiry for more.

Wizardry on the Air

Hans Flesch
1924
The first examples of using the radio medium to produce art might be the German Hörspiel ("hear play"), a form of radio drama that mixes radio documentary, soundscape, electroacoustic music, and sound editing techniques. In 1924 Radio Frankfurt broadcast "Zauberei auf dem Sender: Versuch euner Rundfunkgroteske [Wizardry on the Air: Attempt at a Radio Grotesque]" written and produced by Artistic Director Hans Flesch. In Flesch's experimental radio drama, a broadcast is interrupted by a wizard who creates chaos in the broadcast studio so to hypnotize the listening audience with sonic illusions (Gilfillan 2009). This broadcast is noteworthy as it experimented directly with the radio medium, drawing critical attention to its framing and contextualizing of the broadcast even while disrupting its continuity and illusion.

Weekend

Walter Ruttmann
1930
Walter Ruttmann's "Wochende [Weekend]" may be the earliest recorded example of radio art. Ruttmann (1887-1941), a German filmmaker, is most noted for his 1927 film Berlin—Symphony of a Great City, a pioneering audio-visual montage that followed the activities of the industrial city and its inhabitants throughout the day. For this documentary film, Ruttmann captured daily life in Berlin with a sound camera. The audio was recorded on the optical track of the film stock.

In 1930, using film stock from Berlin, Ruttmann produced "Weekend" which he presented in theaters as as a sound-only experience. No images were projected on the screen. Audiences listened to the 11 minute 30 second collage of words, music fragments and sounds representing a weekend in Berlin. The effect was a sonification of the visuals one would expect from a film, but a film without images.

"Weekend" was also broadcast on radio, and for that reason is sometimes called a radio play. It certainly may be the first significant experiment with audio montage for radio. Listen to "Weekend." [2]

Resources
Listen to "Ruttmann's Weekend as Routemap to Capitalism" by Ben Watson, available at Internet Archive. Watson plays excerpts from Ruttmann's "Weekend" as introduction to materials which share its social materialism. Watson finds in Weekend the opening chords of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" (1958), as well as predictions of the alarm clock in Johnny Guitar Watson's "It's a Damn Shame" (1977) and more.

Radau um Kasperl [Uproar around Kasperl]

Walter Benjamin
1932
Critical theorist and philosopher Walter Benjamin produced approximately ninety Hörspiele between 1929 and 1933. "Radau um Kasperl" is a good example. Kasperl was a popular figure in puppet theater and popular with children. Benjamin used Kasperl to prompt children to reflect on the radio medium, the different functions and practices of radio, and to illustrate malpractices in seeking large audiences. Two portions of Walter Benjamin's original performance of "Radau um Kasperl" survive. Listen to "Kasperl auf dem Jahrmarkt."

and "Radau um Kasperl: Kasperl in Zoo"

Contemporary Radio Art

After World War II, German Hörspiel artists began experimenting with magnetic tape, producing a number of genre bending soundscapes composed of found or manipulated sounds. These experiments inspired Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, and others who pioneered techniques for tape recording, editing, and splicing. Their "cut-up" techniques are still used today by radio artists to challenge conventional radio broadcasting.

Apollo America

Ferdinand Kriwet
1969
A contemporary upshot is Ferdinand Kriwet's "Hörtexts (Radio Texts)," assemblages of found sounds, sound samples, and noise. Kriwet spent a month in a New York hotel (11 July-11 August 1969) recording everything he could hear from radio and television reports of the Sunday, 20 July 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. He edited these materials into a 21-minute sound-text poem, Apollo America (first broadcast 20 November 1969 as Hörtext VI).

Beyond Germany there are other excellent examples of radio art. American percussionist and sound artist Max Neuhaus (1939-2009) provides two: "Public Supply 1" (1966) and "Radio Net" (1977), both of which used telephone and radio networks across the United States to involve listeners in the production of live, interactive works of sound art distributed by radio.

Public Supply 1

Max Neuhaus
1966
For this work, Neuhaus combined the national telephone network and WBAI radio in New York to generate content for a live broadcast. Neuhaus installed ten telephone lines in the broadcast studio and built a rudimentary telephone answering system. Callers, once connected, could contribute whatever sounds they liked. Neuhaus mixed these sounds together and fed the resulting mix to a microphone, which fed the station program broadcast. Neuhaus likened this work to "forming a dialogue, a dialogue without language, a sound dialogue."

