Radio Revolten: Re-inventing Halle

October in Halle, Germany. 2016. It’s a rainy evening. Two abandoned houses in the city center of Halle stand dark. Festival visitors were waiting for doors to open to these dormant spaces. Instead, six windows opened across the facade. A battery-driven mini-speaker was held by a performer in each window and different interval signals were sounded (formerly used by radio stations for signal tuning and station identification). A jingling soundscape was interwoven with the whispering voices of the audience and noises from the street. Then a procession advanced to the Radio Revolten Klub.

It’s a fitting launch to the festival and the book’s introductory chapter. You get a sense of the city’s central-square events. They were not just sonic in nature, but spatial.

Radio Revolten (the festival and the book) and Radio Corax (95.9 FM) are collaborative endeavors. Organizers continue to buzz about past and ongoing and future projects. Here’s a conversation between Earlid and Radio Revolten organizers.

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

Earlid: How much was Radio Revolten a complete invention and how much ‘borrowed’ from other festivals and other community-based events or experiences, even a continuation of 2006 or a continuum towards 2026?

Knut Aufermann: I don’t believe in original thought. For me surely the experiences of past events shaped my ideas for Radio Revolten in 2016, e.g., my time at Resonance FM, the project Mobile Radio BSP at the São Paulo Biennial, the radio art festival Radiophonic in Brussels and of course Radio Revolten in 2006. I guess this was the same for all the other members of the team that coordinated the festival? 

When the scale of the funding possibilities became clear we knew that we could invite a lot of people and adopted a maximalist style, for a while we just said yes to everything. We realized that this was a unique chance and our joyous approach seemed to work on a lot of doors we knocked onto. Museum directors, the national arts funding agency, a property investor, the media authority, the Lord Mayor and many more, all said yes when we approached them for space and money. All of them were situated in Halle and their friendliness was due to a mix of the good reputation of Radio Corax, the charm and assertiveness of the locals Helen Hahmann and Ralf Wendt and the ambitious package we were offering. This was where Halle ‘performed’ at its best.

With regards to the continuity, there was a small overlap of organizers and artists between 2006 and 2016. Maybe it is like the tiny bit of continued starter culture you need to make sourdough bread. Some ideas also overlapped, e.g., the utilization of special spaces in town for installations. Other manifestations were new or even deliberately unlike those of the first festival.

Photo: Marcus-Andreas Mohr

Sarah Washington: When planning for Radio Revolten 2016 it was important for Mobile Radio (Knut Aufermann and me) to reference and celebrate our experience of Revolten 2006, because ten years previously radio art—in its grass roots expression—was still a nascent genre. A bit of context might help to trace a circle: in Europe the radio art network Radia had been developing for a couple of years, emerging out of the connection between two newly-existing radio art projects in London (Resonance FM, founded 2002) and Berlin (Reboot FM, 2004).

In the process of producing work together for the first time, we decided to cement the radio-art-media-activism bond that was forming between London and Berlin by founding a network. Although Reboot found ways to facilitate the initial meetings, there were only a few occasions when an event was able to fund travel for Radia members to work together. The network from its inception was spread widely across community radio stations in various parts of Europe, and as it grew it became ever more difficult to gather everyone together. In those days there were only self-generated channels through which information could circulate (such as email lists), therefore the first Radio Revolten seemed to pop up somewhat out of the blue; we later found out that it came about due to the possibility of obtaining support for a project from the national arts funding body which is situated in Halle. The festival happened to bring a few of the existing Radia activists together as participants and audience. It also allowed new connections and links to be made between fellow artists who may have only known each other by name (if at all), and between artists and the politically-motivated German ‘free radio’ (Freies Radio*) scene. As a result, Radio Corax joined Radia shortly after the 2006 edition of the festival. Halle already proved then to be a significant site for the possibility of radio art happenings, driven by the strong artistic leaning of the program coordinator of the station. Therefore at least one key element of this ‘free radio’ was already predisposed to blur and irritate any (artificial or arbitrary) division between politics and art. As founders of radio art projects, equally motivated by progressive political convictions, part of our work is the same but perhaps can be formulated the other way around: blurring putative divisions between art and politics.

I got the feeling during the latest Revolten that we were at one and the same time a central part of the city’s consciousness and also somehow otherworldly, able to move our large international band of rebels and misfits undetected through cracks in the city’s realities.”

As Knut has already outlined, naturally all of our other experiences gained from running radio art projects around the world fed into Revolten 2016. However, each time we carry out a major project we like to shake things up, to prevent a routine setting in. In this case, due to my initial radio experiences as the host of a long-form improvisational radio art show stitched together by a revolving pool of invitees, I had long held a wish to have a radio station without a fixed schedule, the whole content being created and assembled more or less on the spot. Due to our excellent radio team we managed in great part to facilitate this, aside from the fixed program of nightly radio art broadcast-performances from the festival venue. So that was a private desire ticked off and a thrill to see fulfilled. Another element that I felt was somewhat pioneering was the scope of the staged radio art, produced on a scale only usually realized at ambitious music festivals. We all had strong motivation to fully explore this little-celebrated area of performative radio art, as many radio artists are also sound artists or experimental musicians who are used to performing their work. The audience members, many of whom showed up repeatedly, were presented with an uncategorizable array of weird and wonderful experiences.

