Radio & Aural Destabilization #4a
Radio as Secret Pleasure Ground
Subject: Radio & Aural Destabilization
"To drink wine in secret & not get caught, to accept the rules in order to break them & thus attain the spiritual lift ... of danger & adventure, the private epiphany of overcoming all interior police while tricking all outward authority." * TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Hakim Bey
Pre-conditioned clairaudience: I remember at age 11 riding my bicycle back and forth past my girlfriend's house (she didn't know she was my girlfriend) on Saturday afternoons in the defiled terrain known as central New Jersey, hoping (and dreading) she'd come outside. I'd ride by - no hands, showing off - one hand holding an old transistor up to my ear, Top 40 - Martha & the Vandellas, Dave Clark Five - serenading me and creating makeshift soundtracks to fortify my actions, or what I imagined they might be. It made every awkward lunge toward amour seem justified, heroic, necessary and part of the film that was playing on the backs of my eyelids. That was radio for me - something hotwired to the self, ready to jumpstart the heart.
Radio can also serve as a surrogate - an aural Tamagotchi for the bedless or lonesome, drifting and manufacturing purpose out of nothing, a transistor radio held to their ears. Radio shutting them in from the world shutting them out. Witness alien souls riding around in their cars until late desolate night, ignorant of their own desires, alienated from adventure, glad another day's dead air has been killed softly with the radio.
But radio was and still is bad. Everywhere - no amount of turning the dial alters this conclusion. Not bad in the good sense of bad deconstructing false elegance but awful, stultifying, aural anesthesia that is used against ourselves. Boring us while pretending it's doing the opposite. Tearing us apart and, for a price, offering to put us back together again.
Bad radio's a signal that many of us have "no aptitude for autonomy," meaning a resignation to popular culture's absolute realities (where low culture pretensions outwit those of high culture.) Although late at night, some radionauts might discover signals going slightly fortuitous, less shrink-wrapped.
Fewer commercials too, revealing that strange media capitalist equation: late night = fewer listeners = less advertising revenue = more interesting programming. During working/commuting slots, all radio issues mid-range Muzak as soothing workplace metronome. Our arbitrated nocturnal heaven back then was the 3-minute version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," say, giving way to, at the very least, B-sides or the spacious, downright ostentatiously, bacchanalian 15±-minute album version. During famine, crumbs become the feast.
I'd forgotten that my father had (still has!) a Norelco 3-speed "real-to-reel" 10-kilo monstrosity of a tape recorder with which I recorded many aimless meandering around the radio dial - my own "radio shows" - until a fellow DJ followed my radio show recently with an eccentric piece of Electronica, "Oscillations," which I suddenly remembered recording off some TV pop show (was it American Bandstand, 1967?) The band, Silver Apples, were odd, out-of-time, pre-Kraftwerk. I remember listening mesmerized, over and over for what it was that made this group so ... weird.
The tapes held in magnetic suspension all manner of songs and bits. They were mine, to play when I wanted, in whatever sequence I wanted, to sing along to when I wanted without any commercial interruption ever.
I didn't become a radio DJ for another 20 years but I subconsciously carried that notion around with me until then. And by that time, advertising had already snuffed out most of the songs and their sycophantic memories by hotlinking them to various commodities - "Good Vibrations" betraying associations with a classmate's yellow bikini for an orange soda.
Dérive: Urban derelict jaywalkers, oblivious to crosswalks, wander off the orderly civic shopping- or parking-augmentation grids through the city with undetermined destinations, and discover ways to get places not described in guidebooks. They're nomansland nomads negotiating the urban plexus on terms orchestrated by their own hypnagogic concerns - free time allowing. These wandering souls drop their "usual motives for movement ... and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there." So that dream can reinvigorate the quotidian ambience. Before I knew this was called a dérive I was doing it. I walked. And when I walked where light goes limp and darkness blossoms, I thought, and when I thought, I lost all psychic ballast, becoming a sleuth; beholden to happenstance while tracing enigmas to their source, noting autumnal sunsets, the bouncy hems of skirts, a bullet hole in a grey steel door, the smell of stale beer on the old man's breath; discovering the roving ghosts of Henry Miller, Hart Crane, Hubert Selby, and Carson McCullers-their presence like watermarks on forgotten stationery.
This temporary delight can be attained by drifting, treating the paths the way mediums treat a Ouja Board or Zen Buddhists "augur" satori, that delectable moment of surprised revelation. In other words, allowing chance to, in part, determine orientation.
