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<nettime> net.radio days (a belated report)
adam on Tue, 22 Sep 1998 02:23:30 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> net.radio days (a belated report)

Below is an article I wrote for the Australian Network for Art and
Technology to report back to them about net.radio days 98 (ANAT
supported my attendance). It is a rather late review but I am
responding to a request to post it here incase some of you are
interested. I hope you enjoy reading it.

adam hyde

Binary Dispatches

by Adam Hyde

net.radio days 98 (www.art-bag.net/trimmdich/anno.htm) was this year's
manifestation of the annual Radio Days forum, exploring the innovation
and experimentation of radio art.  This year's conference was hosted in
Berlin in June of this year. It was a symposium focused on a new
generation of streaming media practitioners, utilising software such as
Real Audio to broadcast audio content live on the internet.  This
phenomena is being dubbed, net.radio.  

The conference was hosted by two organisations, the aspiring Mikro
(www.mikro.org), a collection of academics, net.prophets, info addicts
(and the occasional practitioner), and Convex TV
(www.art-bag.net/convextv), a group of young Berliners that have
established a web presence to archive their fortnightly radio shows on
Berlin University radio.  Though not a triumph of modern organisational
practice, it was indeed chaotic and, at times, positively disorganised,
the conference was inspirational.  In fact net.radio days was one of
the most efficacious and interesting symposiums I have attended.  

net.radio days 98 was attended mainly by participants of the Xchange
community (xchange.re-lab.net), an email list formed to facilitate
communication between artists and enthusiasts of sound art, radio and
the internet.  Xchange is a relatively recent phenomena, arising out of
the possibilities offered by streaming media within the past 12 - 18
months.  Though the idea of broadcast on the internet is older than
this by some margin, the utilisation of streaming media differentiates
net.radio from other net practice. This distinction formed, whether
knowingly or subconsciously, the subtext for the conference. 

There were about 15 presentations over the 3 days, with lectures
covering a broad range of topics, from examples of individual
practices, digital broadcasting, midi audio technologies, net.radio
collaborations, historical perspectives on broadcasting, and streaming
media software.  I found all these presentations interesting but some
were only obliquely relevant to the practice of net.radio. However some
talks were wholly captivating. 

One of my favourite addresses was by Convex TV's Martin Conrads who
spoke creatively on the intersection of net.radio and pop-culture. He
delved into many radio icons within literature, including Isaac Asimovs
"Harmoniums", a story about birds which feed on radiowaves, and an
anecdote about a scientist interested in finding the radio frequency
emitted by individual planets. 

Co-founder of the nettime mail list, Pit Schultz gave a lecture about
the disadvantages of over-theorising net.radio. During his illuminating
address, he identified the <<nettime> culture as an example of a
context unnecessarily stifled by academia, and warned Xchange to evade
excessive intellectual hierarchy.

PHD student, Golo Foellmer gave an interesting lecture entitled 'Sound
in the net'. At first his speech seemed to be only a minimal overview
of net.audio, profiling well known internet audio software and web
audio interfaces like Beatnik and MPEG.  His presentation was
interesting, not because of its detail or depth, but because it
provided a challenge to the net.radio practitioners, to venture outside
the limits of Real Audio and converge streaming media with other forms
of net.audio.

I attended net.radio days as a representative of Adelaide (Australia)
based net.radio station r a d i o q u a l i a
(www.radioqualia.va.com.au) to present one of our projects, self.e x t
r a c t i n g.radio (.ser). .ser  is a net.radio project exploring and
critiquing public access broadcasting within an internet environment.  
.ser's attempts to empower new users of internet based broadcast media,
by allowing any web user to add audio files to an internet radio
station playlist, through an automated web interface.

Central to the philosophy of .ser is the belief that broadcasting is an
impoverished art.  The resources to broadcast are rare and those with
the privilege to broadcast are unwilling to take the risks necessary to
explore the potential of the media. The distribution of those resources
is the only way that the medium will realise its capacity. Only when
broadcast media is in the hands of people who are prepared to make
mistakes and explore the communicative and experimental aspects of the
media, will broadcasting achieve its potential. .ser is a simple
experiment in the distribution of the mechanisms of broadcasting. 

The presentation of .ser was positively received, providing the impetus
for the discussion of many provocative issues about the relationship
between radio and the internet.  Some of the pivotal themes explored in
discussion centered around the contrasts between traditional radio and
net.radio, and the political and practical restrictions of both media. 
Much is made about the utilitarian potential of the internet and its
ability to deconstruct traditional systems of information regulation,
and net.radio has been no stranger to this rhetoric.

net.radio is "desktop radio". Soft environments replicating the
techniques of arcane processes.  But the simplicity of Real Audio is
something that amateur ham radio enthusiasts never had. Netcasters are
able to replicate the obsessive copper coil windings and practiced drop
soldering techniques of their analogue counterparts, by clumsily
crashing away at a keyboard. No need for diodes, resistoids,
capicitrons. It is the technology of the hobbyist. Able to leap Dick
Smiths in a single bound, the zeal of the handset radio heritage
repurposed for more utilitarian purposes. It would seem the meek have,
at last, inherited the earth.....

Of course, this is familiar techno utopianism.  Though production of
net.radio is simpler than traditional radio, ironically consumption, is
much more complicated. The ability to listen is entirely contingent on
audiences' access to a computer and an internet connection.  Freedom of
speech / information is no less regulated by technology and money on
the internet than it is in any other broadcast or publishing context.
No matter how beneficial or admirable the information is, without
resources and technology it can not be transmitted.  These resources
are still moderated by money and other societal systems of regulation. 
Hence the impact a net.broadcaster has on the media environment is

The conference also provided the opportunity for many debates
(www.art-bag.net/convextv/ram/7398.ram) including a public forum at the
end of the last day. I am most indebted to Josephine Bosma for the long
discussions we had about the difference between radio and net.radio. 
These questions have continued to occupy my thoughts.

Increasingly I believe radio can do everything net.radio can. It can be
interactive, as with examples like  talkback, it can be transmitted
live from remote locations, it can 'mix streams', it can operate on a
small scale, it can circulate challenging or 'minority focused'
content, and can even be combined with television to deliver visual
elements to broadcasts. 

It seems to me one real difference between the two is not content, but
the method by which each distributes information. While net.radio is
wired, radio is wireless, and this difference opens up interesting
opportunities for examination within creative contexts. r a d i o q u a
l i a is presently examining these ideas through The Frequency Clock
(to be presented at INFOWAR, this year's Ars Electronica symposium), an
experiment examining the methods of disseminating audio content through
net.radio and micro-FM.

A quote by Martin Conrads for me best sums up an embryonic, yet
critical facet of an emerging net.radio identity,  "radio does not have
to have content".  This comment alludes to the fact that radio in its
purest sense is radiowaves, not the content that is carried along these
frequencies.  He is proposing that radio can be purely about the
traversal of data.  Communication as decoration.  And why should we
require ornaments to be productive?  We can, if we choose, utilise
decoration, in a wholly inconsequential way.  

And after all, choice is what we came here for.

adam hyde (with thanks to honor harger)

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