Josephine Bosma

What is net.radio? What different possibilities do we have when using the internet for various radio or sound exchange projects? Will mass media networks dominate the future of webcasting, or will there be space for experimental, cultural projects as well? The answer to the last question depends on political decisions we cannot predict, but which we need to try to have influence on. Net.radio and its possibilities are the topic of this lecture.

> Understanding the media

We have come to understand both radio and the internet in a specific way, which is through the popular representation of these two media. These representations have left us with a limited perception of radio and the internet. So before I start to talk about the meaning of the word net.radio I always first point at the broad spectrum of possibilities of both media seperately.

First radio. Radio is a tool to send sound and nowadays also data from one place to another. It was originally a military tool, that created the possibility to reach beyond the physical network of lines which at that time supported telegraphy. It could go where people could not travel. It was used for small circle or one to one communication, but also radar and radar deception are radio applications. Many beautiful tricks can or could be played. For an example of a radar deception trick I quote from the book On the air, published as a catalogue of the symposium by the same name, organised by ORFKunstradio in 1993: "Garrelousness as an alternative for the being still which had now (which is: during attack JB) become impossible was, for example, practised by the "Garmish-Partenkirchen" jamming unit, which picked up the enemy's radar impulses, stored them and sent them back time delayed five times. On the enemy's screen a group of six (one correct and five false) echoes appeared simulating a squadron of planes." (from: Bernhard Siegert, Escalation of a Medium) Nowadays the US-military top is highly upset by the development of an air defence system by the Chinese, which can trace Stealth planes by perceiving minimal disruptions in commercial radio frequencies. The US have a similar system by the way, but these tools are seen as weapons, and non allies are of course not supposed to possess such weapons. One should never forget the military background of radio, because it is the reason, the basis for all legislation in broadcasting and transmitting on the air. The production and design of radiosets has been bound by law to give unauthorized individuals hardly any possibilities to use the radio waves in a way that endangers the authorities. Before standardization of radio receiver design in the early 20th century radio was the big craze. Many 'radio-amateurs', as they are disrespectfully called nowadays, were broadcasting and forming 'rings' of communication. Siegfried Zielinski has been comparing the early years of radio with those of the internet. Hopes were high that radio would bring people together, that information would be free. Radio as we have come to know it, broadcasting from a central point to a massive, receiving audience, is a shallow technical use of the possibilities of radio. The content of radio is, next to this, tied to laws of jurisdiction and commerce.

The internet is very often mixed up with the worldwideweb in popular speak. Most people do not know the many applications of computernetworks. The internet is a network of networks, composed out of thousands of smaller networks. The internet was of course also created as a military tool. A large network of computers was supposed to be least sensitive to complete wipe out in case of a nuclear disaster or nuclear war. The internet is used for sending data from one place to another, or to store data. This happens through the use of telephonelines, satelites and other wireless communication, and 'servers'. (Servers are the computers at every connection point that contain data and software to control data (like for instance majordomo software for mailinglists or RealMedia software to stream sound and moving image). Data is digitised information. Like radiowaves, data have no structure we can perceive without a tool. The worldwideweb is the shiny 'mall' space of the internet, in which through an interface, a browser, one presents information in a way that resembles television vaguely. It resembles something like a glossy magazine to early net-users. There are other ways to use the internet though, which are specifically important for the topic of this lecture. In early, pre-www days sound was used in networked artpieces through the use of for instance 'midi', a now rather obscure piece of software that allows the user to play with the raw data in many ways he or she wants. Midi is still used a lot in decentralised art performance via the internet. Data that originally was sound, can be 'translated' to control any electronic device attached to the computer. Another piece of software is CUseeme, which was very popular a few years ago. It is used next to RealMedia or RealAudio, in net art performances by, amongst many others, for example the Brooklyn based group Fakeshop.

