josephine bosma on Sat, 11 Jul 1998 17:23:44 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> (Xchange) text Ars Electronica catalogue


      rediscovering and enlarging the entire radio spectrum

Webcasting has been one of those hot words on the internet the last
year. Funny thing is however that it never got the attention or
discussion that for instance hypertext had. It seems like the term
from the beginning was perceived as a balloon, a bubble of hot air,
ready to explode and proof obsolete any moment. The reason for this
is not its lack of potential. The reason is its lack of potential
for the kind of marketdomination and power massmedia conglomerates
like to have. Or in short: it is not as profitable as was hoped.
The goldmine many look for when it comes to undertaking on the
internet is not one that easily shows its treasures. The internet is
still about developing new paths, and these paths extend into the
offline world most literally with webcasting. This makes webcasting
one of the ultimate platforms for experimental artforms now.

When the term webcasting is used it usually refers to web-tv. As
television is still the most powerful massmedium the idea of a
possible crossbreed of television with the internet has triggered
many to write quite shallow future scenario's. For the arts it is
important to view the entire potential of a medium. With webcasting
this means we have the possibility to reinvent all massmedia, like
text or print, but mostly radio and television. They can be used in
any variety and combination, supported and de/reconstructed by the
Webcasting is sound and vision, it is static and moving at the same
time. It offers past (archives) and present (livestreams) in one take.
When connected to the offline world, be it through radio or television
or through performances and presentations in 'real space', the depth
of a work created there can be unfathomable and dazzling. We have
text, sound, moving or still images, real space with many electronic
and connectable devices and the human body at our disposal. The
audience does not necesarely have to grasp the whole of the work to
appreciate it, it can take the work in in chunks, during the actual
proceedings of the work or afterwards. This means an artwork in this
way does not have one possible interpretation and it also means that
a part of the work is as valuable (to the audience mostly) as is the
entire thing. It is object as well as performance.

Radio is the most flexible and practical in a tactical sense of the
mass media. Taking it literally it can be even more effective then
print: when working with it illegally, discarding broadcasting laws,
it is the cheapest medium with the largest reach (*). One should not
let jurisdiction narrow ones understanding of the medium. It is highly
mobile, the equipment for broadcasting is cheap and small. Television
is in this respect closing in on radio maybe, but it is not quite
there yet. On top of this, in a space sound reaches an audience
anywhere, eventhough its 'colour' changes with the movement of the
audience/receiver through the space. One important reason for sound
art now becoming more important is what Helen Thorington of New
American Radio says: "it brings the body back". Sound does not just
reach the body from any angle, it enters it, it touches it, inside
and out, literally.  This is an important feature in the bodiless
society that shapes net.culture. makes art intangible and elusive, but makes radio
visible and takes it back to its basic varieties, thus making it
accessable again while also expanding it.

Important is not to confuse completely with, as
happens occasionally when my pleas for a more varied usage of this
medium are misunderstood. is a medium and therefore its
features can be discussed like any other tool. Art is another story.
It is the combination of the two that is explored at Ars Electronica
this year. Webcasters in general can learn a lot from art and, but that is not the point now. What I maybe should add to
make you understand my -personal- vision better, is that I use the
term often for webcasting in general, trying to subvert
the dominant visual aspect of it, in an attempt to make space for
a more creative and innovative usage of both radio and television
through and on the net. Confusion intended.

A comment from Adam Hyde of Radio Qualia:" is a PRACTICAL
science, art can be for arts sake but has a more vital
context - MUST respond to its environment and justify why
it is prefered above other media if it really wants to be something
other than merely an 'art project'...otherwise ="

