Radio Revolten: Meta-criticism

One wonders about conceptual disputes, given the gargantuan tasks shouldered by a collaborative organizing team for the month-long radio art festival, Radio Revolten in Halle, Germany, in 2016.

It took three years of preparation. And another three years were similarly collaborative to amass and document, post-festival. Tucked towards the end of Radio Revolten—the book—are six statements illuminating varying perspectives of criticism and praise. Those sticky parts are, no doubt, intriguing since they were slipped in at the very end of the book.

One cannot ignore them. More so are the themes swirling around concepts such as ‘form’ and ‘content’; activism and artistry. Co-organizers involved in Radio Revolten and (in some cases as well with Halle’s Radio Corax, 95.9 FM) venture towards these ruptures and these cohesions.

The history of community radio shows that nothing arises from demand alone. … It’s up to the radioactivists to formulate and create the demand for this space.” —Michael Nicolai, “Together We…? Radio Art and Community Radio”

Our conversation launches with Tina Klatte, from Radio Corax. The Radio Art Residency she organizes, hosted by Radio Corax, was begun after the festival in 2018, as an international fellowship program for artistic practice on the radio for artists from non-German speaking countries. The residence program was created to provide a field of experimentation for artistic processes.

Earlid: How do you answer some of the comments raised in the final chapter of Radio Revolten? Is a revolution still only in progress? Is Revolten still awaiting a follow-up?

Tina Klatte: Radio Revolten was an exceptional radio moment, but community radio is a daily life medium. Radio Corax is a community radio which operates with an emancipatory claim of social equality and individual freedom, and aims to give all people access to radio in this sense. That is, to give space and airtime to individual expressions. When the scholars of the residency act in this radio space they are (as Michael Nicolai points out in his article in the Meta-Level chapter) community radio makers represent part of this “community” of radio makers as well as their expressions are part of the daily radio program. They broadcast and are listened to on the very same frequency, equally loud to the punk music show, to the broadcast by the local environmental group, to the daily news magazine etc.

On the one hand, this stated equality means that the artistic work doesn’t have to be indicated as “artistic.” In contrast to the increasingly frequent radio events in the contemporary art world, “radio art” in the community radio can partly evade from being a product of the cultural industry. It rather can be a daily expression, receivable for everyone. On the other hand, one cannot ignore that the scholars of the residency—having a scholarship and curatorial support—are of course “privileged” community radio makers. The radio affords this residency program to enrich itself; the past scholars (in 2019 and in 2018) developed their radio work in exchange with the local community and radio makers and encouraged a discussion about the use of radio as communication medium as well as they inspired for further experiments. And last but not least, the radio space of a “free radio” (how Corax calls itself in German, “freies Radio”) is the only space on the frequency scale which indeed can provide space and airtime for explorations of and experiments with radio as a medium of real time communication.

Under what conditions is a revolt possible at all? Why does a revolt, especially in the field of art, seem so impossible today?”

Lukas Holfeld, “Nothing but Noise? A Critical Reflection on Radio Revolten”

Sarah Washington: Concerning the ‘free radio’ scene’s relationship to the concept of art in general, it was clear all along that not everyone at Radio Corax found the 2016 edition of Radio Revolten to be a good thing, and some held the artists in deep suspicion. To reflect this situation we included some criticisms of the festival at the end of the book. One of the main points of discontent emerged due to the name Revolten (which translates as Revolts), even though this title was clearly inherited from 2006. We had the opportunity to change the name but chose not to, as our wish was to honor the work already done and to multiply the significance of the festival by continuing with it, because the first Revolten was such an important marker for radio art made flesh. A few staunch activists appeared to be pretty determined to set us up to fail before we even began by demanding an outcome that, in their world view, art can never deliver. Unfortunately this had the effect of rendering them oblivious to all potentialities of the radical structures, methodologies and messages which the organizers and the art were offering.

Photo: Marcus-Andreas Mohr

Which leads us into the form vs content debate. Each is usually meaningless without the other, and the success or failure of most endeavors can be judged by the extent to which they serve one another. But how you perceive them ideologically depends on where you position yourself. From my vantage point, I might see revolution in the emancipatory act of setting people up with their own radio transmitters to broadcast whatever they like, whereas from another position this may appear to be nothing more than formless meandering which is viewed as a bad thing in that it takes energy away from the formalized tasks required to produce a revolt against the forces of oppression (and can also be judged as an elitist pastime). I often say: perhaps this transmitter will prove to be critical one day (for example when a malign entity cuts off your internet or takes away your radio license), and therefore you need to learn how to build it and use it. I might also add that meandering experimentation in and of itself may lead you to express an internal voice you have previously never heard.

