This short text was written for the target.audience=0 panel at net.congestion -
International Festival of Streaming Media, in Amsterdam, October 2000.
It attempts to point to some aspects relevant to the theme from the practice of KUNSTRADIO.
At the net.congestion conference, in response to Eric Kluitenberg, I let myself be carried away with references to the history of telecommunication art which seems to me to contain many examples of "sovereign media"
Here it may suffice to refer to two quotations, 16 years apart, which suggest that, in spite of the speed of change in telecomm technology - with all its social ramifications - our culture still needs to be reminded of the difference between broadcasting and networking.
"[Artists' use of] electronic communications means that no actual object is exchanged. It is in the ephemeral immediacy of the exchange that the meaning of the work exists. Slow-scan TV, like mail art, is a sharing activity. It cannot be passively viewed like TV or video or a painting or a performance, it demands a reply...a dialogue between producers."
(Eric Gidney quoting Robert Adrian in: "The artist's Use of Telecommunications", in: ART and TELECOMMUNICATION", Western Front/BLIX. Vancouver/Wien, 1984).
"Many-to-many communications....tend to ephemerality and instability, and are easily and typically altered in the process of interpretation. Unlike a film, the 'text' of a dialogue is an evolving fabric. Even where the dialogue is mediated by technologies like e-mail and IRC, each contribution is unstable, like a move in chess, a challenge awaiting a response, incomplete in itself."
(Sean Cubitt: Virilio, Ecology and the Media. Paper Given at the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference, University of Birmingham, 2000; published on Nettime)
BUT IS IT RADIO?
by Heidi Grundmann
1. Wireless Radio
Kunstradio, a weekly radio program of radio-art founded in 1987 is what one would call a minority program - late at night (every Sunday, 11 - 12 p.m.) on the cultural channel of the Austrian National Radio (ORF) and, as with all cultural channels, Oesterreich 1 is itself a minority channel. The usual instruments assessing listener figures are not even capable of measuring the audience of late night programs on such channels. In Austria all later evening programs on the cultural channel are registered in the category "between 0 and 18.000 listeners" (finer tuning impossible).
And indeed, a program like Kunstradio is not kept on air because of listener-figures but in spite of them - as a fig leaf for the system of Public National Radio as a cultural institution surrendering all too readily to infotainment pressures and the tyranny of audience ratings.
In the context of the zero-audience a radio programme must seek its contributors and public beyond the borders of conventional radio, by developing strategies that circumvent the bureaucracy of the broadcasting institutions. Kunstradio, by producing international events, symposia, special projects like "Long Nights of (Live-) Radio Art", exhibitions, installations, CDs and catalogues, became known in Austria, Europe and around the world to people who had never heard the actual radio program. In this way Kunstradio could be said to have created a "public" but not an "audience" - gaining recognition and attention (in the sense of the notion of "the attention economy") which in turn attracted artists (local and international) as contributors, supporters and listeners.
While radio-drama or new-music programs - sharing the same 0 to 18OOO category as Kunstradio - are attractive to writers and composers as opportunities for the realisation and performance of finished works, "radio artists", working in the low-budget/high-motivation framework of Kunstradio-projects, are more concerned with radio as a specific cultural space. This also means that radio artists, coming as they do from diverse media and backgrounds (visual art, literature, music, etc.), tend to be interested in addressing the space of Public Radio as an aspect of today's hybrid mediascape. The work of radio-artists thus routinely challenges the conventions of broadcasting, reflecting on the metamorphosis of the radio medium under the impact of digitalisation and the hybridisation/convergence of the communications media.
Being located inside a public radio institution (in the belly of the beast, so to speak) has sometimes made it possible to exploit not only the institution's technical resources but also its mainstream programme formats. For instance there have been projects where artists were able to infiltrate other programmes and/or channels of the ORF beyond the marginalised late-night ghetto, inserting radio-art into Oe3, the pop music channel, or into one or other of the regional channels. Such interventions outside of the gallery-like space of the weekly radio-art program are most successful if they are not perceived as art but as incidents in the public space of everyday radio, anticipating an audience of passers-by who may or may not stop or hesitate for just a brief moment of irritation or even reflection. The message of such interventions is usually just their "difference" - something other than the accustomed every-day radio format: dog stories phoned in by listeners and inserted into the daily programme, sounds from steelworks, tap-dancing, phone-in projects asking listeners not to talk but to transmit everyday sounds or the live sounds of birds and frogs from the Danube marshes using a complex collage of high-tech equipment intended for the broadcast of major sport events or papal visits.
