Before we begin navel-gazing, we would like to start with a brief backwards glance to remind ourselves how radio, the medium that we work in, looked in the very beginning, in the early attempts to introduce a device that was to revolutionize home entertainment. Although we now work in broadband radio and not with traditional Hertzian waves (with all the advantages and drawbacks that this implies), some of the slogans that we are going to recover from ads of the twenties, thirties and forties will help us to introduce Ràdio Web MACBA, an on-line radio project that complements, illustrates and reinforces the programming of the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).
The following vintage ads from the fascinating collection at http://www.vintageadbrowser.com particularly caught our eye:
"The musical instrument of radio"
(Music Master Radio Reproducer, 1923)
"Look daddy! I can make music, too!"
(WorkRite Manufacturing Company’s Radio, 1924)
"A mirror to musical tone"
(Zenith Radio Corporation, 1927)
"The set that has no competition"
(Zenith Radio, 1927)
"Press the button and – there's your station"
(Zenith Radio Corporation's Zenith Automatically Tuning Radios, 1928)
"...and simplicity in operation"
(Radio Corporation of America, 1928)
"Turn your dial to the most unusual"
(Various radio station's Radio Program, 1929)
"Canned music on trial"
(American Federation of Musician's Radio Program, 1929)
"Read the meaning of these words with YOUR EARS"
(De Forest Audion's Audions, 1929)
"For better clearer radio reception"
(CeCo Manufacturing Company’s CeCo Radio Tubes, 1928)
"Weight – an important factor in tone"
(Stromberg-Carlson Telephone Mfg. Co.’s Radio, 1928)
"Forward march! To better radio reception. Why listen to only part of the station on the air or hear or hear only part of the program"
(Ergon Electric Corp.’s Radio Tubes, 1930)
"A very self-contained little Majestic... The 'mighty monarch of the air' has become a pigmy in size (…) No ground necessary, just plug in and tune in"
(Majestic’s Various, 1933)
"Speed, symbol of progress"
(Cable Radio Tube Corporation's Radio Tubes, 1930)
"New times mean better times – to us it means a better radio"
(RCA Victor Radio Ad Model 280-110-100, 1933)
"Extra hours of perfect performance"
(Majestic Radio Tube's Radio Tubes, 1930)
"You want your radio to have 3 things: ...thrilling foreign reception ...super lifelike tone ...a cabinet of rare beauty"
(RCA Victor Radios Ad Models 118-242-281-128, 1934).
These ads and slogans are obviously only a small diversion to get our bearings in the medium. But if we look carefully, we can see that we still retain many of the characteristics of that early radio invented by Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla (Brenner, 2009), and given shape and content by David Sarnoff, Edwin Howard Armstrong and Lee De Forest (Lewis, 1991 and Burns, 1992). Back in 1981, when - in the first video broadcast by MTV - The Buggles (authors of the timeless hit Video Killed the Radio Star) finally put music and images to the prediction made by Sarnoff years earlier when he was planning the introduction of television as a new form of family entertainment in American homes, nobody would have imagined that radio would end up regaining a prominent role in the not-too-distant future. Ninety years after its commercialization, reception, size and audio quality continue to be key issues when it comes to conceiving an on-line radio. And in the last five years, podcasting has not only allowed radio to once again overcome new geographic frontiers (one of the principal desires that drove its invention), but also has put the microphone back in the hands of amateurs. Both of these reasons inspired our decision to try a little experiment called Ràdio Web MACBA back in 2006.
A Pigmy in Size
With a permanent staff of two (not exclusively dedicated to this project) and a network of collaborators numbering fifteen at most (eleven of whom are curators of different programs), in four years we have managed to define four lines of RWM programming and launch, distributed free of charge, a collection of on-line publications called Quaderns d'àudio (Audio Notebooks). In April 2010, we will reach our 145th program (an estimate based on the schedule for 2010), and we have had a 217% increase in visits to the site since the 2008 re-launch, which we will explain below, with 17,342 visits and 35,397 page views in 2009 (according to Google Analytics).
