The film's first take: inside the checkered bag on wheels we see a device—a transmitter surrounded by tangled cables placed at the very bottom of the bag. Subsequent shots show a woman in a linen hat strolling in the city, not standing out from the crowd, dragging her baggage along. We can hear the city's noise in the background—various sounds, signals and sounds made by cars constantly passing by. When the camera moves to the interior of one of them, the sonosphere changes. Now it is dominated by the sounds coming from the radio, presented to the viewer in a close-up. This of course makes us think that the radio is the source of the voices, melodies and utterances. Suddenly, the program the driver is listening to is interrupted — stray sounds and random noises are heard, as if theier radio went out of tune or was switching between frequency bands. Messages uttered with an informative or advertising tone reach our ears. The most distinguishable expression we can pick up on, repeated a few times, is that “free radio jaffa.” The information contained in these words is heard more or less clearly - it overlaps with other voices that cut through it, and that it also jams or is jammed by. After a short while, all is back to normal. The radio starts to play an interrupted melody. In the background, we can still see the person with the bag on wheels.
The above is a description of a video documentation from one of the editions of Katarzyna Krakowiak’s project carried out under the title “all.fm.” This part is entitled Free Radio Jaffa and was performed by the artist in cooperation with Ronen Eidelman in the Jaffa quarter in Tel Aviv. “Free Radio Jaffa will be roaming through Jaffa with a human antenna, broadcasting in close-range. It may not be noticeable, but if your radio starts behaving strangely, you can assume we are in the area,” reads the description of this radio intervention on the website documenting Krakowiak’s artistic activities.1 The “human antenna,” embodied by the artist herself, is the common element of all of the projects from the “all.fm” series. What message is enabled by the human antenna in Jaffa and what is the status of this radio announcement?
What I can bring back from my day exploring the city— ?
- writes Richard Foreman in his play Hotel Radio, in which he touches upon the problem of memory, and ways of perceiving both reality and oneself. The analysis is made from the unique perspective, which places a perspective that examines these questions of memory and perception through the context of radio.
That is one of the reasons I so miss having a radio in my room.
If there was a radio in my room I might, now, turning it on for myself,
hear—intuition-wise—what I missed, or lost, in my meticulous exploration
turned back toward me.
Nothing like memory you understand, but instead
like a broken self, a broken me,
and in those cracks
the wind of real things at last, through a radio—
- continues the monologue of Foreman's speaking subject. This poetic vision returns here only in the form of a remote association, a faint echo evoked by the memory of Krakowiak’s work. It offers an exceptional understanding of the radio and its specific nature, and at the same time is a particular radio intervention. Here, the radio becomes a tool of recalling the unheard, the omitted, the forgotten or simply the drowned out. A gesture of turning on the radio would mean giving voice to something that, for certain reasons, could not be heard during the walk through the city and the study of the urban tissue. However, what is unheard (unheard-of?) is not simply inscribed in the stream of the narration, of the story. It appears in its cracks, fissures, deflections. The radio would serve as a means of exploring these niches and faults. The defined location would need to retreat under the pressure of dislocation, while a coherent identity and history would be shattered due to certain disruption. This makes us think about the radio not only as a medium that supports communication, but also as one that introduces a particular space of disorientation, a breach, a mis-hearing. If only it were possible to turn such a radio on…
In Free Radio Jaffa, the radio sets of potential but not intentional addressees are turned on. This accidentality is the necessary condition for Krakowiak's intervention, which consists of using or seizing a given frequency in order to broadcast her own message. Similarly to a virus, the message sneaks into a circuit of information that is broadcast from the speakers. It attacks unexpectedly: it could even remain unnoticed, perceived only as a subtle distortion, but if it manages to cut through the noise and jam the radio stream, one can clearly hear sentences in Hebrew. At the end of the film as well as in its description, the viewer is provided with an English translation. One of the messages is informative, the other is an advertisement. The former concerns traffic obstructions on Jerusalem Boulevard caused by the eviction of a single mother with six children, and advice on choosing an alternative route in order to avoid the unpleasant realm of cleansing in Jaffa. The latter praises the charms of living in an authentic Arabic-style building with a view overlooking city streets and the historical harbor, and suggests that one of the 500 houses that are currently being cleansed could be yours - a dream come true. The voice then encourages listeners to visit the website www.radiofreejaffa.com (site inactive). We also learn about the radio itself, as the voice calls out “Free space! Free Radio Jaffa gives you free space for free.”3
In a perverse and simultaneously very direct manner, these messages refer to a specific socio-political situation that is a source of tension, suppression, understatements, and manipulation. The situation of course being that of evictions and expulsions of the Palestinian community of Yafo, a district of Tel-Aviv that was once a part of historical Jaffa, and later became part of the big agglomeration of Tel Aviv. After the numerous acts of deportation and banishment that took place over the course of history, the Palestinians now constitute a small fraction of today’s population of Tel Aviv. Many of them struggle with the government’s initiatives leading to evictions from the houses that, as a result of confiscation, are officially the property of the state rented out to the inhabitants. The expulsions thus have legal and administrative justification, which is why part of the public view them as silent ethnic cleansing. In reaction to this situation, the project aims at publicizing processes that happen "quietly," allowing this information to circulate. But it also serves something more. Its aim is to gain free space, the space of free expression. And maybe perhaps even to give voice to those who have been drowned out, and retrieve a 3common memory of the place? The message, which functions as a sound disruption, makes references to what is usually suppressed. It is worth putting some thought into the very status of such a disruption.
