The Apparatus As Interstice: FM & Real Audio Bisect via The Frequency Clock

http://www.radioqualia.va.com.au/freqclock

by Honor Harger & Adam Hyde
July 1999

"radio ... existed long before it was invented. It existed whenever there were invisible voices: in the wind, in the thunder, in the dream. Listening back through history, we find that it was the original communications system by which he gods spoke to humanity." 1

In an effort to unravel the multivalent meanings of the ceaselessly rending concept that is "radio", antipodean art project, r a d i o q u a l i a, have taken to surveying the affinities and tensions between traditional broadcasting [such as FM / AM / SW], and newer forms of broadcast [such as internet audio streaming, or net.radio, as it is popularly called]. We have noted that both traditional and new forms of radio broadcasting have been resistant to blur the boundaries imposed by the differing technologies and techniques employed by both mediums. Like any medium locked within a particular paradigm, traditional forms of radio have been primarily unable [or unwilling] to acknowledge and incorporate the challenges presented by net.radio. This is despite the fact that net.radio, as a hyper "post-modern" exercise, acutely references the historical epochs of radio, wherein communications artists and radio practitioners recognised the magnitude of the structure and form of the delivery mechanism. But despite this obvious loop of history, traditional radio still considers net.radio as either something extrinsic to the heart of what radio is [a technological aberration, a bastard child], or an subordinate subset of orthodox radio forms.

Recognising that a mechanism was needed which drew together these two inherently related forms of transmission, r a d i o q u a l i a conceived of The Frequency Clock.

The Frequency Clock is a collaborative interdisciplinary project "rediscovering and enlarging the spectrum of radio art."2 It comprises an installation, a web project, and a networked broadcast system. The project primarily addresses net.radio, and its interaction with other artform areas, such as sound art, communications art, installation and hypermedia. The Frequency Clock engages diverse sites in its presentation, simultaneously located on the web, in the gallery and in radiospace. It is highly collaborative, involving contributors from around the world.

The Frequency Clock creates aural portals into the creative spaces of the contributors. It recontextualises net.radio within an inventive exhibition environment allowing gallery audiences to explore net.radio spatially, as well as jettisoning net.radio onto the airwaves, opening up new possibilities for dialogue between 'old' and 'new' technologies. Radio and net.radio overlap, the functions of both dissolve into each other.

Thread 1 - An installation
A prototype of the installation and web components of The Frequency Clock were demonstrated at Open X at INFOWAR - Ars Electronica98 in September of last year, and encompassed a series of mini-FM transmitters attached to computers relaying net.radio material. In August 1999 it will be exhibited in Adelaide, Australia at the Experimental Art Foundation, as part of their UNIVERSE project.

The installation comprises a chain of computers all broadcasting different net.radio streams via mini-FM. Each net.radio stream is from a different part of the world. Each link in the chain is intended to be a physical representation of a discrete step in global time zones, the space between transmitters, representing the transition between time zones. By traversing this space while wearing an ordinary transistor radio headset tuned to the mini-FM broadcast frequency, the audience participant becomes part of a global net.radio tuning mechanism. Their physical movement literally tunes the radio machine. Thus, The Frequency Clock is a cybernetic tuner. The organic part of the mechanism is the autonomous tuning agent [the audience participant]. The inorganic part is the associated hardware [computer, transmitter etc]. The output of the whole is determined by the relationship of the parts, their interaction forming the basis of a radio machine. Like the vital role a crystal plays in tuning the traditional radio into different radio stations, the audience participant in radio machine, moving through localised radiospace, tunes The Frequency Clock into different net.radio stations [net.audio time zones].

The installation comments on the nature of net.radio and radio within a closed environment. It is an enclosed exploration of radio. The steps between the transmitters are regular, representing discrete, equal steps in timezones. The transmissions can be summarily traversed by simply walking from one end of the gallery to the other. It is like a scale model of a world map. Its purpose is to establish a representative model of time that allows us to momentarily observe parallel events in net.radio. The listener in this situation is the observer, able to interact and witness the remote events of the global net.radio communities.

Thread 2 - An experimental FM network
The Frequency Clock also incorporates an experimental broadcast component: the establishment of a network of FM transmitters placed in communities located around the world. This FM network will be connected to the internet. An automated web interface will enable net.radio programmes to be shared and broadcast over the FM radio network, as well as through existing online networks. This system allows net.radio to infiltrate the airwaves, becoming audible to anyone with an ordinary transistor radio, thus greatly diversifying and complexifying the nature of net.radio, and the range of audiences it is accessible to. The web interface will also allow geographically remote participants of the project, and casual users of the internet, to collaboratively develop programmes for transmission, deconstructing traditional broadcast roles, and introducing significant elements of interactivity into the practice of broadcasting. The Frequency Clock network complicates notions of transmission and communication, allowing for constantly changing linkages and connections between the participating radio stations, internet users and the physical sites.

The FM network system realises, in a very real sense, the principles that are hypothesised by the gallery installation. The radio network is an open system, transmitted beyond the walls of a gallery. The distances between transmitters are irregular, its timezones are not equal discrete steps, and it is impossible to traverse the broadcast areas with ease. It is not a model, but a realisation of the possibilities of the dialogue between net.radio and radio. Listeners / audiences are participants in the events which are contained within the boundaries of the broadcast area. Lives / cultures / communities are permutated by the transmission.

Local vs Global
"I think more about 'patches' in the map than big areas." 3
Rather than feed into current trends of globalisation, the FM network is more about opening up small portals between geographically dispersed communities. The limited broadcast radius of each transmitter means that each annex of the network will only be transmitting to small parts of their own community. The idea is to create a matrix of small windows opening out onto culturally and aesthetically diverse communities - small pockets of collective radiospace across the world map. All participating nodes of the network will be relayed, at one time or other, to all other nodes. At times when the network is not transmitting shared programmes, or net.radio content programmemed by users of the automated web interface, individual nodes may choose to broadcast their own material to their local community. This way each transmitter becomes a community resource and an outlet for cultural expression for each operator.

