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<nettime> Heidi Grundmann interview
Josephine Bosma on Tue, 15 Jul 1997 16:27:56 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Heidi Grundmann interview


This is an interview with Heidi Grundmann, the woman behind ORF
Kunstradio, the first main internet radio experimentators in
Europe. (If I make a mistake here, do let me know.) The interview
was made in Ljubljana, again, and it is a good addition to my
article on net.radio in zkp4. It also has interesting connections
to the net.art discussions. What I particularly like is what
Heidi Grundmann says towards the end of this interview, when I ask
her how she experienced her transition from visual arts to audio/radio
art. The early seventies with its extreme conceptual art, which
was so rudely swept aside by early eighties primitivism and
expressionism, with its dematerialised art seems to have connected
more smoothly then ever between different media and specificly
electronic/invisible media and the arts. There is no real seperate
media then of course, but all art(de-)material. But this is my very
personally stimulating discovery of missing links, to expand my
thoughts.

Hope you like it too.


*


Heidi Grundmann: My background is radio journalism. I used to report
on contemporary visual arts and took a strong interest on the subjects
of art and technology and art in the public space. Because I'm working
for an organisation like the Austrian national radio, I should say that
we still have almost a monopoly in Austria. We don't have a multitude
of radios like in other countries. Now its changing a little bit, but
it is still a very monolithic structure.

Anyway, I was working for the cultural actuality program, - the
"Kulturredaktion" - and then I changed from being somebody who reported
on contemporary visual art to somebody who had a program in the features
and radio drama department. I just shifted inside the organisation. That
was in 1987. Because of my work before, talking to so many many artists
in the field of art and technology, art in the public space and art and
telecommunications, I was somehow in the position to define my new
program as a space for radio art and, what is more important, as a kind
of entrance point for artists of all kinds, visual artists, composers or
writers, whatever, who wanted to position their work in the context of
public radio.

The space of public radio can of course be defined and delineated in
many different ways and that is what these artists did. There are people
who define it as a sculptural space, others defined it as a public space
comparable to the public urban space, where art is confronted with
everyday life. Others want to make interventions in that space, others
again want to remix the material that is being broadcast, yet others are
very interested in the communicationside of it all. Some make complex
layerings of sounds and enjoy using the production facilities of a
National radio, others only deal with live-radio etc.

Around what was originally a weekly radio program, that over the last
ten years helped artists to produce and develop ways to reflect the
context of public radio as it reaches into society, somehow a body of
theoretical discourse also somehow evolved. It evolved out of the
practice of the artists and was tested in the framework of several
radio-art symposia where the artist-theoreticians met with media-
theorists. I still think some of the artists are among the best
theorists, because they don't come from books but from the practice
of positioning their work in very complex cultural-technological
contexts.

Over the years there has been a string of projects connecting live-
radio, the space of radio-transmission to other public spaces like
museums or the urban space from shopping malls to big open squares or
a whole network of different locations in one or different cities.
From the very beginning there has been a group of artists connected
to the Kunstradio that were very interested in telecommunications and
actually belonged to the pioneers of telecommunications art in Europe.
They informed the theoretical background of the Kunstradio very
strongly.

It is a specific Austrian development that there has been a relatively
long and strong tradition of  telematic work in the field of art.
During the late 70s and the 80s this telecommunication art developed
outside the radio using all kind of new technologies connected to the
telephone. But some of the artists involved in telecommunications would
sometimes also produce radio-art. Only in the beginning of the 90s a
younger generation, I think it was the third or fourth,  started to
develop projects in which they connected the space of electronic
networks with the space of the public radio into one single space of
artistic action and intervention. Issues that had been at the heart of
the telematic projects of the 80s and that some of the radio-artists
had tried to deal with by going into the archives of the radio, by
developing pieces without beginning or end, by involving listeners and
technicians etc. now suddenly had a much more powerful and much clearer
impact on the radio: the question of authorship; the question of
everything becoming material that can be fragmented, sampled, recycled,
put into different contexts; the question of the traditional notion of
work of art being completely redefined; the question of copyright --
all these issues were suddenly swept clearly to the surface by the kind
of projects that connect the space of traditional radio to the space of
electronic networks.


