Touch That Dial: Creating Radio Transcending the Regulatory Body


Curated by Christof Migone and Jean-François Renaud.

This event was comprised of an exhibition, a workshop, a performance evening and a panel discussion, August 8 to September 12 1990, SAW Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario.

The exhibition included the installations Sputniks by Nicolas Collins, L’espace voulu by Marguerite Dehler, There’s a Mirror/Ear at the End of My Bed by Nell Tenhaaf and Kim Sawchuk, and a video tape by Dewayne Readus entitled One Watt of Truth.

In addition, the following works were available for listening by the gallery visitors: Jacki Apple and Keith Antar Mason, Frenzy in the Night; L’ACRIQ inc.,J’aurais pu l’écraser; blackhumor, no lust for the wicked; D. Morris, Flag Air Base; Andrew Herman and P. Cheevers, The Skull Bubble; and Hildegard Westerkamp, Kits Beach Soundwalk.

On the evening of August 10 there were the following performances: John Oswald, Plunderphonology: A Polystomatic Dissertation; Gregory Whitehead,Terror Glottis; and Bruire (Michel F. Côté/Robert M. Lepage/Martin Tétreault), Muss Muss Hic!

Dan Lander conducted a workshop over three nights entitled The Referential in Sound.

The symposium, Radio as Art: Issues of Creation, Issues of Regulation, was conducted by Paul Cheevers, Chantal Dumas, Andrew Herman, David Moulden, John Oswald, Patrick Ready, Kim Sawchuck, Claude Schryer, Phillp Szporer, Dot Tuer and Gregory Whitehead. Moderated by Jody Berland.


We have organized every second of the airwaves into categories. Everything is something and nothing is left uncertain. And if Bertol Brecht could say that radio is one of those inventions nobody ordered, its realization now always seems to occur in perfect order. The verbal adroitness -the deadly fluency of the trained voice- formats our listening and provides us with standards which shape our ears into solitary and passive frames. By creating undefinable waves, radio art de-tunes our conditioned frequencies. Disoriented, we find that alloted frequencies have restraining contours and we opt, rather, for the static of nonbroadcasting frequencies. In that ether, we find the veritable potentiality of communication without its power signifiers. Yet, it is in the physicality of existing radio studios that radio art is created and aired. This implies an ever present conflict between the medium in its endless phase of justification and the artist whose subjectivity may negate confining regulations. Imagine a musician forbidden to play certain notes. Radio artist have the distinct pleasure of having the Broadcast Act and Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission regulations as their palette (colours included and always balanced). Other states, other regulatory bodies, same pre-fab palettes. The airwaves, akin to airspace, have always existed under the imperatives of national interest. From hitlerian fanaticism to the objective dishonesty of the Voice of America, the airwaves have been traditionally used more to proselytize than to communicate.

Tuning (in) is an act of defining and not much of a choice, since you’re obtaining pre-determined approaches to radio. Touch that dial, a seductive gesture which implies not only the plurification of the available choices but the mapping of choices hereto uncharted. In other words, touch that dial until it touches you. What happens then will invariably challenge today’s singularly mundane credo. One speaker at one microphone: a single voice addressing the audience directly, an invisible power, a one way channel, an authority excited by its technological medians. Unlike breath, radio’s one way power message dissipates energy. To create radio we need to accomplish the impossible, we need to de-mediatize the medium. We need to strip radio of its seemingly inherent need to legitimize itself. In the electromagnetic spectrum, FM broadcasts overlap with television transmissions; an analogy for audio’s slavery to visual representations (where imagination is imagined for you). Radio, after all, is dark; it is tied only to fragments and then scatters. The art of radio does not necessarily assume coherence, it assumes that composing in disparate juxtapositions can create new and manifold relations. The decisive step is left to the listener. In the mind of the listener the fragments of meaning will come alive. That is the first step towards making the listening participatory. The listener, however, is not asked to become a barometer of approval but rather an artist in turn. Without the disappearance of both roles, we still appear either here or there. And in radio, I rather create within the intimacy of an ear than be stuck with geography. The text of radio art is signed in sound. It has no body, it has no conclusion. The text is authored by those who breathe it. An attempt to bypass dualities and activate a collective authoring of the air. Radio art is the technology of breath. We are all receiving all stations at all times. Like an involuntary muscle, we are breathing each other.

A skipping record, the wrong turntable speed on, dead air: a dj’s worst nightmare are the most common compositional tool for the radio artist. Stutters, burps, hems and haws. Excess (through these “mistakes”) being a necessary stage of live radio artists to purge oneself of the myth of the radiogenic. The world of radio is populated by fences, imaginary fences of quality. This demarcated territory can be reappropriated by an act of playful measuring. Another radio paradox, another radio contortion -categorization becomes fractal geometry:

bellybutton to nose: 24in., neck extended: 7in., mouth to ear of other: instant lengths, transmitter to transmitting: 47 abrasions 32 bruises and a light concussion, right knee to hip: 20in., birthmark to tattoo: 5in., breathing each other: 2 or more radio plagiarists, chest to chin: 11in., depth of listening: no. of captive kilometers.

In preparing contour maps for the cases (where the proposed broadcasts are in the proximity of regulatory obstacles), the borders are determined by the imagination. These borders articulate the nature of radio art. By crossing them we get a glimpse at radio’s invisibility. We are mapping a body for a medium that lacks form but has a language: a language based on otherness, displacement and transmission. Radio is a performance space; an art form despite itself.

Dissociated, these three projects are falsified. The will to communicate becomes objective dishonesty; the will to participation serves to organize the lonely in a lonely crowd; the will for self realization turns into the will of power.The homogeneous radio landscapes sanctioned by formulae comprised of lowest common denominators have unfortunately deadened the voices of the airwaves. Creating radio is not commonly conceivable; creating a painting is a given. Yet, despite the medium’s current dead set monotony radio is being created through a process of deconstruction, demystification and deformatting. Once stripped naked, rather than dictate sense radio can improvise sense. It can give you access to transmissions in which you can enact your own casting of what it means to radiate.

Raoul Vaneighem “The Revolution of Everyday Life” for the three projects; Sharon Gannon “the Culture of Sleep” for the breaths; Siegried Giedion “Mechanization Takes Command” for the dark fragments; Genie Shinkle for mapping; Dan Lander for edits.