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<nettime> Interview artist and educator Ralf Homann
Trebor Scholz on Mon, 8 Nov 2004 17:12:20 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Interview artist and educator Ralf Homann


Ralf Homann is an artist and director of the Experimental Radio Program at
Bauhaus University, Weimar
  =20
Interview with Ralf Homann by Trebor Scholz.
  =20
TS: Please introduce the "Experimental Radio Program" at Bauhaus University
and its history.

RH: The Experimental Radio was founded in 1999 at Bauhaus University. The 
new Department of Media was set up two years ago based on the realization 
that the common understanding of media as =8Cvideo=B9, or =8Ccomputer=B9 
or =8CTV=B9 wa= s not complete. =8CVideo didn=B9t kill the radio star.=B9 
If what used to be called =8Cnew media=B9 were to be transformed to 
regular media, then the terms =8Cold=B9 and =8Cnew=B9 would have lost all 
meaning. This is especially true in the context of the arts. For example: 
Are etching, sculpture, painting and radi= o really old media? Or do new 
media start with =8Celectronic,=B9 =8Cmechanical=B9 or =8Cdigital=B9 
processing? All these definitions fail because they are based on tools. In 
contemporary art after The Bauhaus the =8Ctool follows the function.=B9 I 
understand radio as a global, worldwide phenomenon, a tool which is 
=8Cpublic domain=B9 just like screws, wood, or stones but more global like 
TV, phone or the internet. Radio is 'pilot media' following the theory of 
time-based electronic communication because it was always first. It was 
set up before TV and before video streaming became popular. The 
Experimenta= l Radio at Bauhaus University uses radio as a tool for the 
fine arts just as it uses it as a tool for sound sculpture, journalism and 
sound design. This relates back to the Bauhaus idea that the fine arts, 
applied sciences and design should come together to create an artwork. We 
have our own radio studio and local FM frequency, and a streaming media 
server for net radio. We also have a studio for projects that are based on 
sculpture, installation, performances, actions or interventions in public 
space. Perhaps it is necessary to explain some German traditions to 
understand the special significance of the Experimental Radio. After World 
War II the West German media were organized by the Allies to guarantee a 
democratic development of society. Print media were organized as private 
property, but the electronic media networks are based on =8Cmother=B9 BBC 
as a public, non-state, and non-private system. This goes against the 
grain against of the German understanding of public space and public 
sphere, which is either state or private. The idea of common property 
declined about one hundred years ago and Radio and TV in Germany were 
highly regulated in Nazi Germany and then again during the Cold War.

For example, producing or merely possessing a radio transmitter in Western 
Germany without license could be punished by five years in jail. In East 
Germany high school students who use an illegal transmitter were killed by 
the state in the 1950s. The Experimental Radio was set up in the 1950s 
when Thuringia (the state within the Eastern part of Germany where the 
Bauhaus-University is located) allowed private and also free and community 
radio.

My first project at the Bauhaus-University was the 
=8CMicro-Radio-Party.=B9 I realized it together with the Tokyo-based 
artist Tetsuo Kogawa. I invited him to present the Micro FM Movement in 
Germany. He also gave a workshop about the making and use of small FM 
transmitters. His performance dealt with the body: In our bodies the 
building and use of radio transmitters is inscribed as fear, as a heavy 
offense and complicated technical challenge, = a secret, and esoteric 
practice. Working with him we dealt with ideas of micr= o politics. A 
party or picnic, for example can have a political dimension and power. 
During the performance students were standing on the dance floor, 
surrounded by DJs working on turntables. People gathered there and around 
a sofa with a small FM transmitter-- we called it =8Cradio sofa.=B9 From 
the sofa a report about the event was broadcasted to the neighborhood. A 
goal of thi= s micro-radio-party in the stairways of the department's main 
building was to give the building we were in with its ugly 
nazi-architecture a new connotation. This first project gave an 
introduction to the idea that radio is not necessarily better if it has a 
larger audience. The position that radio is only a mass medium refers to 
the history of radio in the era of Fordism-- the idea of large target 
groups. The term target group alone show= s its context situated in the 
decades between WWI and WWII when radio became so popular.