*Independent, self-determined and noncommercial grass roots-democracy broadcasting, which deals critically with existing social conditions and promotes freedom of expression.

Photo: Marcus-Andreas Mohr

Earlid: How did Halle ‘perform’ during this event? How is Halle like a radio signal itself? What is Halle like since Radio Revolten?

Tina Klatte: Exceptional moments are not daily life, but they can encroach on it. One of the “results” of the festival was the effort to create a continuous space for artistic processes and exchange with international artists in the community radio. (Which doesn’t mean that there haven’t been artistic approaches to the medium at Corax before, there are and always have been radio makers who use the community radio for presenting and realizing artistic work; although they wouldn’t always coin it “art”). An artist residency program was developed, and fortunately, Corax found a partner in the film, television and radio division of the Goethe-Institut, which was curious to set a new focus on radio art as a genre. The Radio Art Residency is a scholarship, which offers a three-month residency twice a year in Halle (Saale) for artists from non-German speaking countries. The program invites and encourages artists of various disciplines to explore narrative and technical possibilities of the medium of radio and specifically promotes the exploration of radio as an instrument for communication.

Sarah Washington: As to a follow-up Radio Revolten in 2026, if it is wanted by Corax, it would hopefully be an equally powerful manifestation of this will to merge the artistic and political in potentially fruitful collaboration. The determination of the organizers and the resources they are able to muster is a source of wonder and a force to be reckoned with. Halle is lucky to have so many dedicated people among its population, and due to recognition of years of solid work coupled with infectious enthusiasm, the city’s spaces and its institutions certainly opened up in a way I have never seen elsewhere. I got the feeling during the latest Revolten that we were at one and the same time a central part of the city’s consciousness and also somehow otherworldly, able to move our large international band of rebels and misfits undetected through cracks in the city’s realities. I can well imagine that the day after the festival Halle’s citizens awoke as if from a month-long cheese dream.**

For me at least there will be a lasting imprint on the very heart of Halle, in and around the market place. Just as happened with Marold Langer-Philippsen’s work Radio Erevan at Revolten 2006—as I walk across the square past the taxis lined up in the corner, all I can hear are ghost strains of Joseph Beuys’ Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee blasting out of a car’s opened door. Whenever I return, this imprint will be overlaid with many more stunning sights and sounds from the events of Revolten 2016. There may well be a fair few market-goers and late-night revelers who will occasionally recall, when some small thing triggers a memory of surprise, a feeling of fond longing, or a small jolt of shock, the uncanny atmosphere of one or other of the festival’s deeply impressive and wholly unexpected public events.

** No, not an American grilled cheese sandwich, but a folk term based on the enduring belief that cheese produces particularly intense and/or disturbing dreams.

Helen Hahmann: The joy to transform historical buildings or public places of a town into artistic sceneries is something well known for cultural and art festivals. What is not practiced often yet, is to adapt this festival approach to radio works. Radio Revolten has worked with that concept in 2006 already, in 2016 this approach was extended. Even more sites in Halle were given into the hands of radio artists. The artistic possibilities offered by specific places in a town for radio performances and exhibitions are tempting. Many of the artworks were adapted, invented and reinvented exclusively for this concrete Halle location. 

It was exciting that Corax as a community radio station got the opportunity to create this kind of international art festival. Out of this big gathering, some questions arose: Where are community radios located in this creative radio scene? What can community radio stations offer to radio artists? How can artists be part of an intriguing noncommercial, radio program? 

Some people say Corax attracts and invites people who favor the rare, surprising radio sounds, the station is welcoming uncommon, experimental and adventurous radio creations. By now even radio makers, that would not call themselves artists by any means, do not shy away from understanding an acoustic intervention in a daily program as part of an agile component of broadcasting. It (almost) has the same implicitness like an interview, music or news. 

Knut Aufermann: As for the outlook to 2026, this proposition for Radio Revolten to be a decennial was fodder for the press who lapped up the idea. A festival of this scale needs about three years in planning, so you would have to ask again in 2023 if the starter culture has been fed properly up until then, whether a new Revolten dough is starting to rise.

Helen Hahmann: What we will definitely have to discuss in a (hypothetical) reissue of Radio Revolten in 2026 for real is how at least 100 people from Germany, Europe and the world would want to come over to Halle considering the implications for the environment. We might have to think about the opposite of 2006 and 2016: what would a decentralized festival look and sound like? Missing the effects that a physical encounter of people with similar minds would have, but emphasizing and strengthening the networking aspect of Radio Revolten 2016 by extending the use of syndicated broadcasts.

ideas from Radio Revolten organizers