Rasa Ðmite, Raitis Ðmits. ACOUSTIC SPACE LABORATORY. [A talk initially delivered at the Art and Science conference, organised by British Council in Stockholm School of Economics, Riga, Latvia, October 20, 2006; this text is improved version, written for Kunstradio publication on radioart.]


“By creating mobile ad-hoc networks or by pointing antennas towards outer space or the depth of oceans artists literally open up the horizons towards the possibilities of a new way of seeing and interacting with the world.”
(Armin Medosch. Waves concept. 2005)


The Acoustic Space Lab is a series of co-projects that explores acoustic dimension of networked media space. Initiated by the RIXC and E-LAB from Riga, Latvia, the Acoustic Space Lab projects are involving various sound artists, net.audio content contributors, radio community activists, as well as radio amateurs and radio scientists from all over the world. By building a network based platform for collaborative experimentation on translocal/global scale, the Acoustic Space Lab fosters creation of new forms in creative self-expression, social communication, art and science collaboration.


ACOUSTIC CYBERSPACE

Back in 1996, together with artists Raitis Smits and Jaanis Garancs, we first founded the E-LAB - electronic arts laboratory in Riga [1] in order to start working with the internet and electronic media. Already since, our primarily fields of interest included both interconnected elements – the sound and networked communication. Perhaps, a reason of raising this particular interest was our education – having a visual arts background, the world of the sound seemed for us a new and unexplored territory. The other reason most feasibly was consequences of political regime – a lack of information and communication during the Soviet period in Latvia, fostered a need for establishing connections and co-operation networks on international scale.

Our first net.audio projects – Riga net.radio OZONE [2] and XCHANGE net.audio network [3] were launched in 1997. The intent was to create a network for collaborative experimentation with real-time sound and emerging streaming technology on the internet.

Theoretical context for these early net.radio activities, as well as for many other projects later implemented by the E-LAB and RIXC, was framed by a San Franciso-based writer and culture critic Erik Davis, who gave a talk on "Acoustic Cyberspace" during the 2nd Art+Communication festival “Xchange on-air session” in Riga, November 1997.[4]

In his lecture Erik Davis talked about "some abstract ideas, some images, some open-ended notions about acoustic space." His intent was "to get at some of the deeper issues about sound and the ways it constructs surrounding environment (and subjectivities) and can act as a kind of map." To introduce with this notion, he proposed to start "with a distinction that Marshall McLuhan draws between visual space and acoustic space. McLuhan used the notion of visual space as a way to describe how Western subjectivity has been organized on a technical basis since the Renaissance. [..] McLuhan contrasts this construction of visual space, and the kind of subjectivity associated with it, with what he calls "acoustic space." Acoustic space is the space we hear rather than the space we see, and he argued that electronic media were submerging us in this acoustic environment, with its own language of affect and subjectivity." [5]

What we didn’t know before (as the arts history lesions what we had in the 1980/90ties missed whole of the 20th century art), we tried to do intuitively. We neither had an experience in radio before, nor did us think that we want to build one. However the notion of "internet radio" and what it could be, inspired us to try. By doing OZONE live net.radio sessions we simply tried to express our own and our friends (musicians, journalists, poets, other young Latvian artists) creative ideas audibly over the internet, whereas by building XCHANGE mailinglist we wanted to be connected with other net.broadcasters from remote places thus developing a context for collaborative experiments on the internet.

In Xchange experiments with streaming sound on the internet, the main intent was neither creation of specific content such as radio programmes, electronic music or sound art transmissions, nor facilitating live streams from clubs and other events, nor even collaborative streaming performance from remote location. Xchange collaborative live online sessions rather were a mixture of all above mentioned elements, following Erik Davis notion of acoustic space that "isnot limited to a world of music or sound, the environment of electronic media itself engenders this way of organizing and perceiving the other spaces we intersect."[6] More then focusing on creating specific content, the Xchange aimed to "provide the context for communication and information exchange among the creative net broadcasters". The content - what to contribute for the co-sessions - was created independently by the participants themselves.

