Hyperrhiz 17

Radio Art: A (mass) Medium Becomes An (artistic) Medium

John F. Barber
Washington State University Vancouver

Citation: Barber, John F.. “Radio Art: A (mass) Medium Becomes An (artistic) Medium.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 17, 2017. doi:10.20415/hyp/017.e04


This essay explores radio art as the use of affordances, infrastructure, and technologies of the radio medium to produce and broadcast creative sound-based artifacts. With its dependency upon the radio medium for its creation, communication, and consumption, radio art moves radio culture, practice, and listening beyond traditional roles of commerce and/or control, to engage the listening audience with new artistic practices.

Keywords: radio, transmission, art, radio art


Risking oversimplification, it is useful to suggest radio operates within the opposing tensions of commerce and control. On one hand radio is programmed music, sports, talk, or news, a culturally defined medium promoting commercial goals. On the other hand, radio is the programmed culture of a corporation or government, broadcasting policies and information to assure control and obedience of the status quo.

Continuing the dichotomies, radio is at once public and personal. Radio’s content is experienced by many people simultaneously, often over a wide geographical area. But each listener may have a different, personal listening context, and experience different responses to what is heard.

Radio is also an interplay between context and content, a place for artistic practice and a means to create a new art form. As a result, radio, the (mass) medium, is repurposed as radio art (an artistic medium).

Radio art can be considered one of the earliest forms of media art, an artistic inquiry with a long and potent history of social, cultural, aesthetic, and political activism and creative effort. But, despite stations, programs, texts, conferences, festivals, and artist works, radio art remains marginalized, relegated to a small number of international radio stations, decried as experimental, avant garde, underground, certainly not considered mainstream.

This essay considers radio art against this background. First, I outline “radio art” (as creative practice / artifact) in relation to “medium” (as channel/means for communicating) and “media” (as context for creative practice / tool used to create / surface or form on which to create). Next, I outline historical approaches to radio art. The conclusion moves toward a theory for radio art as an (artistic) medium energized by nervous tensions between its approaches and applications, its theories and practices.

“Medium,” “media,” and “radio art”

There are several ways to consider the terms medium, media, and radio art. For example, “medium,” as a noun, might represent a means for communicating or sharing information, as in “Radio is a medium for communicating music, news, sports, and talk.” A medium is a production/transmission channel for cultural content / information. “Mediums” is the plural form, more than one medium, but “media” is generally used instead. More on this in a moment.

“Medium,” again as a noun, might also mean a proboscis; a probe; an extension of the human sensorium, as in the famous quote by Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the massage [message]” by which he means technology shapes human sensibility (McLuhan and Fiore 1967, 26).

Finally, the noun “medium” can mean both a surface on which to conceive, create, and critique the autonomy and purity of art, and the material or form of artistic expression, as in “She is an artist whose medium is painting.” If an artist uses multiple mediums together, the resulting artworks are said to be “multimedia.”

So, “media,” as a noun, can mean multiple mediums, or tools used to create, store, and deliver information. For example, “print media” are multiple print communications delivered via paper newspapers, magazines, or books. “Electronic media” are multiple communications delivered via electronic devices, like television, telephones, or radio. “Digital media” are multiple communications stored, transmitted, and received in digitized format, delivered by different forms of digital technology, like computers, tablets, and smart telephones. “Mass media” are any means of communications (print, electronic, digital, others) produced by few (corporations / government) for consumption by many (the public).

Given these considerations, the interplay of multiple affordances, approaches, and applications allow the radio artist to utilize radio (the medium as channel / surface / tool) for the creation, communication, and consumption of radio art.

Radio art: a slippery definition

Radio art is a creative practice exploring the potential for radio as a medium for art rather than commerce or control. Radio art is dependent upon radio broadcast technologies for its conception, creation, and consumption. It seeks opportunities to create and sustain new acoustic narrative strategies and subvert conventions associated with the radio medium (as transmission channel).

