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<nettime> Calling Nettime Radio
Josephine Bosma on Mon, 28 Sep 1998 00:12:08 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Calling Nettime Radio

   "To become like music is the aim of every art"  (1)

This is an edit of texts and interviews that cover a period of two
years. Most of them were published on nettime. I have tried to
investigate radio and art on the net, webcasting in general, and
in connection to that (close by) net.performance and (in the
distance) net.art. I took quite short pieces to make one new text,
adding some sentences where needed. In order to make the text as
flowing as possible, I had to limit myself heavily in the choice of
material. You might miss some of your favorits because of this.


..and indeed, music does differ from every art form, including poetry,
in that it is not concerned with narrative or descriptive aims. Even
in opera, oratorio or 'Lieder', the text or poem does little more then
complement the music. In an important sense, our understanding of a
particular aria or song does not really depend on knowing the text. (2)

You might wonder what this quote has to do with net.radio.
When issues like sampling and mixing are taken far enough they
could even transform radio as we know it. Techniques from media
pioneers and artists have seeped into mass media almost unnoticed.
They probably will continue doing so. Already many documentaries
on both television and radio are on the edge of what was once
journalism. I am not saying straightforward journalism will disappear.
I do think however that under the influence of what is called an
'information overload' and developing technologies not only how
music evolves changes, also our representations of the world
will change. Narrative will not disappear of course: some of it
will just become more complex, sometimes close to ethereal.
Net.radio and net.art overlap. I have tried to proof this in my
first article Waves in the Web, and interviews with pioneers like
Heidi Grundmann and Helen Thorington support this thought. I continue
now with bits and pieces that hopefully form some kind of whole in
your mind. Some small writing was added in between to provide the
cement to build a sound house...

       Background Sounds

To make a good judgement of what radio is in the age of digital media,
the traditional concept of radio has to be overthrown completely. (3)

"About four years ago I became aware of the failing radio system. I
say failing but what I really mean is public radio was turning more
commercial, looking more to the bottom line and the mass audience than
it had in previous years. Stations were depending more on audience
research and what audience research said, of course, was that the kind
of work we do, experimental work, new work, would not command large
audiences or bring money back to the radio stations in the amount
that they thought was important. Slowly documentary and drama,
experimental work, experimental music have all disappeared from the
public radio system." (4)

"A program like Kunstradio and the work of the artists working for
Kunstradio is something alien to the structure of that culture, even
on a cultural channel. We have much more affinity to free radio,
independent radio or to people that work in the web. Its different
alliances that come together and it is very necesary that they do
come together because otherwise... I mean, the commercial pressures
are at any rate so strong that there is a reflection process going on,
whether you call it art or whatever." (5)

Helen Thorington of New American Radio and Heidi Grundmann of
ORFKunstradio each in their way have done their share of net.radio
experiments, and have given support to them. Working with sound on
large projects on the net, projects that could inspire traditional
broadcasters to a different use of the medium internet, asks a lot
of flexibility of the people involved, flexibility traditional
broadcasters need to get used to still...

"The artists have since many years recognised that some type of
technicians have become a co-author of their pieces. They could not
do it without these type of very engaged technicians, who are
themselves challenged by the artists to find different solutions
and so on. Plus there is the aspect that people from different
disciplines are suddenly working together, also from the arts. Some
people come from music art, others come from dance.
There are the people from the visual arts, people from literature,
and they constantly reshuffle in groups to do things. They take on
different tasks, and they are developing new production strategies
for this new kind of conglomerate of media. It is a constant learning,
developing and research process that needs groupings of some sort.
They don't need to be groups for life, but for certain projects.
They also have to look over the borders of one organisation or one
country or whatever. It's a constantly looking out and putting
energy together. Acting to the moment, which is difficult enough to
grasp.  (5)

Not only does the 'crew' need to be flexible, also the idea of the same
sound or program for everybody needs to be dropped. It is no longer
necesary, and often not desirable.