The most interesting of the Xchange co-brodcasting experiments and events took place in 1998. Most of the live online co-sessions took place without any pre-planning - immediate expression of ideas over the net was the main feature of so called "Xchange Open Channel" sessions [7]. Xchange mailinglist was used to announce open call, where everybody was invited to join in with their live real-audio stream for co-broadcast session. What we tried to do first and foremost, was simply to establish connections with each other’s live stream.  Meeting and co-ordination  happened online in the IRC chat channel, where we agreed on who, how and when will send out their stream, and how theses outgoing streams will be picked up each after other by different participating locations. Thus we managed to create a constant loop, consisting of a number of remote broadcasters streaming from different places of the world, including Backspace in London, MZX in Ljubljana, XLR project in Berlin, OZONE in Riga, Radio 90 in Banff/Canada, Audible in Sydney, and many others.[8]

There also were some interesting experiments with collaborative content taking place – Rachel Baker from Backspace in London proposed to prepare a PPP news (personal news service) to contribute for OZONE live Tuesday sessions; Borut Savski and Martin Schitter from Ljubljana in their discussion on radio and it’s future on the internet tried to involve other remote participants. “Discussion in loop” was also organized by OZONE team from Polar workshop in Tornio/Finnish Lapland [9], where Monika Glahn in Berlin, Peteris Kimelis in Riga and us in Tornio were operating with loop (consisting of 3 parallel live streams) by switching off and on the feedback in order either to hear remote participants asking or us trying to answer their questions in right time – with a little overlap or delay as possible.

The looping sound via the internet – that often was created by more then 3 remote net-casters (once we succeeded to connect 7 remote locations) – made an inexperienced noise. Due to Real technology – as real audio stream needs some seconds for re-buffering (i.e. it downloads some data on your hard disc in order to be able to start play back the stream ) these loops created a feedback effect because delay often was up to 4-10 (sometimes more) seconds. Audio inputs coming from different physical locations by joining together in a common (cyber) space, in fact, were creating not one simultaneous stream, but rather a multiple layers of looping sounds. The noise of sound in feedback was reminding a chaos. Listening to this noise, we first experienced the existence and spatiality of this non-physical counter-geographical (cyber) space. We became aware of what Erik Davis meant with specificity of non-linear spatial organisation of the networked media environment: “Acoustic space is capable of simultaneity, superimposition, and nonlinearity [..] Where visual space emphasizes linearity, acoustic space emphasizes simultaneity — the possibility that many events that occur in the same zone of space-time.”

The first larger international net.radio meeting in real space happened in Berlin, June 1998. It was organised by Berlin based Mikro initiative. Xchange mailinglist was used to inform and coordinate participants, events and locations. The main focus of the Berlin Net.Radio Days was about connecting net, radio and physical space. Everyday and any event was taking place in an other location in Berlin Mitte. Really important feature of this event - as of many other net.radio events - was not only the presentations and workshops, but also the parties and socialising. Only in such less formal and more open atmosphere - where the sound and screened images are determinant for environment - one better can experience the meaning of the acoustic space.[10]

In September 1998 the Xchange project received an Award of Destinction in net.category of PRIX Ars Electronica, and Xchange was invited to be present at Ars Electronica’98 Festival in Linz, Austria.[11] The Xchange proposal was to create a live audio environment during the entire Ars Electronica festival in 1998, using real-time net audio technologies (real audio), including an open broadcasting studio in the ‘real’ space, as well as the creation of a virtual sound environment in cyberspace, involving both on-site and remote participants. The event was entitled "Acoustic Space: 56h LIVE" and it was the first international Xchange meeting in  “real space”, where many of the participants for first time met face to face. It brought together 25 onsite net.broadcasters from all over the world (Zina K./Sydney, b2men/Pararadio/Budepest, Borut Savski/MZX/Ljubljana, Honor Harger/Radioqualia/Adelaide, and many others from Riga, Berlin, Ljubljana, London, Amsterdam, Budapest), and connected more then 10 remote locations.

