As part of “Meltdown,” a new music festival held in London, a radio art project using FM airwaves will begin in June. Phil ENGLAND, organizer of the project as well as a staff member of England’s much respected LMC (London Musicians Collective) and an editor at Resonance magazine, explains what radio in the U.K. has become and how the project came to be.
Why isn’t there a museum of modern art for sound in the same way as there is for the visual arts? The most suitable gallery space for the audio arts is the sound-only medium of radio. And one of the great things about radio is that everybody has one.
In the last few years there have been a number of anthologies of writings, which attempt to redress the lack of critical discourse around the art of radio.* These collections illustrate the great variety of approaches taken over the years as well as ongoing threads of investigation and along with a batch of CD releases of radio works around the same time, provided the original motivation for the Resonance 107.3 FM project.
Resonance 107.3 FM is a project of the London Musicians Collective, which aims to raise the specter of radio art in a country where the notion has no common currency. Over a period of 28 days, it will broadcast a vast collection of radio works collected from around the globe as well as many newly commissioned pre-recorded and live-to-air works.
The question of “What is radio art?” or perhaps “When is radio art?” is not one that has a single answer. Narrative, the cave of the imagination, sound diaries, soundscapes, explorations of intimacy, the seemingly banal, radio as a distributive medium, improvised storytelling, noise, silence, experimental documentary, hint at some of the approaches. Rather, as with all art, there are as many definitions as there are artists. Radio at the end of the day is only a medium after all.
Radio is the ideal distribution medium for an art of sound, but also one that has its own particular qualities that are ripe for artistic enquiry. Soon after the invention of radio, artists such as Rudolf ARNHEIM, Velimir KHLEBNIKOV, F.T. MARINETTI, Bertolt BRECHT, Antonin ARTAUD, Gaston BACHELARD, R. Murray SCHAEFER and others had made early visionary investigations of the potentials of the medium–often as unrealized manifestos–but increasing control and regulation of the airwaves quickly sealed off this area for good.
Now, at the other end of the century, when radio has long been overtaken in prominence by TV, video, and various forms of computer entertainment, should legislative control over radio be loosening up and allowing access to artists again? Radio is not the dominant medium it once was and with the profusion of stations the number of listeners per station is in a state of permanent decline. No longer can radio trick people into believing that there has been an invasion from Mars or be brought into line by the broadcasts of a fascist dictator.
The opportunities for artists to have access to the medium of radio to make works exclusively in sound in the U.K., seemed to me, as organizer and instigator of Resonance 107.3 FM, severely limited compared to that in other countries. In many countries, state radio has a regular slot which airs newly commissioned radio works. Campus radio is another site which often allows radical use of the radio medium and in Canada co-op radio has been a very creative site. In many countries, subscription radio provides community and alternative programming–the question of why this is not currently an option in the U.K. remains to be addressed.
The legislative window of opportunity that makes Resonance 107.3 FM possible is the Radio Authority’s Restricted Service License. It is an FM license that must be attached to a festival or event and can broadcast for a maximum of 28 days over an area restricted in towns to a two- or three-mile radius. Resonance 107.3 FM then carries on the frequently fugitive and inchoate tradition of previous radio art projects, exploiting the various opportunities that from time to time arise. To do this on a worthwhile scale has entailed two years of fund-raising work and attaching ourselves to London’s most high-profile contemporary music festival, Meltdown; this year curated by veteran BBC Radio One DJ John PEEL.
The aims of the project are manifold. First, it is probably the biggest collection of made-for -radio artworks to have been publicly aired anywhere in the world. These include major works by Antonin Artaud, John CAGE/ Kenneth PATCHEN, Gregory WHITEHEAD, Jon ROSE, Dan LANDER, David WOJNAROWICZ/ Ben NEILL, Glenn GOULD, Heiner GOEBBELS/ Heiner MULLER, FM Einheit/ Andreas AMMER, Diamanda GALAS, Pauline OLIVEROS, Terry ALLEN, Shelley HIRSCH, Lou MALLOZZI, Darren COPELAND, Jackie APPLE, Julia LOKTEV, Helen THORINGTON, Derek JARMAN, Hank BULL, Bill FONTANA, Hildegard WESTERKAMP, Rene LUSSIER, cris cheek, and Alvin CURRAN.
