YEARS OF CONVEX TV (1)
On Saturday, May 17th 1980, the day before they were to fly to America to begin their first US tour, Joy Division singer Ian Curtis visited his home in Macclesfield and watched the televised film Stroszek by his favorite director Werner Herzog. In America, Herzog shifts gears to a surreal road movie, ending with poor Bruno (sans Eva) adrift on a lonely ski slope, contrasted with Pavlovian dancing chickens (3).
In the 20th century, when people were still bathing in the aura of progress, a bunch of Berlin-based semi-youngsters decided it was time to dive into the processes of the aural. Heavily devoted to their tongues, ears and fingertips, they invented the idea of "convex tv." and started a three year journey, which took them to the edges of netspace, air-time and e-commerce (4).
The people from Convex TV had a radio show on the student university radio that had been given some of good old 'Voice of America's' airtime. The program was highly experimental, and used the internet during its broadcasts once a month for producing live texts and images. There was no sound here yet, on the internet that was. Listeners of the program through the ether, could take a seat in front of their computer and join in the live text event on their screens. People outside of the transmitter radius could do this also, having a very different radio experience indeed (5).
At the test bed of their futurity, convex tv. connected both radio and the net to the urban spaces of Berlin. By passing regular radio transmissions onto a multiplexity of broadcasting-levels, they left traces on the internet and on site for media-archeologists to discover. Demanding attention from more traditional media, they designed manifestos such as "HTML deejaying y/our favorite lo-tekst myth.", "there's a bandwidth playing on the radio", "*developed arrestment* - make alias. (a PJ for ten or six notes on the death of self-organisation)", "the porn empire links back", "some thoughts on the paste-media era", or "We Can't Stop the Dancing Chicken" (6).
We started with convex tv. in Berlin in late 1996. Our website had constantly evolved since early 1997. From the beginning we tried to develop the web content in accordance with our broadcasting issues, which for the most part were journalistic topics- digital culture, media culture, or electronic culture, as we preferred to call it. First, we put on our website all the transcribed programs we broadcast, so you could read it like an online magazine.
very soon we saw that this was not the only possibility to work with online
broadcast, with online presence. So even before we worked with the real
audio software as a broadcasting tool, we developed a very low-fi broadcasting
technology which we called "html-djing". It functioned like
Then, during 97, very soon the real audio software became common as a streaming tool, so we started streaming on the web parallel to our on air programs, which normally were being produced once a month. Also we started to put up an archive of our streams and programs. We soon saw that this was one of the big advantages of net.radio in correspondence to traditional air frequency radio: You could get a feedback for things which were produced some time ago and also you could get e-mails by people who did research in the archive and then could reply to them. By having an archive you also offered an invisible audio sphere where the linear model of traditional on air frequency radio was broken up by the structures of the web - you produced an audio hyper structure, where it was up to the user to choose the files and create her or his own audio listening structure (9).
everybody knew, there was no such thing as net.radio, but a great variety
of ideas and experiments around *sound* on the internet. as all of you
had your own unique experiences with "net.radio", we didn't
want to provide a 24 hour schedule in a centralist planning style. instead
we liked to ask all of you to participate in creating the contents of
the meeting. to make it a little bit easier we had tried to define a matrix
for topics, that could be discussed and/or be subjects of direct action
and experiment (10):
Unfortunately, the first impression upon entering was that someone had broken in and made off with half the stuff -- indeed, some works were to be found at various other locations in the city. The model for the show was perhaps the Hybrid Workspace, a kind of information depot at Documenta X. Viewers were presented with some photocopies, a couple of televisions and a group of uninviting shelves housing a few tapes. Perhaps more interesting things could be found via the internet, at www.art-bag.org/convextv (12).
With an excellent techno-minimalist design --within what we could have called a 'clear line' style that was very easy on the eyes-- convex tv was one of the pioneering spaces that broadcast streaming images and sound in real time on the Internet (13).
One of the basic ideas of convex tv. was to make a link back from the very abstract use of radio as it was perceived then - as a mass medium - back to a really small community, to produce a kind of a community radio. I have to add that our archive was only made possible by the help of Radio Internationale Stadt and orang.orang.org, which is a Berlin-based audio server. I think that it was very hard always to react precisely and fast enough to what was constantly being developed by the media industry.