'Streaming media' is the general term for software that allows a flow of sound and moving image on the internet. Mostly people refer to MP3 or RealAudio when using the term, but new tools are under constant development. MP3 and RealAudio (the old name of RealMedia) are used within the worldwideweb, as opposed to midi and CUseeme which can be used outside of it. Data can be transformed, transported and translated in any way, and software to control it is never a product we should take for granted as it is: we can theoretically always adjust it to our needs, produce new soft- and hardware, or play with the different combinations which are possible. Comparing the situation on the internet to the development of radio one should note that though the impact and the importance of the internet have reached far beyond that of radio in its early years, it would still be too early to cheer for a new age of free information (and thus also sound) exchange. The development of the hardware structure of the internet, plus the development of legislation around the internet is still going on. For radio and television on the 'web' this means the future is still insecure.

> Networked sound

What happens when radio 'enters' the internet? First of all, the popular definition of radio is under threat. It is impossible to call internet radio 'broadcasting'. Two major developments can be distinguished: firstly the availability of zillions of soundfiles and thousands of sound streams have produced tools for the individual to create his or her own tailorfit 'radio channel'; secondly a tendency which in time actually came forth before the first one: producing sound, sending sound oneself. To not create ones own perfectly designed 'radio channel' to listen to, but to have ones own 'radiostation'.

The term 'narrowcasting' was invented a few years ago, when it became clear that radio and television would have some kind of twin on the internet. 'Narrowcasting' points at the difference in the path taken by the product of especially radio. No longer does it spread itself like a cloud, like an oilstain, through the ether. It can only follow the distinct lines that make up the internet. Furthermore listeners are no longer obliged to choose from a limited number of frequencies, they can choose from a huge variety of livestreams and archived material. Listeners can compose their own radio channel from them. A number of 'agents', interfaces and preference guides have evolved to present the choosy listener with radio that often leaves little more room for surprise then ordinary radio though, because of the 'agent' they select. The design of the piece of software which an 'agent', or special digital 'intelligent' robot, is in the end, depends on the input of its maker. With most commercial, popular (which often means American) agents this means they have the same flaws as search engines. Not all data is accepted, certain other data is 'priviliged'. Some websites offer the user an interface that enables him or her to create a 'personal' channel, but the content is a selected one from a certain network. The technology somewhat reminds us of commercial stations with names like Classic Rock FM, Radio 10 Gold or Sky Radio, stations that buy prepared blocks of music to fill each part of the day, week or year with an appropriate sound. For this the term 'narrowcasting' seems more then fitting.

As the search for the 'ideal' piece of software continues, it might be good to have a look at some experiments with sound on the internet. What kinds of alternative practices are developed, how do especially artists (who are notorious for exploring a new medium in different ways) play with the possibilities at hand? To simplify our exploration of the sound art and radio field on the net I would like to take a closer look at four important aspects of it. These aspects are: databases, tools, livestreams, and decentralised editorial boards (or decentralised input). Through the use of examples I hope to give some insight into how artists use and explore radio on the internet, plus I hope to show you how the different aspects come together and engage with eachother.

> Databases

The aspect of storage of information is one of the earliest computer applications. A database which is accessable through the internet provides material to artists and radio makers, which they can use in any form or process they choose to use it for. A database, stored information itself, is not the tool to create something, and it does not have to be the basis of an artwork or 'radioshow'. It is simply one source of possible content. In the past, radio (and also television) had physical archives of tapes and other material. These are slowly being digitized, but they are rarely searchable through the net. What is interesting as a contrast to average radio content and radio archives is the wonderful, rare material produced in 'alternative culture' that found its way to internet databases. Many people that produce 'difficult' content were early to recognize the possibilities of the internet for publication and exchange. The internet has been the ideal way to create and find specific audiences for specific content. Both this content and its audience are mostly refused or neglected by mass media.