As a result, radio art is often categorized as a form of transmission arts, a multiplicity of media art practices centered on the electromagnetic spectrum. Transmission arts experiments with video, performance, installation, and sound, and may, in addition to radio, involve television, telephone, facsimile, satellites, wireless technologies, mobile platforms, communication tools, and networks. Another way to consider transmission arts is as an exhibition space for artists who use the electromagnetic spectrum in their creative practice (Joseph-Hunter, et al. 2011).

For example, Last Transmissions (2005) by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson includes sign-off broadcasts from former radio stations, last addresses of public figures, and last radio contacts with planes, ships, and satellites. These transmissions mark times of crises and cultural importance and they often register as more significant than all previous transmissions.

Last Transmissions by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson.
Sound file supplied by author.

Radio art is also often placed under the sound art umbrella. According to academic, cultural critic, and poet Nicholas Zurbrugg, sound art is created in real time and may combine “sound, music, speech, and image, color and gesture” (Zurbrugg 1989). Recalling John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), and its creation of music in real time, Chop 10 (2005) by Tarikh Korula, remixes live broadcasts from ten radio stations as a commentary on the current state of regulated radio.

Chop 10 by Tarikh Korula.
Sound file supplied by author.

But, to me, sound art is a temporal, aural experience focused on sounds conveyed in installations, exhibitions, festivals, and concerts, all often site specific. Using broadcast technologies of the radio medium, as well as time shifting afforded by sound recording, radio art presents itself for listening at times and sites different from those of the original sound source. Only when and where radio (the mass medium) is available for listening can radio art (the sphere, the surface, the sum of tools) be heard. Radio art, produced at a distance, invisible, yet interactive, is shared with many via the radio (mass) medium, yet experienced personally, through individual listening, in MY house (personal space), not a museum or other site specific spectator context. In this way, radio art extends its probes, expands the human sensorium, and provides new sensibilities for sound based experience, immersion, imagination. Radio (the medium) is where radio art (the media) occurs.

Radio art is political, involving, according to electro-acoustic composer Dan Lander, “artists’ desire to reinvent the medium through deconstruction and or reconstruction, the use of dangerous contents and a refusal to produce works that easily fit into the categories of sanctioned broadcast” (Lander 1994). More forthrightly, Ellen Waterman says radio art “represents a disruption of, and provides a creative alternative to, commercial mainstream radio” (Waterman 2007, 131).

Where commercial radio focuses on music, news, sports, and talk for its content, radio art may include documentary, drama, electroacoustic music, experimental narrative, field recordings, noise, phonography, sound art, sound poetry, soundscapes (sonic geographies), and spoken word.

Perhaps related to this broad content source, there is some slipperiness to a definition for radio art, says Zurbrugg. What is “broadcast by radio as ‘radio art’ might appear on record or tape as ‘sound poetry,’ ‘audio art’ or ‘environmental soundscape’; or might contribute to certain modes of purely live, partially pre-recorded ‘performance art’” (Zurbrugg 1989).

Seeking a more specific definition, sound artist Gregory Whitehead says radio art should focus on the play between relationships in the radio medium. Passively broadcasting audio “does not qualify for me as radio art,” he says. “Radio art has to be some kind of event or performance or presentation – a ‘play’ in the broadest sense – that deals with the fundamental materials of radio, and the material of radio is not just amorphous sound. Radio is mostly a set of relationships, an intricate triangulation of listener, ‘player’ and system” (Whitehead 2003, 1).

While a definition of radio art is slippery, its dynamics support the statement by Kersten Glandien that when “art is on the move, definitions become blurred” (Glandien 2000, 167). The Kunstradio Manifesto also proves useful. Written in 1998 by artist Robert Adrian in collaboration with Kunstradio, an online radio art program, and Austrian National Radio, Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), the Kunstradio Manifesto, “Toward A Definition of Radio Art,” is noted for both its rhetorical statements regarding radio art and its inclusive opportunities for radio art practices. For example: Radio art is the use of radio as a medium [material / surface / form] for art. Radio art is not sound art – nor is it music. Radio art is radio. Radio art is not a combination of radio and art. Radio art is radio [channel / proboscis / form / tool] by artists.