The next project in 2000, was the internet radio festival called 
=8Ctype=3Dradio~border=3D0.=B9 We set up simulcasting, ether and internet, 
and collaborated with artists like radioqualia and other radio stations 
around the globe including a local self-organized initiative of migrants 
and refugees called =8CThe Voice.=B9 We had several points to get across. 
On the on= e hand we wanted to say that radio is not a local but a global 
medium. On the other hand, we discussed the fact that digital data and 
digital currency ca= n be moved around the world (type=3Dradio is the 
button you use to charge a credit card). But when migrants encounter heavy 
restrictions when they want to physically follow these data.

TS: The Bauhaus in Weimar is the first university in Germany, which 
founded a Faculty of Media. At The Bauhaus the first MFA program in 
Germany is in the process of being consolidated. The program in 
Experimental Radio is the only one of its kind in Germany, which teaches 
radio in the context of the arts. It seems unavoidable to ask about the 
linkage between the educationalist tradition of the Bauhaus and your 
current educational practice. Do you draw connections between industry and 
the university in th= e way Walter Gropius propagated it?

RH: Walter Gropius demanded an educational practice in the arts, which 
educated the artist also in economics very early on as freshmen. The 
Faculty of Media at the Bauhaus included several chairs for media 
management and the department has its own MBA line of study, which focuses 
on the economics of creative works, and the culture industry. At the 
moment we try to set up a chair for the creative commons. Lectures by 
these professors are open to BFA and MFA students in Media Art and Design. 
We collaborate on exhibitions, offer internships and support residencies 
for our students. Gropius' idea was ground breaking back then. Today it is 
simply reflected in our regular program. Gropius=B9 demanded an education 
in economics that was motivated by the urge to close the gap between art 
and life. We know these ideas also from other artists and movements. 
Gropius said that the concept of the traditional German Art Academy 
separated the artist from daily life. He claimed that it creates a gap 
between art for art's sake on the one hand and the people on the other. 
For him, 'the industry' was part of daily life of the people. Gropius also 
emphasized tha= t German art academies produced artists who were not able 
to make a living. Gropius thought of the artist as a polished, perfected 
craftsman. But in Modernism the industry has taken over the role of the 
crafts. We must analyze this situation and draw our own conclusions.

The Bauhaus University is of course the place where the Bauhaus was 
founded= . But it is also the location from which the Bauhaus people were 
exiled. Last year we organized a demonstration of students against some 
restrictions by the City of Weimar. The students showed up in front of 
town hall with a banner saying: =8CTomorrow Dessau, the next day 
Chicago.=B9 They pointed to the corporatization of education 
American-style in Germany and the fact that many teachers at the Bauhaus 
had to flee Germany and founded a Bauhaus in Chicago. There is always a 
deep awareness of tradition which is important. Bauhaus University is not 
a museum or a kind of fancy seal of the old Bauhaus. We understand Bauhaus 
University as the place where new ideas and concepts emerge. Perhaps we 
can create a new, electronic Bauhaus. Gropius' demands on economics mean 
something different today. The educational principles of Bauhaus 
University are centered around practice. Our so calle= d =8Cprojects=B9 
are more important than classical lectures or a thoughtless curriculum 
that teaches tools. Students find solutions for real problems. Our classes 
in media art and design do not stop with the demo design. We always 
realize the projects. We cannot hide from the fact that students can=B9t 
be fired. We live in an era of globalization, which means that form 
follows economics. But if form follows function, then we must think about 
the function of the arts. When Gropius demanded to close the gap between 
ar= t and industry, between daily life and art, then we must ask if this 
gap is real or if it has disappeared long ago. What we need now is perhaps 
a new distance between art and industry. But which industry are we talking 
about anyway? I do not agree with Gropius=B9 slogan that the artist is the 
polished craftsmen as this could be misunderstood simply as mastership of 
tools. I=B9m not interested in prolonging the classification between 
practice and theory= . We are accustomed to think in both these 
categories. Contemporary art is theory and the theory is its own practice. 
We need the arts to reflect the practice of theorists and the theorists to 
reflect the production of artists.

TS: What is the professional future of students graduating from your 
Experimental Radio program?