To (seemingly) cover this situation, we worked on a project called [.format], where we asked a lot of people to think about their use of formats, also to think about their use of the term "format". We made a website to present this project, here it was: http://www.art-bag.org/convextv/format. The basic idea was to use a globe as a symbol of [.format]. Within this project, we realized a series of interviews with people about the format-idea. We also asked artists to contribute to an audio CD, to do audio pieces about their ideas of formats. Also, we made a 24 hours program where we invited special people to come to test bed and contribute by producing programs on the format issue. In the end it showed that the most important format was the own body, because if you broadcast for 24 hours and you were always in the same room, then the room, and within that room your own body, became a format itself (14).
Convex.tv had an online archive of both audio files and text on their site, of which the text was unfortunately mostly in German, even if the interview it originates from was in English. To give you an impression of the activities here are some interview excerpts (15):
what was convex tv.?
There were many examples of very different and yet similar approaches of this traditional webcasting, from Convex TV, which approached both radio and the internet in a conceptually radical art-way (17):
............Was this art? It didn't really
even look that much like work (18).
Before hooking up with the gravy train that was Elvis, the Colonel made a living working in carnivals and fairs, and was founder of the Great Parker Pony Circus and Colonel Tom Parker and His Dancing Chickens. For the latter, he would place live chickens on a hot plate covered with sawdust; the chickens then shook their legs and hopped about to avoid the heat.
dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio.
"trimm dich" - the motto of the gathering - had been borrowed from a west german 1970s campaign for public health and meant: get fit! mikro and convex tv. provided beds and vitamin-breakfast, having helped you to achieve this aim...
In general Berlin net.radio-days didn't want to be a strictly organized symposium, but an open space for meeting and discussion. net.radio-days were organized by the Berlin based organisation of "mikro" in cooperation with the local convex tv. collective and took place at several locations in town (21).
collectives across Europe had spent the final years of the last century
learning to transgress national borders via new modes of shared broadcasting
and artistic creation. The Berlin-based - and recently deceased - collective
convex tv. came to the conclusion (22):
"there were a few simple reasons for doing things collectively: technologically
It was not even that we had to sell ourselves. There was a really good text of convex.tv's website actually called "Make Alias" about the desirability of marginal collective groups from many point of views. We all knew about this cultural capital stuff that was going on, and it got really difficult. But convex tv view was 'make an alias', which I really liked (24).
As everything got wireless, media of all kind were moving to the centralized matrix known as the Ether. While the traditional forms -internet, multimedia - showed many signs of vanishing, the Ether was being invaded by even older media species. convex tv. was one. Yet with each additional transmitting station, each new antenna, the media the Ether could support became richer, more complex, more differentiated. The Ether had begun offering things you simply couldn't hear (25):
In the manner of the tradition of Enlightenment Europe's academies of arts and sciences, convex tv., in co-operation with you, were soliciting responses from a global public and in sound form to the following Prize Contest. This announcement was addressed to all persons, anywhere in the world. You were invited to respond to our Prize Contest in a creative way and from whatever happened to be your own techno cultural perspective and background. You should have aimed to provide the most convincing and conclusive solution possible in a spirit of open competition. On the threshold of a new millennium, this international competition of minds hoped to become a symbol of a creative and co-operative global society in the 21st century.
Advurts had to address the following issue:
of our agenda was, never to precisely define what we were doing, which
also was an effect of convex tv. being 14 people with different occupations.
With convex tv. it was a very mixed level of working and communicating
with each other, and these situations then "produced" convex
tv., a constant working with images and sounds, space, text and people.
This, I think, was the most important part of the project: having a room,
where people could come and talk with each other. Also we always produced
misunderstandings "for example the whole website was not designed
Thus, people could follow the adventures of this small collective on their journey to friendship, fame and happiness. But this was only the theory-module of the whole story. Just think of their practice and you wish the millennium had never come: the connection of media, the construction of situations, the simulation of institutions, the intuition of inversion, the invention of objects, the subject of formatting. All of these and many more were the nouns to sentences which contained verbal forms such as "streaming", "hosting", "presenting", "inviting", "joining", "listening", "defining" and "speaking". Having tested every single word, sound, space, time, situation, bit, tag and .net which was available at that time, our travelers were finally mesmerized by their own significance, and transformed themselves into a project of the past by deprocessing every vehicle used, except their friendship (28).
Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's longtime manager, died Tuesday of complications
from a stroke. He was eighty-seven.(29)