Since then a number net.radio events, meetings and net.radio nights by Xchange participants have taken place in the framework of various international media art festivals, workshops, temporary labs and other new media events. To name just a few – Net.radio night at Art Servers Unlimited, London, July 1998;  Net.radio workshop at Polar Circuit II, July 1998 in Tornio; Net.radio live at Comm_X_Change’98, October 1998 in Basel; Art+Communication in Riga, 1997 and 1998; Streaming Media workshop in Next Five Minutes in Amsterdam, March 1999, and net.congestion festival for streaming media in Amsterdam 2000. [12]


RT-32

Very soon “the summer of net.radio’98” was over – and real time internet broadcasting deserved huge attention by commercial ISP and industries; due to commercialisation of Real Media, artists more and more got interested in mp3 and other open source streaming formats. To get beyond the confusion of streaming media standards and commercialisation, the RIXC initiated the project entitled "Acoustic Space Research Lab". It intended to re-approach the notion of “net.radio” and to set up new context for research on "data ecology", development of new audio communication tools and co-experiments in the field of networked media, radio and satellite technologies.[13]

In collaboration with several international artists’ groups and individuals from the Xchange network: RIXC/E-LAB (Riga/LV), Derek Holzer (Amsterdam/NL/USA), RadioQualia (London/UK/Adelaide/AU), Projekt Atol (Ljubljana/SI), L’audible (Sydney/AU), Radio90 (Banff/Canada) and others, an international symposium for sound art, radio and satellite technologies took place in August 2001 in the forests of western Latvia in Irbene at the site of Soviet-era d=32 meter dish antenna. Formerly used to spy on satellite transmissions between Europe and North-America by the KGB, the antenna was abandoned and nearly destroyed when the Russian Army departed in 1994. The dish was successfully repaired by VIRAC (Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center) radio astronomers [14].

Over the days of the symposium international team of about 30 sound artists, net and community radio activists and radio amateurs in co-operation with VIRAC scientists were exploring the possibilities of antenna. The participants used the dish in three main ways:
1. The dish was explored in an acoustic fashion. It’s groans, buzzes and sirens were recorded, and the dish itself was used as a massive parabolic microphone to scan the surrounding environment.
2. The dish was used in its ‘original’ fashion. Satellites from the INMARSAT network were located and snooped on. Analogue mobile phones, ship to shore communications, air traffic control signals and data packet transmissions were monitored and recorded.
3. The dish was used in its ‘retrofitted’ fashion. Jupiter, Venus, and (most successfully) the Sun were located and scanned using precise radioastronomy equipment operating in the 12 GHz range.

The recorded data were immediately processed by participating artists in temporary lab space, and uploaded to the server for later proceedings and other artists to access them via the internet.

It was a great chance for artists to access and work with this big antenna. But most important was that this "old and heavy" technology - big dish - because of its’ secret past, specific location in so far remote place, and its’ never unexploited potential for civilian use, succeeded to facilitate the common ground for collaboration among artists, scientists and radio activists.

As an outcome of this symposium and follow-up research, the DVD "RT-32 - ACOUSTIC SPACE LAB" was published by the RIXC and first presented at the World-Information.org exhibition in Amsterdam in 2002 [15].
The DVD is a multi-media research of the VIRAC radio telescope RT-32. It covers the history of this top-secret Soviet-era military object, including precise technical data and it’s conversion to scientific and civilian use. It also introduces with the international Acoustic.Space.Lab symposium results.

Open Source Sampling project initiated by Derek Holzer invited sound and video artists to reinterpret the symposium material available on the internet, and “to add their own thematically related material to the mix.” “Open Source Sampling” project was released in the CD and distributed together with the Acoustic Space Lab DVD.[16]

The 2nd edition of the DVD featured an other follow-up project – the CD “Radioastronomy” that was initiated and compiled by Adam Hyde. This CD was a collection of sound pieces by various artists, featuring recordings of the Sun, Jupiter, and Venus made by  r a d i o q u a l i a  as part of their Radio Astronomy project at the VIRAC radiotelescope in Irbene, Latvia. Radio Astronomy [17] is project that enables listeners to tune into to different celestial frequencies, hearing planets, stars, nebulae, and the constant hiss of cosmic noise.

