I was one of the Nordic artists (even if as a theorist) commissioned for the 2017 Works for Radio for the radio station The Lake. Based in Copenhagen, and transmitting via the Internet, the station asked the four commissioned artists to produce a piece between one and eight minutes in length and to relay the invite to four other Nordic artists.
The works are launched on Saturday 14th of January in Copenhagen and can be then listened as part of the programme flow at http://www.thelakeradio.com/.
The original call for artists described the idea behind the commission:
“Radio art as a genre has a long tradition in the European public service institutions. Especially in the 1960s, the different national broadcasters commissioned new works from artists, writers, and composers made specifically for radio. This practice has declined over the years, and in Denmark it is almost lost. As a radio station The Lake wants to revive this tradition! Furthermore we want to bring more sounds into the aether, that are not necessarily music. How can art for radio sound? Through the project Works for Radio, The Lake is commissioning eight new sound pieces from Nordic artists.”
A short context for my piece is described below.
The piece is a speculative theory performance for radio. Jussi Parikka’s text and reading together with artist, researcher Dr Jane Birkin (Southampton) starts with a reference to the German media theorist Walter Benjamin’s (1892-1940) radio play Lichtenberg (1933). On Lunacy is less a commentary on Benjamin’s play than an attempt to bring some of the themes into a discussion with contemporary issues of politics, technology and ecology. It starts with the roar of approval at the Tory conference in October 2016, after the prime minister Theresa May dismisses the work of human rights lawyers and activists. This roar is chilling and it resonates across many countries as a wave of populist, destructive contempt that takes different, varying forms in Europe, the USA, Russia, Turkey, etc.
On Lunacy discusses the media technological conditions of politics of voice and lack of voice, of what is heard and what is too painful to listen to. It enters into a discussion with a range of current debates about media technological transmission and interception, as well as nods to many relevant contexts in the history of radio too – from Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds (1938) to the satellite broadcasts since the 1960s. I also had in mind the various sonic and artistic voices of past decades; from Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon (1970) to the various sounds of Afrofuturism since the 1970s to name some even if they do not feature as explicit references in this work.
Radio is approached not merely as a medium of entertainment but one of military communication as well as the tactics of misinformation, confusion and mind control. Radio persists and is constantly reinvented, and the signal worlds persist in and out of the planet. The narrative trope of the moon and the interplanetary play a key role in this theoretical voice piece, but also offers a way to resurface back to the contemporary politics that features the return of the mainstream acceptance xenophobia, racism and politics of violence against particular ethnicities as well as the ecocide that haunts the contemporary moment.
On Lunacy ends with the recurring, burning question of politics (that also for example the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari posed): why do people desire their own enslavement?
Stephen Cornford offered assistance in editing and post-production of the sound. Thank you also to Ryan Bishop, the co-director of AMT research centre, who offered key thoughts on the cold war contexts of satellites and sound transmission.
The work stems from the new research and practice platform Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) at Winchester School of Art.
Cue in Gil Scott-Heron, Whitey on the Moon.
Update: This text is published inGerman in the Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft‘s blog, translated by Florian Sprenger. It is also published in Turkish in Biamag, translated by Doğan Terzi. Here is the original English version, which is also published on the Theory, Culture & Society journal’s blog.
Earwitnesses of a Coup Night: The Many Media Infrastructures of Social Action
The particularly cruel scenes in Ankara and Istanbul from July 15th and 16th circulated quickly. From eye witness accounts to images detached from their context, media users, viewers and readers was soon seeing the graphic depictions of what had happened with the added gory details, some of them fake, some of them not.
Still and moving images from the hundreds of streams that conveyed a live account of the events left many in Turkey puzzled as to what is going on. Only later most were able to form some sort of a picture of the events with the coherence of a narrative structure. By the morning the live stream on television showed military uniform soldiers raising their hands and climbing down from their tanks. What soon ensued were the by already now iconic images of public punishment: the man with his upper torso bare and the belt as his whip, the stripped soldiers in rows shamed and followed up by the series of images of expressions of collective joy as most of Turkey was relieved again. The coup was over. The unity in resisting the coup was unique. As it was summarised by many commentators: even the ones critical of the governing AK Party’s politics agreed that this was not a suitable manner of overthrowing an elected government.
However, what became evident immediately in the wake of the actual events was the quick spread of narratives and explanations about the coup night and its extent. As one journalist aptly and with a healthy dose of sarcasm put it:
Also some rather established organisations like Wikileaks got quickly on the spectacle-seeking bandwagon of the coup attempt’s repercussions. Turkish journalists and activist soon read and revealed that the so-called “AKPleaks”-documents were not really anything that interesting as it was advertised to be. As Zeynep Tufekci summarised: “According to the collective searching capacity of long-term activists and journalists in Turkey, none of the ‘Erdogan emails’ appear to be emails actually from Erdogan or his inner circle” while actually containing information that could be considered harmful to normal Turkish citizens instead.