Works have been submitted for broadcast by radio stations and commissioners including: ABC’s Listening Room, Australia; RAI’s Audiobox, Italy; ORF’s Kunstradio, Austria; New American Radio, US; Dublin Museum of Modern Arts’ Audio Artists Radio Transmissions (AART), Ireland; SRC, Canada; as well as many works from community stations and direct from artists and a number of commercially available or publicly archived works.
Resonance 107.3 FM aims to challenge perceived ideas about radio at a time–particularly in the U.K. –when everyone has become used to niche marketing, lowest common denominator, formulaic radio. It wants to shake up radio in the U.K. –principally, the state radio of the BBC which with its “public service” mandate is the most likely to respond to the need for artists to have regular ongoing access to the airwaves. As part of this aim the broadcast will include a live-to-air discussion, which will address the question of the lack of current opportunities in the U.K.
Resonance 107.3 FM is also enabling the production and broadcast of many new works by (mainly) U.K. artists who have never had access to the medium of radio before. In doing so, it has unleashed a goldmine of untapped energies and creativity.
With the aid of a grant from the National Lottery/Arts Council of England, LMC has established a state-of-the-art, digital, post-production studio. In the two months since its establishment and leading up to the broadcast period, LMCSound will have made some 40 radio programs as well as training a crack team of creative engineers. Artists involved include Paul BURWELL, Ed BAXTER, Andrea NAGY, Kazuko HOHKI, Maggie NICOLS, Caroline KRAABEL, Salome VOEGELIN, and the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.
LMC is in a position to submit proposals to commissioning editors world-wide to make new programs, drawing on its illustrious membership of improvising musicians as well as co-collaborators in many diverse artistic fields.
LMC was founded 20 years ago to further the opportunities for improvising musicians. Its current sphere of operation is illustrated by the range of participants in Resonance 107.3 FM. Show hosts include: Peter BLEGVAD, Robin RIMBAUD (Scanner), David TOOP, Max EASTLEY, Steve BERESFORD, Charles HAYWARD, Evan PARKER, K Foundation.
Other features include: radical DJ sets by OTOMO Yoshihide, Dummy Run, Mighty Atom, People Like Us, the Magnificence of Stereo and many others; a “test transmission” from the Finnish electronic group Panasonic; nocturnal and durational events; London Soundscape–a vast collection of recordings made by Londoners of their favorite London sound; daily live music slots; music from LMC’s vast concert archive as well as new live-to-air radio events by Jocelyn ROBERT, Christof MIGONE, Gregory WHITEHEAD, Negativland, Adrian FISHER/Tom WALLACE, Alan WILKINSON, Lance DANN (aka Noiseless Blackboard Eraser), Mark SINKER/ Ben WATSON, Joe BANKS (aka Disinformation), and Caroline KRAABEL.
A handful of artists and musicians are lucky enough to have their own production facilities and an almost equal number of programs have been made “at home.” These include Stock, Hausen, and Walkman’s Matt WAND with performance artist Donna RUTHERFORD; John ZORN; Clive BELL, Ed OSBORN, Kaffe MATTHEWS, and Tom WALLACE.
That “radio art is a decadent art” (Neil STRAUSS) need not be so. Radio art can be a tool for reappraisal and change. It can be cathartic, inspiring action or a reappreciation of the world, expanding our sense of possibility and perhaps even awakening a sense of our wider responsibilities. The creative energy that the project has unlocked in so many people is indicative that it is addressing a real need.
For a full discography and bibliography consult the Retuning Radio issue of Resonance magazine+CD featuring: Gregory WHITEHEAD, Hakim BEY, Keith ROWE (AMM), Willem de RIDDER, Jon ROSE, Heidi GRUNDMANN, Negativland, Dan LANDER, :zoviet*france: & Evan PARKER, Laurie ANDERSON. Available for 10 pounds (includes airmail postage to anywhere in the world) payable to “LMC Ltd.”
Resonance 107.3 FM broadcast across central London from June 9-July 5, 1998. For those outside the broadcast area, a full, printed program guide is available for 3 pounds from LMC at 3.6, Lafone House, 11-13 Leathermarket Street, London SE1 3HN. U.K. or from our website: http://www.l-m-c.org.uk/ A Real Audio stream was also functioning during the broadcast period.