With this slipperiness, it is useful, according to Chris Priestman, to think of radio art as “increasingly multifactorial and elusive” (Priestman 2004, 77-88). Or, we might consider radio art as a legacy of different historic approaches.

From Italian Futurism to German Hörspiele

An often cited origin for radio art is Italian and Soviet Futurists’ fascination with radio – as a technology, as a medium, and as a culture – and how it might be utilized as an art form. This early fascination was continued by the Dada movement, German Hörspiele, and post World War II artists working with sound in non-commercial ways.

Futurism and Dada

As is often the case when artists seek a clean frame of reference, Futurism dismissed themes from previous art movements. Harmony and taste were discarded. A future built on speed, technology, and the triumph of modern humanity over nature was glorified by Futurism.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) launched the Futurist movement in Italy with publication of his Manifeste du futurisme [Manifesto of Futurism] in 1909. His Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature (1912), promoting “wireless imagination” and “parole in liberta” (words in freedom) were inspirational for many artists and writers. The Italian Futurist manifesto La Radia (1933), written by Marinetti and Pino Masnata, imagined a potential for radio that rejected realism and commitment to any traditional form. Instead, they argued for abstraction, unreality, and speculation.

Italian Futurists never gained significant access to radio, and so directed their efforts to literature and spoken word performance. The same might be said of the Soviets Viktor Vladimirovich (Velimir) Khlebnikov and Aleksej Kruchenykh who experimented with abstracting language into sounds rather than meanings. They called their efforts zaum. Ukrainian David Burliuk co-authored the 1912 Futurist manifesto, A Slap In The Face of Public Taste, with Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. The goal was to unite all radio so that people around the world could hear and take inspiration from the ideas of Futurism.

The Dada movement, founded in 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland, by Hugo Ball, his companion Emily Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, Antonin Artaud, and others inherited the Italian Futurist movement and manifestos. Like the Futurists, the Dadaists focused on speech sounds rather than meaning. Their experiments, combined with Soviet zaum, provide the roots of experimental sound poetry practiced in Europe and North America.

German Hörspiele

The first examples of using the radio medium to produce art might be German Hörspiele (“hear plays”), a form of radio drama that mixes radio documentary, soundscape, electroacoustic music, and sound editing techniques. An early example is the 24 October 1924 Radio Frankfurt broadcast Zauberei auf dem Sender: Versuch einer Rundfunkgroteske [Wizardry on the Air: Attempt at a Radio Grotesque] written and produced by artistic director Hans Flesch. In Flesch’s experimental radio drama, a broadcast is interrupted by a wizard who creates chaos in the broadcast studio so to hypnotize the listening audience with sonic illusions (Gilfillan 2009).

Along with the wizard, listeners heard the artistic director (Flesch himself), his assistant, the announcer, the business director, a technician, a violinist from the radio orchestra, and a typist. The result was to construct “a dialectic between establishing order through entertainment and promoting disorder though artistic innovation” (Gilfillan 2009, 74).

Additionally, this broadcast experimented directly with the radio medium, drawing critical attention to the framing and contextualizing of the broadcast even while disrupting its continuity and illusion.

Zauberei auf dem Sender: Versuch einer Rundfunkgroteske [Wizardry on the Air: Attempt at a Radio Grotesque], with its theme of interrupting a legitimate radio broadcast, may or may not have been known to Father Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), an English theologian, Catholic priest, and crime writer, who wrote and voiced Broadcasting the Barricades, aired by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) on the evening of 16 January 1926. Broadcasting the Barricades interrupted an apparent legitimate radio program with a series of news bulletins about a riot in London. Big Ben and the Savoy Hotel were destroyed, and a politician hung from a lamp post. With the BBC the only national media, and bad weather the following day preventing delivery of newspapers, many people were unable to receive additional information and thought the reports were real.