What is radio then? Everybody knows its mass media presentation.
A broadcast bound to legislation which shape its content and form
sent out from a central point reaches receivers anywhere in the
world. This form of radio is often misunderstood as being the only
form of it. Radio however, like the internet, started as a military
communication tool. It can be used for one to one communication, or
it can be used in a closed circuit. It can be used to steer and
control objects at a distance. It can even be used to send data from
one computer to the next. Different wavebands and frequency ranges
are used for all sorts of practices.
Not only this literal variation of radioforms is possible.
Within mass media broadcasting there are the choking and expensive
authorship rights, the costs of hiring a frequency and the
dedication of airspace to rarely surprising content due to laws
of commerce and national security which determine our perception
of the medium heavily. Radio pirates or illegal stations have been
able to develop more playful and interesting programming ignoring
legislation completely or partly. In Amsterdam, where one of the
reasons some of the existing illegal stations have lasted up to
fifteen years is their careful use of radiofrequencies and good
equipment, a long, practically uninterrupted ability to play with radio
content has enabled highly experimental programs to emerge there,
programs which sometimes told the listener to "throw their radiosets
out of the window", to turn off the radio, or listeners would witness
the actual hijacking of his or her favorit radioshow by strangers
entering the studio to take over the show.

I use these examples to show that radio and thus also do
not need to be perceived or approached as public or 'audience
friendly' media. It should be clear when we talk about an
international network like Xchange, one of the invited
groups for the OpenX part of Ars Electronica this year, that the term has little to do with the 'traditional' narrow definition
of radio. Radio, being more then this narrow definition, is now used
in the setting of the internet, plus it is used in the context of

Experiments with artworks for the internet or collaborative pieces
that involved telephoneline based networks of computers started in the
late seventies, early eighties. These works hardly ever were designed
to be entirely net.based, as it is called. They involved live
performance or mass media like radio. They were public events in the
sense of a set up in front of an audience, inside a radioshow or a
combination of the two. The network however was an essential part of
the projects. Computernetworks have moved the approach and direction
of art away from the influential centralised and hierarchical character
of mass media. One could say mass media are the crude and undeveloped
baby fase of electronic media, that have created a simplistic
perception and approach of art we are now moving away from. ORF
Kunstradio was one of the first, if not the first, to support these
works and partake in them. Later VanGoghTV included television in
similar set ups, making use of the increasing accessability of
television equipment and satelites. Both these names covered a varying
group of people and artists at different occasions. The same can be
applied to Xchange, which is in this sense an even more loose group.
Xchange is a relatively young group, in the way that it has been
existing for about a year now.

When looking at ORFKunstradio, VanGoghTV and Xchange one can see an
interesting development, which is no quality judgement whatsoever,
but which shows nicely a development of media art towards a more
free, individual and varied fase, as a result of the development
of cheaper and simpler technology. ORFKunstradio, the oldest one,
is a relatively small radioshow on an etherstation (ORF), which has
expanded itself outside of its ordinary public broadcasting territory
by partaking in performances, organising festivals and large events
and by creating artworks themselves. Its 'net.presence' has been
clear and effectively innovative ever since this radioshow entered
the net. The high involvement of ORFKunstradio at the basis of
and would almost make one forget its basis however is public
broadcasting, radio in its common use.

VanGoghTV did not have this kind of clear connection to any broadcaster.
They were an independent group of artists, that managed to use the
existing networks of television, radio, telephone, computers and
satelites to produce a series of networked artpieces and broadcasts
that were supported by existing mass media networks in many countries.
Cheaper technology and early network individualism created a daring
project, that managed to inspire and reach many 'media virgins'
because of their radical 'programs' and television presence.

Xchange, as in contradiction to the two previous groups, started as
a mailinglistnetwork of artists and radiomakers, some of which knew
each other from conferences and events. The physical basis
of this group is the most dispersed and so is their approach of their
work. There is no or hardly any connection to mass media (considering
the internet not a mass medium here), and the individual (outer public
or maybe anti-public) aspect of the works produced collaboratively
(mostly RealAudio loops between a variety of the mailinglist members
at the moment (July 98)) is high. It comes closest to radio as pure
communication, yet it is a communication extacy. Xchange is 'a method
for communicating ideas', more even then it is a group.