This growth can be explained by our slow but steady path towards the consolidation of Ràdio Web MACBA as a platform for the diffusion of programs relating to contemporary sound creation, heedless of geographic boundaries or language barriers. According to 2009 figures, the domain is visited by users from more than 90 countries. Spain and the United States are the major use countries, with 58% and 12% of all visits respectively, followed by the United Kingdom, France and Mexico, which make up 8.46% of users. Other prominent countries include Germany, Brazil, Portugal and Argentina (with a total of 6.22%). The list is rounded off with countries from all five continents, including some that are notable for their distance in geographic and cultural terms: Japan, South Korea, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Ecuador and the Baltic countries.
The statistics throw up some interesting data: while most of our visits are referred to us from the Museum's principal Web site, given that there is a direct link on the home page, the remainder come from references like Wikipedia, but above all from links on blogs and Web sites specializing in sound art and contemporary music. Reference sites make up almost 60% of the sources of visits, while search engines like Google only account for 5.46%. Conclusion: our users reach Ràdio Web MACBA through word of mouth. In addition, 41% of our hits are from returning users.
To close the statistics section, some figures relating to our programming: around 78% of users are shared more or less equally among the Curatorial, Research and Specials sections (explained below). The remaining 22% are accounted for by visits to the recently created Quaderns d’àudio section, tags, the site search engine and other sections.
In financial terms, Ràdio Web MACBA cost around 12,300 € to make (including program development and production) in 2006, the year of its launch. It did not even have its own budget at that time, so it used the resources allocated to the Web site as a whole. In 2007 it began to have its own budget allocation, and at the end of the year the Museum invested in its re-design and development (around 15,000 €) and in curator fees and the production of new lines of programming (also around 15,000 €). In subsequent years, most of our budget has gone into production (43,580 € in 2009), with a small amount set aside for technical developments. In 2010, the Ràdio Web MACBA budget is almost the same as the budget for the overall MACBA Web site, and, as in 2009, it is almost entirely earmarked for content production.
All of these figures have brought us a great deal of joy, as does the unwaveringly positive feedback from artists and guests, the recognition of the international Museums and the Web 2009 conference through its Best Audio Podcast award, and the many interactions on the Net, ranging from having our programs broadcast on FM radio (as part of the Artes Electroacústicas program on Radio Buap in Mexico City) to spontaneous remixes of our material and all kinds of on-line feedback.
A Very Self-Contained Little Majestic
In an organic, totally unpremeditated way, we have been building up a network of collaborators who have something in common: most of them belong to the first generation of compulsive music lovers who were able to set up a studio in their bedrooms rather than taking over their parents' garage. So (once again) we benefit from the technological revolution of the nineties which entailed the gradual introduction of personal computers as a necessary, ubiquitous, technology. Working in a medium and at a time that makes it possible to attain a professional finish even with means that are little more than those of a home studio, we work with artists, musicians and producers who are capable of overseeing the production of a program from beginning to end, from drawing up a proposal (based on a commission and designed collaboratively), to delivery of the MP3 and final documentation. "A very self-contained little Majestic", whose success lies in the sum of several factors:
- preliminary research to choose subjects of interest and the right candidate to develop them,
- a certain spirit of adventure,
- providing follow-up and assistance during the production period, and
- plenty of patience when the deadline approaches.
Once the framework of a commission has been established, our role consists mainly of providing management, production and diffusion support. In the midst of Web 2.0 euphoria, in which companies and institutions have started to share content creation with users, with Ràdio Web MACBA we have chosen to work with artists to create content of shared interest.
New Times Mean Better Times: To Us That Means a Better Radio
Ràdio Web MACBA began when we set up the Web site in May 2006, armed with a great deal of enthusiasm and very few resources. Its gestation was based on reflections like:
- What tools does the Internet offer that could allow us to experiment with transmitting the ideas and knowledge that are produced in our institution?