Broadcasting the Barricades by Father Ronald Knox.
Sound file supplied by author.

A decade later, 30 October 1938, Orson Welles adapted the H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds for radio. He used realistic sounding news reports to interrupt an otherwise normal broadcast, and trick listeners into believing Earth was under invasion from the planet Mars. The War of the Worlds remains perhaps the most (in)famous radio broadcast of all time.

The radio dramas The War of the Worlds, Broadcasting the Barricades, and Zauberei auf dem Sender: Versuch einer Rundfunkgroteske were performed live. German film maker Walter Ruttmann (1887-1941) set the stage for post-World War II Hörspiele by using recorded sounds for his Wochende [Weekend], a sound collage on film stock, in June 1930. With his 1927 movie, Berlin – Symphony of a Great City, [Berlin: die Sinfonie der Gro§stadt], Ruttmann produced a pioneering audio-visual montage that followed the activities of Berlin and its inhabitants throughout a day. He used film stock from Berlin, with its recorded sounds, to create Wochende.

Wochende was presented in theaters as a sound-only experience. No images were projected on the screen. Audiences listened to the 11 minute 30 second collage of words, music fragments and sounds representing a weekend in Berlin, including Saturday afternoon at a factory, a night in the city, a pastoral Sunday, and the city returning to work on Monday. The effect was a sonification of the visuals one would expect from a film, but a film without images.

Wochende, as a sound narrative, was also broadcast on radio and so is sometimes referred to as a radio play. In that context Wochende may be the first significant recorded experiment with montage for radio.

Wochende by Walter Ruttmann.
Sound file supplied by author.

Critical theorist and philosopher Walter Benjamin produced approximately ninety Hörspiele between 1929 and 1933. Several, like Radio Games: Poets by Keywords, broadcast in January 1932, were experimental, interactive. A child, a woman, a poet, a journalist, and a businessman were given a list of unrelated words. Each was to combine the words to create a coherent short story. Listeners rated the results. Their comments were published in the station journal.

About half of Benjamin’s Hörspiele were collected under the title Aufklörung für Kinder [Enlightenment for Children]. These stories focused on Berlin, disasters, history, and crimes and evil deeds committed by robbers, fraudsters, and witches, or educational efforts. One example is Radau um Kasperl [Uproar around Kasperl] that experimented with radio’s “mobility,” “omnipresence,” and ability to be heard in private places (Leslie 127).

Radau um Kasperl, was broadcast by Westdeutscjer Rundfunk, 9 September 1932, in Cologne, Germany. Briefly, Kasperl is invited to participate in a radio broadcast. Scared, reluctant, he runs away and is pursued by the radio broadcaster. Trying to escape, Kasperl visits places known to children: the railway station, the fairground, and the zoo where he is finally caught by the radio broadcaster. At the conclusion, Kasperl is in bed, where the radio broadcaster records his voice with a hidden microphone. The radio station gets its broadcast. Kasperl is paid. All is forgiven.

Kasperl was a popular figure in puppet theater and popular with children. Benjamin used Kasperl to prompt reflection on the radio medium, the different functions and practices of radio, and to illustrate malpractices in seeking large audiences. Remember, 1932 is not too long after the widespread utilization of radio production, transmission, and reception technologies. And, only a year before The National Socialists, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, took over the German government and used radio as a primary propaganda tool.

Reflections prompted by Benjamin’s Radau um Kasperl were (and remain) heady. First, there is radio’s omnipresence throughout the city, including personal, private spaces, like beds. Through Radau um Kasperl, Benjamin reflects on the alienation and commodification of cultural work. He demonstrates the types of permissible radio discourse. He shows the distance between speaker and audience can be overcome, that they can work together, even in cases where collaboration might be dangerous. After all, radio can be used to broadcast propaganda. As a result, radio becomes the object of discussion regarding its means of (re)production and use(s) of mechanisms. This discussion is achieved using radio’s specific sonic capabilities.

