On Radiodays

april 23, 2005.

This month's 'exhibition' at De Appel (a centre for contemporary art in Amsterdam that "provides space to artists for projects, installations and research", in a 'grand building' in the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat) is a listening exhibition (in Dutch I like to call a such thing a 'tenhoorstelling') ... presented as a 'temporary radiostation' ... (both onair and online): Radiodays. The project is realized as part of De Appel's '2004/05 curatorial training programme'. (New thing I learned ... I actually didn't know that one could 'train' to become a(n art) curator ... )

It's an interesting event. Be it not in the first place for (much of) its content, as because of the project's sheer size (thirty days times many hours); and also, I'd say, because of its being a 'sign of the times', part of the current stream of on- and offline events marking the still & steadily growing attention (and 'space') given by 'official' institutions for 'modern art' to 'audio work', in many of its guises ... It doesn't stand alone ...


Radiodays doesn't stand alone ... that observation extends to the use of some pretty lame phrases to justify its actions and existence, here, for example, popping up in the official introduction to the project ... :

"By using an auditive format, artistic works are presented within a space in succession of each other rather than simultaneously: they appear, disappear and reoccur."

"Radio and its non-visual message offers creative resistance to the retinal spectacle that surrounds us [...] Looking is a way to experience the omnipotence of the 'society of spectacle'. Closing one's eyes is becoming an act of civil disobedience."

"The project wants to investigate the relationship between hearing and imagination, processes of translation."

"During Radiodays every listener becomes a dynamic and transformative carrier, a conceptual space of possibility and experimentation."

"Creative resistance" ... yeah! ... And I also like the last one ... so that is me, that's what we are: "conceptual spaces of possibility and experimentation, closing our eyes in ongoing acts of civil disobedience" ... :)

Our 'society of spectacle' ... that our (western) culture is/was/until recently has been primarily visually oriented, is a credo that is being confessed in many a 'theoret-histor-ical' paper that I read on the (re)naissance of sound-art; usually so as to give an 'obvious' explanation to the long time relative 'lack' of 'art works' using 'sound' as its primary material in the 'official' art collections (our 'western canon'). Of course there are reasons for this. But that particular one always seemed a pretty simple minded point of view ... It certainly is a credo that I do not share; it hardly corresponds to my personal experience. I never felt victim to unreasonable amounts of visual stimuli; never experienced the world around me as being dominated by the visual ... It is not that I do not or can not see; it is not that I close my eyes. Rather: I only seldomly am taken in, struck by a visual ... When such a thing happens - flash! bang! bingo! - this is far more often than not due to an aureal ... And it seems evident to me that I might just as easily make a case for the extreme opposite: that our society is fundamentally aurally oriented. For isn't sound the stuff that, for instance, most(*) of our languages are made of? [(*) Sign languages are an exception that springs to mind, being rare examples of purely visual languages ...] There's necessarily a sounding underlying whatever textual work ... [For me, the Man of Sound, a good text rings 'n' sings or screeks 'n' queeks; it's always also music ; sound - art ...]

In the context of a 'culture dominated by the visual'-credo current (and past) efforts & trends in 'audio art' - and audio artitsts - often are presented as if being part of/involved in an emancipatory struggle. As if 'sound', as if 'music' ... and therefore 'text', and therefore 'language' ... would be in need of some sort of emancipation. Suffers from a discrimination akin to those of sex, age, or race.
I think that's nonsense.

... almost anything (we consider to be) 'time-based' (eventually) appears to us sound-based ... (consider film/video: only sound/music can [will] move [you] across (à travers) the void between separate nows) ... if something is in need of emancipation, wouldn't it rather be a time based strictly-visual art ...?

The world's flow - both in nature and culture, and anywhere in between - for me has always been primarily a sounding one.
It was, and it still is.
Not more so now; nor less so.
Is that because or does it mean I am the Man of Sound?
Is it because all that is sounding at heart is music to me ? ...

It was kind of funny, in the light of this - prominently evoked, as in Radiodays' introduction - visual vs. aural debate, to hear (as part of Day #12's programme) a lecture primarily dedicated to the image: Aesthetic and Ethic - The Image Burns. A fine lecture, mind you, by the French art historian Georges Didi-Huberman. It was recorded last month, on march 10, 2005, as part of a symposium organised by the ASCA (Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis) ... I enjoyed the lecture ('The image burns') for its content (around Didi-Huberman's work and thoughts on 'the image as a symptom and lacunary means of knowledge'), even though the regularly mentioned visual examples of course were lacking. But I even more enjoyed the sonic peculiarities of the recording, the recording 'as an aureal'. There was, for one, the musicality of the 'sound' of a native French speaker reading an English translation of his text. Also, the lecture was registered by means of a device with automatic level adjustment, which resulted in the continuous 'sonic zooming in' (that swooshing sucking sound) on the lecturer's silences, his fumbling with papers, his breathing in before speaking ... But I actually doubt that these 'linguistic' and 'recording' particularities were among the curators' reasons for including Didi-Huberman's lecture in Radiodays' programme.