A good example of an alternative database system is the German server orang.org. This archive was started in 1996 by Thomax, software designer and musician, as Radio Internationale Stadt. When the host Internationale Stadt dissolved, Thomax got the archive its own web domain. The orang server is suffering from its own success. It is by now so large it is under constant development. Orang in fact is an example of a crossover between a database and an tool. It does not only offer an enormous variety of soundfiles in many formats, it also offers the user the possibility to upload material and have his or her own little database inside the database, which can be edited seperately. Furthermore Thomax has developed a search engine which is able to present the user files from other, connected databases as well. This aspect is important. A broader platform or larger presence of alternative culture offers a kind of counterbalance for the flood of the commercial, mediocre content of, in this case, large media networks on the internet. The database is basically uncensored and therefore very rich in content, though fascist or other rightwing extremist content is not welcome. Orang also offers its RealMedia server for livestreams. Techno producers, musicians, artists and journalists have work there. Commercial media networks would probably never offer such freedom to upload. They think in terms of content control rather then content exchange. See the origins of radio. A project like orang.org collaborates with many other projects, it is like a node in a network. I will mention four examples of tools to handle soundfiles and -streams, tools developed by artists.

> Tools

The Frequency Clock by Radioqualia and the World Service by Heath Bunting both offer users to shape their own 'radio channel', by lining up various streams to be played at any preffered time, though this was not their most important reason to create these interfaces. The WorldService was inititated as a political cultural tool. The Frequency Clock started as an artistic project. Both aim to serve as community 'builders' above all, and both are strongly rooted in net.culture. The Frequency Clock can also handle sound files. The user is totally free in its choice of content, which means the entire internet can be searched. The World Service interface is built to oppose property or authorship rights. The idea is with both the World Service and the Frequency Clock to bring net.radio content to the Real World. The World Service has two radiostations already using its system of content as ether broadcast material, and its creator is involved in supporting the set up of free radiostations in for instance Kosova. The Frequency Clock is designed to have its own transmitters as ether connections, which are being prepared this very moment. Tools that gather soundfiles on the net and line them up for streaming have been created by many artists and technicians. Whereas the Frequency Clock and the World Service remain quite close to the concept of radio as we know it, other tools are more like artworks or instruments. '' by the Brittish Andi Freeman and Jason Skeet, and 'Agent Radio' by the Dutchman Arthur Elsenaar both have a more anarchic feel. Agent Radio is a very simple agent that looks for any soundfile on the net, gathers the files onto a harddisc, and then plays them one by one. The result is an endless stream of sound that reflects the mindset of the average net-user: like peoples first homepages are full of often irrelevant personal details, a huge quantity of soundfiles on the net appears to be filled with farts, burps and screams. Agent Radio was presented on the air at n5m3, in March 1999. For this occasion Arthur Elsenaar decided to filter most 'trash' out, which I think is a shame. Earshot is a hybrid tool. It can create ones personal radio channel and it is also a mixing panel with special effects. It allows the user to actually influence the sound. This is the kind of radio we will probably ultimately be heading to, as radio and sound players we use in our homes develop more and more into one.

> Realtime

An important aspect of radio has always been its realtime broadcasts: the *live* element. It gives a sense of tele-presence to the listener, as if he or she is at more places at the same time. This aspect has been played with many times by artists on traditional radio, especially in the shape of realistic drama, just think of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. Experiments in livestreaming of sound are various. Livestreams are used in art performances, in actions, and as part of radio-experiments. VanGoghTV and ORFKunstradio were early names involved in decentralised radio artprojects which used computernetworks in the late eigthies and mid nineties. The element of realtime communication and global exchange played a tremendously large role in the character of these works. As some of these projects were also broadcasted live on different radio stations (and in the case of VanGoghTV of course also television), 'suddenly' the old radio quality of communication was brought back into broadcasting more prominently, or rather: mixed with it. There have been examples of radio art playing with different 'original' qualities of radio as well, but the use of the internet has multiplied its effects. The Japanese artist and radio pioneer Tetsuo Kogawa has started working with the internet as well. He rejects the word narrowcasting for a word he finds more appropriate: 'weaving'. Tetsuo Kogawa's work is always realtime, and could often be called actions. For an exhibition in Canada he introduced the sound version of the webcam: live sounds from gardens and streetcorners were put on livestreams. Recently Tetsuo Kogawa decided to eliminate the weekly broadcast of the mini-fm station Radio Home Run, which he initiated in Tokyo. He wants to concentrate more on live actions from the streets of Tokyo, using laptops and public internet connection poles or phone booths. The Berlin group Convex TV consists of artists and journalists. For years they have had a monthly radioshow about art, new media and mediatheory. Their name is a reflective joke about the use of the internet as part of their radioshow, even when they did not have access to livestreaming yet. They would organise special parties during their radioshows, where people could not only follow the ether radio signal, but where one could also access a computer to log into the continuously live updated website. This playful use of the screen would later be called 'streaming text', in the light of evolving streaming media. Convex TV is still experimenting with live broadcasts and livestreaming. The streaming and broadcasts now also happen seperately from eachother.