Two portions of Walter Benjamin’s original performance of Radau um Kasperl survive. Sound files supplied by author:

Kasperl auf dem Jahrmarkt by Walter Benjamin.
Radau um Kasperl: Kasperl in Zoo by Walter Benjamin.

Such pioneering Hörspiele theorize the creation and consumption of new and different aural content and position listening to these sounds as a carefully considered and purposefully conducted activity. Practices of radio art stemming from these works suggest simultaneous acts of collaboration, communication, creation, consumption, and curation.

Radio art: post World War II-2011

The first wave of Hörspiele producers were removed and replaced by the Nazi propaganda effort at the start of World War II. Post-war radio artists, following Ruttmann’s lead, experimented with magnetic tape and pre-recorded content. These efforts informed Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs whose pioneering “cut-up” techniques for tape recording, editing, and splicing are still used by radio artists to challenge conventional radio broadcasting.

In the years since these pioneering works, radio art has been heard through three modulations: individual radio art works (made by artists, with a delimited length and access), radio programs (regular rendezvous between radio art content and audiences), and radio stations (business operations, broadcasting programs for financial returns, and sometimes radio art).

Radio art works

A contemporary upshot of Hörspiele is Ferdinand Kriwet’s Hörtexte [Radio Texts], assemblages of sound samples and noise. Kriwet spent a month in a New York hotel (11 July-11 August 1969) recording everything he could hear from radio and television reports of the Sunday, 20 July 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. He edited these materials into a 21-minute sound-text poem, Apollo America, first broadcast 20 November 1969 as Hörtext VI.

Apollo America by Ferdinand Kriwet.
Sound file supplied by author.

Recalling the earlier description of transmission arts, Max Neuhaus’ Public Supply 1 (1966) and Radio Net (1977) used telephone and radio networks across the United States to involve listeners in the production of live, interactive works of radio art.

For Public Supply 1, Neuhaus, an American percussionist and sound artist, installed ten telephone lines into the broadcast studio of WBAI radio in New York and built a rudimentary telephone answering system. Callers, once connected, could contribute whatever sounds they liked. Neuhaus mixed these sounds together and fed the resulting mix to a microphone, which fed the station program broadcast.

Public Supply 1 by Max Neuhaus.
Sound file supplied by author.

For Radio Net, Neuhaus used WNYC New York, KUSC Los Angeles, KERA Dallas, KSJN Minneapolis, and WABE Atlanta – all National Public Radio affiliate stations – as origination points. Listeners called the closest station and whistled a continuous tone into the telephone until they were disconnected by the Neuhaus-built answering system. A self-mixer and various filters looped the sound(s) at the originating station, and then through the five loops provided by each of the participating stations. The end result, a cluster of slowly shifting tones, emerged in Washington, D.C., where it was broadcast across the National Public Radio network, 2 January 1977 for two hours.

Radio Net by Max Neuhaus.
Sound file supplied by author.

The result from both these works was spontaneous radio art, a collision, collusion, connection between radio technology and listeners Neuhaus likened to dialogue.

I realized I could open a large door into the radio studio with the telephone; if I installed telephone lines in the studio, anybody could sonically walk in from any telephone. At that time there were no live call-in shows. […] Although I was not able to articulate it in 1966, now, after having worked with this idea for a long time and talked about it and thought about it, it seems that what these works are really about is proposing to reinstate a kind of music which we have forgotten about and which is perhaps the original impulse for music in man: not making a musical product to be listened to, but forming a dialogue, a dialogue without language, a sound dialogue (Neuhaus 1994, 21-23).

Another example is the program Radio Event. From 30 October 1969-7 June 1973, KPFA (Berkeley, California) radio’s music department, produced and directed by Charles Amirkhanian, gave artists from various disciplines air time to create situations that physically involved the listening audience, making them active participants rather than passive listeners.

