Radio without scaffolding
From the vantage of 25 years, it’s hard to fathom a national radio network offering its airwaves to the glottal toccatas and ear arias of Christof Migone’s Hole in the Head. His melding of art and media was extremely mischievous and relevant to the scope of buttoned-down radio—then and today.
Migone’s work found its way in the 1990s to progressive NPR affiliates in the States and also to many live radioesque performance spaces. It’s the scaffold-bolstered media platform airing his experiments that seems like a relic to our ears today. Is it, actually? Waves of experiments have always existed alongside ‘news’—long before the DIY internet and chance, self-curated RSS feeds came along.
Radio, here, refers to an action rather than an instrument; radio as a particular manifestation of the act: to radiate. Radio is the loop of a collapsing tree, endlessly emanating static. Whether someone listens is inconsequential to the transmitter. —Christof Migone, 1992
Consider Migone’s conditions for such modernism as a hearkening back to early 20th-century aesthetic enactments. But as he sat at the other end of the century, at the precipice of the internet age, his experiment augurs podcasting’s genius potential today. His manifesto in another project, Radio Naked, impelled the programmer to dispense (or at least question) all of the conventions and expectations of what radio—and now podcasting—should sound like.
These were fun engagements for maker and listener, and perhaps even the gatekeepers. We can’t ignore these legacies. They are the framework for a contemporary conversation around what tributaries podcasting meanders down or in some cases away from all the rushing like a roiling body of water towards some stylistic, data-driven ‘end.’ Over the ballasts anchoring the dam, practitioners’ missives come careening and splashing and overflowing, overwhelming the conventions we’ve come to expect of, particularly, narrative-based, storytelling podcasting, now more than a decade in.
Radio Contortions: A Dialogue
Last year, Earlid hosted Radio’s Art to expand dialogue of the many confluences of terrestrial broadcast artistry amid podcasting’s churning fervor. No one thing was concretized in this swirling. Contributors merrily pointed towards the interlacing of media and its coiling tendrils.
This year, eight experimenters engaged in audio creation and, more diversely, in the podcasting medium, chime in. Their experiences flow along a continuum of curator-collectors; creative interviewers; improv composers—readily offering platforms for discussing artistic practice. Most are engaged in narrative artistry, sometimes injecting fiction into documentary-like shapes and a predilection towards privileging sound over voice.
For newcomers the term “podcast” doesn’t exactly evoke a sense that you’ll encounter a diversity of form, if anything it hints at just a few limited formats. — Adriene Lilly, Long Live the New Sound
Submersing for a year in the hyper-regional flows of improv sound artists in Europe is one approach (That Tuesday); and, just this month, another takes to the open-platform, sprouting an ‘anti-podcast’ RSS feed—the newest incarnation to build without much scaffolding, Long Live the New Sound.
Similarly, every two weeks, Constellations invites curious listeners to keep their ‘starry’ ears open; they feature a fortnightly ‘frequency’ of sounds upon spaces to conjure a place. And alongside the ‘mixtape’ journalism of projects like The White Whale, remix episodes of Where@bouts, and Love and Radio‘s quirky interviews, sits Lily Sloane’s A Therapist Walks into a Bar, where she, too, offers periodic ‘series,’ revisiting themes such as what ghosts mean for our unconscious lives and, more connected to our waking world, why protesters need a therapeutic strategy.
For each, there’s a radioesque signal, albeit of the very 21st-century kind. Never out of range is the transmission calculus of radio—of sound itself—as a grounding and churning of the aesthetic circuit.
Scaffolding may be precarious
There’s an immense freedom in the so-called loss of the gatekeeper. But what about the scaffolding that buttresses these built constructions—whether launched more than a decade ago or more recently?
Some of these podcasters solicit donations, but most support themselves in day jobs, often in public radio. At least one has a more robust support via the U.S. podcast network, Radiotopia, bolstered with ad sales and a paid staff. The producer of Love + Radio questions how podcasters today could readily take more risks, though he’s cognizant of how risks impact his own aesthetics, his audience, his scaffolding.
Thinking around podcasting in less binary ways—regarding ‘listenability’ or even financial support—yields a push towards the intersections between radio and podcasting. Much of the thinking could veer off-course, towards the mystical, as some of these contributors here suggest. Series of linked episodes are not cliff-hanger-ready. Instead, they work more like an open door. Even if a more ‘conventional’ style is at play, the arrival of it through surprise returns, thematically or stylistically, throughout a podcast’s ‘season’ can ignite curiosity.
