Reinventing the Dial Symposium

A day long radio symposium at Canterbury Christ Church University Kent UK on the 27th Oct 2009.

Speakers: Dr Andy Birtwistle – Dr Angus Carlyle – Andy Cartwright – Peter Cusack – Lance Dann – Dr Kersten Glandien – Kaffe Matthews – Tom McCarthy – Convened by Magz Hall

Magz Hall Introduction

This symposium aims to take a leap into the huge but reflective pool of current experimental and radio arts practice and the theoretical, technological and aesthetic currents that inform it. Todays event brings together radio academics, practioners and artists whose own distinctive approaches to experimental radio demonstrate the manifold ways in which the convergence of new media technologies are simultaneously defining and problematising the notion of ‘Radio Art’.
Richard Thorn raised the pertinent question back in 1996 “Why should it be necessary to raise the issue of ‘experimental radio’, for any other reason than that experiment is singly absent from listeners’ experience ?”
I would like you to consider today if the task of the radio artist is to liberate the technologies of communication from the stultifying codes of conventions that dominate the radio medium and render the very idea of experimentation anathema.
Has the ever growing prevailance of new media, mobile technologies and increased spectrum availability, via micro radio and community, radio opened a new terrain for the kinds of experimental practice long suppressed by mainstream broadcasting channels, or will this dispersed internet radio landscape be once more recolonised by “the professionals” as the internet becomes increasingly commercialized and policed.
The speakers gathered here have devised their own strategies towards this task and I hope this will prove an informative exchange of ideas between all attending. It’s great that so many of you have made it from some distance today. As well as students and staff who have attended form the arts, media and music departments.
“Radio Art” has grown as an international practice, each cluster of radio art activity developing its own distinctive practice according to the diversity of economic, social and artistic circumstances from which they’ve emerged. I hope that todays interchange will allow us to engage with Radio Art as an active set of aesthetic strategies enmeshing the local and global.
So this seems the perfect moment to hand over to our keynote speaker Dr Kersten Glandien who will be raising a central question and one I also ask you to consider now – So this seems the perfect moment to hand over to our keynote speaker Dr Kersten Glandien who will be raising a central question and one I also ask you to consider now – has the gap between sound related disciplines closed?


Recordings of the presentations given at Reinventing The Dial: Explorations In Experimental Radio Practice are now online at, 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 workWeekend 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.

Review by Frances Morgan 03/11/2009

Radio & SoundArt: Ties & Convolutions Understanding RadioArt as a specific kind of audio art, this paper will look at the manifold interconnections between SoundArt on and off air. Over the last 50 years the diverse practice of SoundArt has developed many links to radio: as SoundArt using radio technology; as radiogenic components of multi-medial SoundArt; as audio art produced for, or commissioned and broadcast by, radio stations; as live events initiated by radio producers outside the institution of radio and, more recently – alongside the development of digital media and the media fusion consequent upon it – as multimedia art. The paper will discuss the nature of these interconnections in their aesthetic, conceptual, technological and institutional dimensions. It will trace SoundArt’s encounter with radio technology in the ‘60s, scan its endorsement by public radio institutions in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and, finally, reflect on both the rise of independent radio activity, and the recent decline of RadioArt in public radio, in the light of increasing commercialisation and seismic technological change. Dr Kersten Glandien is an author, researcher and lecturer in the fields of SoundArts, Aesthetics and Contemporary Arts, living in London. Born 1953 in Germany, she studied Philosophy, Aesthetics and Art History at the University of St.Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. She worked as lecturer and researcher at the Technical University Dresden, at the Music College Dresden (1977-1982) and as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Aesthetics and Art Theory of the Academy of Science in Berlin (1982-1989). In 1985 she got her PhD in Philosophy/ Aesthetics. Her fields of expertise span the aesthetics of Art, Architecture, Design and Music. In 1989 she moved to England, where she worked freelance as writer and curator for several years. In 1993 she took on an Adjunct Professorship at Richmond – The American International University in London – where she teaches Postmodernism (MA) and Contemporary Visual Culture and, previously, Experimental Music. In 2003 she was called to the University of Brighton, where she developed and teaches SoundArt studies.