As Jacques Attali reminds us in his work on noise and political economy of music,
A noise is a resonance that interferes with the audition of a message in the process of emission. […] Noise, then, does not exist in itself, but only in relation to the system within which it is inscribed: emitter, transmitter, receiver. Information theory uses the concept of noise (or rather, metonymy) in a more general way: noise is the term for a signal that interferes with the reception of a message by a receiver, even if the interfering signal itself has a meaning for that receiver.4
In the case of the radio intervention undertaken by Krakowiak, noise is understood both as the noise of the radio waves and the so-called white noise heard in loudspeakers when the frequency of the radio is taken over by the broadcast from the transmitter being transported around the city in a bag. It is also the very message that intrudes on the radio waves with the help of the “human antenna.” In the context of the radio, this situation may be presented the other way around: a short, less than one-minute transmission of Free Radio Jaffa using a “borrowed” frequency can be seen as a clear signal, a strong message cutting through ordinary, often imperceptible, radio noise.
The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire […]. The radio is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the eardrums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but usually create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.5
- writes Aldous Huxley in his critique of the radio. Huxley formulates a stern diagnosis about one's state of perception and lifestyle in a world filled with sounds, noises and clamor emitted by the radio. In the end, this excess of sounds becomes an undifferentiated noise: one can hear it without listening to it. Or one listens to it but cannot hear the acoustic background, one that goes beyond the eardrums and actually becomes a tool of shaping and controlling desires and attitudes. The message transmitted by Free Radio Jaffa is noise, acoustic distortion, a virus introduced into a system, but it can also be seen as a sharp signal piercing through the information noise in the radio.
“Listening to music is listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political.[…] [Noise] is a means of power and a form of entertainment,” claims Attali.6 This statement could surely also refer to the radio. It is hard to speak about the radio in the singular form. The radio is characterized by a multiplicity of institutions, practices, devices, strategies and ways of reception, and by a multiplicity of voices: harmonized, overlapping, continuously uttered, constantly circulating, hanging in the air – voices that are separated out and allowed to resonate in their singularity by means of the radio. The reverse situation is the elimination of the voices of others—jamming, masking and quieting them. Nevertheless, the other voices push their way to the surface of hearing—through transformation, shifts, changes of frequency, in strategies of disrupting or seizing frequencies. Let's try to imagine a revolutionary radio, utopian radio, local radio, public radio, private radio, phantasmatic radio, pirate radio, free radio…
Allen S. Weiss indicates that all kinds of radiophonic experiments (also various radio interventions) prove that the radio possesses a potential that goes far beyond the limiting and “stupefying” principles of mainstream radio. He opposes these principles to “the logic of exceptions” applied by some pirate radio stations. Crucially, he also underlines that all these experimental, unofficial activities and subversive radio and radiophonic practices “may even operate at the very interior of mainstream, government, military, or commercial radio, rare as they may be: parasites and viruses that determine yet other limits, functions, and pleasures of radiophonic art.”7 These other pleasures are, at least partially, an effect of the very repetitive disruption, interference, intrusion of one’s own intervention into the established transmission flow. On the one hand then, the radio can be understood as a means of transmission and communication; on the other, it can be a tool used to disturb and mislead. It combines both one-way stimulation and desired disorientation. An ambiguous and complicated game between the two features, the unceasing exchange between these levels of radio operations, is evidence of the radio's unique status. In order to comprehend it, the notion of communication and message must be supplemented with the notion of breach, discontinuity, vagueness, distortion and obscurity. What is at stake in this game is the maintenance of certain openness, fluidity and uncertainty on the periphery of diverse established radio practices, but also the creation of free manifestation areas through virus and parasite interventions at their very core.
