Reinventing The Dial
Recordings of the presentations given at Reinventing The Dial: Explorations In Experimental Radio Practice are now online at www.reinventingthedial.blogspot.com, for those who missed the day-long symposium at Canterbury Christ Church University last week.
Billed as 'an opportunity for discussion between students, practitioners and academics with an interest in radio art and experimental radio', Reinventing The Dial lived up to this broad remit while avoiding a rushed or superficial approach to the subject matter. Producer and radio lecturer Magz Hall's diverse choice of speakers for the event ensured that almost every presentation felt satisfyingly focussed and in-depth, while covering a fair amount of ground.
The day started with a series of historical approaches, as Tom McCarthy read from his forthcoming novel set during radio's emergence in the 1920s, with the coded radio transmissions of Cocteau's Orphee cited as an inspiration for this and other work. Radio's early history was a starting point for exploring ideas of interpretation, transmission, interception and the artist as respondent; Andy Birtwistle likewise focused on the Modernist period, but provided a fascinating account of the work of filmmaker Walter Ruttman, whose early sound work Weekend prefigured the electroacoustic compositions of Cage and Varese. Keynote speaker Kersten Glandien provided an overview of the relationship between sound art and radio art from an historical perspective, tracing the connections and conflicts between the two forms from the 1960s to the present day. Perhaps inevitably, given the rich subject matter, this was a lot to take in, and Glandien's presentation rewards a second listen on the Reinventing The Dial blog; it is particularly interesting with regard to the relationship between radio art and public radio commissioning and producing.
The afternoon's sessions had a more hands-on, demonstrative feel, and Peter Cusack's presentation, opening with a recording of his being questioned by police while collection audio material at a London railway station, was not only funny and engaging, but also opened up debate about privacy, access, the perception of field recording as an activity and the concepts of safety and danger as related to sound. Cusack's recent work with the Positive Soundscapes project addresses the relationships that people have with the sound in their environment, arguing that it's often at odds with accepted notions of 'harmful' or pollutant noise; Cusack demonstrated a soundscape 'sequencer' developed as part of this project. I look forward to hearing more of his recordings from the 'dangerous' places he cites in his abstract.
Taking the focus away from the field and into the studio, Andy Cartwright talked about his work with Soundscape Productions for the BBC, an insight into the tensions between radio art and public service broadcasting, while Lance Dann's Flickerman - an interactive radio drama - perhaps pointed to a way of overcoming, or subverting, those tensions. Dann's understanding of Web 2.0 and and demonstration of how dramatic content can be inspired and generated by its users was enlivening stuff, taking a positive approach to developing technologies and their possible effects on radio drama. Angus Carlyle's more oblique, contemplative talk concluded the afternoon, and was a reminder of radio's unique character; its ability as a medium to be both intimate and distant. Carlyle put forward the idea of distance as a 'creative strategy', citing examples like Locus Sonus and Global String, and nodded to radio's occult properties with a mention of the Conet Project. It was a great shame that Kaffe Matthews was unable to attend, as her presentation on 2003 project Radio Cycle 101.4FM looked to have touched upon many of the issues brought up in the afternoon's talks - and indeed, throughout the day, involving public/participatory art, sonic environments, early radio experiments and new technologies.
The day's final discussion was notably free of participants interested only in putting a pet argument across - a common hazard at such events. In fact, a good deal of listening as well as talking went on as Magz initiated debates about questions of practice, composition techniques, relationships with the media industry, engagement with audiences, experiments with binaural recording and 5.1 surround sound and the new aesthetics created by the Internet.