Of course, besides commentators inside and outside Turkey, there was no lack of people with first-hand experience. Besides the usual questions that eyewitnesses were asked in many news reports about “how did things look like”, another angle was as pertinent. How did it sound? The soundscape of the coup was itself a spectacle catered to many senses: the helicopters hovering around the city; the different calibre gunfire that ranged from heavy fire from helicopters to individual pistol shots; individual explosions; car horns; sirens, and the roaring F-16 that descended at times so low so that its sonic boom broke windows of flats. Such sonic booms have their own grim history as part of the 21st century sonic warfare as cultural theorist Steve Goodman analysed the relation of modern technologies, war and aesthetics. As has been reported for years, for example Israeli military has used sonic noise of military jets in Palestine as a shock technique: “Palestinians liken the sound to an earthquake or huge bomb. They describe the effect as being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and ‘leaving you shaking inside’.”
In the midst of sonic booms, a different layer of sound was felt through the city: the mosques starting their extraordinary call to prayer and calls to gather on the streets. The latter aspect was itself triggered by multiple mediations that contributed to the mobilization of the masses. Turkish President had managed to Facetime with CNN-Turk’s live broadcast and to call his supporters to go on the streets to oppose the coup attempt. By now even the phone the commentator held has become a celebrity object with apparently even $250,000 offered for it.
But there was more to the call than the ringtone of an individual smartphone. In other words, the chain of media triggers ranged from the corporate digital videotelephony to television broadcasting to the infrastructures of the mosques to people on the streets tweeting, filming, messaging and posting on social media. All of this formed a sort of a feedback-looped sphere of information and speculation, of action and messaging, of rumours and witnessing. Hence, there was more than just traditional broadcast or digital communication that made up the media reality of this particular event.
The mosques started to amplify the political leadership’s social media call by their own acoustic means. Another network than just social media was as essential and it also proved to be irreducible to what some called the “cyberweapon” of online communications. As one commentator tried to argue commenting on the events in Turkey: “But, this is the era of cyberpower. Simply taking over the TV stations is not enough. The Internet is a more powerful means of communication than TV, and it is more resilient — especially with a sophisticated population.” However, there were also other elements in the mix that made it a more interesting and a more complex issue than merely about the “cyber”.
Turkish artist and technologist Burak Arikan had already in his earlier work mapped the urban infrastructure of Istanbul in terms of its mosques, malls and national monuments. “Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism” (2012) employs his critical mapping methodology to visualise how structures of power are part of the everyday whether we always realise these relationships or not. Based on his research, Arikan devised three maps of those architectural forms and how they connect. According to Arikan, the “maps present a comparative display of network patterns that are formed through associations linking those architectural structures that represent the three dominant ideologies –Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism– in Turkey.”
During the coup weekend, it was the network of the mosques and their minarets that became suddenly very visible – or actually, very audible. While the regular praying times have become such an aural infrastructure of the city that one does not necessarily consciously notice it, the extraordinary calls from imams reminded how dense this social, architectural fabric actually is. The thousands of Istanbul mosques became itself an explicit “sonic social network” where the average estimated reach (300 meters) of sound from the minarets is too important of a detail to neglect when one wants to understand architecture as solidifying social networks in contemporary Turkey. In the context of mid-July it was one crucial relay of communication between the private sphere in homes, the streets and the online platforms contributing to the mobilization of the masses. The musicological perspective has highlighted how sound and noise negotiate conflict across private and the public and we can extend this to a wider media ecological perspective too. This is where art and design practices can have an instrumental role to play in helping us to understand such overlapped media and sensorial realities.
Artists such as Arikan have investigated the ways how online tools and digital forms of mapping can connect to issues of urban planning and change. The visual artwork helps us to also understand how there are other social realities, less front of our eyes even if they are in our ears. This expands the wider sense of how media is and was involved in Turkey’s events, and it gives also insights to new methodologies of artistic intervention in understanding the coupling of media, architecture, visual methods and the sonic reality of urban life. And in this case of the bloody events of the coup weekend, much of the personal experience of “what happened” is now being narrated in Turkey in terms of what it sounded like – another aspect of the media reality of the coup attempt’s aftermath.
I am very glad to announce that Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048 is out from the printers, hot off the (MIT) Press! Edited with curator, writer Joasia Krysa, the book focuses on the Finnish media art pioneer Kurenniemi, and is the key international collection on the curious thinker, sound and media artist-tinkerer, who became known for his remarkable synthetizers and archival futurism. Kurenniemi has gathered attention in the electronic music circles for a longer period of time, and with Documenta 13 he become known in the international art world too. His thoughts and work resonate with the work of other early pioneers; Simon Reynolds once called him a mix of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller, and Steve Jobs. In 2002, Mika Taanila directed the film The Future is Not What It Used to Be about Kurenniemi.
