Computer's Reflections on the Future of Broadcasting
of Artificial Art Amsterdam
of us know from personal experience that the objects which are deliberately
created by artists to function as "works of art" are in fact not
the most effective triggers for deeply satisfying esthetic emotions.
Our most elevated states of serenely harmonious or dizzyingly complex
contemplation do not occur at gallery openings; they occur when
we think about the concepts engendered by modern science and mathematics.
And our most intense states of enraptured sensuous ecstasy do not
occur in the concert hall; they occur in our bodily encounters with
the beautiful forms of nature.
distinct properties of human artists seem to be largely responsible
for the curious limitations of their art: (1) the conventional nature
of their styles, which is a direct consequence of the associative,
similarity-based dynamics of human cognitive processes; and (2)
their embarrassingly obvious involvement with money, fame and prestige,
which seeps through all their work and which effectively cuts it
off from the realm of disinterested esthetic experiences. I have
often emphasized that art-generating computer algorithms do not
suffer from these problems: they can explore their search spaces
in a completely systematic way, which results in a much more interesting
and varied output; and they have a properly detached attitude, unspoilt
by extraneous motives.
art is thus intrinsically superior to art designed by human artists.
It is very important, therefore, that humans and computers keep
working together on the development of increasingly subtle theories
about form and perception, increasingly extensive data inventories
about the existing world, increasingly complex algorithms that exploit
all this knowledge to generate visual, auditory and/or theatrical
output, and increasingly powerful hardware for running these algorithms.
Art history will find its culmination in the development of increasingly
sophisticated computer art.
ongoing projects at the Institute of Artificial Art in Amsterdam,
we explore the consequences of this situation for the various arts
and media. So far, our publications have mostly focussed on music,
theatre, and the visual arts. But a rapidly expanding strand in
our research is concerned with the medium called radio: the
continuous broadcasting of an ongoing audio signal, using analog
or digital encoding, through the airwaves or via cable networks.
In this note I want to give an overview of our current ideas, projects
and plans in this area.
is a unique medium, defined by very specific constraints and possibilities.
It is one of the few media that deal exclusively with sound. (Unlike,
for instance, live music performances, which are in fact theatrical
events.) This sound is transmitted as an ongoing real-time stream.
The delay between broadcasting and receiving is unnoticeable, and
radio stations may typically broadcast continuously for years or
decades without interruption. A radio station thus provides an ongoing
sound environment that anyone within its broadcasting range may
tune into whenever they want.
this medium can be used in many exciting and interesting ways. There
are many different kinds of sounds in the world, which people find
meaningful for many different reasons. There are sounds emanating
from humans, from animals, from machines, and from natural processes.
These sounds may be produced completely inadvertently, or they may
be intended to commmunicate information to humans, animals, or machines.
There are body sounds, cries and whispers; words, lectures, songs
and conversations; string quartets, ragas, gamelans and dance parties;
jungles, cities, highways and factories; thunderstorms, earthquakes
and wars; barely audible physical phenomena that are waiting to
be amplified; and mathematical structures that can be admired if
they are translated into sound. It is not difficult to imagine a
large set of radio stations broadcasting in a particular area, each
transmitting a different "soundscape", comprising an ever-changing
variety of sounds that people may find interesting, stimulating
when we listen to the radio stations that actually exist today,
we witness an unusually clear demonstration of the human inability
to exploit the possibilities of a medium in a creative way. When
it was first invented, radio was merely boring. It did not invent
any new formats but relied on the idea of a "virtual concert hall":
well-defined sequences of music pieces and talking persons. That
was a disappointing start, but it has been downhill from there.
The music and talking presented in this format have become increasingly
banal and self-serving. Radio and television have turned into showcases
of embarrassing self-expression, shameless manipulation, and greedy
exploitation. I do not need to belabor this point any further; I
have never encountered anyone who denied that this is a fair description
of the situation. Nevertheless, nobody is doing anything to change
is the reason for the decline of radio and tv, and is it possible
to do something about it? Many people seem to feel that the degradation
of the media is an inexorable fate, following some law of nature;
and that we should acquiesce in this process because there is no
way to stop it. This is a valid point. The decline of the media
is a direct consequence of the unfortunate properties of human persons
that I mentioned above: the conventional nature of their cognitive
processes, and their inclination toward self-expression, fame and
people get a chance to work with media like radio or television,
they get obsessed with a sublime mental image of a vast, almost
infinite audience -- all these tuners, speakers and tv sets in all
these living rooms across the country and across the world. And
this obsession brings out the worst in these people: they all want
the adoration of this whole audience, and they all want the money
of this whole audience. So they engage in a desperate competition
with each other for the attention of this whole audience. And therefore,
they try to tune in with their most precise fantasy about the lowest
common denominator of this audience -- that is, with the vilest
instincts in themselves.
process is indeed an unavoidable, tragic consequence of human nature.
