|NET.RADIO and THE PUBLIC SPACE
by Josephine Bosma
This text was meant to be about work of new groups in the context of audio/radio.art on the net and theirconnections to physical public spaces. While preparingthis lecture I tried to do some research on the net,and found to my horror that there is far too little archived material and documentation of important work. The text therefore expanded to archives as well.
In 1991 I started using pirate radio as a tool, coming from an artist background. In my work I was investigating very much the role of the body in human perceptionof the world and its exchanges with it, in diverse ways. The role of language and theory to me is as important as physicality in the sense of practice, tools and bodies. Through the theories of McLuhan electronic media caught my attention, and soon I focused on new media. Of all media serving as social 'battlefields',the internet seemed to be the place where it all came together and where interventions could still take place. I started doing some research and interviews about it, mostly with artists, but also technicians and theorists. The last two years I went onto the net myself, wanting to make radio there first of all, but initially this was impossible: too expensive for us no-budget pirates, and the providers were very worried about the bandwidth back then. I have gone from sound to written text,in an environment that is called by some: alternative net.culture. (This is loose groups of media activists,theorists and cutting edge artists, which form a fluid network of platforms and spaces, battling an at times tough or at other times amusing fight against mostly a so-called Disneyfication and commercialisation ofthe internet.)
Since the beginning of 1997 however, things have started to change to audio on the net. Software is getting cheaper and more accessable, in the sense of both easier to operate and obtain, and providers lost their fear of the bandwidth problem. Several artist and media institutions are offering experimentation time on their servers. Events and small archives of mostly newcomers in the field of audio-art or audio on the net are more and more available - mostly through RealAudio.
In the context of tactical media use, connecting the net to physical, preferably public, spaces is the most important step that has to be taken next. As a net.journalist, which I have mostly come to be, I feel the lack of knowledge about the net amongst a majority of people is becoming a larger obstacle in my work. In some ways it is obstructing to networkers in general, because it obstructs the development of the net indirectly. Creating extensions of the net outside of it could help solve this problem. Essentially, I see a need for two things: the building and sustaining of more connections between the net and media and physical public space outside of it, and secondly: there should be better archiving, more sharing of experience to spread a more thorough historical knowledge about work on, and development of the net and the world-wide-web.
The net.culture of ORF Kunstradio is a very historical one, it has great depth. ORF Kunstradio houses a tremendous amount of experience with performance and broadcasting on the net. In the same way that it did for more text-based veterans in cyberspace, the moment will come, and maybe it has already arrived, when all veterans find themselves confronted with many, many newcomers. Though it is through no fault of their own, these newcomers often have no sense of history whatsoever. Worse then that:their idea of cyberspace has inevitably been influenced by the representation of it in mass media. We all know this representation is not very accurate. Worse than that, it can be hugely misleading about the 'innate' characteristics of new media.
There are some free spirits. New work on the net that is connected to physical spaces is in many cases connected to and inspired by youth and party culture, but also groups of young artists are experimenting heavily. I regard the groups involved as the cutting edge of a new breed of net.culture-developers.
It is with these people that veterans should connect more, or maybe it is better to say: be supportive of. More texts need to be published, any material that can befound lying around should be published to give insight into old working processes. I am thinking particularly of texts and correspondences from preparation phases of events and performances with technical details, brainstorms, failing ideas and 'sketches'. I know much of this is lost already, but the significance of the little material that remains is quite high. One should keep in mind that there is no way interested people (researchers, developers, 'students') can access information and knowledge about performance on the net, aside from a direct access to net.performers. Instead of letting newcomers reinvent the wheel again and again, they could be helped with archives of all kinds of net.history, and in this case of course, the history of audio/performance on the net.
The history of art, performance audio and radio art,their technical details could be made more accessable...mostly on, but not much less off the net. There is a hunger for it. Most of this information should be free to access, and donations of cultural capital in the shape of texts and documentation should be available for publication in no or low budget media. Having a website with an extensive archive is one thing (which hardly exists yet by the way, and needless to say this should change), but it should also be promoted, it should be easily searchable and comprehensive. Work still does not end there. The active dissemination of knowledge, be it technical or theoretical, on freely accessable platforms on the net and in all kinds of free media outside of it, should become a more natural process.
From "Strategies for media activism", a lecture by Geert Lovink:
NEW GROUPS EXPERIMENTING
There is a very lively net.culture developing around cheaper and easily accessable software, mostly like RealAudio, CUSeeme and irc-varieties. There are even some occasional midi experiments. what is most interesting about these experiments for me is how they connect groups of people over large distances and how they allow for collaboration between different 'scenes' during performances or happenings that are open to an outside audience. To say it more clearly: this is not from studio to studio, from technician to technician, but from space to space.
