fugitive frequency, season 2, episode 5: (sonic) postcards from Helsinki

A scene with a giant sculpture of a giraffe in a snowy landscape. Two figures in silhouette stand before a sign and leafless trees sway in the background.

A montage of field recordings, performances and other audio documents collected since August 2020, when fugitive radio began. Recordings include Vallilan vapputanssit Finnish Tango dance in the Vallila neighbourhood for the vappu May Day celebrations; Thomas Moose speaking at Pride Is A Protest in 2021; Pekka Pylkkänena from the musicians union interviewed in 2021; MC Ghepetto at Elements mini-Ball 2022 and Suva Das performing playground equipment at Pixelache Festival #BURN____2021.

fugitive frequency, season 2, episode 1: REWIND

A sign with text that reads ‘Helsinki’ backwards. In the background is Oodi central library.

A selective review of some of the events, interviews and broadcasts that occurred over the last year or so. It features, in order of appearance, the voices of: Sepideh Ardalani, Alice MacKenzie, Yes Escobar, Irina Mutt, Elina Nissinen, musicians in the online jam spaces: ‘Jazz so what’, ‘probando‘ and ‘1234_Portugal‘, Ana Fradique, Suva Das, Tania Nathan, Susheela Mahendran, Léo Custodio, Yeboyah, Caroline Suinnerin and Meriam Trabelsin of the Pehmee podcast, Vishnu Vardhani Rajan and Lintulintu (Lintu Lunar & Dramatika).

It touches on ideas that fugitive radio will develop in the coming year such as: trocar/exchange, poethical descriptings/the politics of accessibility and representation, karaoke theory, postporn spaghetti.

fugitive radio’s live broadcasts are supported by Sophea Lerner and Kaustubh Srikanth of openradio.in

Karaoke Theory

Karaoke Theory

I argue that karaoke, the non-professional singing of popular songs as a social practice and entertainment, is a way of engaging with emotions in public and suggests the therapeutic potential of singing popular songs. Pop songs often capture a moment, ‘the feeling’ of an era and are a means of circulating ideas and experiences around the world, across cultures and over generations. By participating in karaoke, people identify with these songs and thus build a temporary sense of community and belonging.

By communally singing pop songs, we share history, thoughts, emotions, but for many there are still significant social inhibitions to overcome. Why is it so difficult to sing in public? How did singing become humiliating? Does karaoke’s performance of emotions betray a vulnerability that somehow carries across privilege; forcing a humility that reminds us of a shared precariousness. As Judith Butler (2009) insists, life is always interdependent.

After a recent voicing event I organised with the artist Suva Das in Helsinki, the filmmaker and performer Roxana Sadvo observed that singing is somewhat taboo in many western cultures, proposing that singing had ‘somehow been civilised out of us.’ All this makes me wonder about cultures who do sing — what do they know that we don’t? What are we missing out on? What is the power of song?

Nisha Ramayya (2019), a scholar of tantric poetics, writes that the Sanskrit the word for voice is vaac. Sanskrit was the ancient language of those born into the highest-caste of India’s tiered society. Amongst other things, young Brahmin boys would learn to recite mantras soon after they could speak; chants or songs capable of revealing higher truths and obtaining special powers. Ramayya claims that many people suspected that ‘speaking’ or language was only a small part of what the voice — vaac — could do, and that they were somehow being suppressed by language. Nevertheless India’s multiple spiritual traditions are evidence that ‘lower-caste’ people developed their own magical songs.

Karaoke Theory is an embodied practice that attempts to address this phenomenon. It attempts to a name a thing that is happening and that I argue goes beyond a mutual appreciation of consumable cultural products. Julian Henriques (2011), a theorist of Jamaican sound system culture notes the difference between listening to music on headphones and being in a dancehall ‘bashment’. In the former you put the music in you, in the latter you are in the sound. With Karaoke Theory, I seek to understand what happens when you put the song into you; allow the words to shape your body, the melody pass through you as you sway to its rhythm. When one becomes a vessel for the song, does it possess you?

Poethical De-Scriptings


‘Poethical De-Scriptings’ broadcast live from Pixelache Helsinki Festival #BURN____2021 outside Oodi central library, Helsinki, 7 June, featuring artist and finance activist Ana Fradique and artist-musician Suva Das.

‘Poethical De-scriptings’ is a term I use to describe a practice of live and improvised verbal narrations for radio broadcast.