At a close of the Acoustic Space Lab symposium the VIRAC ex-director Edgars Bervalds expressed his delight that the Irbene antenna was explored by Acoustic Space Lab participants in so many ways, added that, though such an object (as antenna) ought to be used primarily for science, "artists can use [it] to fill the vast spaces in our Universe that science cannot reach." [18]


SOLAR RADIO STATION

One of the recent RIXC’s projects is Solar Radio Station that is a continuation of creative explorations with Irbene antenna. Solar Radio Station specifically focused on co-production in which parties – artists and scientists are involved. The project is an ongoing collaboration among the artists of RIXC (LV) and r a d i o q u a l i a (NZ), Clausthome (LV) musicians, and VIRAC – Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center (LV) scientists.[19]

The first exhibition of the Solar Radio project took place in PHOENIX Hall, HMKV, Dortmund, Germany in spring and summer 2006 [20]. It consisted of two parts. The "live installation", exhibition and performance took place in Dortmund, while temporary "real time scanning" laboratory was set up at the site of the RT-32 dish in Irbene.
Realtime scanning of Solar system’s and other objects of the Universe performed in Irbene, using VIRAC radiotelescope, was provided by team consisting of VIRAC scientist Dmitry Bezrukov (who operated the dish) and RIXC crew of Signe Pucena, Agnese Rucina, Davis Bojars, who were coordinating and providing live stream for the internet.

There was a specific observing arranged for this project in Irbene Radiotelescope. Two evenings by two hours in each four objects in the Universe – two planets: the Sun and Venus, and two constellations: Taurus and Cygnus – were scanned with Irbene 32m dish. Realtime signal was down-sampled to audible frequency and transmitted live via the Internet. Thus the signal was made available for Clausthome musicians [21] in Dortmund, where they were turning the noise from the space into real-time sound modelling performance. The sound interpretation was complemented by live video mix made by Martins Ratniks.

There were two specific qualities of this event. The first was an “access”– Lauris Vorslavs from Clausthome expressed his enthusiasm on this unique possibility to interpret completely “fresh” signal received in realtime from various locations of the Universe, whereas himself as other sound artists and noize musicians mostly are used to seek NASA and other internet sources for material to be used in their music.

The second quality of this work was a “connectivity” – how the signal was received, downsampled to the audible frequency, encoded again into live stream and sent via the internet, received later in Dortmund and transformed into cosmic radio noizy soundscape.

In fact the show in Dortmund was live networked installation, in which remote transmissions from radiotelescope and live interpretations by artists in the exhibtion space were an integral part of this live set up.


WAVES

The most recent project and the largest representation of networked media art dealing with deeper issues of electro[magnetic] acoustic space that so far RIXC has ever organised is the "Waves" project. The “Waves” is based on original idea and concept developed by Armin Medosch. His proposal was to set up a large scale international exhibition that looks at phenomenon of electromagnetic waves as the principle material and the medium of media art, and waves as a universal principle. In joint effort – working together with Armin Medosch and us at the RIXC for almost 2 years, we co-curated the “Waves” – an international exhibition and "Art+Communication 2006" festival that took place in August and September 2006 in Riga.[22]

In “Waves” concept introduction Armin Medosch wrote: "The artists of the Waves exhibition are challenging conventional knowledge about and perception of waves. Electronic media such as radio, TV and the internet are of defining influence on today’s societies. Subsequently the information sphere is tightly controlled and subject to various artificially imposed political limitations. Yet artists with their electronic and digital DIY kits are exploring numerous ways of thinking outside the box, making their own waves, creating alternative networks and engaging with strange scientific phenomena – which points at actually existing utopian potential." [23]

The Waves festival programme consisted of exhibition, conference, open presentations, workshops, performances and film screenings. The two-day “Spectrum” conference facilitated a theoretical background for the art-works displayed at the exhibition hall; while a specific programme of classic and contemporary experimental movies curated by Erwin van’t Hart, a film curator from the Netherlands, introduced with visual space of electromagnetic spectrum; and performance programme in the RIXC Media Space intended to mix both two – acoustic and visual spectrums.