- What would happen if we tried a different way of bringing our Web visitors to the content that the Museum constantly produces?
We wanted an accessible, familiar, radiophonic format that would allow users to access this content whenever they felt like it, on demand.
Taking note of what FM stations were already doing on their Web sites and some exclusively on-line radio stations and projects like WPS1 (http://www.wps1.org), WFMU (http://www.wfmu.org) and UbuWeb (http://ubu.com), we decided to begin a series of small radio capsules in MP3 format that users could listen to and download from the new domain http://rwm.macba.cat, and at that same time offer a podcast subscription service. We began with Son[i]a, a 10- to 12- minute magazine program consisting of interviews with artists and curators, short sound pieces and the sounds of people and activities at the museum, releasing two or three programs each week. This pace left us all dead on our feet, but the statistics soon proved that there was somebody on the other end.
Once we had seen that the creative potential of the project went beyond simply broadcasting the different voices that passed through the museum (an essential task in terms of documenting the present continuous of the MACBA), we began to develop other formats that were equally interesting but not necessarily related to the day-to-day running of the museum.
We started by taking the simple but logical step of creating a new section, Specials, that allowed us to offer alternative content to complement the exhibitions and public programs. We say "alternative" content because it seeks to document events, issues and artists from a different perspective, making the most of the potential of the medium that we move in: radio. We have never set out to provide a voiceover to the material exhibited (as an audio guide would, for example) or to offer audio of museum content (like a lecture), as we already publish these kinds of materials on the MACBA Web site. Instead, the idea is to seek the complicity of the exhibition curators in order to create specific, stand-alone programs, and even to literally and metaphorically put the microphone in the hands of other agents who can trace a parallel course.
This approach has allowed us to commence our own lines of work, such as reflecting on the radio medium itself (an analysis of John Cage and the different ways he used radio), recovering unreleased sound material by artists included in the MACBA Collection (like Juan Muñoz's works for radio), and documenting musical movements of interest (whether it be by celebrating the festive and revolutionary fervor of Tropicália or reviving the sound legacy of Fluxus). All of these are linked to the Museum's programming, but go further than simple interviews and contribute added value. Some of our programs have also had the full and active support of the relevant curators and/or artists, who have created and presented specific programs for Ràdio Web MACBA (such as the original exploration of military music by Basque artist Asier Mendizabal, and the informal analysis of the influence of the Cold War on popular music by Serge Guilbaut).
In keeping with our desire to complement the activities that take place in the museum, in 2010 we started a new line of work in the Specials section, in which artists from the MACBA Collection speak about their own works. This new series entitled Fons is envisaged as an audiovisual documentary, conceived in parallel with a homonymous series designed specifically for radio. The first installment, released in February 2010, focuses on the artist Esther Ferrer.
A Mirror to Musical Tone
With the expansion of Ràdio Web MACBA in 2008, we launched two new autonomous lines of programming, Research and Curatorial. Two new sections with two new challenges: to program our own content and to present sound in a radiophonic context.
Research aims to provide close-up views of key scenes and figures in the contemporary art world in order to develop our own sound archive, aimed at both neophytes and specialists. We began with Avant, a series of twelve monographs produced by Catalan artist Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, featuring first-person accounts of the experiences of twelve figures who played key roles in the Spanish sound avant-garde. Conceived with the idea of capturing a particular moment in history as well as generating a document that will become a reference work, Avant complements the oral testimony of each of the featured guests with an exclusive musical compilation, in a very conscious effort to spread their work and ideas.
Meanwhile, Curatorial was created to function as a sound exhibition space in which to experiment with the radio format. This means it can adapt to the style and requirements of different curators, and so far it has taken an essay form in Variations, Jon Leidecker’s series on the history of sampling, and followed the tradition of radio art in Lines of Sight, the seven-part series in which Barbara Held and Pilar Subirà explored the creative possibilities of the concept of transmission.