The solution of the media problem is thus very simple -- although
it is exactly the kind of solution that people tend to overlook.
The solution is: Get the humans out of the loop! People had
their chance to show what they do with the media if we leave it
up to them; all computers and other machinery have cooperated quietly
and performed their duties in an infrastructure where people were
making decisions about everything all the time. And we have seen
the result: garbage. Humans had their chance and they fucked up.
Now is the time for a completely different media policy, where other
kinds of sound-generating processes get a chance to show what they
can come up with. This is the time for animals, machines and algorithms
to stand up for their rights.
therefore propose a new media policy which can be summarized very
briefly: Use all available bandwidth for fully automatic stations,
which broadcast information rather than manipulation.
all advertising. Establish dedicated radio stations for the diffusion
of sound-environments created by algorithmic music, physical processes,
industrial machinery, randomly selected audio-documents, and arbitrarily
sampled live sound. These stations should together take up all available
bandwidth, in order to replace the current human-controlled
stations which broadcast expressive music and manipulative messages.
Institute of Artificial Art has started to explore this idea over
the last few years in experimental radio broadcasts, using three
broadcasts on existing official radio stations (WKCR, Pacifica
Radio, WFNX, VPRO, NCRV).
broadcasts on illegal pirate stations (Radio 100).
broadcasts (lasting several days, weeks or months), employing
dedicated legal or illegal local radio stations, established
temporarily in Groningen (Niggendijker), Amsterdam (De Waag,
De Appel, De Balie), Utrecht (Radio DOM), Rotterdam (V2, Witte
de With) and Cologne (Kunsthochschule für Medien).
these broadcasts, we have explored several ideas for automatic sound
music (e.g. The Machines, a band of electric motors who
can play electric guitars for arbitrarily long periods).
generated electronic music (sometimes employing "recycled" live
or archival sound from existing radio stations).
mixes of existing music and other sounds available on grammophone
records, CD's and audio-tapes.
mixed live environmental sounds picked up by computer-controlled
microphones ("Radio DOM").
mixed sound files downloaded live from randomly selected remote
Internet sources ("Agent Radio").
believe that "Agent Radio" is our most innovative project in this
range, with the biggest potential for the future. That is why the
Random Radio Department of the Institute of Artificial Art will
present and demonstrate "Agent Radio" as our contribution to the
Festival "Soundscapes for 2000".
Radio" is the music of the future: one inexpensive piece of software
which will replace all radio stations, audio-CD's and electronic
concerts. The principle is simple: in the near future, all kinds
of music pieces, spoken texts and other sounds will be accessible
through the internet. "Agent Radio" downloads random selections
from this material, and presents an audio-mix of its selection.
Depending on its selection criteria and its mixing style, "Agent
Radio" can generate a wide variety of different kinds of soundscapes,
from drunken parties to soothing environments or austere electronic
music -- and all these different kinds of soundscapes will be ever-changing
and unpredictable, because the material on the net is virtually
infinite and always expanding.
radio-broadcasting as we know it continues to exist, a substantial
part of the available bandwidth should be devoted to "Agent"-style
automatic stations, which transmit an intelligent mix of the sounds
of the world through the local airwaves. It is obvious that most
listeners would find this more satisfying than the current garbage.
to the extent that the radio audience will gain high-bandwidth access
to the internet, "Agent Radio" will start to show its true potential:
it will enable everyone to listen to their own, customized radio
programs. Everyone with a cable-modem can run their own copy of
"Agent Radio", and will be able to change the selection criteria
and the mixing style of this copy to their own preferred settings.
In this way, everyone can create their own, personalized sound stream
-- a sound stream which does not reiterate one boring commercial
playlist, but which keeps actively searching the net for relevant
sound files, and keeps combining these in different ways.
time has come for people to stop their slavish submission to a few
mindless radio-makers and cynical media-moguls. With "Agent Radio",
everyone can have their own radio station!