Thus The Frequency Clock is simultaneously global and domestic, a presentation of global net.radio in localised spaces. It preserves the integrity of individual expression and grassroots production by allowing each distinct net.radio entity to contribute an aural depiction of the elements which create particular cultural and aesthetic identities.

"Felix Guattari once spoke of radio in the context of transmission, transversal and molecular revolution. Quiet voices, small actions. We are interested in permitting the local region to speak louder, loudest."4 In the structure of the radio network, the voices in each individual zone are invited openly and programmemed into a shared timetable as supreme noise particles.

 

Rethinking Radiospace
"Historically, radio has always been subjected to a relentless colonisation with limiting definitions that we basically try to de-lyricise ourselves out of ..." 5

The common reading of radio is as a mainstream media dissemination tool, which is determined, explained and configured through judicial and bureaucratic means. This prevalent definition overlooks the richer historical context of radio, and its multifarious forms and functions. The Frequency Clock is an attempt to expand this limited definition of radio.

The Frequency Clock deconstructs the hegemony of one-to-many, so central to the traditional understanding of 'radio', by using the inherent interactivity of the internet to enable user involvement. It allows for an unfolding of media structure, a rethreading of the mediascape. The FM system completely overhauls the notion of passive receiving, allowing users of the internet to schedule programmemes, and weave sound works together into a collaborative ongoing radio work, for simultaneous FM broadcast around the world. Instead of perpetuating the vertical hierarchy between clearly defined transmitters and receivers, The Frequency Clock turns into a platform for the exchange of transmissions.

The establishment of a network of FM transmitters severs a philosophical reliance on the kind of commercial / governmental / regulated institutions that are predominantly associated with FM radio. A geographically dispersed independent network of net.radio stations, creating and transmitting content on autonomously owned FM transmitters, challenges these kind of organisations, encouraging a rethinking of existing broadcast paradigms and the incorporation of more open systems for determining content. In this model there is space to develop a radically open-ended system of content coordination, putting the capacity to collaboratively develop radio programmes in the hands of diverse array of geographically and structurally distinct artists or groups. This model necessitates the formulation of a software system able to be manipulated by all contributors, which r a d i o q u a l i a are presently developing.

At pivotal junctures such as Net.Radio Days in Berlin in June 1998, and OpenX at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria September 1998, assumptions about technology and the hierarchies of interaction were able to be examined. In these instances net.radio provided an excellent illustration of the collaborative and networking potential of online working communities. The Frequency Clock continues the dialogue between the net.radio entities represented at forums such as this and extends the dialogue further into cyberspace to encompass more casual internet users. It allows for the further solidification of this subculture through the creation a matrix of FM transmitters.

Collusion and Context
The establishment of a new network does not not preclude, or replace, collusion with existing radio and new media entities. In fact the ideas explored within a small FM network expand the scope for experimentation across a range of different forms of radio, opening up dialogue between discrete types of communications media. In this way, collaborations with existing radio and media entities, and the development of a new mini FM network are two parts of the same idea.

The Frequency Clock expands on a practice of experimental radio which has a rich and complex history. "In the 1960s as Felix Guattari wrote, 'des millions et des millions d'Alice en puissance', over a thousand micro free radio stations appeared, forming the backbone of the 'Autonomia' movement in Italy. In Australia, in the late 70s, the proliferation of access broadcast models led to every city developing new types of multi-lingual/cultural community radio stations."6 The Mini FM movement in Japan in the early 80s created small atolls of creativity within a monolithic and regulated broadcast environment. In the USA during the late 80s, pirate stations entered into legal struggles with the FCC, firstly through Napoleon Williams' Black Liberation Radio in Illinois, and then Stephen Dunifer's Free Radio Berkeley. In the 1990s, major telematic radio projects such as Kunstradio's 1995 Horizontal Radio project, connecting 24 countries in Europe, Israel, Australia and Canada in a series of performances/installations, replaced the transmitter-receiver model of traditional mass-media with participatory notions of radio.

Within this cultural trajectory, The Frequency Clock aims to further the relationship between the internet and radio, asking net.radio to own the history established by radio and telecommunications artists. "The beacons are many: in early telecommunications discrete nodes folded information into loops. Receivers become broadcasters in such a paradigm. Equally, many nodes can go under one name as temporary autonomous zones, and assault networks with unified fields of communication." 7

The Frequency Clock aims to give an identity and shape to this space.

FOOTNOTES
1. R. Murray Schafer, RadioSemiotexts
2. 3. Josephine Bosma, "From Net.art to Net.radio and Back Again", Ars Electronica 98 catalogue, INFOWAR.
3. Luka Frelih [Ljudmila - Ljubljana Digital Media Lab] in an email discussion.
4. Zina Kaye & Honor Harger, "Flexible Bodies on Frequency Modulation", READ ME, November 98
5. Jay Mandeville, "Perceptual Gymnastics and the New Context of Radio Art: An Interview with Radio Artists Rev. Dwight Frizzel and Jay Mandeville,1995-1998", Soundsite 02 <http://sysx.apana.org.au/soundsite/texts/02/perceptual_gym.html>
6. Tetsuo Kogawa, "Micro Radio Renaissance", online, <http://anarchy.k2.tku.ac.jp/anarchy98/radio/micro/index.html>
7. Zina Kaye & Honor Harger, "Flexible Bodies on Frequency Modulation", READ ME, November 98