I realized I could open a large door into the radio studio with the telephone; if I installed telephone lines in the studio, anybody could sonically walk in from any telephone. At that time there were no live call-in shows. [. . .] Although I was not able to articulate it in 1966, now, after having worked with this idea for a long time and talked about it and thought about it, it seems that what these works are really about is proposing to reinstate a kind of music which we have forgotten about and which is perhaps the original impulse for music in man: not making a musical product to be listened to, but forming a dialogue, a dialogue without language, a sound dialogue.
(Neuhaus 1994, 21-23)

The original work is over one hour in length. In this three minute sample you can hear that some of the callers are introverted, while others are very extroverted. In either case, at the time of making this work, it was not a familiar experience to hear one's voice on the radio.

Radio Net

Max Neuhaus
2 January 1977
Max Neuhaus described this work as a two-hour, real-time, nationwide "musical composition." Neuhaus used five National Public Radio affiliate stations around the country (WNYC New York, KUSC Los Angeles, KERA Dallas, KSJN Minneapolis, and WABE Atlanta) as origination points. Listeners were invited to call the closest station and whistle a continuous tone into the telephone until they were disconnected by the Neuhaus-built answering system. A self-mixer and various filters looped the sound(s) at the originating station, and then through the five loops provided by each of the participating stations. The end result, a cluster of slowly shifting tones, emerged in Washington, D.C., where it was broadcast across the National Public Radio network 2 January 1977, 5:00-7:00 PM EST. Listen to this short sample from the broadcast.

Resources
"Radio Net" at Ubuweb: sound website
Max Neuhaus official website
"Public Supply I" sample

Radio Event

Anna Halprin
20 November 1969
Another example was "Radio Event." From 30 October 1969-7 June 1973, KPFA radio's (Berkeley, California) Music Department, directed by Charles Amirkhanian, gave artists from various disciplines air time to create situations that physically involved the listening audience, making them active participants rather than passive listeners.

On 20 November 1969, dance choreographer and intermedia artist Anna Halprin led the KPFA audience in a participatory event (Radio Event No. 3: Furniture Mix, 50:59; http://radiom.org/detail.php?omid=RE.1969.11.20.c2) where they were to rearrange their home furniture in time with musical selections played during the radio program and then visualize a fantasy that occurred to them during the process. Listeners / participants were encouraged to call the station and share their fantasies, which were included in the program's conclusion. Musical selections included excerpts from "Goin' Out of My Head," "Live for Life," "Don't Fence Me In," and Renaissance vocal, "Mozart Symphony No. 35." [3]

Radio Art: Manifestos

Radio art also addresses the imbalance of sight over sound, how the visual overly influences the way we relate to and think about our daily lives. The key is listening. Artists have responded with manifestos staking out territories for their practices.

The Kuntsradio manifesto is a good example. Kunstradio, founded in Vienna, Austria 1987, and broadcast weekly on Oesterreich 1, is the cultural channel of Austrian National Radio, ORF. Kunstradio Online was created in 1995 to announce and archive the weekly broadcast. Beginning in 1996, the weekly program and other live projects were streamed via the Internet. The relative ease of access to this content shifted the program focus from performance to installation. Indeed, several projects have evolved where a number of artists utilizing computer networks at locations around the world can interact with constantly evolving and potentially unending online radio art projects.

As a curated on-air gallery for live and recorded projects, Kuntsradio utilizes radio as the content, context, and site of the art it showcases. It is at once an interface, an agency, and a program where international artists can create and explore telecommunications within the current day broadcasting landscape. The Kunstradio manifesto, "Toward A Definition of Radio Art," is notable for both its rhetoric and practical application.

  • Radio art is the use of radio as a medium for art.
  • Radio happens in the place it is heard and not in the production studio.
  • Sound quality is secondary to conceptual originality.
  • Radio is almost always heard combined with other sounds—domestic, traffic, tv, phone calls, playing children, etc.
  • Radio art is not sound art—nor is it music. Radio art is radio.
  • Sound art and music are not radio art just because they are broadcast on the radio.
  • Radio space is all the places where radio is heard.
  • Radio art is composed of sound objects experienced in radio space.
  • Radio of every listener determines the sound quality of a radio work.
  • Each listener hears their own final version of a work for radio combined with the ambient sound of their own space.
  • The radio artist knows that there is no way to control the experience of a radio work.
  • Radio art is not a combination of radio and art. Radio art is radio by artists.