RH: The Experimental Radio program offers a wide range of skills and 
qualifications depending on how long the student is in the program and 
whic= h individual career she has in mind. Each student individually plans 
for her study guided by a mentor. The minimum is that students take 
courses in Experimental Radio only for one segment of their study in order 
to get an overview. They then use these skills for other concentrations 
such as TV, public relations, interface or sound design, composition, 
journalism, sculpture, management, cultural studies, or media sciences. At 
Bauhaus University it is possible to study architecture and take courses 
in Experimental Radio to get qualified to produce urban radio 
documentaries. What's wrong with that? The maximum length of the program 
is five years. A student could finish her BFA in three years and then get 
an MFA in another two years. The Experimental Radio program is based on 
three segments for students who want to finish with a BFA or MFA in 
Experimental Radio. These three parts of study give undergraduate students 
the possibility to get involved in projects of other concentrations. They 
can decide on their own strategy to get ahead. They can, for example, 
combine different skills from web design, TV, photography, interactive 
media or sculpture. At the moment, Bauhaus University is the only place in 
Europe=B9s German speaking area where you can study radio from scratch at 
university-level. Other universities offer radio only on a postgraduate 
level or as small part of journalism or literature programs or as an 
additional offer of a conservatory or a drama school. Radio education in 
Germany is mostly based on training at public radio networks or small 
private stations. There is no established academic education in this 
field. The Experimental Radio at Bauhaus University qualifies the student 
for a professional future in the public or private radio networks: as an 
author, journalist, producer, director, music editor, anchorman, or link 
man. There is only one job we cannot prepare for, which is that of the 
sound engineer as this profession is regulated differently b= y German 
law. But we do have two apprenticeships for sound engineers at the 
department. Our focus is always on the individual plan of the student. 
Some examples: There are students in the program who see their future as 
DJ, owner of a record label and composer in the field of electronic dance 
floor. Other students want to work as freelancers in radio journalism, as 
director in radio drama, or as artists who are interested in audio works. 
Again, other artists use the projects to question strategies of 
intervention in public space. And there are students who are more 
interested in creating new software using the courses of Experimental 
Radio to be challenged and find real problems that they will need to 
solve. Sometimes filmmakers or club VJ= s visit our lectures because 
Experimental Radio is more linked to pop culture or tactical media than 
other departments. This heterogeneous crowd gives ou= r classes a special 
spirit because this kind of mixed scene is what you will find also outside 
the university in the professional field. We teach radio in the context of 
the fine arts. This concedes newer developments in contemporary art and 
goes beyond the traditional =8CGerman Hoerspiel=8C (radio play) which is 
rooted in theater or literature before the 1960s. This tradition was 
transformed by the likes of Klaus Schoening who curated the Ars Acustica 
at documenta 8 (an international art exhibition) o= r Heidi Grundmann at 
Austrian radio ORF. Another example is the department of Radio Drama and 
Media Art at the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation. This focus on fine 
arts educates students to use radio as a tool for their art, as a strategy 
in public space, for actions or interventions but also to create objects, 
environments or performances in the white cube, sound installations, 
acoustic images, documentaries or radio dramas. The Experimental Radio, in 
particular, offers contexts to develop such artworks= . Students get a 
chance to develop individual strategies, transfer their skills across 
media or expose their work to a new kind of public audience. This is part 
of the education in media art and the professional field of th= e students 
here.

TS: Between the techno-optimism of the 1990s and the techno-skepticism put 
forward by more traditional cultural theorists, which approach to 
technolog= y do you propagate?

RH: Nice question. For me technology is part of the so-called 'natural 
world.' We must live with this fact. It is possible to make radio without 
technology, because radio is the idea to make radio and imagine 
technology. Walter Klingenbeck=B9s group is a very good example because 
their radio never started, but the group was working in the German 
resistance. You could find more examples of pirate radio stations or radio 
fans who never broadcast bu= t who create small groups of people who meet 
in the street. That=B9s a phenomenon of radio. The aim of our radio 
program is always to bring people together face-to-face. We cannot 
broadcast faces so we are careful not to loose this aspect of the medium. 
There are some programs which are rooted i= n the authoritarianisms ruling 
the world, at times when radio was set up similar to the news, or the time 
signal, which organizes a virtual mass in front of the unique sender or 
leader. But the basic message of modern programs including the commercial 
one is that you are not alone, you are part of a group and please go out, 
and meet this group or at least face our product in the supermarket. The 
argument that radio diverts or lulls the listeners is wrong. I do not 
approach technology in categories of optimism or skepticism. I am 
interested in an analysis of uses of technology for freedom. I was not a 
fan of the 1990s idea that the internet will make the world automatically 
better or that it will create some kind of truly digita= l democratic 
society. We could only observe that the internet was going opposite ways 
than Radio or TV. Radio and TV were highly regulated by the state through 
technical standards. Now we have the experience of tactical media. We now 
see a lot of initiatives to get regulations in place and to limit the old 
systems of distribution. Have a look at what has happened wit= h Indymedia 
over the last few days in the UK. It's back to radio. I prefer this 
technology because radio is a dancing media. Moving around the body is 
always better off than sitting in front of a screen or being pinned down 
in a cinema seat. I prefer the digital wired, the analogue wireless 
solution, because nobody can control who listens.

