martin conrads on 12 Oct 2000 03:20:53 -0000

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<nettime> 2000 Years of Convex tv

[written for the streaming media festival reader]

2000 Years of Convex tv.(1) : "there was a bandwidth playing on the radio"
Compiled for convex tv. by Martin Conrads

The mainstream is lagging in the exploitation of new media, but Convex TV,
an on-line artist/funk magazine, organized amazing computer-enhanced
chill-out zones and technological installations (2).

On Saturday, May 17th 1980, the day before they were to fly to America to
begin their first US tour, Joy Division singer Ian Curtis visited his home
in Macclesfield and watched the televised film Stroszek by his favorite
director Werner Herzog. In America, Herzog shifts gears to a surreal road
movie, ending with poor Bruno (sans Eva) adrift on a lonely ski slope,
contrasted with Pavlovian dancing chickens (3).

In the 20th century, when people were still bathing in the aura of progress,
a bunch of Berlin-based semi-youngsters decided it was time to dive into the
processes of the aural. Heavily devoted to their tongues, ears and
fingertips, they invented the idea of "convex tv." and started a three year
journey, which took them to the edges of netspace, air-time and e-commerce

The people from Convex TV had a radio show on the student university radio
that had been given some of good old 'Voice of America's' airtime. The
program was highly experimental, and used the internet during its broadcasts
once a month for producing live texts and images. There was no sound here
yet, on the internet that was. Listeners of the program through the ether,
could take a seat in front of their computer and join in the live text event
on their screens. People outside of the transmitter radius could do this
also, having a very different radio experience indeed (5).

At the test bed of their futurity, convex tv. connected both radio and the
net to the urban spaces of Berlin. By passing regular radio transmissions
onto a multiplexity of broadcasting-levels, they left traces on the internet
and on site for media-archeologists to discover. Demanding attention from
more traditional media, they designed manifestos such as "HTML deejaying
y/our favorite lo-tekst myth.", "there's a bandwidth playing on the radio",
"*developed arrestment* - make alias. (a PJ for ten or six notes on the
death of self-organisation)", "the porn empire links back", "some thoughts
on the paste-media era", or "We Can't Stop the Dancing Chicken" (6).

We started with convex tv. in Berlin in late 1996. Our website had
constantly evolved since early 1997. From the beginning we tried to develop
the web content in accordance with our broadcasting issues, which for the
most part were journalistic topics- digital culture, media culture, or
electronic culture, as we preferred to call it. First, we put on our website
all the transcribed programs we broadcast, so you could read it like an
online magazine.

But very soon we saw that this was not the only possibility to work with
online broadcast, with online presence. So even before we worked with the
real audio software as a broadcasting tool, we developed a very low-fi
broadcasting technology which we called "html-djing". It functioned like
this (7):

Durante i primi periodi il collettivo non aveva gli strumenti adatti, la
conoscenza e le connessioni per trasmettere segnali audio in rete. Fu allora
che il collettivo pensò a una forma di trasmissione in rete parallela a
quella via etere, per decostruire i confini dei media ordinari. L'invenzione
era semplice: l'HTML deejaying. Mentre trasmettevano via etere (coprendo
solo l'area di Berlino) trascrivevano testi die programmi e li cutuppavano
spedendoli ad un server FTP, sincronizzato in tempo reale con la
trasmissione in diretta. L'HTML DJ ricaricava la pagina con i nuovi
contenuti quando bisognava farlo. Gli ascoltatori che avevano accesso
solamente alla radio ascoltavano il ricevitore, quelli che avevano anche una
connessione ascoltavano e leggevano, e gli ascoltatori che non potevano
ascoltare, perché magari stavano a Budapest, avevano una strana esperienza
di sola lettura. La pagina veniva continuamente aggiornata con nuove
informazioni. Forse era la prima trasmissione testuale in rete che si
comportava come un medium audio-visuale, forse era l'ultima. Ovviamente la
trascrizione simultanea del parlato era una cosa improponibile: la versione
testuale non era mai la versione più recente. Per cui c'erano errori,
mancanze, piccole dissonanze tra il suono della radio e le immagini e i
testi in rete. Per trasformare tutto ciò bisognava farlo in
pubblico. -Streaming Texts- (8)

Then, during 97, very soon the real audio software became common as a
streaming tool, so we started streaming on the web parallel to our on air
programs, which normally were being produced once a month. Also we started
to put up an archive of our streams and programs. We soon saw that this was
one of the big advantages of in correspondence to traditional air
frequency radio: You could get a feedback for things which were produced
some time ago and also you could get e-mails by people who did research in
the archive and then could reply to them. By having an archive you also
offered an invisible audio sphere where the linear model of traditional on
air frequency radio was broken up by the structures of the web - you
produced an audio hyper structure, where it was up to the user to choose the
files and create her or his own audio listening structure (9).

