The Archive of Future Signals
by Karen Werner, summer 2022
The Archive of Future Signals is a hörspiel I made in 2020 while I was a Radio Artist Fellow at Wave Farm.
My tasks as Fellow included selecting pieces for a radio art archive and making my own radio art. I was excited to research and feature the work of producers from all over the world in the archive, but I soon realized radio art’s history is skewed towards white European and North American producers; historically, creative radio practices and departments have relied on as national radio infrastructures and were present in some parts of the world but not others, which is still the case.
I wondered how to contribute to an archive, how to reveal and not conceal the roots of radio and radio art and its origins in global infrastructure inequities. How does an archive represent a past accurately without repeating or perpetuating that history? How can an archive be part of animating other present futures?
Just before making The Archive of Future Signals I had moved to Bergen, Norway, to begin a four-year artistic research project called “re-radio.” Norway is the first country in the world to officially shift its national radio system entirely to digital audio. FM is now a space of the ruins in Norway. If you turn on any FM radio in Bergen you hear mostly static and the occasional radio show in English about, strangely, healthy nutrition for the gut (which I happen to agree with, gut microbes taking over the signals.)
All the Norwegians I talk to miss the full and lively FM and AM radio spectrums and are upset that so many national resources went into building new and expensive digital audio infrastructures. And so The Archive of Future Signals imagines/creates an atrium where the old Norwegian radio waves roam free, tended to with care, their signals kept alive.
I find Norway’s radio ruins evocative because, like a gap, they invite possibility. Since making The Archive of Future Signals in 2020, I have set up two local FM community radio stations in the abandoned radio space: Skottegaten FM was a three-month neighborhood station transmitting from my living room and included radio street parties, while Radio Multe expanded into an empty storefront for a while thanks to municipal funding and serves a broader range of producers and listeners with the help of a former national radio antenna whose signal reaches much of the city.
In both of these stations a guiding intention has been to imagine and experiment with FM radio’s form and content. In Radio Multe, for instance, every broadcast addresses the questions, “what is community? what is communication?” in unexpected and open ways.
Thanks to Earlid’s invitation to be part of Memory Hole, I listened again to The Archive of Future Signals after a year or more, and I laughed. When I made the piece, my ears were buzzing with radio plays and hörspiels that I was including in the Wave Farm Radio Art Archive. The humorous radio pieces are the ones that stay with me the longest, and I like the challenge of addressing serious topics like archival politics and cultural ruins through humor.
Karen Werner is a sociologist & artist working with radio. She sets up radio stations such as SkottegatenFM and Radio Multe 93.8FM and creates narrowcast performances, assemblage essays and hörspiels exploring themes related to communication and signals, most recently about radio jamming. Karen is currently working on a four-year artistic research project called “re-radio” at the Faculty for Art, Music & Design in Bergen, Norway. In 2019-2020, Karen was the inaugural Wave Farm Radio Artist Fellow.