[Idc] Evening with Ralf Homann at The Thing Oct 20

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Oct 15 14:42:46 EDT 2004

Join us for an evening with Ralf Homann, artist and director Experimental
Radio Program at Bauhaus University, Weimar.

>Ralf Homann: Experimental Radio
>Wednesday, October 20, 7pm

The Thing, NYC
601 West 26th Street New York, New York 10001 Tel: 212-937 0443 Email:
info at thing.net

(organized by the Institute for Distributed Creativity in collaboration with
The Thing, NYC)
Interview with Ralf Homann by Trebor Scholz.
TS: Please introduce the "Experimental Radio Program" at Bauhaus University,
its history and a project that was important to you.

RH: The Experimental Radio was founded in 1999 at Bauhaus University. The
new Department of Media was set up two years ago based on the realization
that the common understanding of media as Œvideo¹, or Œcomputer¹ or ŒTV¹ was
not complete. ŒVideo didn¹t kill the radio star.¹ If what used to be called
Œnew media¹ were to be transformed to regular media, then the terms Œold¹
and Œnew¹ would have lost all meaning. This is especially true in the
context of the arts. For example: Are etching, sculpture, painting and radio
really old media? Or do new media start with Œelectronic,¹ Œmechanical¹ or
Œdigital¹ processing? All these definitions fail because they are based on
tools. In contemporary art after The Bauhaus the Œtool follows the
function.¹ I understand radio as a global, worldwide phenomenon, a tool
which is Œpublic domain¹ just like screws, wood, or stones but more global
like TV, phone or the internet. Radio is 'pilot media' following the theory
of time-based electronic communication because it was always first. It was
set up before TV and before video streaming became popular. The Experimental
Radio at Bauhaus University uses radio as a tool for the fine arts just as
it uses it as a tool for sound sculpture, journalism and sound design. This
relates back to the Bauhaus idea that the fine arts, applied sciences and
design should come together to create an artwork. We have our own radio
studio and local FM frequency, and a streaming media server for net radio.
We also have a studio for projects that are based on sculpture,
installation, performances, actions or interventions in public space.
Perhaps it is necessary to explain some German traditions to understand the
special significance of the Experimental Radio. After World War II the West
German media were organized by the Allies to guarantee a democratic
development of society. Print media were organized as private property, but
the electronic media networks are based on Œmother¹ BBC as a public,
non-state, and non-private system. This goes against the grain against of
the German understanding of public space and public sphere, which is either
state or private. The idea of common property declined about one hundred
years ago and Radio and TV in Germany were highly regulated in Nazi Germany
and then again during the Cold War.
For example, producing or merely possessing a radio transmitter in Western
Germany without license could be punished by five years in jail. In East
Germany high school students who use an illegal transmitter were killed by
the state in the 1950s. The Experimental Radio was set up in the 1950s when
Thuringia (the state within the Eastern part of Germany where the
Bauhaus-University is located) allowed private and also free and community
My first project at the Bauhaus-University was the ŒMicro-Radio-Party.¹ I
realized it together with the Tokyo-based artist Tetsuo Kogawa. I invited
him to present the Micro FM Movement in Germany. He also gave a workshop
about the making and use of small FM transmitters. His performance dealt
with the body: In our bodies the building and use of radio transmitters is
inscribed as fear, as a heavy offense and complicated technical challenge, a
secret, and esoteric practice. Working with him we dealt with ideas of micro
politics. A party or picnic, for example can have a political dimension and
power. During the performance students were standing on the dance floor,
surrounded by DJs working on turntables. People gathered there and around a
sofa with a small FM transmitter-- we called it Œradio sofa.¹ From the sofa
a report about the event was broadcasted to the neighborhood. A goal of this
micro-radio-party in the stairways of the department's main building was to
give the building we were in with its ugly nazi-architecture a new
connotation. This first project gave an introduction to the idea that radio
is not necessarily better if it has a larger audience. The position that
radio is only a mass medium refers to the history of radio in the era of
Fordism-- the idea of large target groups. The term target group alone shows
its context situated in the decades between WWI and WWII when radio became
so popular.
The next project in 2000, was the internet radio festival called
Œtype=radio~border=0.¹ We set up simulcasting, ether and internet, and
collaborated with artists like radioqualia and other radio stations around
the globe including a local self-organized initiative of migrants and
refugees called ŒThe Voice.¹ We had several points to get across. On the one
hand we wanted to say that radio is not a local but a global medium. On the
other hand, we discussed the fact that digital data and digital currency can
be moved around the world (type=radio is the button you use to charge a
credit card). But when migrants encounter heavy restrictions when they want
to physically follow these data.

