Horror Radia Vacui: phatic drones and microphobia techniques


Performance for Radio Possibilities, March 13-14, 1991 at the Forest City Gallery / CHRW-FM in London, Ontario.

Also presented at Strategies of Critique, York University, Toronto, Ontario, 1991.

Horror Radia Vacui is the second annual report from the Center for Radio-telecommunication Contortions (CRTC). The report travels from the drone produced by the pearl divers of the Persian Gulf to the hems and haws of the radiophonic body. From the horror of the void to the deadness of the air. The performance gropes at radio’s invisible articulations and at the viscosity of its language.

Scroll down for REVIEWS.


These voices belong to those involved in the activity of pearl diving. That includes the nahmas whose exclusive role is to encourage and entertain the divers, the saibs or pullers who assist the divers on the boat, and the ghawas (which are) the divers themselves. The nahmas sing solo in succesion and the saibs and ghawas produce the drone (you hear in the background).

One of the theories developed to explain the significance of the low register drone produced by the pearl divers is that there is widespread horror of the void in the Persian Gulf. The drone is there to fill the spaces, to prevent asphyxia, to recover the submerged victim. The divers often suffer irreparable physical damage from going past the limits of human endurance. The bends are a common affliction, other effects include suppuration of the ear drums, rheumatism and even paralysis.


Diving into the radiophonic air is another act altogether, but the void is just as feared. The airspace must be filled, filled with the viscosity of language. The silence is dead or even death. The air is often filled with the easy way out: recorded music mixed with recorded music, seamless advertising. It is when the voice enters the mix that avoiding the void becomes interesting. To apply the process of resuscitation, it is necessary to understand drowning. To perform contortions with the radio body, it is necessary to grope the invisible articulations.

ON TAPE: are you nervous?
ums… ah.s … are you nervous?

This is the 2nd annual report from the Center for Radio-Telecommunications Contortions, whose activities obsessively concentrate on the disarticulation of the original, the playful mapping of the radiophonic body, the awkwardness of breath and the intimacy of disembodiment. This report is um… ahs…. entitled horror radia vacui: phatic drones and microphobia techniques.

ums…. ahs…..

First we have to make ourselves comfortable,
We have to clear the air passage of ghosts.
We have to put ourselves on the spot.

ums … ahs …


My first guest tonight is Mr. Vasser from Hydro Quebec, head engineer of the power plant planning division for the new hydro projects. The interview, or lesson in how to do the sidestep in 3 easy exercises, made me think that perhaps the diversion of rivers necessitates symbiotic relationships: the diversion of answers to questions, or when you’re not sure if your interview said all of nothing or nothing at all, assume the worst.


Dr. Krashen in her paper the Language Acquisition Device states that “lies take a certain time to come out … at least one or two hours of good input.” As the saying goes language is the flower of the mouth, for this flower to flourish and make a sentence you’ll require salivawater. (vawa) water (this flower) daily. Perhaps suffering from a variant of the song stuck in the head phenomenon, the interviewee turned patient is performing the involuntary rehearsal of the lies which will be told. Searching for the water-tight alibi. A question of megawatts of power, power of radio and of rivers to be damned.… damned to satisfy an insatiable thirst for electricity. We’ve got to be ON, no silence no darkness.


When we finally get to the actual presentation of the supposed facts we notice a dry cough in need of an inundation. A short circuited tongue. In this intervention entitled Tripping (t-t-tripping) what is actually up there. Mr. Vasser actually says something or:

THIRD CLIP w/coughs

coughs, ums

H-hm’s and ah’s (hems and haws) can be often said to be no more than intonation carriers (giving prosodic shape to the sentence), but how many of us suspect that they are often… (ums ahs) a kind of semantical stalling tactic. There is of course the fear of mike. And it’s not necessarily mike’s phallus that is in the way, it is the function that mike performs which disturbs. The mic’s diaphragm responds to air pressure and hears as a functioning censor. A method of contraception where meaning in its original frequency range is compressed to what is technologically determined or possible. So to be ON is to be translated. To be OFF is to be mute or void, or more precisely (to be OFF is to be) in the void where is the horror.

Microphobia is the fear of amplification, the fear of being heard, the fear of a technologized disembodiment. This essentially means that the voice might return to haunt you. Speech might be something in everybody’s mouth, but when it is out of your mouth, it is out of your hands. The original can never be put back into the mouth. Never return to sender the damaged goods.

But you can put words into another’s mouth. That is, once recorded or aired the words are manipulable. Hence the seduction with the technology of possibilities; not only are you not who you think you are, but neither are you who you think you’re not.

Presently, we can simulate simulation, soon simulation will virtually replace the original. Before we gasp at this prospect we better haw.


Voice identity is never too far from identity identified, we all have cognitive powers. I know that voice! In a collective authoring of the airwaves, which is one of the prescribed contortions to dislodge radio off its present moorings, we would find a collective voice simultaneously identified as:


We imitate ourselves so abominably (that’s a paraphrase of shakespeare via alexander melville bell) p. 62. Issues of translation and disarticulation now come into play: are we ourselves on the radio? or can we be ourselves on the radio? In a 1954 text entitled Speech a Handbook of voice training diction and public speaking, Dorothy Mulgarve states that: “the well adjusted speaker will conceal from his audience any sign of tension or discomfort”. Not only is this standardized notion what makes most radio so dishearteningly boring but this is also how we lose our radiophonic invisibility/identity. The result is radio where everything is false and nothing is permitted. My contention is that if you are not vulnerable, then you are not really there either. Therefore, if the trained voice is not really there because it is trained then the airwaves are empty in their fullness. Saying all of nothing or nothing at all. A void.

(Burroughs via Doug Kahn states that the word is a parasitic organism that forces you to talk. Modern man has lost the option of silence. But modern man never really says anything.)


On to our second guest, this one doesn’t have anything to hide and rather exposes an exhuberant melodious prosody:


Our guest here is a professor of architecture. That intervention is called: When architecure spoke back to man. Not retentive as our first guest, this time a voice well irrigated with thoughts, thoughts jumpstarting speech. The excerpt of his speech which we’ll hear next was not edited and as such is extraordinary in its construction. We have found the melody of the word ‘that’.

2ND CLIP 3x ta ta ta last with perfect fit
PLAY The fiction of media murder

Alexander Melville Bell in Principles of Speech and Dictionary of Sounds: defines speech as the variously modified emissions of breath. For example when the glottis is almost in the vocalizing position, that husky voice is produced which is the natural expression of fear and of the dark passions ” (end of quote). Well, we haven’t found that voice yet, the radiophonic voice so far has been full of pathological stutterers, academics dissectors, and imitative performers.

There is one last guest whose viscosity is simply mud, whose water is simply in the bathtub rather translatable into power, whose motto is simply “Run, water, run!” In this case the microphone happened to be ON and the body had a story to tell. In this case the problem of speaking over the air in reference to the problem of audience relationship was not in question. David Moss states that in a time of interface and technology mediation, the direct voice simply becomes more powerful, tempting and delicious than ever. This a direct voice not only because it is not adversly affected by technology but because it is not trained. Not trained to lie, not trained to find an alibi, not trained.

PLAY: Margo’s diaper story.



Site Sound (June 1991, London, Ontario), review by Sandra MacPherson.
Gregory Whitehead and Christof Migone explored the disembodiment of the radio voice. Whitehead attempted to re-enter his “dead” or pre-recorded voice. Christof Migone, who delivered the second annual report of the CRTC (Center for Radio Telecommunication Contortions), managed to get all the voices in the gallery to enter the same body – a body which believed that “learning to speak well is an important and fruitful task.”