What is most important to learn from (net.radio) experiments, besides
the enormous variety of medialinks possible, is the fact that what is
heard in one place is not necesarely the same as what is heard in
another. Each end of the 'line' can add its own preferences to the
project. What is heard from each computer or in every setting involved,
be it a radiostation that broadcasts the event live, creating its own
version of the signal or a theater/performance space where the project
is processed further and a new signal might be send back, depends on
the technical and creative choices made at that side of project.
As Gerfried Stocker puts it: "When you work with digital sound, when
you start to sample and you have all those soundpieces that can
recombine in several circumstances then you very fast get this idea of
a pluralistic space of possibilities. So I think it is no longer
adequate to think that you have to create a definite masterpiece.
--As soon as we entered digital technology, we lost this position
that we are in control of the result.--"  (3)

Of course this leaves a lot of questions for radio 'broad'casters.
What should or does it sound like? Is it useful to make radio this
way? Does radio have to be useful anyway?

Solutions are not at all visible in any discussion, like the one on
net.art shows that nobody knows a solution, nobody has an answer.
Everybody is asking questions. But what I think is very important
if one is interested at all in culture and what culture is: there
have to be strategies developed for different groups forming again
and again for the purpose of realising different projects. (5)

Considering art in the context of the internet is difficult enough,
let alone net.art.radio.

The whole notion of art has changed to a degree where the name itself
is in question. Many artists question whether they want to call
themselves artists at all. Still there is something going on, which
I think is very important to our culture. Whatever you name it.  (5)

Besides from all this, a very sensitive question arrises with radio
on the net, which is: What to do with those screens? I have talked to
many media-artists, radio- and televisionpeople about this, trying to
get a grip on what future radio would 'look' like. The most specific
quality of radio or audio in general is of course its 'omnipresence',
compared to tv or video, which is locked in a box in the corner. Now
with radio on the net, it has a shiny prison as well. (3)

Heidi Grundmann again: "Radio became changed completely because of
the digitalisation, the computer and the networking with other media.
And so I am today convinced that radio is not only about sound anymore.
I am not happy with the term internetradio myself, but definitely if
there is such a thing, if you webcast something, if you do live
activities in the internet, then its definitely also radio to look
at. Its by no means only about sound. The way radio, especially
commercial radio, the big national organisations, but even on a
community level, has become it is much more obvious now that there
is a kind of what we call "Medienverbund" (media combination/union),
a network of different media.  (5)

Robert Adrian: "Radio is becoming part of what I've called a megamedium.
A medium of recording and transmission which combines all these media. We
are talking about a communications technology in which the communications
element in the recordings changes the notions of space and the recording
also changes the notion of time. We are moving into an era in which we
have completely different notions of time and space developed around
basically the telephone and recording machinery, but fundamentally the
telephone." (3)

The big culturally very relevant thing now is that there is the
commercial conglomerate in this 'Medienverbund' and many even of
the public radios and televisions are looking at the new media as
a field for business. They are hoping to make money, even the ones
that are really uncommercial as radio or televisionstations, hope
that they may get some money out of the so-called new media.
I think suddenly the lines are running on different borders, between
the commercial sector and the cultural non-commercial sector.
I think it is strategically very important to form new alliances
there. (5)

      What do we want to hear today?

Radio, like other media, should be combined, deconstructed and
reconstructed. Radio and other media should not just have extensions
into the net, but the net should also have extensions to the outside.
In the case of radio this means that audiostreams should be used
much more creatively, connecting them to ether and cable stations, legal
or illegal, playing the sound in public places, allowing the audio to be
played with, using connections to television and whatever you can think
of. (3)

"Many different activities spreading up this year. Great beginning for
net.audio environment, I could say, - more diversity is hard to imagine:
fm radios starting on the net, new web-radio projects, sound.arts,
individual self-expressions, different experiments, audio archives, etc.
In the same time there is a lack of the concentrated, edited, compiled
information about those activities. Especially because real audio very
often has been used for short-term broadcastings (like live
transmissions from festival and special events)
Many 'audio' people, I guess, had this idea too- about the necessity of
shared space - alternative broadcasters network, where to discuss and
exchange information and ideas." (6)

An interview with Kathy Rae Huffman, who was involved in the organisation
of Piazza Virtuale of Van Gogh TV, shed some light on another important
aspect of the role of not only art, but also of having many types of
connections and possibilities for interaction with media: it involves
the audience directly, and it makes them aquainted with the media in
a very different way then as purely consumers.