Q: Can you tell me what you call telematic art?

Heidi Grundmann: Telematic .... I've always had a problem with an exact
definition. It is one of those words that are really just notions to
keep a dialogue going, to be able to talk about something evolving in
connection with new communication technologies. Everybody interprets it
differently but it was used quite early to refer to projects in which
artists used telecommunications media. It is about art that works at a
distance. Art that deals with simultaneity, telepresence, distributed
authorship as Roy Ascot called it, who in the early 80s initiated a
very examplary telematic project called "La Plissure du Texte". It was
a global fairytale that was told by sixteen different stations in the
world over two weeks - using a forerunner of the Internet in e-mail and
conference mode. And nobody knew how many people participated, nobody
was  *the*  author but everybody who participated was one author of
many. The work itself could basically only be experienced by the
participants and each of them experienced his or her own version. It
was not possible to mediate this kind of fairytale to a traditional
passive audience...


Q: Was this all in your radioshow?

Heidi Grundmann: These early telematic projects were not radio. But
strangely enough, what in hindsight looks interesting was the first
telematic project in which European artists participated. It took
place in 1979 and was called "Interplay". There was a worldwide set
up with this IP Sharp timesharing system that functioned quite similar
to the Internet. There were people in Vienna participating, because
there was a local office of this IP Sharp firm that was quite
interested in having artists working with it. These artists were
Richard Kriesche and Robert Adrian. The artists were in the office and
the man who ran the IPSharp office was in my live radio studio, trying
to make the listener understand what was happening. It was a radio
program really *about* art activities. The man was sitting there with
his terminal trying to type in his messages and to participate in the
project in which artists in over 10 cities around the world were
connected. Meters and meters of paper were running out of the printer.
We just couldn't read everything that was coming in to the listeners.
We could not say, now this is from San Fransisco and this is from
Sydney.- there were just too many messages. It was extremely difficult
to give the listeners any impression of what was going on. The radio
studio had become one more live node in a telematic network. But what
went out on the radio was just read texts.....mostly in English and
in between helpless attempts to explain something quite
incomprehensible to most people including me. This was the first
connection that I know of between live radio and a telematic project.

Ten years later, because not only the technology had developed so
much further, but also the thinking, the conceptualising and the
practice of an art that kept three generations of visual artists,
composers, musicians, technicians busy, it was possible to formulate
what was then called simultaneous telematic radio projects There were,
as you know, the projects in which Gerfried Stocker was involved
(Others involved were Seppo Gruendler, Horst Hoertner, and then Mia
Zabelka, Andres Bosshard, Isabella Bordoni, Roberto Paci Daló, Andrea
Sodomka, Martin Breindl, Norbert Math, Martin Schitter and on several
occasions Dutch artists connected to V 2 and many others. Gerfried
Stocker was one of the people who came to Kunstradio in the beginning
of the 90s and said:
"We have this sculpture standing at the Expo in Sevilla and its run
via telephone, modems, midi and computers. Why don't we make a concert
where I am sitting in the radio studio in Vienna and I have all kinds of
samplers and sequencers. The people in Sevilla will then trigger the
sounds in the studio in Vienna. We can broadcast them live, but we can
also send back what they have triggered, so they can mix it there with
other sounds and resend it to us and the radio just becomes one outlet
in a recycling process really - recycling and re-assembling of material".

From then on Kunstradio helped organise a series of similar projects:
simultaneous telematic radio (and at one point even TV-) projects.
Finally two very big worldwide projects were developed and realised:
Horizontal Radio in1995  and Rivers and Bridges last year. And this
year we are planning another one with the title "Station to Station"
in December.
The EBU (European Broadcasting Union) Ars Acustica group also got
involved. This is a group made up of all the radio-art producers and
editors in public radios in Europe, North America and Australia. The
Ars Acustica group is getting bigger and bigger and each country has
a completely different tradition and definition of radio art. It was
possible to involve the Ars Acustica group in the Horizontal Radio,
Rivers & Bridges and now Station to Station projects - actually the
Ars Acustica Group took them on as its annual projects.

