I attended two seminars this week at Audiorama, the new multichannel venue for radiophonic/sound art in Stockholm. At the first, Morton Subotnick talked about his life in music, beginning with the San Francicso Tape Music Center and the development of the Buchla synthesiser, and ending with his latest mixed media work, Jacob’s Room. Many of his anecdotes have already been told in Bernsteins The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s counterculture and the avant-garde (and, according to Andreas Engström, by Pauline Oliveros), but it was interesting all the same.
The other seminar was about radio and radio art. Mats Lindström, director of EMS, introduced the subject by speaking on the importance of Sveriges Radio (the Swedish national radio and the founder of EMS) for electroacoustic music, radio art and text-sound composition.
John Kieffer, creative director of Sound and music (which Sonic Arts Network has merged into), talked about radio’s creation of new ways of listening, both collective and solitary: the scarcity of radios in Jamaica made people gather to listen to American music programmes, which led to the sound system culture; in England, people met at car parks to listen to their favourite shows on their car radios; and Kieffer’s concentrated listening to bad quality pirate radio in bed at night, which gave rise to an intense experience comparable to deep listening.
Researcher Kersten Glandien spoke about the relation between radio and sound art. According to Glandien, radio art is one-directional and exclusively aural, while sound art is interactive and connected to other media. Dependent on public radio and its policies, the “inefficient” radio art might turn into a dying genre due to commercialisation and dwindling resources, whereas sound art has developed close ties with galleries and museums, and is now fully integrated in the art world.
If I interpret her correctly, there are, however, some trends that point to a brighter future for radio art. One is the creation of new independent radio stations, run by enthusiasts and using new web technology to reach out, e.g. Resonance104.4fm in the UK and WFMU in the USA. Another is the ties between sound art and radio art, and the increasing collaboration between radio stations, new media organisations and art institutions. A third trend is the new interest in single-sense experience and focused listening. She also mentioned the vast archives of sound works assembled at public radio stations, and the problem of preserving and make them known.
An interesting discussion followed on the temporal aspects of broadcasting vs. mp3-players and the like, and on the importance of public radio for artists. There still seems to be funding for commissions of radio/sound art available, and public radio still matters for distributing art and music outside the large cities.