Radio Poetics, Interference and Muck

I love my new digital radio!

With the proliferation of audio webstreams and all sorts of digital smart boxes calling themselves radios, we need to ask, well, if these streams are becoming ever more fluent, then what space is being drained? When someone asks me, as they do, often, if I love Pandora, well, what sort of bugs are they asking me to love?

Radio poesis flows from the edges, some of them very fragile and sensitive, and occasionally they may even swell or bleed. Edges between signal and noise. Edges of frequency and range, both of which implicate edges of power and politics. Edges between attraction and repulsion; between Eros and Thanatos, or utopia and oblivion; the double edged ambiguities of sender and receiver caught in their limbic limbo dance. How low can we go?

As any biologist will confirm, edges are very often the key to the vitality of an ecosphere. Without edges, exchanges of energies (be they hoots, howls or body fluids) are rapidly and perhaps terminally diminished.

My kind of radio

When I bemoan the lack of poetic or aesthetic diversity on public radio (whether CBC, NPR, BBC or wherever), I am bemoaning the lack of edges. Instead of program streams that celebrate lively & liminal qualities such as fluid ambiguity and slippery murk, qualities that give heart and truth to the medium, we hear nothing but tight and tidy pitter patter, which in an infinitely messy cosmos (well expressed within the human species) serves up the ultimate deceit.

But at least within the edgelands of analog broadcast, the curious and hungry listener can still find refuge in the dank cosmic electromud squeezed between signals or smudged at the far ends of the dial: the intrinsic poetry of the medium is still safe, and easily accessed, no matter who or what is on the air.

A well grounded radio philosopher

So what about web radios and digital broadcast formats such as DAB? Well, I have no quibbles with the acoustics or the sound envelopes or the infinite variety of coded signals, if that is what your ears desire. What bothers me is the near complete elimination of edges, within the idea that the medium has of itself. The pops and growls of random noise and interference have all been mathematically cleansed from the system.

Yes, I know: that’s the point! But at what price to those who wish to creatively play inside the space? The once intricate and indefinite relationship between sender and receiver has been flattened, codified, tracked and tabulated. No more random and completely unexpected crossings, since navigation is now rationalized and purposeful.  Listener behavior is recorded, analysed, packaged and sold, all in the name of “enhanced service”.

The murky boglands have been drained of their vital mystery and replanted as an immaculate suburban garden, while the bugs inside Pandora’s little black box have no stink, no rub, no click and no bite. How can any sort of poetics, or any sort of art, come from there?

Even the pirates lack edges

5 Responses to “Radio Poetics, Interference and Muck”

  • That’s a great read, Gregory. And the links. There be edges in those links, also.

    I agree that edges and diversity seem scarce and scarcer as a medium gets uh increasingly commodified.

    Living in Canada, I can’t get Pandora anymore; apparently their license is limited to the USA. They are forced to block me after detecting that I’m outside the USA. I did listen to it before it was blocked outside the USA, and found it fairly good at music radio. Cuz it wasn’t just giving me stuff I’d heard. But it is all music radio. There’s also and yahoo for ‘automated recommendation’, and possibly others, but I haven’t looked into them much.

    I put together a page I haven’t done much work on recently but it’s still not too bad, perhaps, as an intro to some net radio. It’s at .

    The emphasis is on SHOUTcast. Are you familiar with SHOUTcast? It’s software that lets broadcasters broadcast over the net. There are thousands of ‘stations’ around the world that use SHOUTcast. Some of the stations are ‘internet only’ while others are AM or FM stations. Typically, AM and FM stations, these days, offer their stations over the net, as you know. Sometimes they use SHOUTcast to do so, sometimes they use other packages, sometimes they offer choice.

    Interestingly, apps such as iTunes and Winamp can be used as radios that play all the SHOUTcast stations. I write about that on the page I referenced. Briefly, the stations are all searchable in Winamp or iTunes and are categorized by the type of service they offer, ie, the type of music or talk, news, etc. I think you’re probably quite familiar with SHOUTcast. In any case, offers their stations via SHOUTcast (and perhaps other formats–I can’t remember).

    But then there are other types of audio projects on the net. You offer mp3 files and a site that goes with them of writing and graphics. As do I, and interactive audio works, and links at .

    And then there are projects such as the radio astronomy project you link to. And, actually, many other types of projects.

    The problem doesn’t seem to be in the number of different types of projects that are imaginable. By ‘type’, I mean whether they’re radio or video or mp3 or interactive and so on. Or the tools available to create the projects.

    The problem, to me anyway, is in the fracture of community. But I need to keep in mind that

    When the blackbird flew out of sight,
    It marked the edge
    Of one of many circles.

    These days, it’s always a matter of ‘many circles’. One’s own ‘community’ exists in the intersection or union or interplay of the communities one is involved in in various media and their individual projects.

    And within all of them, there’s still a shortage of edges and diversity, certainly. But that’s partly why I love to encounter writing like ‘Radio Poetics, Interference, and Muck’. It’s distinctively you.

    I have never really done anything other than muddle through life and art.

  • This, with its edgy links, interfered with and mucked up my day marvellously! Being in the UK, I’ve not used Pandora (such a misnomer) but I find similar shrink-wrapped services quite tedious, offering to play me/show me only things that I’ll love – as if they could ever possibly understand and anticipate all my whims and desires, all my vagaries and contradictions. We’re messy humans, not programmable subjects.

  • JIm,

    Could you expand in some future post on your ideas of community through the interplay of dispersed circles, and how that plays out through time? Of course, the net, like radio before it, became popular through the heated promises of community: bigger, stronger, faster. Yet my sense is that we are actually left with far less community — weaker, more dispersed, blurred.

    We have less of a sense of a true public space (unplanned, open to anything) and at the same time less of a sense of privacy (as every navigational twitch and blip is data mined, modeled and sold). Strong publics derive from an accumulation of equally as strong individuals, with distinct voices.

    And Christine, yes, we are messy humans — and to my eyes and ears, the best art works, the works that survive through time, are those works (and plays) that provide the richest representations or echoes of all our riptide whims, desires, vagaries and contradictions. Virtuosity, to be sure, but in the service of understanding (accepting) uncertainty and paradox (our fate in the cosmos), not in the service of ideology and hubris.

    The data miners (facebook, google, etc.) have an all too clear ambition: to build a perfect model from the human mess, a totalizing algorithm that will tell each one of us who we are, and who we will be. The danger comes when corrupt states drink the snake oil and take “preemptive” actions based on the fool’s gold of the data miners. That’s when we will start to hear the knocks on the door, in the middle of the night. No, come to think of it, it won’t even be a knock — but an ultimate message delivered via predator drone. Philip K. Dick coined the word “precrime”, and soon we’ll all be guilty, marked to model.

  • Gregory – “The data miners (facebook, google, etc.) have an all too clear ambition: to build a perfect model from the human mess, a totalizing algorithm that will tell each one of us who we are, and who we will be.”

    If not for the dangers you highlight, I almost welcome the fun we could have with this. If the dataminers think they have defined us, what an interesting cat and mouse game we could play, confounding their expectations.

  • Ah, but Christine, the mouse has fun or a while, but the story doe not usually have a happy ending, eh? The unfolding Assange saga reveals just how much is at stake in the “game”.

    So how did did things go in Auld Reekie? Reports from the Underbelly?