Radio suffers from both a cinema and journalism hangover. It’s time to reject the notion that the primary purpose of sound is to create ‘movies in our heads.’ —Jess Shane + Michelle Macklem, Constellations
What do these podcasts demand of their listeners? Depth, for one. A commitment to expand their conception of both narrative and musicality. Finally, perhaps more than a quick download and dismissal if it doesn’t jive with the conventions of storytelling, documentary, even sound-art podcasting.
A Century of Static
Podcasting is built out of a referent, it’s constantly trying to justify its existence by other means, rather than simply being. —Garrett Tiedemann, The White Whale
Creators in today’s landscape might find it fruitful to ‘listen’ to what came before—especially in the analogue medium of radio itself. Echoes of early practitioners can be discerned even if recording gear limited the archival process; even if the one-pass glory days of radio languish behind us.
One can, at least, imagine; we can think we hear something when we don’t.
17 February 1913: This date has been inscribed as mythical in the history of modernism, marking the opening of The Armory Show, which brought Duchamp’s visual art to New York (though his Musical Erratum shattered composition styles with its aleatory and sonic expressions).
But it was Luigi Russolo’s futurist manifesto, The Art of Noise, that ushered in an evolution that year (maybe ‘revolution’ is more apt) incorporating the epoch’s increasing mechanization to free the music scene of its arranging and lexical restraints. (Note: the clamor of war was also surging throughout Europe in 1913).
We find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowds than in rehearing, for example, the Eroica or the Pastorale. —Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise, 1913
Russolo’s categories of sound for a futurist orchestra literally serve as ‘scaffolding’ for three of the podcasters here, a voiced ’roundtable’ of words, concepts and sounds, fathoming links among modernism’s experiments towards this century’s transmissions upon its precipice; its gatekeepers and dreamspace; its mystery.
This ‘art’ of ‘noise’ whispers and thuds.
Leaf + flow: Towards a new Century
Early radio (also launched in this same year, 1913) was born with an electronic side-effect. One can surmise if static can still be heard (or felt?) in the deadness of radio’s ‘air’ online. What do we conjure of our own ‘curating’ and is it the kind of chaos that leads to random and broken narratives?
People need to be able to count on it, don’t they? Yes, but I feel like the podcasting world has become a kind of Penny Dreadful. Oh we do like those, don’t we? —Marjorie Van Halteren, That Tuesday
Earlid’s call for this year’s forum contributors is as random as a radio signal. They straddle edges—bending noises since the very birth of the RSS towards those creations launched this year. They foray towards ‘a’ podcasting built as their platform for ingenuity and exploration.
We’re always landing upon new signals. And a perennial favorite is the now-dark podcast experiment, a vast trove of archived listening:
A blip last year revived Paper Radio, which had been, like Rip van Winkle, a bit sleepy.
Recently, listening to a 2018 series, Radio Silence, one learns that it was supposed to be longer: the producers knew when to stop, already rich with sound.
And here’s an intriguing project from The Organist—a call for submissions to their recurring segment, iTunes Library of Babel, where we all get to imagine the universe as an infinite catalog of podcasts. Just as in Borges’s story, this library goes on forever: it contains all of the existing podcasts, plus the negation of those podcasts.
The lake is the opportunity that podcasting gives us. There are a lot of people waiting there, waiting for those one-of-a kind leaves. We remix everyday ambience … we throw out more and more of those weird-shape leaves … now did this work? —Magnus Genioso, Where@bouts
These makers construct strange kinds of ‘radio’ in order that listeners learn how to hear it. They point to the divisions and desire for intersections between the liveness of radio and the deadness of podcasting—incidentally, celebrating the liveness of sound in the latter.
“In an upending of the RSS feed, someone, someday, will figure out how to use the unique structure of podcast delivery to make something truly special,” surmises Magnus Genioso. “Those receiving technologies are being messed with, in good ways.”
It’s a fathomable and meaningful disruption of the media paradigm. It’s a method of injecting anarchy into the fractured little ‘public’ spheres currently multiplying and separating us (podcasters and listeners), and potentially coalescing some of these ears.
There’s a questioning of these relationships among the body, the technologies used to get the sound to us and the workings of the universe.
Harness those noises, as Mr. Russolo commands. Immerse yourselves.
Begin with a consideration:
How would you listen differently if podcasting had room for being something other than what you hear?
It’s a simple question, not a trick.
The summer 2018 forum is now closed, but all is archived beyond the current exhibit. Happy listening and reading, above and below.
Listen, as an echo, to further conversation around these themes with Earlid’s Joan Schuman, audio artist Adriene Lilly, one of the forum’s contributors, and Tom Roe, co-founder of Wave Farm and its host/producer of Saturday Afternoon Show, Sept. 22, 2018, 4-6 p.m., archived on WGXC-FM.
—Joan Schuman, Earlid, summer 2018