TS: Three years ago you helped put together the "bauhaus radio reader." 
The widely acknowledged current crisis in new media arts education is in 
part grounded in the need to find texts with tolerable expiration dates. 
Which texts do you read with your students?

RH: The project of =8Cbauhaus radio reader=B9 deals with this problem, 
because at the moment we cannot find a good compilation of texts. This 
project is not finished, it is more a crawl over the screen and a never 
ending story. In my opinion radio is a medium for illiterates. We can make 
it without texts. Especially in Germany we find a lot of texts about radio 
dealing wit= h problems we never faced. It=B9s a pity because in former 
times German Radio theory was very interesting. But perhaps after 
Adorno=B9s denunciation of the medium nobody was really interested to work 
hard on contemporary radio theory. Now you mostly get fights between high 
culture and pop or the peopl= e who try to protect children by demanding 
regulations for censorship. For the foundations year in Media Art and 
Design we use a fine compilation, edited by my colleagues at the 
Department of Media Culture Klaus Pias, Joseph Vogel, Lorenz Engell, 
Oliver Fahle, Britta Neitzel, which is called "Kursbuch Medienkultur." 
This compilation gives a good overview about media theory from Brecht to 
Baudrillard. French philosophy is very important. In the basic program of 
Experimental Radio we use LaRoche=B9s and Buchholz=B9 "Radio 
Journalismus," and Michael Dickreiter=B9s "Handbuch der Tonstudiotechnik." 
Those are the German standards for working in professional Radio. We also 
use Douglas Kahn=B9s and Gregory Whiteread=B9s compilation "Wireless 
Imagination" and Neil Strauss=B9 and Dave Mandl=B9s "Radiotext(e)." Apart 
from that we read Tetsuo Kogawa and of course Geert Lovink=B9s books 
dealing with radio and tactical media. To discuss ideas of free radio we 
us= e a compilation from the Swiss "Klipp and Klang Group" called "Kurze 
Welle, Lange Leitung," which was published by the Zurich art space 
Shedhalle. We also read Hakim Bey=B9s "Radio Sermonettes" in the 
foundations program and Gerald Raunig=B9s compilation "Transversal, Art 
and the Critic of Globalization," and Marius Babias=B9 compilation "Im 
Zentrum der Peripherie, Kunstvermittlung und Vermittlungskunst in den 90er 
Jahren," which deals wit= h art movements in the 1990s. In addition, we 
use professional magazines from media politics and media research to pop 
music and contemporary art. For Students who are in the program for a 
longer time I offer a seminar in whic= h we read texts or discuss articles 
from recently published catalogues, but also some texts from the US free 
radio movement.

TS: Which proposals do you have for alternative structures in new media 
art= s education?

RH: Dealing with media always means that we can loose sight of our goals. 
The worst case is when you end up working mainly to find sponsors for your 
next project. We need a space where it is possible to reflect and test 
driv= e differences in order to find the next utopian position. Technology 
and economics are the basics but do not get us a better world. I remember 
that picnic was the tool to get a brick into the Iron Curtain. We need 
such picnics for new media education and perhaps we need more parties.

TS: How do you foster cooperation in the classroom and beyond?