On the other hand, institutional resources have also been utilised in the opposite way. Artists, with the help of friendly engineers, have made unauthorised use of local ORF frequencies (usually used for live reporting from outdoor events) to open up the space of exhibitions and installations - not so much to audiences, who could only come upon these (internal) frequencies by chance, but as a principle statement to render the traditionally closed exhibition space 'radiant', in the sense of radiating elements of the installations into the world. For instance, during 'Zeitgleich' 1995,(1) an exhibition of sound installations, several projects were partly present on the temporary 107.7 FM frequency.
2. Hybrid Radio
In the early 90s, artists with a background in telematic art began to explicitly integrate radio into their horizontal, telephone-based projects - projects in which radio, being just one medium in a collage of many different media, was infected with other models of communication (one-to-one, group-to-many, many-to-many). With these projects it was already becoming clear that the privileged one-to-many broadcast paradigm was not sustainable in the new, horizontal, media landscape. A symptom of this new environment was the existence of programs like Kunstradio in public radio institutions which allowed artists access to the whole range of radio technology. This meant access not only to radio's infrastructure of production, presentation and distribution but, most of all, to its systems of existing transmission lines and its institutional networks linking producers, technicians and broadcasting time in radio stations all over the world. Collaboratively developing elaborate strategies to appropriate all these facilities at different locations, the artists created, "... virtual stages, based on interaction and telepresence, on which the participants temporarily meet ... Instead of vertically demarcating sender and receiver, they were aiming for platforms of reciprocal transmission." (2)
In projects like Horizontal Radio '95 (3) and Rivers & Bridges '96 (4), the hybrid collaging of old and new media - using all possible lines and connections between radio stations around the world (plus the nascent WWW) - hundreds of artists, collaborators and participants were linked in an unique world-wide community of all kinds of radio programs and channels for 24 hours. These projects involved an on-air audience of millions of radio listeners/participants, on-site audiences of hundreds for performances in some locations and some (a dozen?, a hundred?) on-line participants in the still marginal internet. The short wave of Ostankino Radio (Moscow), multicultural FM channels in Australia, youth channels of national radios, pirate radios, community radios, a vast Eastern Mediterranean sub-network with unknowable dimensions based on Italy, etc., were all producing local radio versions of Horizontal Radio or Rivers & Bridges and feeding them back into the network. This simultaneous horizontal flow between dozens of stations and artists, created bizarre - sometimes chaotic, often exhilarating - mixes incorporating fragments from pieces based on many different styles, traditions and theories of art. Such networked hybrid radio art projects, being collages in the 'many to many' communication mode, are intrinsically subject to "ephemerality and instability " as well as the loss of control by the artist/contributor: an instability defining the shared space in which individual interpretations are constantly being absorbed into new versions of a collective work which is imperceptible as a whole. It seems that in such projects no matter how elaborate a finished piece of art may be in its formulation or intention, it is overridden by a paradigm which knows not only that "the finished work of art is a thing of the past" (Tom Sherman) but also that the radio artist "has no control over the experience of a radio work" (Kunstradio Manifesto)(5).
3. Wired Radio?
Preoccupied by their struggle for survival in the face of the current neo-liberal broadcasting ideology, it took a very long time for the public radio institutions - at least in Europe - to recognise the dynamic changes in media consciousness created by the internet. This meant that it was minority programmes like Kunstradio who (against incredible institutional resistance) joined the alternative groups in the exploration of the WWW as a medium for art.
In April, 1995 'Kunstradio On Line'
"......on the Internet, the listener has greater control over their listening or viewing experience of radio. It is an immediacy that she achieves through the hypermediacy of the windowed interface. She now listens to Internet radio with a mouse in one hand while she looks at a web page; she reads rubrics as she listens and may change the order of materials by clicking on the links provided." (6)
4. Listening to the Internet
When Kunstradio On Line started in 1995, it was primarily understood as an extension - or visualisation - of the weekly radio broadcast. But the rapid improvement in streaming technology, compression algorithms and bandwidth have effectively reversed the roles: The non-stop flow of the internet now increasingly dominates the clock-based, scheduled broadcast medium. This shift from radio-oriented to web-oriented production is demonstrated very clearly in 'on air-on line-on site' projects in which the radio programme, once the point of origin of every collaborative, collectively produced project, has gradually become merely a short, time-framed window, listening to a much larger - potentially unending - networked world. The physical space of the 'on site' installations and the broadcast 'on air' space of radio, once viewed as the 'real' project - with the 'on line' network simply creating the links - have now become elements or episodes in the continuum of an internet-based "on line" project. Three recent 'on air-on line-on site' projects illustrate this shift quite clearly: Immersive Sound, 1998, 5 weeks non-stop(7), Sound Drifting, 1999, 9 days and nights with 16 remote nodes processing around the clock(8) and the open-ended (work-in-progress) 'devolve into', 2000 (9).
