Radio was discovered before it was invented — as Douglas Kahn, author of the authoritative sound-in-art text Noise, Water, Meat, is fond of pointing out. So too, one might add, are numerous artistic conceits. For every instance in which life can be seen to imitate art, there is a parallel one in which art formalizes chance occurrences in everyday life. In Jeff Gburek‘s work “Radio Wide World,” we hear the world serving as a resource for glitch-like audio effects processing. Over the course of two hours, sounds from broadcasts disintegrate, overlap, and otherwise are heard in a manner other than that which their broadcasters had planned or, for that matter, even anticipated. In turn, the work, which was recorded in 1994 and 1995 in North America, Indonesia, and Italy, paralleled the then emergent efforts of musicians such as Oval, among others:
The track was presented recently by the excellent podcast and radio series Radius, which provided the sort of background information one wishes other such services were in the habit of. In brief:
During radio listening sessions in the middle of the night, Gburek noticed that when the stations closer to him signed off, sudden gaps, chasms of vibrant static, new stations, and other signals from afar drifted in – often from places too far off to seem within logical range. Coming later to understand that these bounced signals where effects generated by ionic scatter and extreme weather conditions, even solar flares and meteorite showers, his immediate intuition became reinforced: even the so-called random noises where not devoid of meaning; outer space was being communicated inside the inner space of the listening experience. Behind the novel sonic effects, there was an alive and expressive cosmos.
There are bits of sound familiar to me — I hear the power trio Morphine, as well as British pop singer Kirsty MacColl covering Billy Bragg — but much of it is unfamiliar, even unintelligible, a continuous mix of voices and song and (broadly defined) static like a raging river of sonic data observed in slow motion. This will be the case for most listeners, due to its globe-spanning source origin, as well as the processing, which leads to elegant jitters and psychedelic splashes. You listen not for the signal but for the noise that serves as signal, for the way the errors provide new pleasures. And you find chance meaning, like how the occasional voice-overs, no matter their language, suggest someone commenting on the goings-on. Also, given that both MacColl and the lead singer of Morphine died prematurely, there’s a peculiar sense of coincidence that hovers over their chance appearance alongside each other in the audio.
The track was the eleventh episode of the great Radius radio show and podcast. Available for streaming and free download at theradius.tumblr.com and soundcloud.com/radius-5. More on Gburek, who is based in Poland, at futurevessel.com.