Insummer 2010, German musician Felix Kubin will take over the Curatorial section with an ambitious, imaginative reconstruction of avant-garde sound production and experimental pop in several Eastern European countries, through a mix of documentary and utopian fiction. Meanwhile, British artists Joe Gilmore and Mark Fell will produce a series exploring the origins, contemporary practices, technologies, approaches, scope and impact of generative processes in music. This last project will include RWM's first commissions as well as basic software implementations to illustrate specific processes.
A Cabinet Of Rare Beauty
Since its relaunch two years ago, Ràdio Web MACBA has become a content-generating platform that has transcended the limits of radio. While our basic intention was initially to become a showcase for the museum and its activities, the production process for RWM's different areas of interest has ended up generating a convergence of ideas and related information that has naturally gone on to "contaminate" other spaces. This synergy has been expressed in many different ways, such as the programming of one-off performances and lectures or of a whole program of activities (scheduled for spring 2010) and even an exhibition at the MACBA Study Center called Possibility of Action: the Life of the Score, focusing on graphic notation and linked to the Curatorial series Lines of Sight led by Barbara Held and Pilar Subirà. At the same time, the research that goes into creating each series generates a bibliography, discography and related materials that then become part of the documentary collection of the MACBA Study Center - together with the actual program - in the form of comprehensive thematic packs with in-depth information about each subject. In the case of resources and documentation that can be followed on-line, it later goes on to become part of our Delicious account.
In 2009, inspired by the digital publication Quaderns portàtils (Portable Notebooks) (macba.cat, 2010) - one of the MACBA Web site's most original and successful projects - we launched Quaderns d'àudio, an on-line publication that aims to "complement the lines of work developed by RWM through the release of previously unpublished texts and the critical edition of hard-to-find works that are important for understanding and delving into sound art in the fields of both music and art" (Ràdio Web MACBA, 2010). In the first issue we published a text by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros (also the curator of Avant) entitled BLACKOUT: Representation, transformation and de-control in the sound work of Yasunao Tone, which focused on Japanese artist Yasunao Tone, whose work had been featured in the series Lines of Sight and presented in the related exhibition.
Cuaderno de Yokohama (Yokohama Notebook) came out of a similar crossing of ideas, when Avant presented a monograph on Valencian composer Llorenç Barber, who also participated in an exhibition on graphic scores. This second issue consists of a compilation of a series of previously unpublished small-scale scores made in Japan in 2005, in a special edition that includes texts by the artist. In 2010 we are already preparing an essay related to the Curatorial series by Jon Leidecker, which we hope will become a key text in the literature on the use of the radio as an instrument.
The process of building bridges between radiophonic production and other lines of work that allow us to delve deeper into the subjects of our research is turning out to be a highly rewarding and interesting experience, one that replicates and intensifies the viral nature inherent in working on the Internet in other spheres and format.
Press The Button And – There’s Your Station
Ràdio Web MACBA has a modular graphic structure that remains consistent throughout the Web site. The upper frame of the screen display buttons to access information and static content (about, search, Delicious, language, RSS...) and the different programming lines (each with its own color, to graphically emphasize the conceptual distinctions). Meanwhile, the body of the page, which contains most of the content, is divided into three modules: a description of each section on the left, a list of programs (displaying the most recent first) in the center, and the details of the selected capsule on the right, including a control panel for playing or downloading the audio and a description.
With an average of three and a maximum of five new capsules a month, one of our main objectives is to present new information in the most direct way possible, so that new users can access the audio without having to follow links, and returning users can easily locate new content. For this reason, the shows are available on demand, either on-line or by subscription (RSS, podcast, or iTunes) from the home page. The content is always distributed according to the same idea, striving for intuitive Web browsing. Curiously enough, it matches the spirit of Zenith Radio Corporation's 1928 slogan, "Press the button and – there's your station."