The PizMO manifesto, from a group of sound artists working in France for over fifty years, provides another insight into the mindset of radio artists.

  • We create experiences and ambiances with audio architecture.
  • We are an anonymous collective of artists and musicians experimenting w/ audio & radio.
  • We reactualize a drifting theory thru post-radio, sound-systems and computers.
  • We explore portable, mobile, temporary & immersive audio spaces and campings.
  • We favor loading forms, immaterial works and time-based objects.
  • We experiment with micro-forms & replicas & duplicatas [sic] & palimpsests.
  • We develop social tactics & share a creative, experimental, workspace.
  • We open up a lo- & hi- tech critical audio-lounge and a musical floodnet.
  • We push DIY [Do It Yourself] to DBO (done by other) and finally DWO (done with others) actions.
  • We are not vaporware, software, hardware but listening groupware.
  • We become only operators of the downfall of the centralized systems.
  • We say networks = free co-op production-diffusion-distribution-critical spaces.
  • We extend the virtual home studio to virtually everyone.
  • We provide temporary on-air audio & handy interfaces for spare-time social occupation.
  • We want to extend the idea of soundscape to webscape (soundwalks to webwalks).
  • We want to change the way you listen to the world and to your immediate environment.
  • We expand telematic situations and sonic revolutions.
  • We work on sampled & non-stop streams & audio TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone].
  • We will be able to remain anonymous.
  • We plug our fingers out of your ears.
  • We use nanosounds and macrosounds.
  • We are involved in digital ecology.
  • We want a direct economy.
  • We ignore music industry.
  • We simply do research.
  • We are audio datasquares and we open radiophonic picnics.
  • Wear headphones and switch on your radio. [4]

With an undeniable artistic flourish, these manifestos theorize not only the creation and consumption of new and different aural content but also positioning listening to these sounds as a carefully considered and purposefully conducted activity. In practice, each manifesto suggests radio art as simultaneous acts of collaboration, communication, creation, consumption, and curation.

Radio Art: Stations

The first full time radio art station, established as a work of art, began transmitting 30 June 1988, in West Berlin, Germany. The station was founded by Polish artist Wojciech Bruszewski and German artist Wolf Kahlen. Bruszewski developed computer software to randomize a looping playback of pre-recorded philosophical ideas. Computer synthesized voices represented two characters, Paula and Gary. As each voice recited a random philosophical idea, the appearance was a protracted real time discussion. Bruszewski called his work "Radio Ruins of Art" and envisioned it as an indefinite broadcast of philosophical inquiry using a chance-based playback system. The station stopped broadcasting in November 1989. "Radio Ruins of Art" remains the longest work of radio art broadcast by a radio station dedicated to radio art. Listen to "Radio Ruins of Art."

Resources

Radio art > general

Toward A Definition of Radio Art

pizMO (Intermittent Project of Objective Musical Zone) is a collective or artists working "to develop factual & event musical moments quasi-improvized and programmed starting from digital audio, electronic and data-processing devices. The concert is for them a kind of temporary 'camping' (free laptop party or open audio streaming), acapamentos, a temporary interface of their non-stop activities on the networks and the medias which they explore (radio, edition, p2p, streamings, etc). During these events, they join friendly real time video collectives." Check out the "manifesto," "links," and "mp3" sections of the website.

Radiocasting: Musings on Radio and Art

Radio Art: Broadcast or Outcast?

"Radio Art: An Acoustic Media Art Form"

Radio art > artists

Anna Friz Website for international sound and radio artist Anna Friz. Spend some time here. Listen and learn. And, check out the "links" section for even more great resources for radio and transmission arts.

Felicity Ford Website for sound artist Felicity Ford, who uses sound to animate, describe, and explore the physical world.

Magz Hall radio art Website for Magz Hall, research scholar exploring the rich history of radio as an artistic medium and the relationship between radio as an artistic medium, the artist, and the technology.

Radio arts > festivals

RadiaLx International radio art festival held in Lisboa, Portugal, every two years

radioCona is a temporary project radio for contemporary arts, produced by CONA (Institute for Contemporary Arts Processing; http://www.cona.si/), Slovenia. Launched in 2008, it is a platform that uses the radio frequency space in art contexts. FM frequency is understood as public space, explored from different perspectives and mediated through artworks audiobooks, programming and exhibitions. radioCona is intervention into public space.