"It's quite fascinating to me that I am meeting people now, in very
strange places, like in Glasgow, or in Spain, people who watched
Piazza Virtuale when they were teenagers, and it changed their life.
So it does make a difference, it really does. These people are now very
active and organizing around issues on the topic. They have no direct
contact with this VGTV, but they knew them.  In some conversations,
when I mentioned what my part was, they say:" Owhaaaaaaoooww, I
remember watching that and jumping up and down and thinking this is
great! Calling everybody I knew and telling them about it.."
Nobody knows these things in the art world, but it must have been going
on in various places around the whole European scene. (7)

Events like these stimulate experimenting with media. They stimulate
a pluriform usage of media. More direct and energetic (physical!)
involvement in the different platforms and channels of more active
people could even be beneficial in that it could help other or new
techniques to be developed or it could (if I may be very optimistic)
prevent unnecesary or undesirable restrictions to be imposed upon the
net by corporate actions and governemental laws. (8)

"First of all, it is the kind of event that makes much more impact
if you can experience it first hand, yourself. Watching a documentary
is a bit voyeuristic and it doesn't translate well. It is really
something where the more people who can be involved in a first hand
way, the better. The problem often is that there aren't enough ways
to establish nodes for public contact." (7)

This kinds of involvement is triggered again with the development
of all kinds of performances, radio and artpractices which use the
net as a tool.

What is most interesting about these experiments for me is how they
connect groups of people over large distances and how they allow for
collaboration between different 'scenes' during performances or
happenings that are open to an outside audience. To say it more
clearly: this is not from studio to studio, from technician to
technician, but from space to space.  (8)

As Monika Glahn and Ulf Freyhoff from XLR put it in email: "The
physical space is the most important for us, and it doesn't NEED
to be connected on the net. The connection via internet of two or more
physical spaces gives the possibility to synchronize those spaces at
least partly and for a certain time. It's an image, located in real
time and real space, for and about information, experience, network,
communication. Translation. Inside and outside. Crossing and melting
borders."  (9)

"The installation/environments that we are building are becoming more and
more theatrical in nature. When everything is plugged in and humming, it
takes a live audience to close the feedback loop." (10)

It is important to give more support to initiatives which connect the
net to physical/public spaces or to get directly involved in these
connections yourself. It prevents the net from becoming a technically
and socially inbred, and thus paralized, entity. It offers us the
challenge of finding new languages, in any sense of the word, to express
and extend net.cultural specific moods, techniques and young (unstable?)
traditions outside of the net. The public and physical space is
naturally most interestingly entered via live events which utilise a
combination of several media and/or 'technologies': for instance the
internet, a room or building, radio and tv-stations, but also fax,
telephone, the human voice or body. Connections that are less direct
and momentary are also conceivable, namely printed press (as in pamflets,
newspapers, magazines or books, in that order) or even slower media
like cinema or the largest part of music industry. (8)

For the groups that inspired me to tell you this, most of what I told
you is not really important. What is important to them is that the net
and the techniques they use offer them: independence. Independence
from broadcasters, from broadcasting laws, independence from difficult
organisational structures around art, music and performance in an
international context, independence from distributors and freedom to
work without too many bounderies and across borders. (8)

"Its no secret that the web has offered artists, performative and
otherwise, an expanded sphere of exposure. That is merely one side
effect of working in this way, as in any broadcasting or publishing
medium. The work I have been involved with involving remote linkups has
sought to explore the medium for more than just its lure of a "larger
audience"."  (10)

"Tune radio rapidly to 75. Tune radio rapidly to 102. And then off."



1  Schoppenhauer, Schriften ueber Musik. 1922.
2  music and abstract painting, Peter Vergo, towards a new art, essays
   on the background to abstract art 1910-1920  Tate gallery, 1980.
3  Waves in the Web, mine, zkp4, May 1997.
4  Helen Thorington, Vienna, Dec 6th 1997.
5  Heidi Grundmann, Ljubljana, May 1997.
6  e-terview, Rasa Smite, Dec 18th 1997.
7  Kathy Rae Huffman, Kassel, Sept 1997.
8  lecture, mine, Vienna, Dec 1997: Recycling the Future.
9  e-terview, Monika Glahn, Ulf Freyhoff, Feb 11th 1998.
10 e-terview, Fakeshop, Jeff Gompertz, Dec 16th 1997.
11 John Cage, Water Music, 1960.

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