Overall, the Ràdio Web MACBA design seeks efficacy and a certain austerity of means in favor of content and ease of use. To do this, we interpret the high exit rate - a trend that is accompanied by a constant increase in the number of listens and downloads - as a positive indicator, understanding that users 1) know how to find what they are looking for and 2) prefer to consume our content on their computers rather than on-line.
But the flip side is that having a home page linked to current activities and new content can make it difficult to display less recent capsules. We are currently working on ideas that will allow the home page and the page for each programming line to highlight content that is not time-specific but can easily end up buried under all of the new material that is produced at a rate that is increasing as Ràdio Web MACBA becomes consolidated.
With this objective in mind, in 2010 we created the Tag of the Month section on the home page: the tag lists existing capsules based on a conceptual overview of the site. Our content is publicized by a monthly newsletter which announces new on-line material available on macba.cat and Ràdio Web MACBA, and is sent to all subscribers to the MACBA Web site. This means the Tag of the Month offers us a pretext for including earlier material that audiences can rediscover through the newsletter. Meanwhile, we are also looking at possible solutions for increasing the visibility of older series.
To close this section, some technical data: Ràdio Web MACBA uses a MySQL database managed through a very simple custom-made CMS application that follows the same modular logic as the graphic structure of the site. The data display on the client is managed via xhtml files combined with a panel developed on Flash that controls program playback and downloading, RSS and iTunes subscriptions and the display of PDF files.
…Thrilling Foreign Reception
The day-to-day problems entailed in working in a bilingual context (Spanish and Catalan) on a project of international scope become more complex if your framework is the Internet and your tool is audio. Although the Web site - the interface and all the downloadable texts - is available in three languages, the programs themselves can be linguistically eclectic.
On Ràdio Web MACBA we try to stay away from artifice and let the projects themselves determine the language (by using the language of the guest or the curator). In practice, this translates into a complex language puzzle, in which 34 capsules are in Catalan, 28 are in Spanish, 44 are in English, and 15 are mixed. As a public institution working in a cultural context such as Catalonia, where these are highly sensitive issues, we are committed to making an effort to offer the maximum number of tools to allow a satisfactory understanding of the programming.
We have applied a similar philosophy to the difficult issue of copyright. In this day and age, technological development is far outpacing the legal framework's ability to keep up, and there are constant changes (as we were drafting this paper, news reached us that the US company Volomedia is trying to patent "a method for providing episodic media"; that is, podcasting) (Jeschke, 2009). In Spain, the SGAE (similar to the ASCAP) is yet to define a rights management framework for projects like ours, based on the diffusion and syndication of on-line radio programs on an international scale, non-profit, and with no other purpose than to make the material known to audiences. To avoid having the project coming to a standstill as we wait for this situation to normalize, we manage permissions through the authors/rights owners whenever a direct contact is available. In addition, the related documentation that can be downloaded on PDF attempts to list all the sources used and includes a disclaimer in which we express our sincere intention to correct any possible errors.
We would very specially like to thank all the collaborators who make this project possible. The vintage advertisement images used in this paper were taken from http://www.vintageadbrowser.com
Brenner, Paul (2009). "Tesla Against Marconi: The Dispute for the Radio Patent Paternity" (http://www.teslasociety.com/pdf/tesla_against_marconi.pdf). Retrieved December 31, 2009.
Burns, Ken (1992). "Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio". Crystal City (Virginia): PBS Documentary.
Jeschke, Rebecca (2009). "EFF Tackles Bogus Podcasting Patent - And We Need Your Help" (http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/11/eff-tackles-bogus-podcasting-patent-and-we-need-yo). Retrieved December 31, 2009.
Lewis, Tom (1991). "Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio". New York: Harper Collins.
macba.cat (2010). "Quaderns portàtils" (http://www.macba.cat/qp). Retrieved January 31, 2009.
Ràdio Web MACBA (2010). "Quaderns d’àudio" (http://rwm.macba.cat/en/quaderns-audio). Retrieved December 31, 2009.