New Adventures in Sound Art Explores new sound technologies in conjunction with the creation of cultural events and artifacts. Sponsors the Deep Wireless Festival each year in Toronto, Canada.

Radio arts > programs, stations, networks

Radia Network is an international consortium of radio stations (mostly European) producing radio art, experimental radio, and creative radio. Their mission: "Bringing new and forgotten ways of making radio to listeners." A new radio art program is produced each week by one of the member stations, and aired by all others. Each round of shows is called a "season." Access all their programs through this website.

Silence Radio Begun in 2005, Radio Silence provides opportunities for artists to express themselves via radio art. The website is entirely in French.

Soundproof, no longer in production, formally offered by RN, a radio production house in Australia, was a showcase of radio art, soundscapes, performance and composed audio features that explored a space where voice, noise, and music fused together. Past programs are available at this link.

Notes

[1] To me, radio art is different from transmission arts, a multiplicity of practices—performance like video art, theater, media installation, networked art, and acoustic ecology—that engage aural and video broadcast media. Often, transmission arts are live, participatory, time-based, dynamic and fluid, always open to redefinition, intent to put communication tools in the hands of artists / the public for the realization of democratic cultural communication networks. As a result, the media are used in ways different from their original (commercial) intention. This interplay prompts redefinition(s) between artist and audience, transmitter and receiver, along with the telecommunications airwaves as the site for its practice.

A fine anthology of transmission artists and their work(s) is Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves by Galen Joseph-Hunter with Penny Duff and Maria Papadomanolaki (New York: PAJ Publications, 2011). Joseph-Hunter and Papadomanolaki note transmission arts offers a great deal of latitude and creative license to artists and content providers, and future radio assures a medium for its transmission.

Regarding the overlap of radio + transmission art, I think specifically of how they might be used as sites for narrative and storytelling. Some questions.

  • What has comprised radio art historically?
  • How was this work created, transmitted, and received?
  • What might be done with sounds (other than the human voice) not possible before digital technology to create and share compelling radio / transmission arts that is both global in scope and local in focus?
  • Could radio / transmission arts provide a venue for narrative?
  • Are there ideas / inspiration to be drawn from Zeega.org, a website purporting to be inventing new forms of interactive and collaborative storytelling using an open-source platform?
  • What stories might be told using radio / transmission arts?
  • How might these stories be told?
  • How could these narratives/stories benefit from opportunities for interactivity, collaboration, and social networking among the listeners and between the participants (neé listeners) and the program itself?
  • How could these efforts help to recenter sound as the primary form of sensory input, even while it is part of a mix of multimedia?
  • How would we approach the challenge of producing and streaming an original drama for web-based radio?
  • What might be undertaken in conjunction with such a project (promotional/educational materials, website, social media, etc.) to increase its effectiveness and opportunities for social engagement?

[2] Walter Ruttmann's "Weekend" recalls Luigi Russolo's "Risveglio di una citta [Awakening of a City]," which paid homage to the tumult, speed, and noise of a modern city. Learn more.

A connection might also be made between Ruttmann's "Weekend" and "The City Wears A Slouch Hat" by Kenneth Patchen and John Cage. Patchen wrote the script for this radio drama. Cage composed live and recorded sound effects. Every scene in Patchen's drama, narrated by "The Voice," is accompanied/interpreted by Cage's percussion / sound effects, creating an aural imagery that permeates every aspect of the imaginary city.

[3] Listen to "Radio Event No. 3: Furniture Mix"
See Inter-Media & Visual Arts at the radiom.org website for information and listening opportunities for episodes 1-5, 7-9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, and 23.

[4] pizMO (Intermittent Project of Objective Musical Zone) is a collective of artists working "to develop factual & event musical moments quasi-improvized and programmed starting from digital audio, electronic and data-processing devices. The concert is for them a kind of temporary 'camping' (free laptop party or open audio streaming), a temporary interface of their non-stop activities on the networks and the medias which they explore (radio, edition, p2p, streamings, etc). During these events, they join friendly real time video collectives." The "links," and "mp3" sections of the website are useful and insightful.

Works Cited

Gilfillan, Daniel. Pieces of Sound: German Experimental Radio. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 2009.

Neuhaus, Max. "Rundfunkarbeiten und Audium [Broadcast works and Audium]" Transit, Zeitgleich [a June 1994 arts and media conference], Vienna 1994, 21-23.