We all eventually discover that tuning and twisting the radio dial back and forth does something similar - it exposes time and audition to chance - and logic is rendered passé.
Brandon Labelle connects these peripatetic realignments of urban geographies with making sounds: "The dérive becomes a model for making the pulsations and gyrations of perception, the very corporeal interpenetration of the self and the world ... productive ...Within the space of sound-making is an ideological desire to immerse oneself in the reimagining of a different set of relations. ... sound-making offers a way in which I may negotiate how ... I become a part of the world around me." Like Labelle's sound-making, radiomaking can be seen as "a kind of sonic-writing: a vocabulary [that] takes shape in the process of handling objects and producing sound, focusing onto a particular noise and drawing it into a space of attention." But what is radiomaking in this context of "radio?"
Covert: Radio's everywhere - and nowhere to be seen. The more obviously omnipresent, the more absent. It oozes into shopping-dining-loving and yet seldom can we recall any one moment, name or location on the glowing dial. If you want to lose track of something, live with it day and night.
The more into absence radio seems to retreat however, the freer it becomes. The freer it becomes, the more that freedom needs to be extrapolated and nurtured in secrecy to realize radio's pre-commercial ideals - (pre-1940) radio was intended as interpersonal communication, radiowave email if you will.
Commercial radio, conversely, pins happy faces on the new nihilism that worms its ways into every clown's heart - the fear of depths or heretical surfaces has made almost all radio sonic valium. Meaning is consumed as myth, a complex impoverishment: ever greater "rewards," ever slighter opportunities for reaping those rewards; widening gulfs between desire and fulfillment - random shopping manias are imbued with the hype of ersatz adventures.
Commercial radio is a perfect illustration of the axiom: the less one has to say, the more one's paid to say it - i.e., commercial radio personalities aren't personalities so much as talking heads who fetch fat salaries - they don't write, emote, choose music, mix it or even cue it.
Although most radio justifies/nurtures the market, sometimes its signals go awry, seep into an open, un-ful-fill-ed space where creation can flourish and that space may as well contain you. Once you accept this space as yours and accept that radiowaves convert electricity into sound and that sound stimulates the human body's bio-electrical units, you can accept that bio-electricity activates reverie, sexual arousal, the urge to dance, dream, sweat or contemplate just as easily as it arouses the shopping itch. We carry on with our own vengeance in secrecy, outside the infected realm. Here our reward is the joy of that time at play - simple, free, no exchange rate, no credit rating necessary.
Why secret(ive) and clandestine? Because discretion is the better part of survival. Secrecy remains the better part of freedom, anonymity the better part of satisfaction. By circumventing the enforced language of expected radio/experience anonymity becomes a must. This is not paranoia, this is mere masked ball for the events called living. This is what we wear to avoid having to participate in their courts / galleries / malls / amusement parks because here they always win and their victory always means more ennui to purchase your way out of. They own all the judges, fix all the prices, water all the drinks. We do radio in secret (radio is nonetheless projected outward rather than inward - the wine passed around rather than imbibed alone) to not get caught doing unconventional (inconvenient) radio.
Imagine a park at night, no curfews, moontans, the sounds of crickets drowning out the ambience of the workday, strange games of hide and seek ..
"The universe wants to play. Those who refuse out of dry spiritual greed ... those who refuse out of dull anguish ...lose their chance at divinity" * Hakim Bey
Play: Dutch philosopher, Johan Huizinga, identified a type of human as homo ludens, humans at play, the suppressed participants of social history, every bit as important as reasoning or productive people. Those homo ludens are today's radiomakers.
The obverse of commercial radio's axiom might be: The more one has to say (express, create, mean), the less one is "compensated" for it, i.e., "the starving artist syndrome". So be it.
Radio as creative resource requires a creator, a player. The DJ, or spinner of product (LP/CD/K7) must evolve into what the Dutch call a radiomaker. A prankster, a playful soul. The Amsterdam School of Radiomakers reveals that the state of radio here is unlike the usual state of things. The reason: The art of DJ-ing skips into the next groove - from interior decorator to architect, from spinning to making. Their manifesto contains the very obliteration of each numbered proclamation in that manifesto ... "this tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds" ...
