... folding space. and beyond
Kunstradio [Art Radio] and the “on air - on line - on site” Projects: A Report from Experience
published in frakcija # 45-46 performing arts journal, Zagreb, 2008;
 Sometimes it happens that you prick up your ears during an actual project: there is an unexpected sound fragment, which was fed into the network and diffused ten years ago or more, during a completely different project. Suddenly, there it is again, transformed and mutated, sometimes changed so much that it is no longer recognizable. But it has not disappeared. It cannot disappear, since the network is literally a net, holding everything that falls inside.
[1997: Lo-Res vs. Hi-Fi] Each \artistic\ act on the network is an open action, an incomplete set that – once positioned – acquires a life of its own, changing and expanding, taking on different forms, but never getting lost. Network is a verb rather than noun – it is a living thing, which is basically and causally always „set into a relationship,“ thus evoking a new notion of identity: identity is not an artwork that has already been created and is therefore static, but an idea that is fed into the network and subsequently transformed by it. 1|
[1997: Recycling the Future] SOUND MIGRATION. Sounds reappear in different places, at the same time or with a time shift, they are getting processed; artworks are in constant movement. Every sound event that is issued online continues its existence on the network, passing through various channels, getting received by the others, fed into the network again, and transformed – no event on the network is ever lost. Data only go hiking. 2|
The (re-)appearance of sounds, sound fragments, and action particles could be a sign that we are still moving in the same space as before – a space that is construed out of vectors: on air, on line, and on site.
[2006: reboot] This was probably the last set, the quintessential linear description of a series of projects, which began evolving in 1994, soon after the publication of WorldWideWeb (= when a part of the so-called Internet was made accessible to the public) and would later be condensed in the term _on air - on line - on site projects_.
However, retrospectively I am no longer sure whether it is truly the same space in which we are moving today. It seems to have become increasingly evasive, vague, unreal. Even the conceived forms of space are disappearing. More and more often I find myself doubting whether one can still speak about „space“ at all. Could it be that we have refined our “ability to fold space” 3| so much that we have eventually made it vanish altogether?
[1994: Zeitgleich] (a premonition) The paradigm of pure (absolutum = 'washed') space, which at the same time contains impurities (for how else could we recognize it?) results in the hypothesis that information appears against the background (solar dust) of white noise. The process of digitalization is nothing else than a clever and apparent final suppression of the background. Information is rasterized so coarsely that all dust disappears. Naturally, space disappears along with the impurity, and so does the object, leaving nothing behind but its fingerprint (impronta digitale). 4|
Our perception of space is analogous. We tend to (mis-)measure and to define spaces through time. The distance between two points is understood in analogy to the (conceived) duration, the time we need to pass the way in between (and vice versa). Now, we can reduce space by raising our own speed of motion – for example, with the help of trains, cars, airplanes, or spacecrafts (industrial space) – or else by using transfer and communication media: telephone, fax, radio, or television (electronic space).
The latter (electronic space) is used by radio and telecommunication art. Moreover, by combining the transfer procedures with recording, it manages to expand and transcend space. The space is, so to say, “folded”. It is primarily telecommunication art that actually takes place in a sort of “third space,” which emerges between the protagonists and their machines. “The space emerges when you turn on the system. Let’s take two telephone lines and assemble a machine. And what happens between us? If the machine is on, the space is there. What occurs then between two artists, that is sculpture. If the machine is off, it is gone, the object is no longer there.” 5|
Robert Adrian X has defined the term “The Art of Being Everywhere” in the early 1990s and it is no wonder that the wish “to be everywhere” (and at the same time) has been formulated parallel to the development of digital technologies and above all of networks that are (technically speaking) based on these digital technologies. For it is simply impossible to be everywhere in analogous space.
Therefore, we must abolish the stability of spaces/places/situations that is based on demarcation. It will be abolished at the very moment when “on site” (the so-called “real space”), “on air” (the so-called “electronic space”) and “on line” (the so-called “network space”) have merged with each other. The difference between reality and virtuality must crumble, it must disappear. To be everywhere means at the same time to be nowhere.