Dr Andy Birtwistle Paper Abstract

“It is not a question of a new style or anything like that, but rather of producing a variety of possibilities of expression for all the known arts…” Walter Ruttmann, 1919.
“Since the appearance of the wireless, everyone has predicted… the rise of a truly radiophonic literature and dramatic art.” Paul Deharme, Proposition for a Radiophonic Art, 1928
In 1930, the filmmaker Walter Ruttmann produced a 12 minute sound composition documenting a weekend in the lives of his fellow Berliners. Broadcast by Berlin radio, and created using Triergon optical film sound technology, ‘Weekend’ has been described both as radiophonic art, and as ‘cinema for the ears’. Ruttmann’s first and only piece for radio is celebrated as one of the first electroacoustic compositions, its ‘musical’ organisation of wordly sounds prefiguring the work of Edgard Varese and John Cage. However, what connects these artists together, beyond the electroacoustic dynamic of their praxis, was a shared interest in the potential of film sound technology to create a new art of organised sound.
This paper examines the ways in which Ruttmann’s deployment of filmic techniques within a radiophonic context radically challenges the differentiation of art forms and mediums that has been seen to define modernism – and which continues to inform the work of contemporary artists working in radio art, such as Gregory Whitehead. By situating ‘Weekend’ within the context of Ruttmann’s work in film, the paper aims to explore the composition’s radical intermediality, examining how the relationship it forges between cinema and radio might be understood within in a history of radical modernism.
Andy Birtwistle is an art historian, sound artist and filmmaker, and is currently Principal Lecturer in the Department of Media at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. He originally trained as a filmmaker, but in recent years his research interest in film sound has resulted in the production of audio compositions that have been broadcast and exhibited internationally. His production work in this area draws on contemporary critical theory to explore art historical issues of modernism through creative production in sound and moving image. Recent work in this area includes sound installations, live performance and radio broadcasts. His video work has been screened in galleries and on television in the UK, and at international and domestic film festivals.

Peter Cusack – Presentation Abstract

Recent travels have brought me into contact with some difficult and potentially dangerous places. Most are sites of major environmental/ecological damage, but others include nuclear sites or the edges of military zones. The danger is not necessarily to a short-term visitor, but to the people who live there or through the location’s role in geopolitical power structures. Some are areas where extreme and hostile conditions have been created, in others the danger has been hidden or absorbed into the local economy. In yet others regeneration is underway. Such places include the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine; the Caspian Oil Fields near Baku, Azerbaijan; the Munzur River (a Euphrates tributary) valley in Kurdish Turkey where 19 very controversial dams are planned; Thetford Forest beside USAF air bases in the UK; North Wales in the areas where Chernobyl fallout will effect farming practice for years to come. Many sound recordings were made at these sites. Photographic and other visual images were taken. Interviews and background research provide textual documents. It is noticeable that dangerous places can be both sonically and visually compelling, even beautiful and atmospheric. There is, often, an extreme dichotomy between an aesthetic response and knowledge of the ‘danger’, whether it is pollution, social injustice, military or geopolitical. The project asks, “What can we learn by listening to the sounds of dangerous places? This talk will concentrate on recordings made at sites in the UK
Peter Cusack, based in London, works as a sound artist, musician and environmental recordist with a special interest in acoustic ecology. Projects range from community arts to research into the role that sound plays in our sense of place. His project ‘Sounds From Dangerous Places’ examines the soundscapes of sites of major environmental damage. He produced ‘Vermilion Sounds’ – the environmental sound program – for ResonanceFM Radio, London, lectures on ‘Sound Arts & Design’ at the London College of Communication and is a Research Fellow on the multidisciplinary multi-university ‘Positive Soundscapes Project’. CDs include ‘Your Favourite London Sounds’ (Resonance), ‘Baikal Ice’ (ReR), ‘Favourite Sounds of Beijing’