Radiomakers at unaffiliated, invalid, illegal, outlaw, clandestine, and pirate frequencies propose various sorceries via radiowaves. Participants create a psychic / physical / psychological space which prepares us for, as Hakim Bey puts it, "the metamorphosis of quotidian place into angelic sphere." Radiomakers must become alchemists converting resources/disks/opportunities into temporary moments of ecstasy. Radiomakers throw out the stars and the listeners discover their own zodiacs among them.
Somewhere between mystical and practical lies the art of the radiomaker - a DJ/radiomaker's gift-technique is (sometimes willfully) misunderstood as either a mysterious artform - it is and isn't, anyone can learn it, not all will do it well. While others insist there's absolutely nothing to it - well, that's not true either; there's an art, a touch, an ear, the same way there's an "art" to decorating a refuge, constructing a rock garden, preparing a memorable meal.
True radiomakers "require" few technological prostheses but can operate many - a turntable, a tapedeck, a palette of appropriated / arranged sounds, disembodied voices, a skit for a radio play, or an agenda for mayhem can rearrange the inner sanctums of everyday expectations. The canvas is the listener's innermost ear upon which they scratch their aural etchings. With intent + creativity an entire universe can be created. One's commitment need only be as vague as a (circum)navigation of possibility, an avoidance of the expected - reinventing surrealdadasituationism without all the ballast of a manifesto. Let the heart maintain the manifesto. Let the addiction be fed in that dramatic micro-synaptical-instant known as the segue, when sounds meet and have to decide whether they fit together. This is the radiomaker's kick.
My own approach has always been severely low budget lo-fi with the ambition of creating aural occurrences, abstract autonomous thematic excursions into sound partially unbeholden to planning, partially beholden to chance, odd bacterial mutations of musics - where one ended and another began remaining unclear - indeterminacy enhancing beauty, like Jackson Pollocks in sound. Ephemera recorded only in memory, enhanced by a listener's innate need to reconstruct the experience in terms of heightened remembrance, the makings of instructive fairy tales. The benign ingredients of potassium nitrate + sodium + sulfur = gunpowder.
The Situationists and John Cage would've agreed on these frameworks of nurtured chance. Cage believed that it's not our role to shape the world but rather adapt, mingle, roll with the objects and people surrounding us. A radiomaker must orchestrate a series of chances in his surroundings "free of individual taste ... and the 'traditions' of the art" But also "promote .. an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favorable for the introductions of a few new notions of pleasure."
I've heard some of the funniest skits, some of the strangest collages and seen mixers, genetic-scratch engineers strip records down for parts, like a chopshop offering anatomy lessons in sound because in the clandestine studios of Radio 100 or the nomadic virtual HQ of Radio Patapoe people are making a "new" sound, bent on changing the way we hear everyday experience.
Pirate: Pirate Stations exist in every Dutch city. The Hague had 6 last time I checked. Amsterdam supports from 3 to 6 pirates. The 2 pirates in question here, Radio 100 and Radio Patapoe, are unquestionably 2 of the most independent / autonomous / unaffiliated stations I've ever come into contact with.
The barometer of quality or style is up to you. One must show a certain mastery of the logistics required in producing a show, handle the equipment, and intuit the vague sense of a generally-accepted (by consensus) notion of what "quality" is. I'm sure I'd have trouble doing a show that was pro-skinhead-nazi or one that insisted on giving away the location of the station's studios or provoking the police or government to close us down. Other than that, Patapoe and 100 are as autonomous as practical considerations will allow.
Radio 100 is organized around an invisible structure so that it appears to operate on auto-pilot. It broadcasts high quality unheard sounds and under-appreciated musics. Most of its rules revolve around maintaining a safe, efficient, covert studio to assure its survival. Radiomakers pay a monthly membership for the honor of making radio. This is invested in upgrading the station's equipment.
Radio Patapoe, to its credit and enthusiasm, maintains an avowed distrust of non-consensual structure and hierarchy. It is gelatinous, unpredictable, humane, all over the place and then suddenly nowhere, amorphous and devoutly autonomous. But can any of this be called political praxis? Of course. Any temporary occupation or use (especially in a frolicsome manner, where play becomes subversive, instructive, illuminating, life-enhancing) of an open broadcast corridor in the name of fun (fun as a way to undermine oppressions) serves notice that alternatives to the status quo exist - there are escape hatches. They are as ideal as it can be while remaining functionally on-the-air - a difficult frontier to negotiate.