If a revolution turns things around, sometimes things coming around again into a new context is more revolutionary than a narrative of progress that goes in a straight line … Doing new things with old frequencies is just the beginning.”

—Sophea Lerner, “The Revolten Will Not be Televised”

And this is the point where I find that I want to dig deep, because it is precisely through discovering these untapped voices that we potentially give ourselves more options to move us forward, in both our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In my past experience as a political activist, I found that dogma cannot be relied upon, because even when its aim is true, its strictures too easily prevent genuine progress by dint of their inflexibility and predisposition to produce conflict and division among adherents; often over particular interpretations of canonical texts or ossified ideas. Ideas are not intended to be fixed even by their authors (who defend their right to update them), they demand to evolve, and we need to be constantly on the lookout for unorthodox meaning, especially in all we hold dear.

If we freely explore, to try to open untapped resources, we may well discover additional methods that will be needed to allow for a fair and just society to be built and maintained. Because let’s face it, many of our “tried and tested” ways have been proved ineffective at achieving our aims or sustaining our efforts thus far. In fact we appear to be losing some of the gains generations of people have already fought for. Equally we need the determination of the artist, the activist, and the theoretician. Working together in tandem is crucial. It’s the activism that binds the two conceptual positions, therefore we should seek out more portals which allow us to secure each to the other and increase our strength. All we need do is continuously develop new forms to allow for the possibility of new content, and continuously develop new content to allow for the possibility of new forms. 

Photo: Nastia Bessarabova

Earlid: Is Radio Revolten, in its 2016 iteration (or its 2026 iteration, if there is one again in this potential 10-year cycling), in need of a content-related focus over its so-called prevalent form-driven experiments? How do you situate radio activists and radio artists, content and form?

Helen Hahmann: Here is where for me the discussion around the balance of content and form meets. How can Corax involve experimental radio in the “content first credo” of its daily news program? From my point of view, it is up to Corax to share some proposals in the next years, how a very content-focused program can involve creative radio practices to make people listen with fresh ears.

Tina Klatte: And these experiments and expressions are never only “form” nor are they missing “content” (see Lukas Holfeld’s critical reflection, “Nothing but Noise,” in Radio Revolten). The dichotomy of “form and content” is questionable to me, in general. But with regard to “radio art,” I would say firstly that art in the radio—in the best case—can think “form” beyond the format in the first place, and secondly that a critical reflection of its “content” is quite possible, but the judgement can not be based on whether it’s missing a statement or slogan.

This sense of different things joining temporarily for that moment feels symbolic and significant—a kind of radio alchemy, a spell for a less-divided world.”

—Lucinda Guy, “Radio Revolten Impressions”

Knut Aufermann: Artist vs. activist, form vs. content are false dichotomies to me. “Both” was and is the correct answer. We seem to live in a time where people desire hard answers to soft questions, and soft answers to hard questions (I am using these terms here as in soft sciences and hard sciences). 

Alina Popa (left) and Irina Ghoerghe (right), at the Revolten Klub after their performance (photo credit: Marcus-Andreas Mohr)

Knut Aufermann: I would really appreciate for us to remember the artist Alina Popa who died (February 2019, aged 37), and whose performance with Irina Gheorghe was for me one of the highlights of the festival. The two worked together for many years under the name Bureau of Melodramatic Research.

Knut Aufermann was the artistic director of the 2016 Radio Revolten festival • Helen Hahmann was the festival coordinator • Sarah Washington, one of the festival’s curators, was responsible for performance programs & radio coordination • Tina Klatte curates the Radio Art Residency at Radio Corax • Sophea Lerner was co-creator of ABC’s SoundproofLucinda Guy is co-founder/artistic director of community station Soundart Radio/South Devon, UK • Lukas Holfeld is an active member, Radio Corax • Michael Nicolai is Radio Corax’s project coordinator

ideas from Radio Revolten organizers