Radio Arts is an independent artists’ group based in East Kent engaged in experimental broadcasting projects, stemming from our belief in the airwaves as a public space that should be open to all for creative purposes. The group is run by myself (Magz Hall) with Jim Backhouse and digital artists Tim Pickup and Nicola Schauerman (Genetic Moo). We have just been running a Radio Arts Showcase at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, the main public museum and gallery in Canterbury, presenting an on-site broadcast of newly commissioned works, alongside radio receivers, transmitters and other material produced in the workshops we have been running in arts spaces and unusual locations across Kent over the last year. The public response was fantastic and within the first two days we had 1000 visitors to our exhibition comments such as: “eerie and beautiful” ..”Inspiring” ” fascinating stuff original and nostalgic ” “interesting, very strange and unique sounds”. It was great to engage with a new audience for the work who were unaware of radio art or sound art for that matter.
Over the last year we’ve been expanding our practice across Kent and held workshops in acoustic ecology, field recording, transmitter-building, Duchamp-inspired ‘radical vox-pops’ and all facets of Radio Art activity; at arts spaces such as The Turner Contemporary, Margate, Beach House, Herne Bay, the LV21 Light Ship in the Medway, The Old Lookout Gallery Broadstairs and The Beaney.
The Radio Arts showcase offered the first public airing of our new Dreamlands radio art commissions. An open call for works responding to the theme of Radio ‘Dreamlands’ has produced a series of outstanding new radio works from international artists Gregory Whitehead, Joaquim Cofreces and Michael McHugh and Noizechoir with new work to come from UK radio artist Esther Johnson.
Gregory Whitehead (USA)’s CRAZY HORSE ONE-EIGHT (a radio cantata in memory of those killed) is a provocative and chilling new work explicitly addressing the use of language and the weaponization of radiophonic space in the perpetration of US war crimes, as evidenced in Bradley (Chelsea) Manning’s leaked ‘collateral murder’ video.
Joaquim Cofreces (Argentina) Dreamland was a captivating radiophonic work which explores the fragile line between the real and the illusion, representing acoustically the elusive Edgar Allen Poe poem, through a shifting soundscape, narrated by the voices of women reading the work across the globe.
Michael McHugh and Noizechoir’s The Dream of the Dream Scientist used biomedical data examining brain patterns during sleep, re-interpreted vocally through graphical scores. This eerie sound portrait of the sleep centre and the scientists working therein consists of building choral pieces performed and recorded by the Noizechoir with an explanation of the process and the science that underpins it.
My own work Radio Recall (2013) also in the showcase, is one of eight speculative ‘trace stations’: fictional radio stations that comprise from my ‘Switch Off’ project that imagines the sounds and novel uses to which the FM spectrum will be put following the proposed ‘analogue switch off’ of terrestrial FM broadcasting. It features local peoples radio memories recorded at the Old Lookout Gallery in Broadstairs last summer heard via a growing collection of vintage radio receivers that I have been gathering many donated offers are still welcome. Jim Backhouse composed a series of Incidentals in response to the interviews sourced from SW, LW and MW transmissions picked up from my collection and ones we built. All the radio art works were broadcast in the space over 50 radios. We had some fantastic feedback people particularly loved the vintage radios comments such as ” Interesting ideas the sounds feel like the last groans of old technology fading away ” and ” excited by the every growing army of radios multiples have the power to take over the world.” made it all worthwhile. People also were excited by the tone of the older radios which clearly contrasted with the new FM radios each old radio unlocked memories which visitors were keen to share, there was a real buzz in the air.
The audio showcase was accompanied by interactive visual art from digital artists Genetic Moo. Many children were drawn to this work as it was responsive to the surrounding sounds through an interactive visual wall called Aeroplankton (2014). Microscopic airborne protozoa called Radiolaria Aeoliae, display intricate mineral skeletons which act as receivers of extremely shortwave radio signals and children loved watching them and joining in.
The Dreamlands commissions are to be broadcast more traditionally later in the year and will including a new work by Esther Johnson on Basic FM, Radio Reverb, Sound Art Radio and Resonance FM in the UK, Radio Papesse in Italy and Wave Farm in the USA. The next radio art workshop (themed around sirens) based on a new work we made last year as part of a residency on the LV21 Lightship called “Voice Like A Fog Horn” is happening as part of the Whistable Biennale in May with further workshops planned in September as part of the Folkestone Triennial Fringe. We will be launching of our own online Radio Arts Gallery and are now considering touring the showcase as it was so well received.
This article was written for Sound and Music Blog 29/4/14