We live in an extraordinary time when the democratic cornucopia of media is very close to becoming reality and where there are hardly any technical barriers, and if there are the free software community will be capable of solving them. Yet the power elites have already found ways of either subverting that and subverting the creative impulse and the desire of the people, or they are simply moving the goalposts by reminding us that they have naked force on their side.
Only 10 years later, in 1980, the post-hippie rock industry had become one of the repressive aspects of capitalism's media machine. The democratic 'spectacle' had been enhanced by modern subconscious manipulation techniques derived from advertisement, the rise of 'telegenic' politicians such as Reagan to power and new techniques of opinion polling. In the early 1980ies centrist German political parties had reached a compromise over the liberalisation of democratic media. The deal foresaw the running of privately owned radio and TV in post-war West Germany for the first time.
In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere Jürgen Habermas (1962/1990) gives a historic account of the formation of the public sphere and its decline. There he argues that in the feudal system, while public events did happen, they were merely of a representational character. Everybody was present, but in a representational capacity only, there was no public discourse, no difference of opinion was allowed and all actual power was centralized in the institution of the souvereign/monarch. The events of public life followed a strict ceremonial protocol.
With an accute sense of urgency the leftwing playwright Bertolt Brecht and the media theorist Walter Benjamin tried to formulate an emancipatory and anti-fascist artistic theory and practice. When fascism, according to Benjamin, amounted to an aestheticisation of politics, revolutionary communism was engaged in the politicisation of the arts.1 Brecht and Benjamin (and also some of the Russian Futurists) mark the starting point of a participative paradigm in art which aims at using technical media in an emancipatory way.
The prohibitions and regulations kicking in at WWI which should in a way never be lifted afterwards, only strengthened, would stop artists from making their own signals and therefore take away a great deal of autonomy from what 'radio artists' could do. The importance of making one's own signal is underpinned by the work of the Japanese artist Tetsuo Kogawa who, in the 1980ies, was the founder of a MiniFM movement of people building their own transceivers from cheap electronic parts.
After Hertz found out how to make and receive waves it would still take a long time for radio to find its 'form'. With form I mean the predominant type of social usage of radio waves combined with a specific technological appearance or, in German die apparative Form (apparatic form). Radio, as any mass medium, exists on two different layers, as an imaginary social signification and in its distinct appearance as a 'thing'. I use the term social imaginary significations as closely as possible in the way Cornelius Castoriadis proposes it.
Although the dominant mode of technoscientific 'invention' at the turn to the 20th century was based on rationalism it also brought about its flipside of electromagnetic esotericism. Telegraphy and radio triggered a new age of spiritism.1
1. Even now, images of Tesla in his laboratory evoke associations with alchemism (Image of Tesla in his laboratory); regarding the connection between electromagnetism and spiritualism, cf.
My earliest radio memories go back to my grandmother's living room/kitchen. In this two bed room flat in a social housing estate in Graz in the 1960ies radio was the dominant medium. Every day during lunchtime the whole family would listen to an hour long news programme on Austrian state radio ORF. Austrian politics as well as world affairs broke into the domestic reality of our kitchen through this apparatus: The Cuban crisis, the assassinations of the Kennedy's, the Vietnam war, the war in Palestine, the political awakening of Muhammed Ali and the student's revolt.
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