Dr Angus Carlyle Paper Abstract

From Afar This speculative presentation will explore how notions of proximity and distance modulate our experiences of sound, including sound that is the result of artistic intervention. Layering ideas drawn from acoustics and perception over the top of themes emerging from anthropology, philosophy, literature and folklore, the intention is to animate the concept of distance as one that might make a different sense out of the experience of listening.
Distance – geographic distance, temporal distance and cultural distance – might find its mechanical corollary in the ‘radio’, a term I will understand as an abbreviation for any apparatus that can bring sound from far to near.
Angus Carlyle is a writer, artist and academic. In parallel to a long-standing engagement with contemporary photography, his writing has tackled subjects as diverse as the suicide of Guy Debord and the sense of place experienced by long-distance truck drivers. He edited Autumn Leaves: Sound and Environment in Artistic Practice for Double Entendre and compiled an award-winning album to accompany the book. His explorations of sound in artistic contexts have involved exhibiting at various galleries, appearing on CDs and performing. He co-curated the Sound Escapes exhibition at Space in London and his first solo CD, Some Memories of Bamboo is released by Gruenrekorder in the Autumn.

Kaffe Matthews Paper Abstract and Biog

Radio Cycle 101.4FM (2003) Imagine a bird’s eye view of Bow, East London. Imagine the shifting sound map that ebbs and flows with the passage of the day. Imagine a music  that infiltrates that. Not just through several homes tuning into the same radio station at the same time, or a host of folk all being into the same cd at the same time. No. Imagine that piece playing from 50 small speakers, all moving through the streets in choreographed routes, individually, in small groups or together. Quietly infiltrating the everyday noise of the city, like spiders, all in unison, maybe unnoticed, maybe coming together at some street corner to play some weird music or hear a story. Imagine that those sound pieces are made by you. RADIO CYCLE was set up to do just that.  A mobile stage and live radio station it broadcast music, stories, and favourite sounds chosen and made by visitors, as its teams of radio carrying cyclists performed scores mapping out London’s East end.  Drawing parallels between Marconi’s early wireless experiments and today’s advanced communication technologies, RADIO CYCLE also ran interactive broadcasts and free guided workshops for participants to come make music and choreograph sonic cycling maps for airwave transmission. Radio Cycle was the starting point for The Marvelo Project.
Kaffe Matthews was born in Essex, England, and lives and works in London. Since 1996 she has been making new electro-acoustic music through a system of self designed software matrices through which she pulls and pushes different sounds live. The variety of sounds, things and places she has worked with have ranged from self played violin and theremin, sounds of spaces, kite strings on an uninhabited Scottish Island, flight data from NASA scientists, Scottish and Irish pipers, melting ice in Quebec, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, vibrating wires in the West Australian outback and recently a Vietnamese monochord and seaside sounds processed with 11 year olds to be dispersed by visitor pedalled bicycles. She has just returned from a month of working with sharks and conservation scientists on the Galapagos Islands. In 2006 she established the collective research project music for bodies making music to feel rather than just listen to through specialist sonic interfaces. With the worldwide Bed Project intending to build its seventh Bed, her research is now developing outdoor concrete Benches in Hackney, with the first now permanently installed in Mexico City. Kaffe continues to regularly collaborate, and was an Artistic Advisor to STEIM, (electronic music studios) Amsterdam, NL. Her 2004 collaboration Weightless Animals was awarded a BAFTA, she received a NESTA Dreamtime Fellowship in 2005 and an Award of Distinction, Prix Ars Electronica 2006 for the work Sonic Bed London. In February 2006 she was made an Honorary Professor of Music, Shanghai Music Conservatory, China and in 2009 a patron of the Galapagos Conservation Trust shark project. Recent works include: Sonic Bed_Marfa,(2008),The Ballroom Marfa, Texas; The Marvelo Project (2008), work for bicycles and GPS connected scores, Folkestone Triennial; Sonic Bench_Mexico,(2007) Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City; Body Abiding (2007), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Glasgow, Scotland; Sonic Bed_Shanghai,(2006), Xuhui Art Museum, Shanghai, China; Three Crosses of Queensbridge,(2005) work for bicycles + radios, the Drawing Room, London; No-one here but us chickens (2005), TATE Modern, London, UK. Her stereo solo works are released and available through Annette Works. Website

