|Radio Territories is an ambitious collection of essays, writings, and audio files—probing histories, cultures, geographies, economies, communities, logics, ontologies, technologies, aesthetics, and politics—that examines the performative potential of radio to create, erase, dislodge, and remake spaces. Yet its ambition is steadfastly grounded: each contributor is firmly located in concrete practices, i.e., sonic territories. The contributors are a mix of sound artists, journalists, theorists, and teachers. The contributions range from multimodal essays to performance scripts to radio/sound artists examining implications of their practices to historical examinations of key moments of radio culture. Through all of this seemingly discordant work, the theme of radio art as public praxis emerges as a zero-point of orientation, highlighting both performance and place, and delivering on the promise of the title.
To soften the impact of the necessary sonic poverty of writing about radio, the collection includes an audio CD that is just as eclectic and ambitious and grounded as the essays themselves. I played this CD in my car stereo for two weeks, and throughout that time found myself being freshly surprised by sounds with strange directionalities, and by deceptively playful vocal texts. Several of the audio tracks are creations of the authors in the book, and these pieces supplement and enhance their essays. The audio excerpt for LIGNA’s “The Future of Radio Art, ” for example, is a “straightforward” narration of a part of the script in the book, but it enacts its territorial function as sound. Though the performance piece itself cannot be fully captured on an audio track—as the recordings are supposed to play from several big radios installed in a public urban environment creating a dispersed voice from nowhere/everywhere—the track helps readers imagine the immersive disorientation of such a territorial performance.
[excerpt from LIGNA's "The Future of Radio Art." run time: 2:23]
Several of the other tracks are recordings of radio art projects, samples from pirate radio stations, recordings of galactic transmissions and “radio debris,” recordings created by multinodal networked technologies, magnetic field recordings, and reprocessed transmissions that “perform an open pattern over the mediascape” (254).
["Space Stream" by Jason Kahn. "Composed from live audio streams of Jupiter's radio transmissions, solar bursts and galactic background radio noise." run time: 7:10]
This collection will be of interest to artists, scholars, and activists with an ear toward cultures of sound. The case studies keep the collection grounded and lively. In the theoretical register, there is a strong presence of continental thinkers (such as Benjamin, Brecht, Deleuze and Guattari, Kogawa, and the Situationists) and contemporary composers (like Cage, Oliveros, Stockhausen, and Lucier). What is impressive about the theoretical touchstones in these essays in not their complexity and breadth (though that is certainly present in these texts); rather, it is the way that they are always supplemental to the sonic phenomena and sonic practices under discussion. These essays all perform a primacy of sound/listening.
Taking this stance as a cue for my review, I will try to perform engagement with the pieces via sampling and bending in order to enact resonance—like a radio recordist scanning the airwaves for stray transmissions to capture. Through interplays of contextualizing descriptions and dislodged citations, the following is a catalogue of glimpses of the contributions to this collection.
|James Sey, “Sounds Like . . .: The Cult of the Imaginary Wavelength”
Providing an alternative to the dominance of the visual paradigm.
“Consider if we widen the notion of the langue to that of the possible field of sound itself, out of which must come the sounds we hear and understand—a field, that is, of imaginary wavelengths” (23).
|Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, “Promises in the Air: Radio Alice and Italian Autonomia”
A history of a pirate radio station’s radical democratic space.
“Radio Alice strove to abolish not only the separation between speaker and listener, between artists and audience, but also between art and life. [. . .] The radio made it possible to regain control over the everyday and create zones of linguistic self-organization where it was possible to experiment with life, art and politics. [. . .] Radio Alice was not so much counter-information as an attack on the very structure of mass media. Giving desire a microphone” (43).
|Steve Goodman, “Contagious Transmission: On the Virology of Pirate Radio”
A political ontology of pirate radio.
“An audio virology focuses on pirate radio zones of transmission, incubation, its electromagnetic war for bandwidth, its bacterial nomadism within a vertical city, its asignifying contagious trade in numerical code and sonic fluids, and its power to generate virtual collectivity. [. . .] To engineer change in a radiophonic Babylon, we must pay more affective attention to the sometimes inaudible, vibratory, carrier waves which animate the babel of voices; how do the affective orientations of bass cultures and their deployment of sound systems, from pirate radio to the dancehall, work to produce invention in terms of movement and sensation[?]” (53-4).
|Sabine Breitsameter, “From Transmission to Procession: Radio in the Age of Digital Networks”
The carnivalesque potential of digital radio.