TS: The Bauhaus in Weimar is the first university in Germany, which founded
a Faculty of Media. At The Bauhaus the first MFA program in Germany is in
the process of being consolidated. The program in Experimental Radio is the
only one of its kind in Germany, which teaches radio in the context of the
arts. It seems unavoidable to ask about the linkage between the
educationalist tradition of the Bauhaus and your current educational
Do you draw connections between industry and the university in the way
Walter Gropius propagated it?

RH: Walter Gropius demanded an educational practice in the arts, which
educated the artist also in economics very early on as freshmen.
The Faculty of Media at the Bauhaus included several chairs for media
management and the department has its own MBA line of study, which focuses
on the economics of creative works, and the culture industry. At the moment
we try to set up a chair for the creative commons. Lectures by these
professors are open to BFA and MFA students in Media Art and Design. We
collaborate on exhibitions, offer internships and support residencies for
our students. Gropius' idea was ground breaking back then. Today it is
simply reflected in our regular program. Gropius¹ demanded an education in
economics that was motivated by the urge to close the gap between art and
life. We know these ideas also from other artists and movements. Gropius
said that the concept of the traditional German Art Academy separated the
artist from daily life. He claimed that it creates a gap between art for
art's sake on the one hand and the people on the other. For him, 'the
industry' was part of daily life of the people. Gropius also emphasized that
German art academies produced artists who were not able to make a living.
Gropius thought of the artist as a polished, perfected craftsman. But in
Modernism the industry has taken over the role of the crafts. We must
analyze this situation and draw our own conclusions.
The Bauhaus University is of course the place where the Bauhaus was founded.
But it is also the location from which the Bauhaus people were exiled. Last
year we organized a demonstration of students against some restrictions by
the City of Weimar. The students showed up in front of town hall with a
banner saying: ŒTomorrow Dessau, the next day Chicago.¹ They pointed to the
corporatization of education American-style in Germany and the fact that
many teachers at the Bauhaus had to flee Germany and founded a Bauhaus in
Chicago. There is always a deep awareness of tradition which is important.
Bauhaus University is not a museum or a kind of fancy seal of the old
Bauhaus. We understand Bauhaus University as the place where new ideas and
concepts emerge. Perhaps we can create a new, electronic Bauhaus. Gropius'
demands on economics mean something different today. The educational
principles of Bauhaus University are centered around practice. Our so called
Œprojects¹ are more important than classical lectures or a thoughtless
curriculum that teaches tools. Students find solutions for real problems.
Our classes in media art and design do not stop with the demo design. We
always realize the projects. We cannot hide from the fact that students
can¹t be fired. We live in an era of globalization, which means that form
follows economics. But if form follows function, then we must think about
the function of the arts. When Gropius demanded to close the gap between art
and industry, between daily life and art, then we must ask if this gap is
real or if it has disappeared long ago. What we need now is perhaps a new
distance between art and industry. But which industry are we talking about
anyway? I do not agree with Gropius¹ slogan that the artist is the polished
craftsmen as this could be misunderstood simply as mastership of tools. I¹m
not interested in prolonging the classification between practice and theory.
We are accustomed to think in both these categories. Contemporary art is
theory and the theory is its own practice. We need the arts to reflect the
practice of theorists and the theorists to reflect the production of

TS: What is the professional future of students graduating from your
Experimental Radio program?