On 20 November 1969, dance choreographer and intermedia artist Anna Halprin led the KPFA audience in Radio Event No. 3: Furniture Mix, where they were to rearrange their home furniture while listening to musical selections played during the radio program. They were also invited to visualize a fantasy during the process. Listeners / participants were encouraged to call the station and share their fantasies, which were included in the program’s conclusion. Musical selections included excerpts from “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Live for Life,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and a Renaissance vocal, “Mozart Symphony No. 35.”

In 2011, as part of a focus on Canadian radio art, Kunstradio asked sound artist Anna Friz to compile some examples. She selected Chaud A Cold Night in 2011 by Martine H. Crispo, RadioRoam (2007) by Stephen Kelly and Eleanor King, Private Telephone 1981 (Compressed) (2011) by Andrea-Jane Cornell, RUN (2011) by Thomas Phillips and s*, and The Bodhi Tree (2011) by Debashis Sinha. Chaud A Cold Night in 2011 and RadioRoam were created as live radio broadcasts. The rest were informed by radiophonic practices.

Radio art programs

Kunstradio was founded by Heidi Grundmann in Vienna, Austria, in 1987, as a program to showcase original works of radio art. Today, it broadcasts weekly on Österreich 1, a cultural channel of Austrian National Radio, Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF). As a curated on-air gallery for live and recorded radio art projects, Kuntsradio utilizes radio as the content and context of the art it showcases.

A similar endeavor is L’Atelier de Création Radiophonique (ACR), created by Alain Trutat in 1969. ACR broadcasts a weekly program of radio art on France Culture, a public radio channel provided by Radio France, the national public radio broadcaster. In addition to radio art, France Culture also broadcasts radio plays and experimental productions, as well as spoken word programs about history, philosophy, politics, literature, science, and more.

Another example is Something Else, a weekly four-hour program of radio art, sound art, and experimental music broadcast by WLUW, Chicago, Illinois.

Radio art stations

Poet John Giorno broadcast Radio Free Poetry through the electrical wiring in the Jewish Museum, New York, as part of The Software Show, in 1970. Visitors could hear the broadcast on transistor radios. Although not a radio station, Giorno hoped, with this work of radio art, to inspire broadcasts of alternative points of view and material not heard on mainstream radio. His work foreshadows later views of the Internet as a site where anyone might become a cultural producer (Barliant 2005).

The first radio station devoted to radio art was perhaps Radio Alice. Using a former military transmitter, Radio Alice began broadcasting 9 February 1976 from Bologna, Italy. It was closed the next year, 12 March 1977, by the Italian national military police as part of the government’s effort to suppress new social movements. While broadcasting music and reports from political movements, Radio Alice strove to erase differences between broadcaster and listener, artist and audience, art and life (Rasmussen 2007, 43).

Starting in 1981, in Japan, Tetsuo Kogawa’s Mini-FM project focused on the use of low cost, micro-radio transmitters to create small communication networks. Influenced by the Italian Free Radio movement, Kogawa taught people how to make low-power FM radio transmitters and use them to create shared communities and a new form of communication.

With a nod to French psychotherapist and philosopher Félix Guattari’s examination of the Italian Free Radio movement, Kogawa noted

Guattari stressed the radically different function of free radio from conventional mass media. His notions of transmission, transversal and molecular revolution suggested that, unlike conventional radio, free radio would not impose programs on a mass audience, whose numbers have been forecast, but would come across freely to a molecular public, in a way that would change the nature of communication between those who speak and those who listen (Kogawa 1994, 288).

On 30 June 1988, the first ever full time radio art station, established as a work of art, began transmitting in West Berlin, Germany. The station was founded by Polish artist Wojciech Bruszewski and German artist Wolf Kahlen. At the time, Berlin was divided and under international control. Poland was under martial law. Bruszewski felt the best resource for the activist artist was the radio wave (Bruszewski). He developed computer software to randomize a looping playback of pre-recorded philosophical ideas. Two characters, Paula and Gary, were created using computer synthesized voices. As each voice recited a random philosophical idea, the appearance was a protracted real time discussion. Bruszewski called his work Radio Ruins of Art and envisioned it as an indefinite broadcast of philosophical inquiry using a chance-based playback system. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9 November 1989, Bruszewski’s station license was revoked by the German Post Office and given to Radio Brandenburg as part of a government effort to commercialize the airwaves. Bruszewski’s broadcast was our longest experience of radio art broadcast by a radio station dedicated to radio art.