[ ... ]

Radiodays opened in De Appel on friday april 1st, just hours before our own Raudio presentation in De Balie. 'Opened', indeed. For De Appel invites you to come to the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and look at the radio, every day this april, usually from 16h00 till 21h00 ... "Look at the radio" ... But doesn't that once more mean submitting to the retinal spectacle that surrounds us? How frustrating! ... Prostration? ... How fortunate it isn't my credo. (I actually have enjoyed 'sneaking' into de Appel to have a peep there ... :-) ... so I will not hold it against the curators ... this time ... that they didn't blindfold me upon entrance ... (somebody did tell me, though, (upon entrance on april 1st) to leave my bag; so that I would not accidentally drop one or more of the books from the well-filled library in it? - that library is part of the 'visual' set-up - purely visual; it contains a very correct selection of writings on sound and radio (-art); most of the relevant 'classics' are lined up in bookcases along one wall of an empty, dusky space; inviting you to look ... but touch? and dive into? where to sit down and read? ... so silly ... no tables, no chairs, no light ... and no more bag to drop them them in to ... :) ) ... there's no need to be afraid that looking at this radio will hurt your eyes ... The 'Radiodays' set-up in the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat is sober, and minimal. Well-designed. Superfluous as this may be, given the context: it is an attractive set-up. Visually. (One enters the dusky, unlit 'library' space via a smaller but very well lit room, whose walls are covered with white paper on which are printed hundreds of sound and radio (-art) related URLs; including empty spaces to fill in your own - good! - and four broadband web connected brand new Macs, free to use, centrally placed upon l-a-r-g-e tables ... but who will dare to actually take a book out of the library space, and sit down and read/write at one of the 'computer tables' there, ignoring the machine ...? (Eventually I would have dared, YES! ... but the time I had made up my mind about that, I was back in Paris again... ahhh, details! ...)...)

Reading On Kawara

Radiodays' main space is its studio, designed and signed by Laurent and Pascal Grasso. Equipment and radiomakers are 'contained' within a central, hollow cube, an upper-part of which has been 'lifted', some 50-60 centimeters, so as to allow a narrow 'look-through'. The 'Radio-lookers' may walk around the 'studio cube', and peep in; or sit down on the floor, lean against one of the walls, and listen. I sat down on saturday april 2nd, from 16h00 till 17h00, to listen to Dutch (radio and other) pioneer, icon and legend Willem de Ridder. I was the only 'visitor', and the only one there that, on this particular occasion, kept sitting and listened for the full hour of de Ridder's 'radiego'-rant; and looked. I had decided this was my experiment. So I persisted. Obvious outcome: this is not the way to listen to radio. For one, because it is physically sort of tiring; for two, like it or not, willy-nilly, in there it no longer is but radio, it's also an (un)performance (looking at radio(makers) is kind of boring); apart from the acknowledgement of some irrelevant visual facts, like what Willem de Ridder looks like these days, what he decided to wear for the occassion, my looking didn't do a thing for me. Nothing. Nada. Just distraction. And at that particular time there also weren't enough 'others' around to have a peep at, and make it at least something of a social event ...

Reading On Kawara

But some of the Radiodays programs are live performances, and these might of course be interesting. As performance. Better still: every now and then you may participate in the radio making. Which was the case on the 1st of april, when the project opened, and the 'audience' was invited to participate in a 5 hour reading from On Kawara's 'One Million Years (past and future)'. Counting. Reciting year after year, from a huge pile of A4 papers: " ... 977522BC, 977521BC, 977520BC, 977519BC, 977518BC ... " The 'volunteers' read in wo-man pairs; the female-half doing the even, and the male-half the uneven years. It must at least be partly because I'm such a sucker for a fine concept, but I found this fantastic. Myself I sat in the duo reading 977520BC to 977443BC ... :)
It's not an easy thing to do ... consistently reading number after number. Best is you stop thinking about what you're doing ... it took me a while to get into my years (I began with a couple of curious errors - in four of my first nine turns I skipped 'thousand', read 'nine hundred seventy seven and ...' instead of 'nine hundred seventy seven thousand and ...'; 'curious', because at the time of reading I wasn't aware of this - I heard it when listening back to my dictaphone-recording; what's even more intriguing about this, is that I had been hearing the woman reading in the couple before skipping for a long time : 'hundred', reading 'nine seventy seven thousand and ...' instead of 'nine hundred seventy seven thousand and ...' I probably started reading so much aware of the need not to forget saying the 'hundred', that I skipped the 'thousand' instead ...) ... After a while, though, reading On Kawara began to feel mantra-like; like a meditation, a 'spiritual' excercise ... like a prayer? ... one 'gets into the groove', say ... and I'd have loved to read on much longer than I did, really ... Maybe we should install this as a ritual to start ten new day: five, ten, fifteen minutes of this 'mega-number' counting? At home, at breakfast, or wherever else you wake up ... with all that are present ... counting, each one in turn ... round and round ... beats morning prayer, betcha ... a new meme !? let's spread it! ...)

Apart from this 'On Kawara' experience, and my looking at Willem de Ridder doing his Radiodays contribution, I followed the project from a distance; from afar - online.