Lance Dann Paper Abstract and Biog

The Flickerman: new forms of narrative for new forms of listening Downloadable delivery of audio presents the radio drama writer and producer with the opportunity to experiment with new ways of assembling and presenting narrative. The audience is no longer tied to listening at a particular time, a particular location or in a particular fashion – they can control their listening experience, the can pause, rewind, draw in or draw out of the narrative. No longer tied to a schedule, to an audience demographic or even a particular station radio drama can be produced in a manner that will challenge and subvert accepted understanding of how the form functions.
The Flickerman is an ongoing interactive radio drama project that has run on radio stations internationally since Spring 2009; being described in the Guardian as “new and amazing” “fashionable compulsiveness” and “a strange and exhilarating project”. The narrative is unpacked through the combined use of audio, film, online interaction and a bricolaged of Internet artefacts. Dissemenated via iPhone app, online networks and broadcast radio – The Flickerman creates layered narrative of great depth that allows the audience to chose how they interact with and listen to the story. It is an attempt to create a working programme model for a new kind of radio/audio drama listener.
Lance Dann is the founder of Radio Art group Noiseless Blackboard Eraser (1994 – 2007) and Associate Member of The Wooster Group (1998 to present). He studied Radio at Goldsmiths’ College and produced a number of experimental radio programmes for Festival Radio Productions’ Brighton based RSL radio stations during the early 1990s.
As a radio artist he has worked extensively with composer Rohan Kriwaczek on a series of works for BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and independent stations internationally. Their collaborations included a long running series of live radio performances and a trilogy of experimental plays for radio (“If on a Summer Night a Listener…”, “Ho! Ho! The Clown is Dead” and “Glowboys”). Between 1996 and 2002 he worked with The Wooster Group as producer of a sequence of plays for BBC Radio 3 (“The Emperor Jones”, “Phaedra” and “The Peggy Carstairs Report”). He worked as sound designer for the company during the development of “To You the Birdie” and through performances of “House/ Lights”. In 1999 he recorded two documentaries with Yoko Ono for BBC Radio 3, the first time she’d spoken at length to the British media for over 20 years. His work in radio and theatre has earned a number of awards including two Sony Awards and a Prix Marulic.
In recent years he has been writing for BBC Radio, carrying out doctoral research at Bath Spa University in the development of radio drama commissioning at the BBC on behalf of the Society of Authors, running a Sound Design programme at Ravensbourne College and developing ARG based audio projects with Panicboy Productions.

Andy Cartwright Paper Abstract and Biog

‘Experimenting on the BBC’: The problems of making challenging creative features for BBC Radio 4.
This paper will examine the more experimental features produced by Soundscape Productions for BBC Radio 4. It will outline the problems of commissioning and producing such features for an established speech network from the perspective of an independent producer. It will discuss in detail the production of three features made for the network – The Dance (1999), Voyages (2005) and Then-Now (2007). Key words: experimental radio, BBC Radio 4, soundscape, radio-poem
Andy Cartwright joined the BBC in 1980 where he worked as a studio manager, reporter, presenter, producer and executive editor before founded Soundscape Productions in 1993. The company and has produced over a 100 programmes for BBC Network Radio from quiz-shows to drama, from concert recordings to experimental features. His work has been nominated for Sony Awards and his radio-poem ‘Then-Now’ was a World Medallist for Best Editing at the New York Radio Awards. He has been involved in training and running a number of community radio stations and ran the experimental station SoundscapeFM during the AV08 Festival in the North East. He is also a part-time Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland where he runs the MA in Radio (Production and Management).

Tom McCarthy Paper Abstract and Biog

Calling All Agents
Tom McCarthy’s concern with the logic and aesthetic of wireless transmission has played itself out in various ways over the last seven years. Here he presents a short film about the ‘Black Box’ he installed, under the banner of his semi-fictitious avant-garde art ‘organisation’ the International Necronautical Society, in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet as part of the 2008 exhibition ‘Eclipse: Art in a Dark Age’. He will also read a passage from and discuss his new novel ‘C’, which will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2010 and deals with the relationship between wireless transmission and mourning at the dawn of the twentieth century.
Tom McCarthy is an artist and writer. His first novel, ‘Remainder’, won the Believer Book Award 2007 and is currently being adapted for cinema by Film4. His semi-fictitious avant-garde ‘organisation’ the International Necronautical Society has published and exhibited widely, most recently using radio transmissions in Moderna Museet Stockholm and Hartware Medien Kunstverein Dortmund. His new novel, which deals with the relationship between technology and mourning, will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2010.