Radio Ruins of Art by Wojciech Bruszewski.
Sound file supplied by author.

Radia (http://www.radia.fm), started in April 2005, is an international network of radio stations that share interest in radio art. Member stations (traditional radio stations, Internet radio stations, and radio-art projects) commission local artists to imagine and produce works of radio art, which are shared. Each week, member stations broadcast a program of radio art, one after another. As a result, Radia becomes a gallery for radio art.

Conclusion: towards theorization of a new artistic form

The overlay of radio as a production / transmission channel for cultural content / information objects and radio as an artistic medium using voice, other sounds including music, sound effects, silence, and listeners’ imagination forces reexamination of medium in art / art in medium, and how each may remediate the other. With radio art we should also note the collusion / collision between the artifact (radio art) produced, the aesthetic artistic considerations, and the special requirements of the radio medium that influence its production.

As sound experience, a radio art broadcast might originate from a radio station in a city. The broadcast might be heard miles away by listeners in their private homes. The external broadcast might irrupt personal lives inside private spaces. But the irruption (and its alienness, its tension and/or political power) does not contaminate because radio listening is an extra, second layer of activity, done voluntarily in conjunction with something else. One’s attention is not forced on/by the listening.

But, the listening can be quite powerful. As fiction, radio art is delivered without images. Radio is invisible, ephemeral, a blind activity, shared simultaneously with unseen others, yet experienced personally, individually, focused on interpretation / interaction / imagination with what one hears. Radio depends on the ears and imaginations of listeners. As a result, we cannot expect the experiences of multiple listeners will be the same. The radio art may come from afar, but touches listeners in their personal spaces.

This flexibility for reimagination and reinterpretation, combined with the power of sound-based radio art to promote interaction with listeners in personal spaces like their homes, would seem to promise a robust future for radio art according to Lander. “The development of an autonomous body of theory and practice regarding aural referentiality – in particular as it relates to radio and electronic media – will contribute to a better understanding of the role that radio art plays in the articulation of social and cultural ideas” (Lander 1994, 13).

The resulting interplay of approaches and applications, with purposeful resistance against any confinement of aesthetic autonomy, disrupts traditional stratifications and produces tension. Against this backdrop, the radio artist is mediator between broadcast institutions and listeners, between art and technology, between medium and art. The radio artist may create disruption and tension, but can, just as easily, address these tensions with new interdisciplinary radio art endeavors. Enjoy listening!