The Waves exhibition looked at electromagnetic waves not just as carriers of information, but as the material and/or theme of the artwork. It featured about 40 international works of (media) art by 70 artists from 18 different countries [24]. The exhibition took place at the Exhibition Hall ARSENALS of the Latvian National Museum of Art from August 24 to September 17, 2006.

The artworks on display at the Waves exhibition covered a wide range of topics. To give an overview on variety of waves interpretations, Armin Medosch in his statement about “Waves” wrote: “Some of the works engaged with interesting scientific phenomena to provide unusual aesthetic experiences such as listening to the background noise of the universe (Franz Xaver/AT) or engaging with the visual and aural qualities of light bulbs (Artificiel/CA). As the human sensory perception system gives us only limited access to electromagnetic waves, sonification and visualisation of scientific data were a major component of the exhibition. Other works explored social and political implications of wave regulation (Bureau d’Etudes/FR) and offered viable alternative communication systems (Marko Peljhan/SI). Whereas some works were based on screens and audio-visualisations of waves (Aaron Kaplan/AT), many works relied on physical objects (Joyce Hinterding & David Haines/AU), obscure or forgotten communication technologies (Paul DeMarinis/US) and the antenna as an art object.

Those are just a few examples out of a large scale exhibition which interrogated the conventions of media art exhibitions. Bringing together experienced and well known artists with young experimentators between art and science, Waves succeeded to make a statement by being the first large scale international exhibition to focus uniquely on waves as the material and medium of art.” [25]

The Waves exhibition materials, audio and video archive, as well as publication will be available online at the Waves website: http://rixc.lv/waves


THE SPACES OF OPENNESS

The main idea behind all the Acoustic Space Lab projects is to push the boundaries of electronic networked media environments; not just to discover and explore, but rather to build new autonomous spaces for creative self-expression and communication by ourselves.

The Waves – as most representative project of Acoustic Space Lab series, aimed to expend the context of electronic networked media arts. On the one hand, it was a return to “fine arts” (in terms of creation ”imagery”), where the key element is the imagination and less a concept or visualization. By utilizing communication technologies in the arts and attempting to fuse the fields of art and science, imagery is the key that opens up new vision. Imagery also is a way of communicating science, making it, if not completely comprehensible, at least (audio or visually) conceivable – in this way enhancing imagination also in the consciousness of a human being.

On the other hand, “Waves” created a context within which to bring together artists from all over the world, who don’t hesitate “to ask the big questions about fundamentals such as time, space, energy and substances”[26]. Thus the Waves for us is more then just exhibition or festival theme – it is a fundamental concept within which we wished to contextualise those creative experiments, social dynamic and artistic processes in acoustic space of networked media, which have expressed our work for the past ten years.

But more then looking at the past, we hope, that the Waves also is a turning point that will become a new stage for further ‘acoustic space’ explorations. At a close of this paper I would like to agree with Erik Davis saying that "it’s incredibly important to maintain electronic communications media as a space of openness, of indetermination, of the affects of the unknown.”[27]


References:

[1] E-LAB, electronic arts and media center founded in 1996; on a base of the E-LAB the RIXC was founded in 2000. http://rixc.lv
[2] Ozone, Riga net.radio. http://ozone.re-lab.net/
[3] Xchange, net.audio network. http://xchange.re-lab.net/
[4] Davis, Erik. Acoustic Cyberspace. Acoustic Space #1. Riga: E-LAB, 1998. [On-line] http://www.techgnosis.com/acoustic.html
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Smits, R. Xchange Open Channel: Co-broadcast Experiments in the Net. In: Readme! Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1999, pp. 349–350
[8] More about Xchange Open Channel at
http://re-lab.net/netradio/workshop01/05/index.html#b
[9] Net.radio workshop at POLAR CIRCUIT II, Tornio in Lapland/Finland, July 1998. http://re-lab.net/polar/. More information about net.radio is available in net.radio workshop website (1999-2000) at http://re-lab.net/netradio/workshop01/index.html
[10] Net.Radio Days’98: Trimm Dich, Berlin, June 1998. http://mikro.org/Events/19980606.html
[11] Xchange net.audio network, net-casting project at the Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, 1998. http://xchange.re-lab.net/56h/info.html
[12] net.congestion, international festival of streaming media, Amsterdam, October 2000. The festival was devoted to new forms of broadcasting and live programming that have emerged around the Internet (the so-called "streaming media"); like net.radio, net.tv, net.film and the hybrid media. http://straddle3.net/context/art/a_001006.en.html
[13] Acoustic Space Lab international symposium for sound art, radio and satellite technology in Irbene, Latvia, August 2001. http://acoustic.space.re-lab.net/
[14] VIRAC, Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center, Riga, Latvia. http://www.virac.lv
[15] World-Information Exhibition in Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, November/December, 2002. The exhibition outlined the evolution of communication technologies and their consequences in relation to society, exhibit historic and state-of-the-art control and surveillance technology and display digital artworks and installations.
http://world-information.org/wio/program/amsterdam
[16] Open Source Sampling was initiated by
Derek Holzer as a follow-up project of the Acoustic Space Lab symposium, Latvia, August 2001. Derek Holzer was also international coordinator of the symposium, writing related texts and making a symposium website:
http://acoustic.space.re-lab.net/lab/
[17] Radioastronomy, project by r a d i o q u a l i a. http://www.radio-astronomy.net
[18] Mukul. Acoustic Space Lab. WIRE, September 2001, London.
[19] Solar Radio Station, collaborative project by RIXC, Clausthome musicians, r a d i o q u a l i a  and VIRAC scientists.
http://rixc.lv/solar
[20] Solar Radio Station in Phonix Hall, organised by HMKV in Dortmund, May-July, 2006. 
http://www.hmkv.de/dyn/e_program_exhibitions/detail.php?nr=1221&rubric=exhibitions&
[21] Clausthome is a group of noize musicians based in Riga, Latvia.
http://www.stepe.net/claustrum/clausthome/
[22] "Art+Communication 2006: Waves", 8th international festival for new media culture in Riga, Latvia, August/September 2006. http://rixc.lv/waves
[23] Medosch, Armin. Waves concept. 2005-2006.
[24] The "Waves" international exhibition took place from August 24 to September 17, 2006 in Exhibition hall of Arsenals museum. Participating artists included: Robert Adrian / Norbert Math (AT), Artificiel (CA), Jean-Pierre Aubé (CA), Erich Berger (AT/FI), Bureau d’Études (FR), Paul DeMarinis (US), Disinformation (UK), Antanas Dombrovskij (LT), Farmersmanuel (AT), Judith Fegerl (AT), Mark Fischer (US), Gints Gabrâns (LV), Bulat Galeyev (RU), Dmitry Gelfand / Evelina Domnitch (US), David Haines / Joyce Hinterding (AU), Usman Haque (UK) / Bengt Sjölén (SE) / Adam Somlai-Fischer (HU), Steve Heimbecker (CA), Adam Hyde (NZ) / Aleksandar Erkaloviã (HR) / Lotte Meijer (NL), Luke Jerram (UK), Voldemârs Johansons (LV), Aaron Kaplan (AT) / Doron Goldfarb (IL/AT), Yunchul Kim (DE/KR), Jacob Kirkegaard (DK/DE), Anthony McCall (US), Jay Needham (US), Marko Peljhan (SI) / Saðo Podgorðek (SI), Oskars Poikâns (LV), Julian Priest (UK/DK), r a d i o q u a l i a (NZ), Mârtiòð Ratniks (LV) / Clausthome (LV), RIXC (LV), Scanner (UK), Sine Wave Orchestra (JP), Nina Sobell (US), TAKE 2030 (UK), Bas Van Koolwijk (NL) / Derek Holzer (US/NL), Martins Vizbulis (LV), Franz Xaver (AT).
[25] Medosch, Armin. Waves - an introduction. Acoustic Space #6: WAVES. Riga: RIXC, 2006.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Davis, Erik. Acoustic Cyberspace. Acoustic Space #1. Riga: E-LAB, 1998.


Text published in RIXC Reader