RH: The Experimental Radio program offers a wide range of skills and
qualifications depending on how long the student is in the program and which
individual career she has in mind. Each student individually plans for her
study guided by a mentor. The minimum is that students take courses in
Experimental Radio only for one segment of their study in order to get an
overview. They then use these skills for other concentrations such as TV,
public relations, interface or sound design, composition, journalism,
sculpture, management, cultural studies, or media sciences. At Bauhaus
University it is possible to study architecture and take courses in
Experimental Radio to get qualified to produce urban radio documentaries.
What's wrong with that? The maximum length of the program is five years. A
student could finish her BFA in three years and then get an MFA in another
two years. The Experimental Radio program is based on three segments for
students who want to finish with a BFA or MFA in Experimental Radio. These
three parts of study give undergraduate students the possibility to get
involved in projects of other concentrations. They can decide on their own
strategy to get ahead. They can, for example, combine different skills from
web design, TV, photography, interactive media or sculpture. At the moment,
Bauhaus University is the only place in Europe¹s German speaking area where
you can study radio from scratch at university-level. Other universities
offer radio only on a postgraduate level or as small part of journalism or
literature programs or as an additional offer of a conservatory or a drama
school. Radio education in Germany is mostly based on training at public
radio networks or small private stations. There is no established academic
education in this field. The Experimental Radio at Bauhaus University
qualifies the student for a professional future in the public or private
radio networks: as an author, journalist, producer, director, music editor,
anchorman, or link man. There is only one job we cannot prepare for, which
is that of the sound engineer as this profession is regulated differently by
German law. But we do have two apprenticeships for sound engineers at the
Our focus is always on the individual plan of the student. Some examples:
There are students in the program who see their future as DJ, owner of a
record label and composer in the field of electronic dance floor. Other
students want to work as freelancers in radio journalism, as director in
radio drama, or as artists who are interested in audio works. Again, other
artists use the projects to question strategies of intervention in public
space. And there are students who are more interested in creating new
software using the courses of Experimental Radio to be challenged and find
real problems that they will need to solve. Sometimes filmmakers or club VJs
visit our lectures because Experimental Radio is more linked to pop culture
or tactical media than other departments. This heterogeneous crowd gives our
classes a special spirit because this kind of mixed scene is what you will
find also outside the university in the professional field.
We teach radio in the context of the fine arts. This concedes newer
developments in contemporary art and goes beyond the traditional ŒGerman
HoerspielΠ(radio play) which is rooted in theater or literature before the
1960s. This tradition was transformed by the likes of Klaus Schoening who
curated the Ars Acustica at documenta 8 (an international art exhibition) or
Heidi Grundmann at Austrian radio ORF. Another example is the department of
Radio Drama and Media Art at the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation. This
focus on fine arts educates students to use radio as a tool for their art,
as a strategy in public space, for actions or interventions but also to
create objects, environments or performances in the white cube, sound
installations, acoustic images, documentaries or radio dramas. The
Experimental Radio, in particular, offers contexts to develop such artworks.
Students get a chance to develop individual strategies, transfer their
skills across media or expose their work to a new kind of public audience.
This is part of the education in media art and the professional field of the
students here.

TS: Between the techno-optimism of the 1990s and the techno-skepticism put
forward by more traditional cultural theorists, which approach to technology
do you propagate?

RH: Nice question. For me technology is part of the so-called 'natural
world.' We must live with this fact. It is possible to make radio without
technology, because radio is the idea to make radio and imagine technology.
Walter Klingenbeck¹s group is a very good example because their radio never
started, but the group was working in the German resistance. You could find
more examples of pirate radio stations or radio fans who never broadcast but
who create small groups of people who meet in the street. That¹s a
phenomenon of radio. The aim of our radio program is always to bring people
together face-to-face. We cannot broadcast faces so we are careful not to
loose this aspect of the medium. There are some programs which are rooted in
the authoritarianisms ruling the world, at times when radio was set up
similar to the news, or the time signal, which organizes a virtual mass in
front of the unique sender or leader. But the basic message of modern
programs including the commercial one is that you are not alone, you are
part of a group and please go out, and meet this group or at least face our
product in the supermarket. The argument that radio diverts or lulls the
listeners is wrong. I do not approach technology in categories of optimism
or skepticism. I am interested in an analysis of uses of technology for
freedom. I was not a fan of the 1990s idea that the internet will make the
world automatically better or that it will create some kind of truly digital
democratic society. We could only observe that the internet was going
opposite ways than Radio or TV. Radio and TV were highly regulated by the
state through technical standards. Now we have the experience of tactical
media. We now see a lot of initiatives to get regulations in place and to
limit the old systems of distribution. Have a look at what has happened with
Indymedia over the last few days in the UK. It's back to radio. I prefer
this technology because radio is a dancing media. Moving around the body is
always better off than sitting in front of a screen or being pinned down in
a cinema seat. I prefer the digital wired, the analogue wireless solution,
because nobody can control who listens.