“Digital networks have the conceptual potential to change our notion of radio as a medium for transporting sound. The examples depicted herein indicate that radio can be produced using other methods. It may thus become the apparatus of direct exchange, of being connected, of intersubjectivity, and the fluid or processual. [. . .] Even in the age of networked media architectures, the practice and discipline of listening remains the origin of creative and intellectual sovereignty” (68-9).
|neuroTransmitter “How We Hear it: Francesco Ventrella interviews neuroTransmitter”
Portable radio transmitters, mini-FM, and sound installations.
“in speaking about radio space it is difficult to separate the material form the immaterial, as well as the voice (transmitter) from the ear (receiver)” (78).
|Marie Wennersten, “To See with Each Other’s Ears—SR c and Ambiguous Radio”
An expanded notion of radio production and radio community at SR c.
“A paradox about radio is that it’s potentially both subtle and brutal” (86).
"Bedside Manner" by Mark McLaren [excerpt from an SR c radio project. run time: 1:12]
|Brandon LaBelle, “Phantom Music—Radio, Memory, and Narratives from Auditory Life”
Essay as performance, narrative, and theory . . . about sound as performance, narrative, and theory.
“Memory, like listening, undermines forms of arrogance, performing by allowing us to shape experience against the knowledge gained through life, in minute actions that play out on the slippery borders of consciousness” (99).
“What radio memory reveals are the ways in which noise may contribute, on an emotional and psychological level, a communicational link or fluid through which negotiation, exchange, and sharing may take place, finding further footing to how location gets defined. [. . .] For radio is a form of sociality through which location is riddled with unexpected dynamic. Whether annoyance or excitement, it brings with it new encounters. This may hint at a secret ontology of radio, as that which interrupts social reality with alien information, while defining the life of fantasy and the conditions of sharing with specific coordinates” (103).
“This text then is a series of perspectives or coordinates following the intersection of bodies and broadcasts, and their related or subsequent narratives. Part of its aim is to question how listening synthesizes sound and its location to form sonic geographies that exist entirely as memories” (93).
|Kabir Carter, “Feedforward”
Script as score and sculpture.
“Feedforward is an inquiry into how we perceive radiophonic events that is posed as a set of staging instructions” (113).
|Ellen Waterman, “Radio Bodies: Discourse, Performance, Resonance”
Feminist political radio art.
“Radio art heroically represents what the medium of radio has tragically failed to become. But theorists of radio art have too often failed to interrogate the political implications of radio art itself” (131).
"Found an Angel" by Ellen Waterman. [With Gogo Godot and Really Happening, and the delegates to the 2005 National Campus and Community Radio Association conference at CFRU 93.3 fm Guelph, Ontario. run time: 7:53]
|Sophie Gosselin (of apo33), “Sound Mutations: From Radio Diffusion to Radio Art”
Radio diffusion, mutant environments, The Octopus, The Fluxbox, hyper-architecture, and moving environments.
“Listening does not just involve sound but the complete context of this sound, transformed by the action of the machinic agents, into a living entity, a mutant organism made of the articulation and the mixture of ‘original’ and modified sound. Sound is thus the expression of this organism activity, the environment becoming alive as a processional construction” (151).
“Apo33’s projects are not ‘pieces of art,’ reproducible forms that can travel and be installed anywhere. Instead, we construct arrangements of concepts, operational processes and machinic agents, what we call ‘constellations.’” (139).
"POULPE—Fragment De Flux (Bourges)" by Apo33 ["This fragment of the octopus audio streaming from the tentacle installed in the Boiurges public library was recorded one morning during breakfast when the flux coming out of the octopus that we had installed as a sound background started to deleop complex and surprising form-mixing extracts of modified voices with sounds coming out of the library, reorganizing its sound environment into a configuration of heterogeneous planes integrating modulation of rhythms and melodies." run time: 5:34]
|Erik Granly Jensen, “Collective Acoustic Space: LIGNA and Radio in the Weimar Republic”
Politicized art, transformation, and control.
“Surveillance and the privatizing of public space are the recurrent themes in most of LIGNA’s interventions, and in all of them radio plays an essential role” (156).