> Decentralisation

The fourth aspect of net.radio is the most important one to me. THE characteristic of computernetworks is decentralisation. A few years ago the emphasis in discussions around computers and art was very much on interactivity. This 'interactivity' has by now been criticised thoroughly by amongst others Alexei Shulgin and Lev Manovich (in 1996). Interactivity is a hollow frase that bears in it the illusion of flexibility, freedom and exchange. It is in reality mostly a very limited option in computergames and artworks. Attach a computer to a network however, and the networking starts offering opportunities we used to search for in so-called interactivity. Still these opportunities are limited: they depend on social structures. I have to admit that a more elaborate form of interactivity has evolved through the use of the internet. I would not call this a 'true' inter - acting though. Networking itself, *engaging in/with the structure* of any network project (and in this case of course we concentrate on radio), is still far more interesting and 'truely' interactive. It is confusing not to have a proper term for some situations and developments that we have been presented with through the internet. What I am referring to is the use of websites (with entry forms etc), chatrooms and email by massmedia networks. These appearantly attractive ways to 'exchange thoughts with the network' in reality are cheap content producers and creators of more clientele for the particular media network. What we see there are 'public' spaces that serve as the equivalents of disco's, cafe's or magazines online. Yet in these online spaces we do not have the benefits of Real Space: we are in a virtual architecture. We cannot see the art gallery or the funny little cafe around the corner. We are limited by the paths of the network and have no overview. This makes these spaces more dangerous to cultural variety then any mall or supermarket in Real Space could ever be. When working in cyberspace, one has to keep two things in mind: one has to be omnipresent, and one has to make a clear choice against corporate culture. No interesting developments happen without cultural variety in general, monoculture has proven itself to be very unhealthy, and on the web the necesity for variety is one of the basic concepts we have to keep in mind when building anything there. Simply because of the nature of the digital realm. Decentralised projects in art and radio are examples of sources of technical, cultural and social variety.

Very interesting projects around what I call a 'decentralised editorial board', which replaces the old local editorial board of a radioshow, have been performed by art organisations of various sorts. ORFKunstradio's Horizontal Radio (1995) and Rivers and Bridges (1996), TNC's Webcrash parties (and other more ad hoc and temporary alliances) have produced radio of which the input was generated at various locations across the globe. Though these projects generally have local editors who 'give shape to' the final sound stream, we often see more then one stream, or we see broadcasts with different 'editors' at different locations. This means we no longer have one final content, but different variations of content in one 'program' or 'show', to say it in radio terms. I mentioned the power of the live element before, and the return of communication or exchange. These are vital elements of decentralised net.radio projects. Decentralised live projects engage the audience in a networked experience, the audience is immersed into, and sometimes can be part of, the network. Also important is the paradoxal experience of both global and local culture at the same time. There are barely any national decentralised net.radio projects. Decentralisation almost always happens on an international basis.

Try to imagine a radioshow with input from various countries around the globe, live. Try to imagine the use of archived material from anywhere in such a set up as well. We then have live input from more then one source, plus soundfiles we can either play in their original state, or used sampled within mixes or as illustratative context for live programming. Imagine connections to ether transmissions, and imagine the groundforce of each broadcaster adjusting the program at will. Add to this possible live programming, live happenings in a space. *This* is net.radio.

