Radio in the Chiasme[1]

by Tetsuo Kogawa

Radio has been analyzed by the set of two concepts: sender and receiver or sending and receiving. This is a convenient metaphor, but prevents to understand what's really happening in radio. In my view, the sending-receiving metaphor is wrong. As Maturana and Varela argued already, “there is no ‘transmitted information’ in communication” but “communication takes place each time there is behavioral coordination in a realm of structural coupling.” [2] It is necessary to understand radio as a "structural coupling" and a holistic event.

Radio has been seeking for further range of the service area. This is corresponding to the basic trend of machine technology that invented the steam engine, the functionally required spatial environment, and the modern life-style. Now that the machine technology is finally ending and has been integrated into the electrodigital technology, radio is gradually less interested in expanding its service area. In fact, it becomes technically easier to cover all over the world with sounds and images by using satellites and the Internet. No more too much energy for expanding. That's why digital radio and high-definition television is up-to-date. However, exploration/exploitation of the quality of sound and image will not fulfill the most radical potential of radio. What do we see behind the horizon of the end of modernist use or radio? What is the new possibility of radio in the age of post-electrodegital technology?

Increase of the channels and stations is only a development of the content. The structural relationship between the transmission and the reception has been not so different even in community radio, micro radio and digital radio. They are not free from conveying messages and cannot overcome the sender-receiver metaphor. If transmission/reception is considered differently in the structure, the concept such as “content” and “form” must be reconsidered. If the point is re-invention of radio, it should be done in both the transmitting/receiving form and the content. But the more important point would be structural re-coupling of radio in transmission and reception.

Consciously or unconsciously, radio art has been providing many experiments of such re-coupling. Given to be an art form, radio art had not to mind conveying messages. The Futurists critically pushed the message to the wall of anti-message, but John Cage overcame the modernist antagonism and dichotomy. Mini FM, the postmodern radio turned out to be a unique challenge to change the structure of transmission and reception of radio. Given the limited and much smaller service area than community radio, the listener had to come close to the station catching the airwaves; then the station became a party place and “radio party” started. Intentionally and accidentally, Mini FM neglected to broad-cast and even narrow-cast: it deconstructed cast (throw out) itself. Phenomenologically bracketing the range of transmitting airwaves, radio party of Mini FM found a micro model of the structural coupling of transmission and reception. [3]

Radio is not only a media-form but also a phenomenon of radiation. This argument lets us re-think about radio from a different perspective and reminds us that radio is, first and foremost, an emitting action/process rather than receiving. Receiving would be the part of transmitting. In any physical process, there is no receiving process that is just passive. In the beginning is the radio-emission. Even receiving by a radio set emits something. An action of radio transmission-reception would be a kind of self-oscillation and the relationship between this action and the audience would be a resonance that induces our various emotions that literally move our body.

The series of my performance using tiny transmitters have an aspect to experiment such a re-coupling by minimizing the range of transmission-reception. In my radio performance Penser avec les mains, the audience would be present at the process of how transmission-reception starts, how my hands function both as a transmitter and as a receiver, and that the borders between electronics and human body are interwining.

The point of contact between technology and nature is our body. While Denis de Rougemont wrote that “de penser avec ses mains” is “la vraie condition de l'homme” [4], Merleau-Ponty wrote that “par ce recroisement en elle [mon main] du touchant et du tangible, ses mouvements propres s'incorporent ? l'univers qu’ils interrogent, sont report?s sur la m?me carte que lui.” [5] If our hands are the minimal unit of our body, to transmit/receive with my hands might temporarily provide a visual and audible process where technology, art and our existence resonate together.

[1] The title of "chiasme" derived from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l’invisible, Gallimard, 1964. See p.172
[2] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge, Shambhala, 1992, p.196.
[3] More in my ‘Toward Polymorphous Radio’ in Radio Rethink, Walter Phillips Gallery, 1994, pp.287. see the text.
[4] Denis de Rougemont, Penser avec les mains, Gallimard, 1972, p.151.
[5] Merleau-Ponty, ibid., p.176.
(June 27, 2004, Tokyo)

Re-Inventing Radio Aspects of Radio as Art Edited by Heidi Grundmann, Elisabeth Zimmermann, Reinhard Braun, Dieter Daniels, Andreas Hirsch, Anne Thurmann-Jajes. Revolver, Frankfurt am Main, 2008, pp.407-409.