Such an understanding of the radio, as a constant negotiation of meanings and an endless extension of borders, is parallel with Weiss’ identification of the matter. As Weiss writes, “We are concerned with conditions of transmission, circuits, disarticulation, degeneration, metamorphosis, mutation – and not communication, closure, articulation, representation, and simulacra.”8 This is both an aesthetic and a political declaration and as such it refers to any artistic activities related to the radio that have traces of experimentation and/or social intervention. Nevertheless, the very radio experiment, understood as an a-systemic or anti-systemic operation, is not restricted to purely formal procedures. Similarly, its area of search is not limited to sound but it always has a political nature. When perceived as a specific group of heterogenous elements, the radio always refers to the problems of both the conditions and character of its message, and to the problem of social restrictions, limitations, jamming or publicizing of given stories, giving voice or restricting access. Therefore, a radio experiment, which is always after all a sound experiment, is also a way of renegotiating the models and borders of communication.
What comes to mind here are Gregory Whitehead’s words spoken in a conversation with Jérôme Noetinger: “Radio happens in sound, but I don’t believe that sound is what matters about radio, or any of the acoustic media. What does matter is the play among relationships: between bodies and antibodies, hosts and parasites, pure noise and irresistible fact, all in a strange parade, destination unknown, fragile, uncertain.”9 It is worth noticing that the term “parasite” (as well as the term “virus”) is often used to reflect on the topic of unofficial, experimental or anti-systemic radio practices, for example in expressions such as the “parasite sound.” The phrase is used to denote all kinds of sound intrusions and noises. Similarly, the word “parasites” (plural) in French, means, among others, signal disruptions. In this sense, Radio Free Jaffa, which operates thanks to “borrowed” radio waves and acts as a momentary, strong (but possibly unnoticed) disruption, could be called a parasite. In our use of this word, we could simultaneously suspend any undesired and negative connotations that the word possesses. The above mentioned noise would also be a type of parasite or virus in reference to the system it opposes, but with which it remains in an ongoing and inseparable relation. As an acoustic disruption, virus or parasite noise causes the system to quiver and shake. It infects it with its own content. It is thus an operation aimed at building spaces of freedom. In one of her interviews, Krakowiak said: “I don’t initiate pirate radio stations, I only borrow a frequency for the sake of the project. I use radio space as the space of presenting my ideas. I sometimes take advantage of its poetic form. I modify the frequency and adjust it to my artistic needs.”10
In the same conversation, the artist explains what the radio means to her: “I like the archaic form of the radio, the noise, searching for information among the noise. But I don’t like the concept of switching to the digital system, which destroys the radio’s autonomy as its quality becomes flawless. Seeking perfection scares me. If we don’t take care of the increasing noise, soon, nobody will be able to hear differences in the quality of sound. We will lose the ability to hear.”11 Noise, including radio noise, seen as acoustic imperfection and disruption is opposed to noise unequivocally perceived—in contrast to the first one—as a negative phenomenon. While the latter is the effect of an elimination of differences in sound quality that unify the noise and "clear" it of any interferences, thus leading to the loss of the ability to hear, the former, a positively parasitical noise, introduces an indispensable difference, thereby enabling and determining hearing. We can compare it to the perception of the sound and its message (the message found among the noise and heard thanks to the noise) and to the very noise as a message. Summing up, it would be valuable to go back to Attali’s reflection on the relation between noise and politics. Attali claims that from the perspective of all totalitarian and totalizing theories and practices, noise is extremely undesirable and therefore controlled by the subjects in power. It is often thought of as subversive, as demanding cultural autonomy, and is perceived as a tool used by minorities to express their demands. This doesn’t concern totalitarian countries because, as Attali writes, “everywhere we look, the monopolization of the broadcast of messages, the control of noise, and the institutionalization of the silence of others assure the durability of power.”12 From this point of view, any acoustic disturbances, noises, discordances and insertions are potentially subversive, although this potential may only be fulfilled in the relation to the recipient. In the case of Katarzyna Krakowiak’s radio interventions, the recipient is always accidental. His or her reactions remain unknown, but, as the artist hopes, these activities disturb his or her privacy.13 They are a means of renegotiating the private and the public. And what stands behind them is a critical reflection on the status of common space as a space of exchange. Radio Free Jaffa invokes the need of having one’s own space. And gives voice to it.
2R. Foreman, Hotel Radio, in: Experimental Sound and Radio, ed. Allen S. Weiss, p. 140.
4J. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, pp. 26-27
5A. Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West (P.S.), p. 218
6J. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, p. 6
7Allen S. Weiss, Radio Icons, Short Circuits, Deep Schisms, in: Experimental Sound and Radio..., p. 4.
8Ibidem, p. 6
9G. Whitehead, Radio Play Is No Place: A Conversation between Jérôme Noetinger and Gregory Whitehead, in: Experimental Sound and Radio..., p. 89
12J. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music..., p. 8.
13K. Krakowiak, D. Konkel, Dźwięk jest powietrzem...