> Net.culture and streaming media

The internet is not just a tool. It is a social and political space as well. It is also the arena for interesting fights and discussions around issues like authorship, democracy, censorship and access to information. The communities that have taken shape on the internet, plus the interaction between them, have created all kinds of output we in short call net.culture. In Europe we have a much more sophisticated type of net.cultural life then in for instance the United States. The difference comes down to an emphasis on culture on the one hand and dominance by commerce on the other. The reason for this difference is the very simple fact of cheap 'online time' in the US, which has made cyberspace an attractive place to be for both salespeople and 'consumers'. There just does not seem to have been a time of relative silence inside the medium in the US, like we have known it here. In Europe mostly some eager early explorers like artists, hackers, students and theorists have dominated the scene. Though net.culture does not only consist of high brow artistic and theoretical practice of course, inside it fascinating cultural experiments have happened. This young culture has produced a breed of experimentors, artists and thinkers. Some of these look for ways to apply new concepts developed on the net outside of it. When this refers to connecting the internet to other (mostly electronic) media outside of the net, while taking a certain net.cultural practice as a starting point, this is called: creating extensions. Many net.radio pioneers are looking for ways to connect streaming media to broadcast media. Tools like the Frequency Clock or the World Service are based on it. They create an extension for net.radio into the offline world.

'The Real World' however also extends itself and its old media onto the net. Eventhough sometimes one gets the impression large corporations and media networks are struck with stupor because of certain features of the internet (no legislation, gift economies, copy culture), they in fact catch up quite quickly with developing everything they need to use the internet as an extension of their original power and structure. On conferences media networks like MTV discuss the way bandwidth needs to be applied in the future. "High bandwidth is primarily the domain, as MTV sees it, of those that want good quality streaming and are not so concerned with the interactive aspects of the medium" (from a report by Adam Hyde of Radioqualia on a corporate conference on 'streaming media' in Amsterdam). This viewpoint reverses the common idea in net.culture that high bandwidth is for more information or data travelling *both* ways, so for more interaction. An entire cultural field is built on this notion of exchange and communication. With the intervention of powerful corporations in the development of the internet itself, the danger of a possible disappearance of a rich cultural life seems to close in on us. It is for this reason that alternative net.radio practicioners start organising themselves into networks of their own, which produces the danger of becoming monocultures themselves, but which also at the same time creates the possibility of survival for experimental work.

A big problem is the scarcity of money for experimental work with the internet. Net.radio at the moment costs little or no money, compared to legal broadcasting. However: when access to bandwidth becomes expensive (and the chance that will happen is not unlikely), the variety in net.radio styles and content will drop significantly. Maintaining public cultural space on the internet therefore is a necessity. 'Remediation' as a theme from which to talk here at Merz Adademie is interesting, but it should always include the background from which technologies are being developed. This background shows a part of the reasons why media 'try to escape' from eachother. A lot of it comes down to basic human powerstruggles.

> Conclusion

Net.radio has recuperated a lot of possibilities that were inherent, but seemed lost to the medium radio. Artists have successfully applied the internet in cross media projects, creating global networks in the process. Mass media conglomerates are not interested in freedom of media use or access to media input for each individual. Their interests therefore clash with projects that originate in the net.cultural field. To ensure an interesting media practice and a rich media culture, we have to make sure bandwidth and serverspace is created for culture on a high level in decisionmaking. The focus of such practice should be on both content and technology development. Radio (and also television) will without doubt apply certain alternative and common new media methods of working. This means we can expect more decentralised editorial boards (think of MTV Europe) across countries and continents; more usage of databases for media programming and contextualisation; global access to local culture plus local culture probed by global culture; and last but not least a further loss of our grip on reality and time.

Written in
December 1999. Special thanks to Robert Adrian, Heath Bunting and Adam Hyde. Originally online on laudanum.net.

about Josephine Bosma >>