The book includes foreword by the eminent media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo and a range of critical essays on digital culture, archival mania and media arts. Key academic and art writers address Kurenniemi’s work but also more: the condition of the archive and sound arts, sonic fiction and speculative futures of singularity are some of the key themes that run through the book with contributions by many established names in media studies, art and sound technologies. In addition, we included many of Kurenniemi’ own writings over the decades, including some interviews that elaborate his wider computational views of the world, including his thought: by 2040s, the human brain can be completely simulated. His archive plays a key role, like an actor in itself: the archive also featured as a key “object” as part of the earlier Kiasma exhibition and we included some snippets, as well as an extensive visual section.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History sits as part of the Leonardo-book series, edited by Sean Cubitt. The book was started by Krysa through her curatorial work at the 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition. It is thanks to Joasia that I am part of the project and she deserves major praise for her amazing eye for detail, enthusiasm and energy in driving this project, from a major exhibition to a book, and more.
Here’s a preview of the book’s table of contents and Huhtamo’s Foreword.
For review copy requests, or other questions, inquiries about the book, please get in touch! We are hosting some book events in Montreal, Helsinki, Berlin and London over the coming months but more info on those separately.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048, eds Krysa and Parikka
Over the past forty years, Finnish artist and technology pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi (b. 1941) has been a composer of electronic music, experimental filmmaker, computer animator, roboticist, inventor, and futurologist. Kurenniemi is a hybrid—a scientist-humanist-artist. Relatively unknown outside Nordic countries until his 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition, ”In 2048,” Kurenniemi may at last be achieving international recognition. This book offers an excavation, a critical mapping, and an elaboration of Kurenniemi’s multiplicities.
The contributors describe Kurenniemi’s enthusiastic, and rather obsessive, recording of everyday life and how this archiving was part of his process; his exploratory artistic practice, with productive failure an inherent part of his method; his relationship to scientific and technological developments in media culture; and his work in electronic and digital music, including his development of automated composition systems and his “video-organ,” DIMI-O. A “Visual Archive,” a section of interviews with the artist, and a selection of his original writings (translated and published for the first time) further document Kurenniemi’s achievements. But the book is not just about one artist in his time; it is about emerging media arts, interfaces, and archival fever in creative practices, read through the lens of Kurenniemi.
“Sex, annotation, and verité totale: Kurenniemi is a missing mixing desk between so many interesting aspects of late-twentieth-century culture. No wonder he ends up offering us a new archival futurism!”
—Matthew Fuller, Professor, Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
“Providing a long-overdue critical and historical introduction to the amazingly multifaceted work of media pioneer, visionary thinker, and self-archivist Erkki Kurenniemi, this book becomes both a media-archaeological excavation and engaging reflection on the challenges of writing media art history. The range of Kurenniemi’s fascinating practice—including electronic music composition, experimental filmmaking, robotics, and curation—defies traditional classifications, and calls for new historical narratives of media art. Started as a compilation of the long-term research that went into the exhibition of Kurenniemi’s work at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, the volume combines highlights of his own writings and interviews with excellent contributions by scholars, contextualizing his archives, art, music, and vision.”
—Christiane Paul, Associate Professor, School of Media Studies, The New School; Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum
“This book is a major contribution not only to the unprecedented scientific and artistic imagination of Erkki Kurenniemi, but also to the whole research on media and ‘real time.’ The text unveils and critically presents the reader with a series of complex technological and artistic systems exploring the man-machine relationship under the assumption both do have consciousness. Kurenniemi’s work provides us with one of the most solid grounds to examine perception, the brain, the will to speculate and travel back and forth between several realms of knowledge. Kurenniemi is bold; this text is bold and a great contribution to new forms of studying risk taking in art and science.”
—Chus Martínez, Head of the Institute of Art, FHNW Academy of Art and Design
Greg Hainge has a new book out on noise – Noise Matters. As part of the launch, Greg has written a short position statement on noise and asked a number of theorists and practitioners to respond. I was among those, and here briefly my brief intervention on noise, a response to Greg’s position statement on ontology of noise.
You don’t need an etymology book in your hand to know that noise connects to nausea. Just turn up your stereo loud enough and persist. Loudness turned into noise can make your bowels turn, and sickness overtake your body. A classic function of media: disorientation of the senses. Noise can clear out the room when you want it to. You can clear spaces, push people away if you want. Or make someone wish they were not in the space, when you debilitate their possibility of saying no to sound. Connecting it to psychoanalytic theories of sensation, sound is hard to resist.