Xchange consists of many groups and individuals, even more so then
did ORFKunstradio or VanGoghTV. These different groups
have their own networks and approaches of '', their own
territory almost, both in the literal sense of the area they cover
or work in, and in the sense of their approach of both art and the
medium of This means the perception and representation of depends on the specific 'dominant' approach at each venue.
When Convex TV (one of the sub-groups, if one can use that term at all)
from Berlin organises an event, it will seem different then when for
instance Ozone (Riga, Latvia) or Radio Qualia (Australia) organises

Of course in the sense we are discussing it here (audio art
in its entire variety in connection to the internet) has not been
limited to the mentioned groups. Individual artists worked and work
on it, like Jerome Joy from France, Tetsuo Kogawa from Japan, Joyce
Hinterding and Zina Kaye from Australia... to just name a few more or
less recent ones. Not every one of them would consider themselves
as making ''. The context of the work and idea behind the
work is very different each time, as the medium, or maybe we should
say media, invites to use a variety of artistic styles that
is even bigger then in, for instance, dance productions or painting.
It is in fact layer upon layer upon layer of different media and
discourses which provide an rich dish of possibilities for artists
to indulge in.

These indulgements often include the traditional, common use of the
centralised pre-fab or live broadcastshow as well. The three groups
I mentioned as examples would produce them and still do (except for
VanGoghTV), but there are many more of these 'stations'. These
audiospaces on the net act as curator, producer and 'workspace' at
once, each having their own specialities. Usually the word 'radio'
or the format is chosen with a big wink. One such station is Radio
Lada, which has started in 1995 with the help of and inspired by
ORFKunstradio. Like ORFKunstradio Radio Lada is involved in projects
itself and it organises a festival each year. On the net, besides the
projects, it acts mostly as a curator, of audio or performance works
on the net as well as of texts. According to Roberto Paci Dalo of
Radio Lada the aim is to keep the selection of works limited and the
set up of the site simple, to give the works maximum 'space' and
avoid overkill. It is very much like a gallery, yet does use the
net well. It presents works of established artists mostly.
Radio Ozone (which was also the initiator of the Xchange mailinglist)
started as a kind of curator as well, or as an open exhibition space
for audioworks. All submitted work was accepted. With a quarterly
presentation of the next 'issue' it was very much like a magazine.
When the possibility arrived to have livestreams from their basis
in Riga, Radio Ozone became a weekly radioshow that presents a
determined program plus it started to engage in the previously
mentioned RealAudio looping.
Pararadio from Budapest is like the previous an internet only
enterprise. It too has a weekly show, which is in Hungarian, and
involves chat 'on the side'. There is an archive of previous shows now,
and lots of texts. It is very youthculture driven, is loosely based in
a hackerscene and has no desire for public broadcasting whatsoever.
There are many examples of very different and yet similar approaches
of this traditional webcasting, from Convex TV, which approaches both
radio and the internet in a conceptually radical art-way, to Backspace
(from London) that plays with the medium in a very loose way in the
setting of a rather 'open access' workspace, to Radio Qualia which next
to its announced radioshows does experiments with a selfdesigned data
base-loop that anyone can connect to their own website amongst other

Databases will be more important in the near future. Several
workers are building one. The first of these databases exists since
the beginning of 1997: Radio Internationale Stadt (RIS) from Berlin.
The concept of as a sample machine has been uttered many
times, but little experiments have happened so far. Thomas Kaulmann,
initiator of RIS, is now building a searchengine on his site which
will be able to search audio databases on other sites too, if they
have the same basic set up. As a treasure of databases will grow, and
it looks like software is growing with it in both variety and
capability, the desire to involve them in set ups of any kind
will grow.

Experiments with audio, performance and in the context of
art or otherwise are no easy accomplishment though. As Marko Kosnik,
from the Ministry of Experiment in Ljubljana and involved in Extended
Live Radio (XLR) which is the most physically seperated group amongst
the physically seperated groups that inhabit the Xchange mailinglist,
says, it cannot be emphasized enough how hard work it is to organise
decentralised work, to get the people together at the right time, to
have the hardware in place and working, and then to deal with the
different layers of the work, both for the artists and the audiences.

Hopefully the complexity and depth of will be able to show
itself at Ars Electronica this year. It is interesting enough to last
longer then this years hype, and solid enough to resist it.

(*) A radio transmitter, even for shortwave, is about as expensive as
a pc which can stream audio. The costs lie mainly in electricity to
support the hundreds of watts necesary to reach far. The costs that
are connected to the data traffic a big station generates
are similarly high however. The question is how this might change in
the future. The question then would be if pc's will become as portable
and easy to use as radioequipment or receivers, how fast the costs of
such pc's will drop, and what will happen with legislation for

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