RH: We have no classroom, only a studio for the art works and a radio 
studi= o for the live broadcast. In the first place we are always focused 
on production. In our studio you can make programs as a lonesome cowboy 
but that=B9s boring. Mostly there are teams creating programs: authors, 
anchormen= , music editors or DJs, directors and producers. It's always 
more than one person working in the studio. Commonly this is necessary 
simply to use the complex tools. You need support from other students who 
read more tutorials= . There is one central meeting for each project. Here 
we discuss all question= s and set up working groups and teams for an 
exhibition, an excursion, the production of a radio drama or a magazine of 
the weekly program. Especially the final presentation at the end of a 
period must be organized within teams. At Experimental Radio teamwork is 
common and every second summer I offer a special project dealing with 
collaborative work between artists or groups to discuss structure, 
problems of communication or secret hierarchies. One project included an 
excursion to the opening of the Venice Biennial. Such excursion must be 
prepared by students and forces cooperatio= n and group-building. Bauhaus 
University is located in the small downtown of Weimar. Most students live 
in flat-shares and there are some clubs in town, mostly visited by 
students. As part of our final presentation we organize special programs 
at these places where we stream media. Weimar is situated in the middle of 
Germany, Berlin is near, big cities like Frankfurt, Munich= , Hamburg or 
Prague are not far away either. Students come from all over Germany not 
only the surrounding cities. It is very common for students to travel 
around, to make excursions to important festivals, concerts or exhibitions 
to create their own network to realize their projects. They support each 
other with their experiences and varying skill sets. Graduate students 
have the right to make so called "free projects." This means that students 
can set up their own group or collaboration with students at other 
universities, or work together with professionals and get my advice. My 
program runs several mailing lists and a server to support communication 
when students are not in town. Usually we involve students who are abroad 
a= s part of a student exchange in our weekly program with reports via 
streaming media or help them by organizing small-budget collaborative 
exhibitions.

TS: How do you make use of social software in your radio programs? Please 
give examples of the way you used streaming audio and video in educational 
contexts.

RH: We use software to organize group work, to set up collaborations. We 
prefer mailing lists for all lectures and we use web logs for technical 
support, uploads and downloads to exchange files. We try to use open 
source software for all applications but it is not always possible. We 
can't ignor= e the fact that we educate students for their professional 
future, and if outside the university there is no professional application 
of open source, then we can=B9t teach it inside the university either. To 
encode our streams we created our own open source software, called 
o-stream, which uses the og= g vorbis file format. Last year as part of 
our collaboration with the French art school Villa Arson we had a workshop 
in Nice, which we streamed as well= . I prefer open source because it 
allows us to twist the software according t= o our needs. The issue of 
software licenses, or creative commons is part of education. We made 
documentaries for example and organized an exhibition that dealt with so 
called open culture. The course was taught by the artists Cornelia 
Sollfrank and Laurence Russel. It included an excursion an= d a workshop 
about the "Wizard of Oz" conference in Berlin where Lawrence Lessig of 
Stanford University presented his notion of the creative common license. 
We use streaming media; of course for internet radio. In our weekly radio 
program we use simulcasting, ether and internet. Beside this line of 
production we foster audio streaming for special events. We focus on the 
esthetic possibilities of the tool such as delay or noise. We use it to 
realize our collaborations in the city and with other places, like the 
collaboration with Tetsuo Kogawa in Tokyo. We also did a stream with your 
students at The Department of Media Study. From 2000 until June 2004 we 
had a collaborative program, called pingfm. The students of this group 
broadcasted every Sunday together with Amsterdam-based artists like Toek 
from Radio100. Until June we had our own studio for pingfm with its 
streaming sessions but now the students stopped because they are about to 
graduate. I started audio streaming in 1999 when I came to Weimar. I 
starte= d by involving a student team in the Net Aid Campaign to support 
Radio B92 in Belgrade during the Balkan war. Streaming video is not my 
favorite. As an artist I create a lot of visual works but as part of my 
teaching at Experimental Radio I demand that the time-based and 
broadcasted programs are without pictures. Students sometime= s use web 
cams or create great visuals in the context of VJ-ing parallel to the 
audio stream but I do not encourage that. If we use visuals than they 
should be received like radio or act like paintings in a gallery: You can 
pass by, the body should have all options in the space where you show it.

TS: Thank you for the interview.

This interview was conducted in the context of a series of events on new 
media arts education by the Institute for Distributed Creativity 
http://distributedcreativity.org



References

Studio B11- Experimental Radio
http://radiostudio.org
http://bauhaus.fm

pingfm - a netbased platform for audio/video experiments
http://pingfm.org

Transit~wellen is a project by schleuser.net, which is situated in the area
of contradictory communication about public space.
http://transitwellen.net

Experimental Radio, Ralf Homann
http://www.uni-weimar.de/medien/lehrgebiete/radio.htm

Wizards of OS conference, Berlin
The Future of the Digital Commons
http://www.wizards-of-os.org/
    =20





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