As everybody knew, there was no such thing as, but a great variety
of ideas and experiments around *sound* on the internet. as all of you had
your own unique experiences with "", we didn't want to provide a 24
hour schedule in a centralist planning style. instead we liked to ask all of
you to participate in creating the contents of the meeting. To
make it a little bit easier we had tried to define a matrix for topics, that
could be discussed and/or be subjects of direct action and experiment (10):

As you could see from our homepage, we had a tripartite logo: This was due
to our media strategy, which consisted of three levels of work: on air
presence, on site presence and on line presence. The on site part was called
"test bed", it was a semi-public space in Berlin, which we mostly used as an
office, but sometimes also as a bar or an exhibition space. Also we invited
DJs to come to our place to do live streams. It was never really figured out
if something was more a work situation, a public party or an art situation

Unfortunately, the first impression upon entering was that someone had
broken in and made off with half the stuff -- indeed, some works were to be
found at various other locations in the city. The model for the show was
perhaps the Hybrid Workspace, a kind of information depot at Documenta X.
Viewers were presented with some photocopies, a couple of televisions and a
group of uninviting shelves housing a few tapes. Perhaps more interesting
things could be found via the internet, at (12)

With an excellent techno-minimalist design --within what we could have
called a 'clear line' style that was very easy on the eyes-- convex tv was
one of the pioneering spaces that broadcast streaming images and sound in
real time on the Internet (13).

One of the basic ideas of convex tv. was to make a link back from the very
abstract use of radio as it was perceived then - as a mass medium - back to
a really small community, to produce a kind of a community radio. I have to
add that our archive was only made possible by the help of Radio
Internationale Stadt and, which is a Berlin-based
audio server. I think that it was very hard always to react precisely and
fast enough to what was constantly being developed by the media industry.

To (seemingly) cover this situation, we worked on a project called
[.format], where we asked a lot of people to think about their use of
formats, also to think about their use of the term "format". We made a
website to present this project, here it was: The basic idea was to use a globe as
a symbol of [.format]. Within this project, we realized a series of
interviews with people about the format-idea. We also asked artists to
contribute to an audio CD, to do audio pieces about their ideas of formats.
Also, we made a 24 hours program where we invited special people to come to
test bed and contribute by producing programs on the format issue. In the
end it showed that the most important format was the own body, because if
you broadcast for 24 hours and you were always in the same room, then the
room, and within that room your own body, became a format itself (14). had an online archive of both audio files and text on their site,
of which the text was unfortunately mostly in German, even if the interview
it originates from was in English. To give you an impression of the
activities here are some interview excerpts (15):

Q: what was convex tv.?
A: convex tv. was multi-dimensional:
a) an on-air radio program,
b) an internet audio archive/database (stored at Radio Internationale
c) the convex tv. plug-in, the parallel broadcasting of audio and text
d) ad hoc installations in art spaces and last but not least
e) a virtu(re)al space for socializing. but:
f) it was not *club-art* whatsoever!
Q: and what was convex tv. in terms of *content*?
A: convex tv. was dealing with the cultural, political, economical aspects
of digital technology, end-of-the-century pop culture and art. the main
format of these contents were audio-files on the internet. (for more info on
this subject > see below.) most of the spoken word carried by this audio
data was German. but there were also some programs in English.
Q: who was convex tv.?
A: convex tv. was a collective of 3-14 persons coming from different
backgrounds, permanently contracting and expanding...
Q: was convex tv. radio on the internet or internet in the radio?
A: with the combination of on-air radio and its RealAudio database convex
tv. was all in one: convex tv. dealt with questions of digital technologies
on its traditional radio show and brought radio into the net. with this
model convex tv. combined two different kinds of accessibility. whereas
on-air radio was able to reach a mass audience (at least in theory) at one
moment in time, our archive was accessible whenever you wanted to - and you
were a mass audience, too (16).

There were many examples of very different and yet similar approaches of
this traditional webcasting, from Convex TV, which approached both radio and
the internet in a conceptually radical art-way (17):

[Click here!]
        Click Here!
You were here: Home > Computing & Internet > Web Building > Studio > Feature
 Feature Story
 [spacer GIF][Click here!]  [Click here!]  [Click here!] [Image]
[Image][Image] [Image][Image][Image]  [Image][Image][Image]
 Departments    Audio in Action:
 Development    The Complex World of
 Careers &
Graphics &  decided to conduct a little behaviorist experiment.
 Multimedia    The scene was Documenta X, 1997, one of Europe's most
 Sysadmin    art events, staged only once every five years in Kassel,
       Germany. As part of the extravaganza, the Hybrid WorkSpace had
 Web Building   been set up for various groups - including the
 Studio     collective convex tv. - to come in and, well, work.
Computing &    The crowds who've poured into Kassel from all over wandered
 Internet    through the exhibition and, eventually, into the Hybrid
 Buy Software   WorkSpace, where they found a group of appropriately
 Online     artsy-looking twenty-somethings sitting around a table talking,
 Download    passing papers back and forth, and smoking hand-rolled
 Hardware    cigarettes. A few others tapped a bit at computers before
 Tech Resources   up again and wandering off, and a guy with headphones was
 Tech News    flipping records (Sun Ra then)
on two turnstiles in
 Web Site Services  front of some industrial-age contraption with lots of
 Software Reviews  knobs and switches.
 Support     The crowds were confused. They milled around, reading
       pinned to the whitewashed walls, glanced at the radio innards
       strewn out in front of a perplexed fellow with a set of pliers,
       and milled around some more.