The basic principle of the projects was really developed from the early
telematic projects. Horizontal Radio even explicitely referred to the
project "The World in 24 hours" that Robert Adrian had initiated in
1982: Every 'station' could participate according to the means they
had, according to the art notions they had, according to whatever they
wanted to do. But the contributions had to be fed into the network of
radio- and telefone lines within a negotiated slot of 24 hours.
Everybody had to give and take. There was no central event that was
transmitted to all participants. The event consisted of everything
that happened during the 24 hours in the very complex network between
on site, on line and on air activities at over 20 locations on three
continents. Five internet servers were participating in 1995 and the
users could influence the output by triggering all kind of material
on on-site CD's, which then was flowing back into the network of the
radios and was then broadcast in differet parts of the world in
completely different contexts. All the programs were live and all the
programs took fragments of the incredible wealth of activity going on
all over the world and rearranged the material with their own material
and sent it back to the other nodes. There were many performances and
installations taking place in front of a live audience.

The next year Rivers&Bridges did something very similar but with a
much more important role for the internet (18 hours of Real Audio Live)
and with more connections between public and independent radios. Again
it became a huge network between many locations on three continents.

Since Horizontal Radio the name "Horizontal Radio" has become a general
name for this genre of international simultaneous projects connecting
the radiospace in a different way filling it with a different content
handling it in a different manner: horizontally, opening up the medium
of radio to other physical and virtual spaces - collaging these spaces
in live situations.


Q: Is Ars Acustica connected to Ars Electronica?

Heidi Grundmann: No, Ars Acustica is a name that I think does not really
fit what has happened in the Ars Acustica group during the last two
years. To me Ars Acustica refers to the traditional sound-radio.
A medium that functioned by itself in a very specific way. A very
interesting and rich acoustic art developed since the avantgarde of the
beginning of the century, an acoustic art which eventually found its
place also in radio - reflecting it with the means of transmitted sound,
often produced in the elaborate studios of National Public Radios. One
organisation  that was, and still is, very active in this field is the
West Deutsche Rundfunk in Cologne, with Klaus Schoening, who also
developed the whole notion of Neues Hoerspiel. He worked a lot with
FLuxus artists and developed, over many years, a huge body of what he
calls "Ars Acustica". He was one of the founders of that group in the
EBU and its first coordinator, and so the group took on this name.

Not very long after that, about the end of 80s, radio started to change
noticeably because of digitalisation, under the impact of the so-called
convergence of massmedia, the computer and telecommunication. And so
today I am convinced that radio is not only about sound anymore. I am
not happy with the term internet-radio myself, but definitely if there
is such a thing, if you webcast something, if you do live activities
in the internet, then its definitely also visual radio - radio to look
at. Its by no means only about sound.

The way radio - commercial radio, the big national organisations, but
even independent or pirate radio - is developing, it is no longer
simply the smaller of the Radio/TV massmedia twins, but has become part
of  what we call a "Medienverbund" (media combination/union), a new
type of network of different media. And the leading medium in this
Verbund is the computer as Wolfgang Hagen has pointed out. Sound is
then only one form of many possible representations of data. For
instance, digital radio can lead you through traffic (by visual maps
or text or sound),  open your garage door, start to cook your dinner,
display the text of the bio and a photo of a composer whose music you
are listening to etc. Now we are in a situation where we just start to
try to grasp what this megamedium that looms on the horizon might mean
for our culture.

Today we are dealing with many different hybrids between old and new
forms and the old familiar radio, as an isolated listening medium that
brings you news, drama, music, talk and is a reliable companion, whose
clocklike habits accompany you as a flow of sound. is a nostalgic relic.
There are many artists working in and for the context of this nostalgic
medium but there are many others working in a hybrid networked space of
constant change.

Now the big, culturally very relevant thing is that there is a very
powerful commercial conglomerate in this 'Medienverbund' and even most
of the public radio and televisions are looking at the new media not
as a cultural field but as a field for business. They are hoping to
make money! Also with cultural programs - I can see that the
environment in which my radio-program is located has changed completely.
Even the cultural channel that is really funded, by law, by listeners
fees is doing 'marketing'. All these commercial concepts have entered
the daily functioning of non-commercial radio - including firms and
banks coming in by the backdoor to sponsor things.