These past three weeks I caught quite a lot, though not all, of it. Partly during the station's live-hours; or in the daily 're-run'; or from the archives (which, however, are far from being updated daily; also, a large number of interesting 'items' is not archived - for copyright reasons, i guess? ... sad, the resulting 'incompleteness', which obviously limits the archives' interest). Among the things I heard there was fun music (I generally enjoyed the DJ sessions) and a couple of interesting sound 'streams' ('Sound Transit' [Day #07] for example, Derek Holzer and Sara Kolster's selection from Soundscape-FM contributions; the 'Bandes originales'-programme [Day #20], ... ); Gelbe Musik's Ursula Block contributed a fine selection of classic recordings that are always nice to (re)hear ...; and then of course there were several new (to me) soundpieces that I liked (Brett Littman's 'Materials' [Day #19]), and - naturally - also some that I disliked ... all of them 'snippets' coming at you in precisely this 'haphazard' way ...
Several of the programmes that I heard were of a documentary nature, treating some aspect of radio history (like Justin Beal's 'Offshore Radio' [Day #11], compiled from some sixty clips from early 1960´s British offshore pirate radio stations), or otherwise 'reliving history' (there was William Burroughs reading - not very long, unfortunately - from his 'Naked Lunch' [Day #08]) ... And generally, I noticed that at whatever time I tuned in, more likely than not there would be talking going on .... a lot of talking ... curious ... all of this 'just talk' (interviews, discussions), about sound, art (very often 'even' visual arts), on the 'art of curating' or 'curating-as-art' (old story ... hey, ain't 'curator' just a fancy word for 'DJ'? ... ), and about art politics in general. With some exceptions not uninteresting, mind you, per se. But I had not expected these; less would they have been my choice. Not 'sound', but sound about 'sound' ... Generally these are just not the things I want to listen to when I tune into 'sound' online. No discussions, or interviews. No discours. If I'm in want of this, just point me to a place where I can read (about) it. Also I really do not like my listening being interrupted by someone telling me what I just have been hearing or what I am about to hear. If what I'm hearing managed to get me curious, and I want some such supplementary information, I'll look it up ... Radiodays program makers though, surprisingly, often appear to fear the airing of sound-as-sound, without a curator or artist's voice that at regular intervals explains the listener what she's hearing and why that is of interest ... Which actually here and there, now and then, made me wonder whether the curators themselves are really taking 'sound as material and an art form' seriously? Would they have themselves, or the artist, at a visual art exhibition, post next to the works, to, upon a viewer's arrival and/or departure - without invitation - engage in a loud discours about the work the person is/was looking at?

So this is what both surprised and disappointed me during these three weeks of listening to Radiodays programmes: the arbitrariness of selected contributions (which somehow clashes with the temporay nature of the 'station', its stated ambition of being an exhibition); how 'cliché' and 'conservative' many of these contributions' format(s) were; that so many of the Radiodays program makers sticked to some 'classic' radio template. Sometimes in order to make fun of it, as in 'parody' (like Ninoslav Jovanovic's 'Pop Machine' [Day #07]). But most of the times it seemed to be just 'because that's the way radio is'? Hmmm ... Can live with the many (though minor) technical glitches and timing errors during the [live-]emissions' ... but what about the daft jingles, silly & (un)funny announcer's jokes, the many sense- and contentless exchanges of words between interviewers and interviewees (for instance when an interviewer desperately tries to avoid a silence / no-response 'deadlock') -- the interviewer/interviewee format tout court ... et cetera ... bref, much that, for one, I always have disliked about radio ... ?

Whence at the end of many a Radiodays day this is the impression that I am left with: the impression that I have been listening to the radio. A Radiodays day at heart more often than not hardly differs from some x-evening programmed on, say, ResonanceFM. Well, maybe that's good. But is it good enough? Has that been the curators' goal? To do a month-long Appel-based sort of Resonance thing?
With all the resources available, I cannot but consider this to be somewhat of a waste. I am sure you will find many things to your liking when you browse the Radiodays archives. But what about Radiodays as a temporary radiostation? As a 'listening exhibition' (a 'tenhoorstelling', rather than radio about 'tenhoorstellingen)? As a 'creative resistance'? As an 'act of civil disobedience'? ... As a thing?

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Low-fi : the new Readymades

april 21, 2005.

A project of the NRPA (the New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., fostering "the development of new and experimental work for radio and sound arts" since 1981) is the Turbulence website (Turbulence "commissions and supports net art"), which on its homepage features a curatorial project by Low-fi, the 'low-fi net art locator' (aiming "to increase visibility of art projects which use the internet as a medium and to promote development of 'net based art'"), which listed our 'Found Tapes Exhibition' as part of its recent editorial selection, entitled 'The New Readymades (2005)' ...

(I stumbled upon this chain (NRPA --> Turbulence --> Low-Fi) of interesting, related & relevant web sites following up on a referal entry in my stats. All sites were new to me ...)

[ Earlier vaguely related SB-entry: d_Revolution #1]

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