[State of Transition] stands as a project somehow on the threshold of abolishing space. Technologically speaking, it should still be counted among the “old” telematic art. What was used there was primarily the old, MIDI-controlled instrumentary, connected through telephone lines. However, there was already an open access for WWW-users: by selecting/clicking on various sites from an extensive hypertext on migration [on line], every user throughout the world could activate sound events on performance sites [on site], which were then broadcasted live on Ö1 art radio [on air]. Which means that the performance actually took place already in an interplay between all these various places/spaces.
[1994: State of Transition] is a hyper radio-environment; through its application of the key technologies of telecommunication and telepresence, it is an experiment investigating the instability of the classical order of space and time. We were primarily interested in the transition phase, the process of overlapping, in which the identity of places began to oscillate and cause interference. 6|
Besides, with its main topic of migration, State of Transition managed to create a commonplace that has been present in all our project until the present day as a red thread.
[1994: State of Transition] Migration movements, traffic routes, immigration quotas, transit spaces, border crossing, and transition phases of all sorts – these are the theme and the structure of this live radio event. The business-like euphoria, with which the world is illusioned into a global village through data transfer that crosses all borders, is countered by the socio-political reality of increasingly strict immigration and asylum regulations, which draws the ever clearer and more unsurpassable physical borderlines. That should no longer remain uncontested. 7|
In accordance with this idea, the structure and the organizational principles of State of Transition have evolved from various forms of migration. The formative strategy of this work is based on the immediacy of mutual interventions. The resources of image, sound, text etc., which are available at the source sites, are fed into the network and made accessible through radio lines, video telephones, data transfer, and the Internet. 8|
The concept of State of Transition “reconfigures” the positions of artwork and artist:
[1994: State of Transition] In the next phase, not only the material, but also its associations and the configuration of the network itself are turned into an instrument of joint action. The hypermedia databank thus created becomes the actual stage of the project. The role of participating artists is identified with that of network administrators. They are not the creators, but rather managers and distributors of data currents that circulate through the network configuration. 9|
In the following projects, which were occurring at a year’s pace, initiated by ORF art radio in cooperation and according to the concepts of a quickly growing number of artists, this demand – although still rather utopian in 1994 – could indeed be gradually realized. However, this development did not take place in a linear way; and it was understandably also determined by the examination of galloping technological evolution in the following five years. The use and at the same time questioning of key technologies (which were themselves largely developing at that time) became the essential formative driving force of action. The technologies themselves were turned into artistic vehicles, with which the new “space” (insofar as we can talk about one) was gradually conquered.
[1995: Horizontal Radio] already took place on the “Art Radio Online” platform (established in 1995) and it connected for 24 hours numerous radio stations (from public to private and student radio stations to pirate ones), Internet servers, telephone lines, and performance sites throughout the world into a network. For the first time, there was truly no centre: each of the participants was broadcasting and receiving at the same time.
With Horizontal Radio, an essential aspect of such projects was inevitably brought into the focus of attention, which meant that the artists and other participants had to take it into account in their creative process: The form of the project as a whole, in its manifold interconnectedness, can be perceived by nobody in its entirety (even not by the creative artists) and therefore nobody can control it either. Thus, both action and reception can occur only fragmentarily. Artists must learn to give up control and to concentrate on the creation of good network configurations.
However, in her report on Horizontal Radio, Heidi Grundmann has discussed another very important aspect of such situations, which crystallized only gradually, but therefore inevitably:
Horizontal Radio] With HORIZONTAL RADIO a 24 hour period had been
given as the framework in which radiostations transmitted and
received by whatever lines they could technically and financially
muster. The 24 hours were also the framework for live performances
and installations with or without live audiences in a physical space
and they were the framework for Internet activities. In the meantime
it has become apparent, though, that the project did not stop at noon
on the 23rd of June. The performances and installations are gone,
true, but radiostations keep on broadcasting bits and pieces from
HORIZONTAL RADIO and though some of the servers active during the
project seem to be inactive now, others go on (REAL AUDIO Server) and
some of the online projects have been revived.