TS: Three years ago you helped put together the "bauhaus radio reader." The
widely acknowledged current crisis in new media arts education is in part
grounded in the need to find texts with tolerable expiration dates. Which
texts do you read with your students?

RH: The project of Œbauhaus radio reader¹ deals with this problem, because
at the moment we cannot find a good compilation of texts. This project is
not finished, it is more a crawl over the screen and a never ending story.
In my opinion radio is a medium for illiterates. We can make it without
texts. Especially in Germany we find a lot of texts about radio dealing with
problems we never faced. It¹s a pity because in former times German Radio
theory was very interesting. But perhaps after Adorno¹s denunciation of the
medium nobody was really interested to work hard on contemporary radio
theory. Now you mostly get fights between high culture and pop or the people
who try to protect children by demanding regulations for censorship.
For the foundations year in Media Art and Design we use a fine compilation,
edited by my colleagues at the Department of Media Culture Klaus Pias,
Joseph Vogel, Lorenz Engell, Oliver Fahle, Britta Neitzel, which is called
"Kursbuch Medienkultur." This compilation gives a good overview about media
theory from Brecht to Baudrillard. French philosophy is very important. In
the basic program of Experimental Radio we use LaRoche¹s and Buchholz¹
"Radio Journalismus," and Michael Dickreiter¹s "Handbuch der
Tonstudiotechnik." Those are the German standards for working in
professional Radio. We also use Douglas Kahn¹s and Gregory Whiteread¹s
compilation "Wireless Imagination" and Neil Strauss¹ and Dave Mandl¹s
Apart from that we read Tetsuo Kogawa and of course Geert Lovink¹s books
dealing with radio and tactical media. To discuss ideas of free radio we use
a compilation from the Swiss "Klipp and Klang Group" called "Kurze Welle,
Lange Leitung," which was published by the Zurich art space Shedhalle. We
also read Hakim Bey¹s "Radio Sermonettes" in the foundations program and
Gerald Raunig¹s compilation "Transversal, Art and the Critic of
Globalization," and Marius Babias¹ compilation "Im Zentrum der Peripherie,
Kunstvermittlung und Vermittlungskunst in den 90er Jahren," which deals with
art movements in the 1990s. In addition, we use professional magazines from
media politics and media research to pop music and contemporary art. For
Students who are in the program for a longer time I offer a seminar in which
we read texts or discuss articles from recently published catalogues, but
also some texts from the US free radio movement.

TS: Which proposals do you have for alternative structures in new media arts

RH: Dealing with media always means that we can loose sight of our goals.
The worst case is when you end up working mainly to find sponsors for your
next project. We need a space where it is possible to reflect and test drive
differences in order to find the next utopian position. Technology and
economics are the basics but do not get us a better world. I remember that
picnic was the tool to get a brick into the Iron Curtain. We need such
picnics for new media education and perhaps we need more parties.

TS: How do you foster cooperation in the classroom and beyond?

