Jun 25, 2006

transmitter building, Radio Kiosk, rotate your state

a Mini FM transmitter building workshop, hosted by The Physics Room Contemporary Art Space in Christchurch on the 5th of June 2006, with New Zealand media artist Adam Hyde at the helm, was organised to coincide with the making of a Mini FM radio station, Radio Kiosk, curated for a public art site in Central Christchurch by the collaborative media and sound art duo ((ethermap (Zita Joyce and Adam Willetts).

Radio Kiosk, to which I contributed historic recordings of Rotate your State, a long-lived experimental sound programme I hosted in its final years from 1998-2002 on student radio station RDU98:3FM, was a graceful conceptual reframing of various historic and contemporary broadcast radio experimental music programmes. It effectively became an appropriately formally partial, transient and fleeting archive of localised unknown NZ experimental radio practices, and a pointer toward strategies for the further elaboration of such histories. My rather anecdotal essay on Rotate for Radio Kiosk is republished below:




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Rotate Your State - Broadcast through the 1990s on rdu, 98.3fm, Christchurch

Rotate Your State, as it was originally called, (before being shortened to the more casual, sentimental ‘rotate’ somewhere along the way, a gesture partly respectful of the baton-passing networks of underground radio tradition, partly a back-pat for the dearly loved haven of live-to-air sonic pondering it became), was a show that ran on Christchurch radio station rdu, spanning the 1990s with a bit of overflow into the 2000s, from 9-11 on Thursdays, and then, for the last two years, at the same time on Sundays. Two hours a week for over ten years is a lot of audio, and a temporal stretch one cannot hope to compress in a compilation like Radio Kiosk, but perhaps the tip of rotate’s sonic iceberg might at least be hinted at by the shows I have included here, which represent four of the show’s hosts, and include rotate’s idiosyncratic ads, pieces of radio art in themselves, which in their cyclic aural signposting perhaps best defined the show’s distinct, if interrelated, eras. Thus, instigator and patron saint .leyton’s taciturn layered vocals, post-industrial ambient reverb soundscape, and “heartbeat-with-carcrash” coda becomes K8’s recontextualised, giggle-inflected personal answering machine message to a friend, recorded while she was in the studio doing the show (“Hi, I’m at rotate and you’re not home, it’s a really good sesh’ if you’ve been listening…!”), which in turn becomes the rather more anonymous, strongly Stockhausen-indebted mash of vocals & static-between-stations which defined rotate’s final three years under my curatorship, all in their own way ‘showing not telling’ what the show was all about: ultimately, the pure creative and intellectual joy of mucking around with sound, of melting into flux all ideas of solid musical genre boundaries, as well as (often) the boundaries between the sonic storage artefact and the performative live event.

Because rotate was radio made by people who spent at least part of their everyday lives as artists (musicians, actors, curators, writers), it was also essentially both an excuse for us to listen to things we liked, and to find other, unusual things, to collect unlikely sonic objects and force them into even more unlikely and disorienting juxtapositions. So tapes found in op-shops, our favourite films re-envisaged as radio plays, and ancient records borrowed from the public library’s mouldering back-room stacks sat alongside favourites from record collections constantly being replenished and modified with treasured compilations ordered (often ‘blind’) during the frontier days of internet mail order lists. We navigated by our own logics but provided enough thematic clues for the curious. One example among many: in 1998, Oval’s Marcus Popp was in town (an appearance largely instigated by Radio Kiosk co-curator, ((ethermap’s Zita Joyce, in her then-role as rdu programme director), and to celebrate we dedicated a whole show to this glitch-pioneer’s music, finding that between two of us we had enough to fill a whole (rather minimal!) two hours. When one of our duo, k8, who was the support dj before Popp’s performance the next evening, informed him of this show he said with bemusement it was the first time he’d heard of such a pronounced event of ‘endurance radio’.

Rotate as a forum taught us much about radio as aural cultural research, of the value of the long history of radio and sound art and of sound’s intersection with other artforms, of the creative potential of unearthing the world as sonic material, as found scraps and jewels and fields of force and broken shards, of juxtaposing the sublime and the ridiculous, the bombastic and the minimal, the compelling and the superfluous. Such ‘serious play’ sustained our belief in broadcasting as an active, rather than a passive passtime. It infected us with its sense of dry humour, and charmed us with its cryptic artistry and studiously meticulous non-definition, becoming a kind of wallpaper music for those listeners who were, for whatever reason, also in a convivial state of mind to become obsessed with the detail of such curvaceous, chaotic sonic arabesques. While live to airs and interviews were more common in later years, we never let the show lapse into any kind of professionalism, believing strongly in the notion of student radio being akin to a kind of “on-air artist run space”. In this, we gave broadcast time, often live, to sound-makers, both locals and visitors, who shared our experimental aesthetic, and were unlikely to be heard elsewhere on the airwaves. More small scale DIY tricks in the studio could be as basic or quirky as panning rdu’s archaic soundboard’s speaker dial from left to right and back again at intervals, so that the sound would also travel as such on the receiving end, or indulging in the occasional live vocal experiment. We didn’t take rotate ‘seriously’, believing it utterly ephemeral, but it was simultaneously full to the brim with ‘serious music’, and we invested everything into it, as it became both mirror to and part of the everyday fabric of our lives. We perhaps knew, even at the time, that we could not easily have gained elsewhere what a few years at its helm taught us about how to listen with agency, and that the notion of djing as an intent and concentrated form of independent creative curiosity that we developed through rotate would stay with us in our various ways far into the future. We seldom broke its momentum with talk, wanting listeners to get completely lost, or else to ring up and talk to us, hoping to reconfigure the linear hegemonies of broadcast toward more of an experiential circuit, or more of a one-on-one communicative relationship. We always wondered who was out there listening, and hoped, that if there were indeed more participants in our experiment than merely us, that they were having as much fun as we were.

sally mcintyre, june 2006