Mobile Radio
Out of the Studio

“Tonic Train” Performance with Sarah Washington und Knut Aufermann in Copenhagen 2011
“Tonic Train” Performance with Sarah Washington und Knut Aufermann in Copenhagen 2011 | Photo (detail):

Sarah Washington and Knut Aufermann refuse to be confined within the walls of a studio: since 2005, they, Mobile Radio and their radio art have been on the move across the whole of Europe.

“We love radio” – with this simple sentence Knut Aufermann explains what moved him and Sarah Washington to launch Mobile Radio. One of their goals is to get radio out of the studio. “We wanted to know what happens when you break out of the studio environment”, says Washington. Both Washington and Aufermann gained their first experiences with formats beyond traditional radio at Resonance FM, a “community” radio station in London, which was primarily addressed to the art scene and which today continues to see itself as a laboratory for ideas and a sound workshop for radio art.

In 2005 the two of them decided to carry on working together in the time after Resonance FM. Under the name Mobile Radio, they have taken on a variety of projects, partly with the assistance of befriended artists, partly in cooperation with community radio or other small radio stations across Europe, and now and again on behalf of public broadcasting. Aufermann prefers not to give a clear definition of their radio art, but almost all their projects have at least one thing in common: they are about completely entering into the place where you are.

A back courtyard in Zurich, the “Atomium” in Brussels or the Cologne Klingelpützpark – the previous experience of Mobile Radio shows that there is almost no place from which you cannot broadcast. The acoustic impressions that Aufermann and Washington record can be heard sometimes live and sometimes in subsequently designed programs, features or sound experiments, in which music, language and sound are interwoven.

Industrial landmark as sound space

One of the spaces that most fascinate Washington and Aufermann is the gasometer in Oberhausen. In 2010 they, together with other radio enthusiasts, spent two nights making recordings in the 117 meter high industrial landmark. Aufermann goes into raptures when he speaks about this “radio art camp”, whose participants included sound artists, musicians and radio playwrights such Felix Kubin, Dinah Bird, Barbara Kaiser and Paulo Raposo.

“The gasometer is a fantastic sound space”, says Aufermann. Formerly a container for industrially used gas, the gasometer, with its 68 meter diameter, is basically a gigantic metal cylinder – virtually irresistible for someone who, like Aufermann, is always searching for exciting sound and noise environments. “When people come here, most first look around and marvel at how big the room is”, he observes. “The first thing I did was to make a sound and hear what came back.”

The participating artists used the recording time in the gasometer in various ways – and, as often happens with Mobile Radio, the sound experiments in and with the space touched on the limits of performance art. In her contribution, 100 Words Per Metre, Washington worked with two voices that called to one another through the darkness of the gasometer. In order to capture this, she hung a microphone at the fairly adventurous height of 90 meters above the vocalists. The results of the nocturnal recordings were later aired on WDR3 under the title The Gasometer Experiment.

Radio waves with their own life

The internet has made it easier to produce and broadcast radio shows – but how do you actually find listeners if you have no fixed time slot and your own frequency? The makers of Mobile Radio are unruffled by this question, especially since their programs are often taken on by established radio stations. In a project such as Mobile Radio, both Washington and Aufermann agree, the number of listeners is not ultimately important. “It’s like a musical concert”, says Aufermann. “If only ten people come to it that doesn’t means it’s a bad concert.”

Washington too prefers not to see the point of Mobile Radio in measurable success with the audience alone. Precisely in the case of radio, she believes, there is a big chance of being listened to and discovered by accident. “Radio waves spread out into space – who knows where they’ll go? Once they’ve been broadcast, they develop a life of their own.”

“Mobile Radio” has been invited to the 30th Biennale in São Paulo, which will take place from September 7 to December 9, 2012 – the first time that Aufermann and Washington will present their project outside Europe. For the duration of the Biennale they will occupy a studio with open walls in the Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion: “In this way the noise of the visitors can, so to say, swash into the radio”.