[2006: reboot 2] Indeed, we had already abandoned analogous space here, something that was latently present (and discussed) in telematic art, but could never be realized. The observation of Heidi Grundmann, namely that there was no longer any passage or space between “outside” and “inside”, and that there were no more fixed places, is utterly accurate. “Inside” is no space in any sense that we could conceive of. There are no places, no paths, and no time with which one could measure distances. There is no information either, only data. Information emerges only when these data are filtered („rendered“) to the “outside”.
Even though in such projects the network is normally presented with the help of world maps on which the collaborating knots (or places) are drawn, that image is misleading and simply wrong. On the network, there is no distance and it doesn’t make any difference whether two communicating machines are standing next to each other or they are on two different continents.
The second (shocking) observation – which could be felt even more strongly in the projects to follow – namely, that the project was not over when it was actually over, but developed its “own life,” so to say, is surprising only at the first glance. Even when the machines are off, the “objects” keep existing, since the network in which they (immaterially) “hang on” cannot be turned off. The network is a distributed (and above all distributive) system and is moreover not defined through the machines that are assembled there.
[1996: Rivers&Bridges] was a direct heir of Horizontal Radio and involved the first application of live-streaming technologies (Real Audio Live). That can be seen as another essential step in the process, since that technology basically meant independence from technically complex broadcasting institutions (such as public radio stations) by making it possible to “broadcast” live from any place in the world that had an Internet connection – and even independently from broadcasting hours, hierarchically determined mechanisms of production and distribution, and technical facilities.
That resulted in a shift away from the production structure and towards a more intense transfer of knowledge between those involved (public radio stations, independent institutions, (small) producers, etc.), whereby the aim was to work together on equally valid networking models and to try them out in practice. [1997: Recycling the Future] in Hybrid Workspace at documenta X in Kassel can by all means be viewed as a ten-day experimentation programme, in which such a model was actually tested in all its variations, both artistically and technically – a model that has meanwhile become the common technical standard of radio stations.
Immersive Sound] Black Box: Part of a
> cybernetic system, whose structure and internal functioning
remain to be inferred on the basis of reactions to input signals.
[1998: Immersive Sound] and the far more radical [1999. Sound Drifting] brought another development with it, namely the gradual shift from performance to installation art, in which the artists are no longer the basic protagonists, since that role has been taken over by automatons. The “formative processes” are now largely performed by generative programmes, while the involved artists function on the one side as the suppliers of material, and on the other as “managers and distributors” of the circulating currents of data.
[Sound Drifting, I Silenzi parlano tra loro] defined itself as an „interdependent temporary system of 16 international remote sub-projects, which used a wide range of methods and approaches to the generation, processing and presentation of data/sounds/images to form a nine-day long continuous on line - on site - on air sound installation on the occasion of the ars electronica festival'99“. 12| And indeed, the involved artists, both individuals and groups, were creating almost exclusively automatized or generative sound feeds, from open microphones to automatic sound softwares, producing the sounds which were then fed into the system.
The “composing” (a rather vague expression in this case, of course) was taken over by a programme:
[1999. Sound Drifting] The ‘Sound Drifter’ [a generative programme developed for this installation, author’s note] was the actual composer of the pieces, the role of the artists was simply that of compiler, mediator and/or distributor. Inverting the role of human and machine, they merged with the machines like cyborgs, processing and distributing material, as elements in a generative system.
Sound Drifting was also on air as an eight hour live radio installation [...]. The radio version was again a collaboration of humans and machines that tried to change - or at least to restructure - the hierarchies of human-machine interaction. The radio work itself was composed by the Radio Drifter which allowed the various artists to make simple adjustments to the sound parameters. This proved to be a major challenge for the human participants, who often surrendered to the urge to wrest control from the machine and re-establish the traditional hierarchies. This was a perfect demonstration of an issue that is becoming more and more important - and that was also one of the main topics of Sound Drifting: control sharing. 13|
Two (unforeseeable) processes were completed with Sound Drifting: firstly, it was the fact that the control sharing between artists, technicians, and users is not sufficient, but must be extended to machines, programmes and automatization processes: that one must learn truly to cooperate with machines. But it is neither about glorifying machines or about machines imitating human ways of doing things; rather, it is about achieving a “partner-like process”, which draws benefits from the imperfections of both (humans and machines) and links them together.
