Throughout the whole of October 2016 the Saxon-Anhaltish town of Halle an der Saale is hosting Radio Revolten, one of the largest international radio art festivals. Knut Aufermann, artistic director of the festival, enlightens us on a form of radio that is both artistic and subversive.
Mr. Aufermann, in all the work you have done so far you have realised all kinds of ideas, ranging from a gasometer used as a sound sphere, on-air projects to implemented audio performances and installations. What exactly is radio art?
Everybody answers this question in a different way. The simplest answer is that radio art is everything that happens at the Radio Revolten festival. We try to cover the full range of possibilities of expressing oneself artistically. Of course, radio art always has something to do with radio - a broadcast, a confrontation with the medium of radio, with the apparatus itself or with the electromagnetic materiality of radio.
A carillon and radio dancing
Knut Aufermann | Photo (detail): © Sarah Washington
What are the main trends at the moment in the field of radio art?
There are many different areas. When it comes to the installations exciting things are happening, above all in North America, because visual artists are now falling under the spell of the small cosmos of sound art. In England there is a thriving scene, which is dominated by independent stations like Resonance FM. That is where thousands of artists have the opportunity to let their wildest ideas run riot on the radio. In Germany, the classic, yet very experimental, field of the radio play is still very active.
What are people going to hear and see at the Radio Revolten festival?
There are going to be a lot of surprises. One event is going to be particularly fantastic – on the market square in Halle there are five towers, one of which houses the largest carillon in Europe. We are allowed to make use of it. The Cologne sound artist, Hans W. Koch, has composed a piece for carillon and two groups of performers with portable radios entitled glocke + tier. As we have two VHF frequencies at our disposal, there will be two radio broadcasts of electronic compositions that will be played simultaneously. Furthermore, we are also going to set up a “radio oracle” in one of the old tower warden dwellings on the market square – he can be consulted and will broadcast daily between 5 pm and 6 pm live. And of course, there will be lots of shows – almost every evening there will be a performance that will be broadcast live.
Subheading – making the invisible visible
On the one hand, the Radio Revolten festival is an industry gathering of highly specialized professionals, yet on the other hand, you want to get people interested in radio art that have hardly any connection with it. How can that work?
We hope to trigger people’s curiosity, and that they will just turn up because admission to the events is free. The festival is housed in two old buildings right on the market square, which for 15 years have not been accessible to the general public, but which are known to the people of Halle. In addition, we will also be broadcasting on medium wave, which has actually been turned off as a radio wave in Germany, but one which appeals to a whole new audience – that of the radio amateurs. And in the exhibition Unsichtbare Wellen (Invisible Waves) that is being held in cooperation with the City Museum the story of all the radio revolts that have occurred in Halle over the last 100 years is depicted in a most exciting way - for example, pirate radio stations during the communist era of the GDR.
Where else can I find radio art, away from the Radio Revolten festival?
In Germany the public broadcasting stations still have time slots for radio art, for example, on Deutschlandradio Kultur or on Südwestrundfunk radio. Otherwise I know of very many small radio stations, some of them even in Germany. Radio Corax in Halle is certainly one of the more adventurous stations, but there are also a lot of interesting things being done in Berlin by different radio groups such as Reboot.fm. And then again and again exciting things happen on the web, often in conjunction with established FM radio stations.
Subversive and, at the same time, public broadcasting
Who are the producers and financers of radio art?
Only very few people can make a living from it. Germany is one of the few countries where artists can sometimes be financed via experimental radio plays. When it boils down to it, radio art is a form of underground art. People get into it, because they enjoy it. They are more interested in working with unlimited time on the air than being paid for what they do.
What effects has digitalisation had on radio art?
It has opened up new vistas. Twelve years ago, in 2004, I did a live broadcast from an island in the Irish Sea. There was no electricity there, but we were able to establish a satellite uplink via solar cells, which cost us hardly anything. We can now suddenly undertake projects that were previously reserved for large media companies. This has created new artistic opportunities. Digital distribution, however, is still a problem. For me, podcasts have no clear connection to radio. They are almost a separate media form in themselves. When it comes to radio, it is the live element that counts most for me. Even if it is a pre-produced broadcast, I know that a lot of people are out there listening at the same time. And if I missed the beginning, I have to accept that I cannot rewind back to the beginning. It is this vanishing aspect that I find so important.
Does radio art play a subversive role within the realm of radio broadcasting?
I think so. At one of the most radical radio stations I know, Resonance FM, in London, artists manage to shock everyone over and over again.
The Radio Revolten Radio Art Festival was established in 2006 with the aim of making radio both visible and audible as an art form in its own right. This is the second time it is being held and it will be showcasing 70 artists from 17 countries. Every day, from 1st to 30th October 2016, the artists will be presenting their works, installations, performances and concerts. Radio Revolten will broadcast on FM and AM frequencies and via live stream. The festival is a project organised by Radio Corax, an established independent radio in Halle and is sponsored, among others, by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.
The German radio artist, musician, composer and curator, Knut Aufermann (born 1972), coordinated from 2002 to 2005, among other projects, the Community Radio Resonance FM 104.4 in London, which specialises in the broadcasting of artistic radio work. Since 2005 he has been working as a freelance radio artist with Sarah Washington under the project name, Mobile Radio in Germany. In 2016 Knut Aufermann became the artistic director of the international radio art festival Radio Revolten in Halle (Saale).