  1. We might define radio as a culture and a medium based on sound(s) consciously curated and broadcast as related knowledge modalities (programs) for the purpose of interpreting and distributing information to a broad public.
  2. For an alternate listening opportunity, and details about the contents of Last Transmissions by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Sound Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/soundart/sound-art.html#dubbin-davidson.
  3. For an alternate listening opportunity and further details about Chop 10 by Tarikh Korula, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Sound Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/soundart/sound-art.html#korula.
  4. Andrew Dubber argues that radio is more than this oversimplification. “Radio,” he says, “is a term used to refer to very different (though related) phenomena.” For example, radio is an institution; an organizational structure; a category of media content with its own characteristics, conventions, and tropes; a series of professional practices and relationships; etc. As a result, radio work, content, technologies, or cultures cannot be considered as single subjects or processes, but rather must be considered as an “ecology,” especially within the digital media environment in which “radio” is increasingly situated (Dubber 2013). Allen S. Weiss concurs, saying radio has many forms. “There is no single entity that constitutes ‘radio’; rather, there exists a multitude of radios” (Weiss 1995, 2).
  5. The Kunstradio Manifesto reads:
    • Radio art is the use of radio as a medium for art.
    • Radio happens in the place it is heard and not in the production studio.
    • Sound quality is secondary to conceptual originality.
    • Radio is almost always heard combined with other sounds – domestic, traffic, tv, phone calls, playing children, etc.
    • Radio art is not sound art – nor is it music. Radio art is radio.
    • Sound art and music are not radio art just because they are broadcast on the radio.
    • Radio space is all the places where radio is heard.
    • Radio art is composed of sound objects experienced in radio space.
    • Radio of every listener determines the sound quality of a radio work.
    • Each listener hears their own final version of a work for radio combined with the ambient sound of their own space.
    • The radio artist knows that there is no way to control the experience of a radio work.
    • Radio art is not a combination of radio and art. Radio art is radio by artists.
    See also PizMO (Intermittent Project of Objective Musical Zone, http://pizmo.free.fr/), a collective of sound artists working in France for over fifty years.
  6. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Manifeste du futurisme [Manifesto of Futurism] was first published 5 February 1909, in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. It was reprinted 20 February 1909 on the front page of Le Figaro, Paris. The text can be read online at the Futurism website, http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/manifesto.html.
  7. The text of A Slap In The Face of Public Taste is available at the Futurism website, http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/slap.html. Russian Futurist poet Victor Khlebnikov’s visionary manifesto, The Radio of the Future (1921), is often quoted as a vision for the Internet. “The Radio of the Future…the central tree of our consciousness…will inaugurate new ways to cope with our endless undertakings and will unite all mankind.” (cited in Douglas 1985, 155)
  8. For an alternate listening opportunity and further details about Broadcasting the Barricades by Father Knox, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Firsts webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radiofirsts/radio-firsts.html#barricades.
  9. Walter Ruttmann’s 1927 movie, Berlin: die Sinfonie der Großstadt [Berlin – Symphony of a Great City], is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg353U4QpxA. Berlin may have inspired Dziga Vertov’s 1929 chronicle of a day in the life of a Soviet city, Man with a Movie Camera, https://archive.org/details/ChelovekskinoapparatomManWithAMovieCamera. However, where Ruttmann’s movie included sound, Vertov’s film was silent. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Wocende by Walter Ruttmann, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#ruttmann.
  10. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Radau um Kasperl by Walter Benjamin, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#menjamin.
  11. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Apollo America by Ferdinand Kriwet, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#kriwet.
  12. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Public Supply 1 by Max Neuhaus, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#neuhaus1.
  13. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Radio Net by Max Neuhaus, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#neuhausnet.
  14. Radio Event No. 3: Furniture Mix is available for online listening at the Radiom.org website, http://radiom.org/detail.php?omid=RE.1969.11.20.c2. See the “Inter-Media & Visual Arts” pages at the radiom.org website, http://radiom.org/archives.php?et=intermedia&pageID=1, for information and listening opportunities for episodes 1-5, 7-9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, and 23.
  15. A Sampler of Recent Canadian Radio Art was broadcast on Kunstradio 21 August 2011. Hear the five selections and read curatorial commentary by Anna Friz at a dedicated archival webpage, available http://www.kunstradio.at/2011A/21_08_11en.html
  16. For example, see Iberwave, available http://www.kunstradio.at/2013B/14_07_13de.html#3, a series of programs dedicated to Iberoamerican radio art curated by José Iges. Ibero-America is a region of the Americas comprised of countries or territories where Spanish and Portuguese languages are predominant.
  17. See the website, available http://wluw.org/, for listening opportunities and more information about the Something Else program broadcast by WLUW, Chicago, Illinois.
  18. For an alternate listening experience and further details about Radio Ruins of Art, see curatorial information I provide at my Radio Nouspace > Inquiries > Radio Art webpage, http://radionouspace.net/inquiries/radioart/radio-art.html#stations.
  19. Radia, with Radio Zero (Lisbon, Portugal, radiozero.pt) produces RadiaLx (http://radialx.radiozero.pt/), an international festival of radio art held in Lisbon every two years.

Works Cited

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