I think the lines are suddenly running on different borders, between
the commercial sector and the cultural non-commercial sector. I think
it is strategically very important to form new alliances there. A
program like Kunstradio and the work of the artists working for
Kunstradio is something alien to the structure of that commercial or
semi-commercial culture, even on a cultural channel. In a way, we have
much more affinity to free radio, independent radio or to media-activism
reflecting the internet etc. It is different alliances that come
together now and it is very necessary that they do come together. There
is a new type of marginalisation going on ...I mean, the commercial
pressures are at any rate so strong that there is a need to save some
place for a process of reflection, whether you call it art or whatever.
What is happening to our culture needs to be reflected, thought about.
Some of the artists that I have the pleasure to work with are very
important figures in this kind of reflection process. Again: because
they are very strong theoreticians and because they also have very
strong attitudes towards what is happening to our culture. And both,
their theories and their attitudes are informed by their practice in
the new mediaspace.


Q: What exactly would you like to see happening? You painted a bit of
a picture of something that might be called a danger to free art radio.
Is there something that absolutely needs to be part of this new free
media network?

Heidi Grundmann: I don't see any solutions at all. Solutions are not
at all visible in any discussions going on. For example; the one on
net.art shows that nobody knows a solution, nobody has an answer.
Everybody is asking questions. But what I think is very important,
if one is interested at all in culture and what culture is, that
strategies be developed for different groups forming again and again
for the purpose of realising different projects or whatever you may
call the different frames from which people work, certain aspects of
the question 'how is our culture changing now?'. The groups are very
important because it is a territory where no individual art is really
possible. You can do a little tiny thing, like send a virus into the
web and things like that (as an individual). But basically individual
artists can not work there. I can only see that groups and constantly
changing groupings of so-called artists and non-artists are forming
all the time.

One very strong aspect of Kunstradio, even as far as the normal weekly
radioprogram is concerned, is that the artists have, since many years,
recognised that a certain type of technician has become co-author of
their pieces. They could not do it without this type of very engaged
technician, who are in turn challenged by the artists to find different
solutions and so on - plus the the aspect that people from different
disciplines are suddenly working together. Some people come from music,
others come from dance; there are the people from the visual arts,
people from literature, and they constantly reshuffle in groups to do
things. They take on different tasks, and they are developing new
production strategies for this new kind of conglomerate of media. It
is a constant learning, developing and researching process that needs
groupings of some sort. They don't need to be groups for life, but for
certain projects. They also have to look over the borders of one
organisation or one country or whatever. Its a constant looking out
and putting energy together. Acting to the moment, which is difficult
enough to grasp.

As long as this kind of networking also among people is taking place,
I think, even when we don't know where it is going, there is a lot of
hope.


Q: You come from the visual arts, but you are now mostly into audio
art. How did that change occur and did you like it? Now with net.radio
we are moving more towards the visual realm again, do you regret that?

Heidi Grundmann: I started out to report and write about visual arts,
but I did it in a medium that was not visual at all. There was not
even an internet where I could have made little reproductions of what
I am talking about. It was really just a medium where you could talk
and make interviews. Also at the time when I got into that there was
performance art, there was conceptual art and all kinds of
dematerialised art. The theories of the artists doing this work were
very important. So my move was very natural. I met a lot of people
who were working as artists in the radio, with live radio for instance.
That was a very very natural thing. It was not necessary to have images,
physical images for this type of visual art activity. It had
dematerialised, away from the physical image or object. Now there are
images on the web, but they are only one aspect, they are one way that
data can be interpreted. I think most people working in the field see
it also like that. They see a whole range of possibilities to do
something with data. The basis of it all is dealing with information
and data.

The whole notion of art has changed to a degree where the name itself
is in question. Many artists question whether they want to call
themselves artists at all. But there is still something going on,
which I think is very important to our culture. Whether you name it
art or not. I find it fascinating. I myself am not an artist,
definitely never was and never will be. I changed from reporting on
things to being involved in the organisation and the developing of
projects. Thats of course a very very interesting field......


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