RH: We have no classroom, only a studio for the art works and a radio studio
for the live broadcast. In the first place we are always focused on
production. In our studio you can make programs as a lonesome cowboy but
that¹s boring. Mostly there are teams creating programs: authors, anchormen,
music editors or DJs, directors and producers. It's always more than one
person working in the studio. Commonly this is necessary simply to use the
complex tools. You need support from other students who read more tutorials.
There is one central meeting for each project. Here we discuss all questions
and set up working groups and teams for an exhibition, an excursion, the
production of a radio drama or a magazine of the weekly program. Especially
the final presentation at the end of a period must be organized within
teams. At Experimental Radio teamwork is common and every second summer I
offer a special project dealing with collaborative work between artists or
groups to discuss structure, problems of communication or secret
hierarchies. One project included an excursion to the opening of the Venice
Biennial. Such excursion must be prepared by students and forces cooperation
and group-building. Bauhaus University is located in the small downtown of
Weimar. Most students live in flat-shares and there are some clubs in town,
mostly visited by students. As part of our final presentation we organize
special programs at these places where we stream media. Weimar is situated
in the middle of Germany, Berlin is near, big cities like Frankfurt, Munich,
Hamburg or Prague are not far away either. Students come from all over
Germany not only the surrounding cities. It is very common for students to
travel around, to make excursions to important festivals, concerts or
exhibitions to create their own network to realize their projects. They
support each other with their experiences and varying skill sets. Graduate
students have the right to make so called "free projects." This means that
students can set up their own group or collaboration with students at other
universities, or work together with professionals and get my advice. My
program runs several mailing lists and a server to support communication
when students are not in town. Usually we involve students who are abroad as
part of a student exchange in our weekly program with reports via streaming
media or help them by organizing small-budget collaborative exhibitions.

TS: How do you make use of social software in your radio programs? Please
give examples of the way you used streaming audio and video in educational

RH: We use software to organize group work, to set up collaborations. We
prefer mailing lists for all lectures and we use web logs for technical
support, uploads and downloads to exchange files. We try to use open source
software for all applications but it is not always possible. We can't ignore
the fact that we educate students for their professional future, and if
outside the university there is no professional application of open source,
then we can¹t teach it inside the university either. To encode our streams
we created our own open source software, called o-stream, which uses the ogg
vorbis file format. Last year as part of our collaboration with the French
art school Villa Arson we had a workshop in Nice, which we streamed as well.
I prefer open source because it allows us to twist the software according to
our needs. The issue of software licenses, or creative commons is part of
education. We made documentaries for example and organized an exhibition
that dealt with so called open culture. The course was taught by the
artists Cornelia Sollfrank and Laurence Russel. It included an excursion and
a workshop about the "Wizard of Oz" conference in Berlin where Lawrence
Lessig of Stanford University presented his notion of the creative common
We use streaming media; of course for internet radio. In our weekly radio
program we use simulcasting, ether and internet. Beside this line of
production we foster audio streaming for special events. We focus on the
esthetic possibilities of the tool such as delay or noise. We use it to
realize our collaborations in the city and with other places, like the
collaboration with Tetsuo Kogawa in Tokyo. We also did a stream with your
students at The Department of Media Study. From 2000 until June 2004 we had
a collaborative program, called pingfm. The students of this group
broadcasted every Sunday together with Amsterdam-based artists like Toek
from Radio100. Until June we had our own studio for pingfm with its
streaming sessions but now the students stopped because they are about to
graduate. I started audio streaming in 1999 when I came to Weimar. I started
by involving a student team in the Net Aid Campaign to support Radio B92 in
Belgrade during the Balkan war.
Streaming video is not my favorite. As an artist I create a lot of visual
works but as part of my teaching at Experimental Radio I demand that the
time-based and broadcasted programs are without pictures. Students sometimes
use web cams or create great visuals in the context of VJ-ing parallel to
the audio stream but I do not encourage that. If we use visuals than they
should be received like radio or act like paintings in a gallery: You can
pass by, the body should have all options in the space where you show it.

TS: Thank you for the interview. I look forward to your talks in Buffalo and
New York.


Studio B11- Experimental Radio

pingfm - a netbased platform for audio/video experiments

Transit~wellen is a project by schleuser.net, which is situated in the area
of contradictory communication about public space.

Experimental Radio, Ralf Homann

Wizards of OS conference, Berlin
The Future of the Digital Commons

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