Radiophonic Cultures

The current reorganisation of the radio generates new forms of producing, composing, transmitting and perceiving sounds and music. At the same time, new aural spaces and cultures of listening are being established. To understand this media-generated change of acoustic environments and communication and to grasp the potentials of an emerging new radio, this research project examines the history of these phenomena in the larger context of radiophonics. Regarding the entire field of sounds insofar as they are linked to the genealogy and effects of radio technologies, radiophonics is here considered as a comprehensive cultural technique, i.e. operations which fundamentally change the matrix of communication and soundscapes. In a conglomeration of scientific knowledge, technical wit, media effects and musical affinities, radiophonics has reorganised the perception of an audible past, of sonic environments, and has shaped various historical concepts of sound. Music in the 20th century has extended its realm by integrating radio-affiliated techniques into composing, performance and listenership. In order to more closely define the notion of radiophonics and grasp the aesthetical and political potentials of its contemporary impact, the research group, consisting of media scholars, radio researchers and musicologists, will study mutual interdependencies between radio technologies, media aesthetics and musical cultures.

The project’s structure is organized along two axes: A historical perspective, examining relationships of experimental configurations and practices of radio studios on the one hand and techniques of composing on the other, at moments where they historically intersect. A second epistemological axis will study disturbances in concepts of acoustic cultures and environments in order to identify points of transition where the boundaries of noises and tones, sounds and music become permeable.

The four main projects will consider (A) an experimental aesthetics of acoustic perception; (B) a critical history of radiophonic composition; (C) an epistemology of disturbance in radiophonic environments; and (D) methods of sonic archiving.

The subprojects will deal with historical turning points in composition and acoustic environments, according to corresponding phases in media technology. Caesuras are drawn along basic technological breaks: (1.) radio technology in early studios of live transmission, tubes, microphony and gramophony 1925–1945; and (2.) radio technology according to transistors and tape devices after 1945. These projects lay the foundation for discussing innovations through the digital processing of sounds as they transform contemporary sonic cultures.

The project is essentially framed by and grounded in critical studies of sonic archives. The Weimar Radio Project of Prof. Nathalie Singer contributes extensive international collections of sound and radio art, which are currently being digitized and will be accessible for all participants of the project. In this subproject, forms of describing and mapping acoustic sources will be developed (SP C4). The corresponding project of the University of Music Basel will develop algorithms for the retrieval of sounds in an acoustic archive (SP D2 Radiophonic Data Mining). While techniques of retrieval exist to identify melodic series, retrieving sound structures and acoustic colours remains a desideratum. The subprojects correspond in the hypothesis that future electroacoustic composing and broadcasting is based on new forms of accessing sonic archives.