‘If a radio broadcasts in the forest…’

If a radio broadcasts in the forest…

…is something Sophea Lerner from {openradio} said in a recent production meeting. It just so happens that I trialed a hybrid outside-online ‘forest broadcast’ at the end of summer in a clearing behind Sophea’s apartment block; amongst woodpeckers, wind, moss, a light drizzle and chainsaws.

The broadcast was to test a set-up that took a live microphone feed of environmental sounds, an audio stream from Jasmine Guffond’s Listening Back browser extension which sonifies cookie activity, and a feed from our ‘Forest Chatter’ Jitsi meeting, that was fed through WIDI Audio To MIDI convertor and mixed and processed in Ableton Live. The ‘music’ was broadcast into my forest surrounds and also looped back into our Jitsi instance. WIDI’s software takes in sounds, converts them on-the-fly into MIDI notation which is then played out through it’s range of soft-synth instruments. In trial mode, the plug-in would go silent intermittently, thus the performance brought a number of chance operations into play; forest sounds including broadcast audio, (surveillance) data sonification and audio from Jitsi.

Alice, who was in the meeting, imagined an orchestra hiding behind the trees, which I thought was a lovely visualisation. As something of a new experience for us all, I am interested to experiment more with how participants might listen and interact across multiple locations in such networked/situated events.

Radio as a Self-reflexive Medium

Given the recent trend of radio in Contemporary Art I have been thinking about radio as performance and installation. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about how people come together to make radio, rather than listen to it. Juxtaposed to the ‘golden era’ trope of families huddled around the wireless to listen to the latest news of the world or radio play, my emphasis on radio as a social practice concerns how community forms around sound, equipment and the notion of broadcasting (to whom?). For me, this suggests an aspect of ‘gear fetishism’ — I do happen to think that sound equipment can be quite fascinating and obtuse and I enjoy the process of playing such technology as one would a toy or instrument. It reminds of some discussion about the postcolonial deployment of scientific or technical apparatus, the classic example being the turntable in early hip hop, and leads me to think about cultures of pleasure (indeed pleasure activism) and the libidinal qualities of technology and sound. This is arguably most apparent in a kind of commodity fetishism attached to consumer audio gear designed for leisure. I am not immune.

With this in mind, I’ll be hosting a Cosmo[s]politan Radiophonic Picnic in conjunction with Pixelache, Helsinki. I think of it as a ‘teddybears’ picnic’ but for radio lovers and broadcast ‘freques’. I’m hoping to connect with some of the radiophonic community here to share and learn about a diversity of practices, set-ups and approaches; from crystal radios, biosignals, pirate radio, parasite radio, outside(r) broadcasters and more…

Here’s a little (ghetto) blast from the past to whet your ears!