In her essay, ‘Toward a Black Feminist Poethics’ (2014), Denise Ferriera da Silva proposes ‘poethics’ as a means of emancipating the ‘Category of Blackness’ from the scientific and historical ways of knowing that produced it, with ‘the ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing’ (p. 81). Releasing Blackness from objectification, commodification and the forms of domination that produced slavery, a Black Feminist Poethics elicits a range of possibilities that decolonization demands; not for the betterment of this world, but rather toward ‘the end of the world as we know it’.

‘Scriptings’ is a word coined by the artist Achim Lengerer who is concerned with the political questions of speech and language. It is a conflation of the words ‘script’ and ‘writings’, and is also the name of Lengerer’s publishing and production house in Berlin. ‘Scriptings’ also refers to ‘social scripts’, a term borrowed from behavioural psychology to describe knowledge of how to perform adequately in a given situation. One example is how one gets the attention of a waiter in a restaurant. In some circumstances this can be achieved by establishing eye contact, in others it might be acceptable to call, gesticulate and even whistle. While whistling might be inappropriate in the first scenario, attempting to make eye contact might be insufficient in the latter. So knowing the correct social script is crucial to achieving the desired result, as is performing roles correctly to enable social functioning.

My practice of poethical de-scriptings adopts poethics as an approach to being in the world that enables one to delink from the social scripts that one performs by default. It draws from the ‘alt text’ descriptions that often accompany images online to assist those who are visually impaired. Efforts to address issues of accessibility are inherently political. In this example from screen-based media, written and audio descriptions expose the epistemological violence of (hegemonic) visual cultures.

The term ‘access intimacy’ was conceived by writer and disability justice activist Mia Mingus to name the ‘hard to describe feeling’ and ‘eerie comfort’ that arises when someone ‘gets’ her access needs. Access intimacy is not exclusive to disabled people and Mingus (2011) confides:

There have been relationships that carried emotional, physical and political intimacy, but sorely lacked access intimacy. And there have been relationships where access intimacy has helped to create the conditions out of which emotional, familial and political intimacy could grow.

Mingus urges her readers to adopt ‘Access as a framework’ to address a spectrum of needs of those who are (differently) disadvantaged in an ableist world. Furthermore, she distinguishes access intimacy to ‘obligatory access’ that is ‘stoic’ or perfunctory. She writes:

Sometimes access intimacy doesn’t even mean that everything is 100% accessible. Sometimes it looks like both of you trying to create access as hard as you can with no avail in an ableist world. Sometimes it is someone just sitting and holding your hand while you both stare back at an inaccessible world.

My practice of poethical de-scriptings shifts from literal descriptions of my visible surroundings into self-reflection and speculation. While it might sometimes involve close looking and articulation of details, I work in the haze of representation; my poethical de-scriptings may not be visually accurate, but neither are they fiction. Rather, I seek to be personal and precise about what I am see-feeling-thinking.

I approach radio as a medium that is networked and as an event that can be collectively produced and distributed. Rather than the mass media notion of broadcasting to the world, I pursue radio as a social practice that connects peers, friends and enthusiasts. Rather than shouting out to an unknown audience, my technique is more akin to whispering into a lover’s ear.

Attempting audio descriptions made me acutely aware of the power dynamics inherent in language and that are reinforced in everyday speech acts. I discovered that my efforts to communicate clearly and sensitively were determined, and arguably undermined, by social scripts which inform reflexive speech. Foregrounding these codes emphasised that what is ‘normal’ is designed and that these designs condition, noticeably in the built environment and ‘public sphere’. Indeed, it reveals the prejudices of normativity and how one is positioned relative to authority.

As such, poethical de-scriptings attempts to deconstruct and dismantle these power dynamics through an improvised verbal practice. It makes one acutely aware of how ‘words shape worlds’; how ‘worlding’ is material-discursive and how language is privileged as knowledge. Towards the end of the live broadcast embedded above, the artist Suva demonstrates his hand percussion skills on the ‘Konch’ urban furniture in which I was seated. It is an example of how such a skilled musician can ‘talk with their hands’. This might be phonetic, as Suva mimics the sound of language with percussion. Suva also refers to pre-established cultural codes that might announce an event such as the birth of a child, a wedding or war, emphasising that drumming is not necessarily literal, but also emotive, making using of texture, pattern and abstraction.

Extending out towards non-verbal communication such as humming and drumming, poethical de-scriptings seeks to jailbreak language from the authority it is deployed to uphold and to accentuate other ways of relating in the world.