“The decisive element that unites radio’s political aspect in LIGNA, Brecht, and Benjamin is the notion of public space and the collective communities that radio (and mass media as such) offer on the one hand and the possibilities to act politically within a mass media society on the other” (158).
|LIGNA, “The Future of Radio Art: A Monologue for a Broadcast Voice in a Pedestrian Zone”
Radio art as dispersion, communication, and voice on the street.
Excuse me if I repeat myself.
I don’t know if I’ve made myself clear.
You are listening now to a repetition.
Hi, I am talking live. I am talking only to you.
Now I am talking to you but it is only a repetition.
Not only, but more than one repetition.
To be honest, I don’t mind repeating myself.
I like it.
I am radio. (179)
|Achim Wollscheid, “Car-Radio—Contemporary Music”
Transportation transformations: traffic tempo(ralitie)s.
“The fact that music [in film], being an accompaniment, appears in the same instance as the receiver appliance in the car comes as no surprise: in both cases scenarios in motion are offered to the de facto seated individual that are connected to a musical accompaniment or heightening in stimulation. In film, as well as in the car, individuals are confronted with the consequences of a world in motion, which is basically unaffected by their decisions, and they can only make wild guesses at their future development” (186)
|Kate Sieper, “Broadcasting the Outback”
Limits of radio life.
“Australia is vast, and at its most vast, in the heart, radio fails to transmit. [. . .] The stories I record are primarily for city dwellers. But I am also a specialist rural reporter required to exhibit the deeper understanding and experience of someone who lives and works alongside the people I interview” (196).
|Heidi Grundmann, “Beyond Broadcasting: The WIENCOUVER Series”
Transnational transmissional networks, immersive sound, sound drifts, and the audiomobile.
“Networked projects put into question State-regulated, one-way broadcast medium radio and investigated the changes to which radio is submitted under the pressure of the convergence of old a new media, their hybridization and remediatization. They also run against traditional notions of the curator/producer, or authorship and copyright and of the finished work of art. [. . .] they do not define themselves as distribution systems for individual contributions, but rather as temporary, often experimental, networks for a decentralized, sometimes simultaneous, collaborative exchange and processing of material which can be rendered at all participating nodes into whatever versions are technically possible and aesthetically desired.” (208)
|Douglas Kahn, “Radio of the Sphere”
Radio’s outer limits: forges, organology, nature.
“Harmony was so fragile in the last quarter of the 19th century that simply looking askance could cause damage. Seemingly, tha acoustical cosmos would have suffered its final demise in 1933, only Karl Jansky tuned his astronomical radio to 20.5 MHz and listened to song stylings broadcasting around the clock from the center of the Milky Way” (222).
“The electromagnetic cosmos has been heard as an amalgam of noise and musical aesthetics [spherics and whistlers] broadcast locally by Very Low Frequency (VLF) electromagnetic waves that course through the earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere. This noise/music is to the Radio of the Sphere and electromagnetic cosmos what harmony and consonance were to the Music of the Spheres and the acoustical cosmos” (225).
|Sophea Lerner, “LIVE FEEDS . . . Hybrid Cuisine From the New Radio Kitchen . . . A Dinner Invitation to Radio Cooks Everywhere”
Feed (the) metaphors: global sonic feasts
“Let us take our time to savor a ‘slow media’ like ‘slow food’—a culinary ethos, which contends that local fresh produce prepared carefully and consumed as leisure may be more nutritious” (233).
|elpueblochina a.k.a. Alejandra Pérez Núnez, “Bending Informational Circuits”
performing informational patterns, microstory spaces, and the collective imaginary
“As part of my project Radio Territorios I wanted to listen to a variety of patterns on the radio, not only by paying attention to music playlists but also through active reflection and dialogue with invited participants. I retransmitted content in order to interrupt media-patterns; I wanted to bend the mediascape.
[. . .]
persistent use of discontinuity
"puebloJana" [from elpueblochina's project Radio Territorios. "This track is a reprocessing of Tribadas broadcasts with Jana Aravena on the microphone, using software to simulate the existence of different cybernetic orders where information circulates. Retransmission was used as a bending strategy to perform an open pattern over the mediascape." run time: 2:29]
—reviewed by Michael LeVan