Secondly, it was the fact that the on air - on line - on site projects evolved from the originally performative to installative forms; or rather, expressing it better and more precisely: the actual form (insofar as one can still speak of something like that) of such a project is an installation that is dynamic in itself and imperceptible; the performance consists of, so to say, “rendering” a perceptible manifestation of that installation from time to time [by artists, technicians, machines, or programmes]. The difference to before is that this “installation” does not exist only metaphorically, but is actually – physically real.
As an artist that has actively created some of these projects and participated in others, I can see something like a (non-linear) “development”, beginning with State of Transition and ending with Sound Drifting: these were all projects focusing on the creation of intertwined on air – on line – on site situation as such, to which all other (artistic) elements had to be subjected. Sound Drifting was the most impressive and perhaps the most “accomplished” project, which in a way applied all these concepts, ideas, and plans, making them perceptible in all of its facets.
Projects that were realized afterwards (such as [2002. Devolve Into II] or [2002. Open Air. A Radiotopia], to name only two of them) had already left that development phase behind, in my opinion. Creating an intertwined situation as such was no longer of any interest, quite the contrary: the situation was “self-understandably” applied as a form. The fact that these were on air – on line – on site projects was no longer that interesting; what mattered was that they had developed a number of (online) tools and interfaces, and that they were integrating numerous different input possibilities (from cell phones through wireless technologies to radio telescopes).
The immersion that was typical for the on air – on line – on site projects of the 1990s has been splintered in the direction of mobility, transience, and new forms. Sometimes, however, it still happens that you prick up your ears during an actual project: there is an unexpected sound fragment, which was fed into the net and diffused ten years ago or more, during a completely different project. We have coined the term “sound migration” for that and it is like a strange reunion with an old friend that has disappeared long ago.
The (re-)appearance of sound, sound fragments, and action particles could be a sign that space as we knew it has forever ceased to exist. Where there is no expansion, there is no distance that should be defined with the help of linear temporal patterns. Where there is no duration, there is neither a beginning nor an end. Connections are instantaneous and absolutely accidental. There is no dualism of cause and effect. On or off. Nothing in between.
We have folded space and the world has disappeared in a black box.
[ July 2006 ]
1| Martin Breindl, lo-res vs. hifi, 1997; in: Positionen, Beiträge zur Neuen Musik; Heft 31, "Internet"; Berlin, Verlag Positionen, 1997
2| Breindl/Christian/Math/Sodomka, Virtual Feedback, 1997; project text for „Recycling the Future, a Kunstradio project in 4 episodes. Episode 1: at Hybrid Workspace documentaX, Kassel, 18-27 July 1997 [http://kunstradio.at/FUTURE/DX/]
3| Frank Herbert, David Lynch, Dune (script), 1984 [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dune_%28film%29]
4| Breindl/Math/Sodomka, Nahe Ferne. Zeitgleich, 1994; in: Zeitgleich; Wien - Hamburg, Triton Verlag, 1995
5| Robert Adrian X, an interview with Martin Breindl, 2002; interview transcript of the panel discussion from 17 August 2002, in forumschlosswolkersdorf, on the occasion of “Weinviertler Fotowochen 2002” [http://alien.mur.at/theory/]
6| Gerfried Stocker, State of Transition, 1994; project text [http://kunstradio.at/1994B/stateof_t.html]
7| Ibidem, [http://kunstradio.at/1994B/10_11_94.html]
8| Ibidem, [http://kunstradio.at/1994B/stateof_t.html]
9| Ibidem, [http://kunstradio.at/1994B/stateof_t.html]
10| Heidi Grundmann, Horizontal Radio, A Report, 1995; [http://kunstradio.at/HORRAD/horradisea3.html]
11| Martin Breindl, Immersive Sound. The World in A Box, 1998; in: Audio Art, Kunst in der Stadt 2; Bregenz, Bregenzer Kunstverein, 1998
12| Sound Drifting. I silenzi parlano tra loro, 1999, project text< [http://kunstradio.at/SD/]
13| Martin Breindl, Microcosmos and Macrocosmos, 1999; in: Sound Drifting; Vienna: Triton, 2000