Noise connects to contemporary politics, as is well argued by a range of scholars from Steve Goodman to Suzanne Cuzick. Such cultural theory-musicologists as Milla Tiainen have convincingly argued about the multiplicity of sounds that constitute bodies as collectivities of becoming. The continuum between sound-noise is the axis through which to understand the political constitution of contemporary bodies and collectivities. What holds bodies together is affect, but that glue is also a force of push and pull.
What is interesting about noise is that it is emblematic of the emergence of technical media culture. Noise too has a history, and not only in the aesthetic or even urban development sense. Noise has an engineering oriented media archaeology. Imagine the sounds and noises Denis Kaufman, better known as Dziga Vertov, created at the Petrograd Psychoneurological Institute, in the Laboratory of Hearing.
Engineering noise is related to the wider communication theory issue formally formulated in the 1940s: communication takes place always in the presence of noise. Any kind of consideration of the ontology of noise is at least an implicit nod to the fact that noise becomes measurable in the age of technical media. It becomes an issue of epistemology, in a manner that bypasses the semantic understanding of noise. We are not dealing with meaning, but with various frequencies and patterns that define the world of information and sound. Both information and sound are ontologically time-critical: they unfold in time, and in ways that are not only experiential in the sense that phenomenology taught us, but speculative. There is noise everywhere, as Hainge points out, referring to Bogost and the black noise of objects. Even humans are “noisy narrowband devices” as Licklider coined us in comparison to computers.
“Message or Noise?” This was a shorter text by Michel Foucault, and picked up by the media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst, who has been one of the theorists keen to rescue noise and signals from meaning-based approaches. Instead, in the age of information, even human perception becomes conditioned by the events of signal processing and signal-to-noise ratio in the transmission of mediatic content. This argument by Ernst resonates with a range of material media theory emphases of recent years, including that of Friedrich Kittler. In the age of technical media, we are able to record pure noise as obediently as the harmonious meaningful phrases of poetry, and transmission takes place in a careful engineering of that aforementioned ratio: signal to noise. Hence, it is not a question of message or noise, just that of messages in noise. And noise in messages.
Good news for the start of 2013: the volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings Digital Memory and the Archive is out! The book is soon available in bookstores. The collection that I edited is the first to introduce this very important German media theorist whose style of media archaeology is highly exciting and provocative. Ernst is one of the significant names in the German media studies landscape, and represents one of the directions where theory is going in the post-Friedrich Kittler world.
Ernst’s interest in media archaeology is very material, and insists on the agency of the machine. His theories are interested in material epistemologies and the operationality of old media devices. Media devices govern our ways of seeing and hearing, but also our modes of knowledge. Hence, Ernst’s media theory is a way to understand the change in our archival logic in software culture. But it’s not only about the digital and not only about archives. Indeed, his writings on the sonic and in general media arts are important insights into a meticulous material media theory that represents a unique way to understand the persistence of history and time. Ernst writes his theory through mediatic paths: from television to internet cultures, media arts to archival institutions, Hertzian discoveries to sound.
The collection has a longer introduction by me, as well as the section introductions that I wrote. Ernst was kind enough to write his own preface to this English edition of his writings where he pitches the idea of cross-Atlantic influences and meditation on what is happening in media studies at the moment. An inspiring read. Or in Wendy Chun’s words, quoting her endorsement:
“Digital Memory and the Archive offers the most compelling and insightful account published to date of how and why objects matter. Moving beyond textual analysis, its careful, theoretically rigorous engagement with the relic—the physicality of the archive—promises to change the direction of the digital humanities. Thanks to this book, we will all now be addressing the microtemporality of archives and the mechanics of remaining. Finally, a definitive collection in English of one of the most brilliant and influential media archaeologists.”
Below you will find the short blurb from the publisher University of Minnesota Press website as well as the table of contents.
In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.
In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant. Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.
Ernst’s interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems—from library catalogs to sound recordings—have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.
Contents of Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive
Archival Media Theory: An Introduction to Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeology , by Jussi Parikka
Media Archaeology as a Trans-Atlantic Bridge, Wolfgang Ernst
Part I. The Media Archaeological Method
1. Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines
2. Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media
Part II. From Temporality to the Multimedial Archive
3. Underway to the Dual System: Classical Archives and Digital Memory
4. Archives in Transition: Dynamic Media Memories
5. Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on Television
6. Discontinuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?
Part III. Microtemporal Media
7. Telling versus Counting: A Media-Archaeological Point of View
8. Distory: 100 Years of Electron Tubes, Media-Archaeologically Interpreted vis-à-vis 100 Years of Radio
9. Towards a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations
10. Experimenting Media‐Temporality: Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing
Appendix. Archive Rumblings: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst , by Geert Lovink
I interviewed Paul DeMarinis in July 2011 in Berlin about his media archaeological art practices and methodology.
It was originally in the context of the Creative Technologies Review podcasts we did with Julio D’Escrivan, but the archives of those podcasts are not available so I wanted to share this interview (audio, mp3) for those interested.