Live broadcast Under A Fooled Moon

SonoBus interface

A recording of the live broadcast of our radiophonic ‘closing ceremony’ for Suva’s exhibition, ‘Untitled’ at Myymälä2, Helsinki.

Participants gathered ‘Under a Fooled Moon’ in the gallery and on SonoBus, a multi-user audio streaming platform, for a live improv session that was streamed on openradio.in Using our voices, Suva guided us through a collective experiment in performing networked radio infrastructure as one would play a musical instrument.

The event was devised in collaboration with Sophea Lerner and Timo Tuhkanen.

‘Under a Fooled Moon’ a Radiophonic Closing Ceremony for Suva ‘Untitled’.

Suva Closing Ceremony

9 May 2021 from 17.00
Myymälä2, Helsinki
SonoBus Private Group: underafooledmoon
openradio.in

fugitive radio is convening a collective radiophonic ritual, gathering ‘Under a Fooled Moon’ for a live improv session led by Suva. Guests are asked to bring FM radio receivers, earbuds, smartphones and bluetooth speakers to open a portal between parallel (sonic) universes; you can join onsite at Myymälä2 gallery and online at the SonoBus Private Group: underafooledmoon. The situation is being devised in collaboration with Sophea Lerner and Timo Tuhkanen.

If you are curious to join online or in the gallery with your smartphone, SonoBus is a multi-user platform for streaming audio. It’s great for jammin’. The app is free to download and is available for a range of operating systems, devices and as an audio plug-in: https://sonobus.net/

The event will be streamed live to https://openradio.in/live

From 30 April until 9 May 2021, the Helsinki-based artist Suva exhibits a large series of watercolour portraits of ‘protagonists’ and instrument-sculptures that will be brought to life during impro-performances at Myymälä2. ‘Untitled’ is supported by Artists at Risk. See the Facebook event for dates and times.

fugitive radio is an artistic-research project initiated by Sumugan Sivanesan to research migrant/anticolonial perspectives and music in the North and pursue radio-as-method. fugitive radio is funded by the Kone Foundation and is being made in collaboration with Pixelache. Live broadcasts are supported by {openradio}.

fugitive frequency episode 05: Jammin’

Stevie

Jammin’ is a mashed-up sonic (anti-)ethnography of online multi-user audio streaming platforms such as Jamulus and SonoBus — MUDs for musos. A montage of recordings made in various jam rooms I entered or initiated in April 2021 have been edited together with excerpts from a conversation I had in November 2020 with Helsinki-based artist Suva [Facebook] and a recording from one of his recent performances.
Special thanks to ‘Europe session’, ‘Jazz so what’, ‘probando‘, ‘talktesttrytipstricks‘, ‘1234_Portugal‘ and ‘Hum Club‘ amongst others. Also a shout out to Peter from Exerzierstraße for introducing me to these spaces and who also makes a cameo.

Suva’s exhibition ‘Untitled’ [Facebook], comprising of a series of water colour paintings and sculptural instruments, can be experienced at Myymälä2 Gallery, Helsinki from 29 April – 9 May 2021. fugitive radio will be presenting a closing ceremony ‘Under a Fooled Moon’ [Facebook] on Sunday 9 May which guests can join in the gallery or on SonoBus.

Music, media and references
Stevie Wonder illustration by Al Harper for the cover of Hotter Than July (1980)

Radio Wok Helsinki

Samba Carnival Helsinki

Fugitive Radio presented its first live ‘radio fanzine’, Radio Wok Helsinki (initially title Radiowalk Helsinki) for Nepantlas#4, Akademie Schloss Solitude curated by Daphne Dragona. Produced by myself, Sumugan Sivanesan, and Irina Mutt with the support of Sophea Lerner, the fanzine featured the multimedia artist Suva.

Notions of the ‘audio fanzine’ and of ‘performance as publishing’ were initially raised by Irina, which we developed as an experimental processes, circling around the themes of displacement, vulnerability, solidarity and self-defence. We arrived at narrative formats that referenced the printed zine, such as comics, recipes, interviews and a centrefold.

The performance occurred on Schloss Solitude’s video conferencing platform from which an audio stream was broadcast on {openradio}. Those who registered and attended the event online, were privy to extra visual and text elements and were also invited to participate or intervene. (Noone took up the offer, but we understand it could take a while to get familiar with the process!). There was also a discussion afterwards, which was also not part of the radio fanzine.