       Was this art? It didn't really even look that much like work (18).

There was a historical gap between the two formats of text and sound, it
seemed. but there was a tiny moment in history, when the gap was bridged by
a unique technique..(19):

Dancing stored information, retrieving radio at loose ends.

Before hooking up with the gravy train that was Elvis, the Colonel made a
living working in carnivals and fairs, and was founder of the Great Parker
Pony Circus and Colonel Tom Parker and His Dancing Chickens. For the latter,
he would place live chickens on a hot plate covered with sawdust; the
chickens then shook their legs and hopped about to avoid the heat.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio. (20)

"trimm dich" - the motto of the gathering - had been borrowed from a west
german 1970s campaign for public health and meant: get fit! mikro and convex
tv. provided beds and vitamin-breakfast, having helped you to achieve this

In general Berlin didn't want to be a strictly organized
symposium, but an open space for meeting and discussion. were
organized by the Berlin based organisation of "mikro" in cooperation with
the local convex tv. collective and took place at several locations in town

Media collectives across Europe had spent the final years of the last
century learning to transgress national borders via new modes of shared
broadcasting and artistic creation. The Berlin-based - and recently
deceased - collective convex tv. came to the conclusion (22):  "there were a
few simple reasons for doing things collectively: technologically and
economically speaking the collective was the only space where you could be
marginally successful and successfully marginal. that meant: in order to
create marginal media products you had to invest the same amount of energy
and intelligence as into a mainstream product. that was the rule of the
mutual (23).

It was not even that we had to sell ourselves. There was a really good text
of's website actually called "Make Alias" about the desirability
of marginal collective groups from many point of views. We all knew about
this cultural capital stuff that was going on, and it got really difficult.
But convex tv view was 'make an alias', which I really liked (24).

As everything got wireless, media of all kind were moving to the centralized
matrix known as the Ether. While the traditional forms -internet,
multimedia - showed many signs of vanishing, the Ether was being invaded by
even older media species. convex tv. was one. Yet with each additional
transmitting station, each new antenna, the media the Ether could support
became richer, more complex, more differentiated. The Ether had begun
offering things you simply couldn't hear (25):

In the manner of the tradition of Enlightenment Europe's academies of arts
and sciences, convex tv., in co-operation with you, were soliciting
responses from a global public and in sound form to the following Prize
Contest. This announcement was addressed to all persons, anywhere in the
world. You were invited to respond to our Prize Contest in a creative way
and from whatever happened to be your own techno cultural perspective and
background. You should have aimed to provide the most convincing and
conclusive solution possible in a spirit of open competition. On the
threshold of a new millennium, this international competition of minds hoped
to become a symbol of a creative and co-operative global society in the 21st

The Prize Question:
Producing an Advurt (jingle) to promote the general or specific ideas,
conditions, utopias, references of to a worldwide audience!

The Advurts had to address the following issue:

Liberating the net from radio?
Liberating radio from the net?

The Prize: 1 (26)

Part of our agenda was, never to precisely define what we were doing, which
also was an effect of convex tv. being 14 people with different occupations.
With convex tv. it was a very mixed level of working and communicating with
each other, and these situations then "produced" convex tv., a constant
working with images and sounds, space, text and people. This, I think, was
the most important part of the project: having a room, where people could
come and talk with each other. Also we always produced misunderstandings "
for example the whole website was not designed that well... (27)

Thus, people could follow the adventures of this small collective on their
journey to friendship, fame and happiness. But this was only the
theory-module of the whole story. Just think of their practice and you wish
the millennium had never come: the connection of media, the construction of
situations, the simulation of institutions, the intuition of inversion, the
invention of objects, the subject of formatting. All of these and many more
were the nouns to sentences which contained verbal forms such as
"streaming", "hosting", "presenting", "inviting", "joining", "listening",
"defining" and "speaking". Having tested every single word, sound, space,
time, situation, bit, tag and .net which was available at that time, our
travelers were finally mesmerized by their own significance, and transformed
themselves into a project of the past by deprocessing every vehicle used,
except their friendship (28).

Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's longtime manager, died Tuesday of
complications from a stroke. He was eighty-seven (29).

There was a bandwidth playing on the radio (30).



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