The net is finally no longer mostly a conceptual, textual space. It is coming out, it is showing itself, it is becoming a more direct experience.
Of course this software and these techniques have been around for a while. The difference is though, that now there is a kind of boom in their use, and it exists outside of official or 'high' art atmospheres mostly. One could say that the net.cultural field, art on the net, is rapidly expanding. The influence of party culture should be no real surprise. Techno and jungle scenes have found their way onto the web ages ago, and use it for distribution in various ways. Sound of course is the easiest thing to communicate to a large group of people who are busy doing whatever in a room. One aspect of the events I discuss here have in common with those of party culture is that they are very temporary: once they are over, hardly a trace of them can be found. There is, unfortunatly, very little documentation of these happenings. Allthough this is mostly because of lack of time to make good reports and webpages that can represent the energy and personal details of the past moment well, there is also a strong urge to move on to the next step, to go from action to action. In the excitement around the newly created bonds and virtual spaces there is no time to step back and contemplate.
A good example of a group that was and is very active is XRL, eXtended Live Radio, an experiment between people in Ljubljana and Berlin. For two weeks in September they had a very full program of performances and broad-and webcasts. Hardly a trace of it can be found still.
Ulf Freyhoff and Monika Glahn, the Berlin connection of the group, in an email interview that I edited heavily here:
"... The physical space is the most important for us,and it doesn't NEED to be connected on the net. The connection via internet of two or more physical spaces gives the possibility to synchronize those spaces at least partly and for a certain time. It's an image,located in real time and real space, for and about information, experience, network, communication. Translation.Inside and outside. Crossing and melting borders."
What is also lacking is a large enough, aware, net.cultural critique or journalism, that could help document. It could also stimulate more documentation and sharing of experiences to an audience that is not directly involved. A better net.art journalism (and I am interpreting the word net.art very broadly now), which comes close to development of net.art theory, could in the end help create a vital context or environment for these intangible or even ephemeral endeavours. One that might provide more funding sources for artists, possibly distributed between sponsorship, subsidies or entrance fees, depending on the situation.
The groups Convex TV and Xchange are active in organising events, participating in performances and experiments. Next to this they help create databases plus communication and discourse inside the rather new audio and net.art scene. Xchange has started a mailing list which they now call "Accoustic Space", after a lecture given by Erik Davies who refered to accoustic space as McLuhan used the term. They hope to see some discussions and theory evolving from the platform they created. ConvexTV has an online archive of both audio files and text on their site, of which the text is unfortunatly mostly in German, even if the interview it originates from is in English. To give you an impression of the activities of both groups, here are some interview excerpts:
Rasa Smite of Xchange:
Important things that these events offer are, in the first place, more direct knowledge or experience with net.culture or its possibilities to newcomers and outsiders, plus an easy access to and low threshold for the use of (new) technologies. These might seem small and unimportant steps at first sight, but in an interview I did recently about, amongst other things, the influence of VanGoghTV, with Kathy Rae Huffman, she told me how years after the Kassel adventure of this group, she keeps bumping into people in unexpected places, who were kids when they watched VGTV, and say they were heavily inspired. These people work in the new media field now.
Events like these stimulate experimenting with media. They stimulate a pluriform usage of media. More direct and energetic (physical!) involvement in the different platforms and channels of more active people could even be beneficial in that it could help other or new techniques to be developed or it could (if I may be very optimistic) prevent unnecesary or undesirable restrictions to be imposed upon the net by corporate actions and governemental laws.
For the groups that inspired me to tell you this, most of what I told you is not really important. What is important to them is that the net and the techniques they use offer them: independence. Independence from broadcasters, from broadcasting laws, independence from difficult organisational structures around art, music and performance in an international context, independence from distributors and freedom to work without too many bounderies and across borders. The implications of all this is another story, for another text, another meeting, next time...
Jeff Gompertz from Fakeshop, a group of artists witha space in Brooklyn, NewYork, that organise performanceswhere there is a strong focus on combining both net.spaceand physical space:
90 North 11th st
schlegelstrasse 26/27, 10115 berlin, germany
phone ++49 30 283 84103 / ++49 30 292 5936
fax ++49 30 44053039
Ministry of Experiment, Radio Student, Ljubljana: http://www.radiostudent.si/mzx/index.htm