This redefinition of radio as a potential listening point to the ongoing sound of the Internet also means that any radio can become the audience of any other radio program which happens to be on line. This changing role of radio - a cause for angst and panic among the managers and producers in the traditional broadcasting institutions - is understood by many people both inside and outside the institutions as an exciting and positive challenge to explore new hybrid forms of communication and content. Disregarding the cumbersome institutionalised product-oriented program exchange infrastructure of the big radio institutions, individual programs like GOLEM (a cult program on the RAI - Italian National Radio - dealing with media) or Kunstradio and probably many others can now use their slot on the National Radio as a possibility to explore the "sonorit?" of the Internet: "sounding the sounds of the Internet" - and thereby producing "images" for the ever-changing hybrid mediascape.
"The vocation of an art of the kind that reflects on electronic crowds and networks is not the representation of the visible world but the visualisation of what is otherwise inaccessible to perception and is difficult to imagine." (10)
The collaborative preparation - conceptualising, setting up of parameters for the development of on air-on line-on site projects in on line discussions and/or face to face meetings as well as the raising of money and other resources at each location etc., makes the participants in such projects the first vitally interested and participatory "audience" of what is happening at all the other nodes. Of course the adage, "the audience of an artist is other artists" also applies to other genres of art, but in collaborative, networked projects the existence of the whole project depends on the ability of each location to function successfully as a node in the network. So participating artists really need to check out what the others are doing and, in a way, the term "zero audience" becomes an oxymoron as it would lead to the demise of the project as a whole.
The distributed authorship implicit in this description means that the content and shape of each sub-project is left to the artists at each location, the main purpose being: To be connected according to certain minimal parameters for a negotiated time. It naturally followed therefore, that in the 'Immersive Sound' and 'Sound Drifting' projects, machines generating sounds and, in some cases images, took over from the human initiators once the project got going. (The complex history of arriving at this state of affairs cannot even be touched upon here). The artists stayed on as an active "audience" checking for failures and break-downs. At some locations the networked generating and processing system was rendered for temporary 'on site' or 'on air' audiences while 'on line' it was just there, actively streaming from many locations around the clock - an 'on line' installation simply communicating with the other machines in the network and oblivious to human visitors.
As radio becomes ".... a multi channel reality, which can function interactively and in which the user has choices to link the different channels - meaning that each of these different channels has to - at least marginally - have the capability of being linkable." (11), artists are positioning their work in awareness of control-sharing with machines and other artists and of the importance of site- or channel-specific parameters. In spite of - or because of - the inevitability of the loss of control, once the specific project is published 'on line-on air-on site', the artists do have to keep an "audience" (machines, other artists, passers by, listeners, gallery-visitors etc) in mind from the very beginning of conceptualising a project. Listener figures, eyeballs or whatever those who are selling products call their consumers, are definitely not their concern. "Processing not Producting" is one of their guide-lines for working with, and in, a radio which has become pure flow, a multi-channel experience available only in very personal versions and never as a whole.
"Under conditions of global finance capital, information wants to be paid for, but communication still seeks to be free...the emergence of diasporan networks as a counter-model for planetary communication proposes not the preservation but the translation of data." (12)
The multi-channel experience has historical roots in hybrid conferencing techniques (Multi Mode Node Electronic Conferencing or 'MMNEC') used in educational and cultural projects in the 70s. Then, as now, it was very often the connectivity - the translation of data between diverse media and nodes and the reflection of these processes - which counted and not any specific content.
'devolve into', part of the KUNSTRADIO contribution to net.congestion, is a new open ended generative project, processing, translating data, decaying and growing, whether anybody visits it or not. 'devolve into' is also a project that explicitly refers to the aesthetics of Slow Scan Television in early telecommunication projects including MMNEC satellite projects.
Kunstradio's entire contribution to net.congestion is titled "BUT IS IT RADIO?" - including a briefly commented overview of streaming projects from the Kunstradio archives and the on demand file of a radio-piece by Rupert Huber broadcast on Oct 8th 2000 using net.congestion streams as its material.
2) Ars Electronica catalogue, 1995
6) Jay David Bolter, Richard Grusin: Remediation. Understanding New Media, The MIT Press, 1999)
10) Margaret Morse: Virtualities, Indiana University Press, 1998.
11) Andrea Sodomka, in an interview with the author, 1999.
12) Sean Cubitt: Virilio, Ecology and the Media. Paper Given at the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference, University of Birmingham, 23 June 2000; published on Nettime.