Radio Collective "Ligna"


LIGNA was founded in 1995 by media theorists and radio artists Ole Frahm, Michael Hüners and Torsten Michaelsen. The trio work for the Freien Sender Kombinat (FSK), a non-profit local radio project in Hamburg.

More about Ligna collective:

Ole Frahm, Michael Hüners and Torsten Michaelsen, Hamburg

During visit of Ligna collective members to Novi Sad and Belgrade, several event took place: workshop and presentation of Ligna work in in Novi Sad and exhibition and panel discussion took place in Belgrade. Their visit to Serbia was organized by cooperation of two parties: Prelom Collective Belgrade and New Media Novi Sad.

“Uncontrollable Situations” - exhibition of the models of the use of the radio in the frame of “No more reality” project: phase 1

Debate: Radio aRtivism,
Participants: Dusan Grlja (Prelom), Kristian Lukic (, Nebojsa Milikic (Belgrade corespondent), Claire Staebler (radiodays), Ligna (radio FSK), moderator: Jelena Vesic

For Ligna radio broadcasting is a practice that intervenes in everyday life, regardless of location and situation. Through discussions and exercises, Ole Frahm, Michael Hüners and Torsten Michaelsen will urge participants to explore the practical consequences of this for artists and broadcasters - or even radio artists.

Opening an uncanny space: Radio's public

Production is ... uncanny. You cannot trust it. It is unpredictable. You never know what the result will be.
Bertolt Brecht to Walter Benjamin

Public space—private space

Notions of what is called public space are often based on the observation that, in recent years, previously unregulated spaces have become increasingly controlled and regulated. It is evident that this development will go on. However, this observation easily leads to a mythical narrative of the decline of public spaces that were once open to everybody. What is forgotten in this narrative is the initial concept of a bourgeois public separated from private, non-public spheres, which include not only the home but also the locations of production, both of which are private property. It has always been a major issue within Marxist critiques that what happens behind the doors of a privately owned factory—the production of surplus value by exploiting labor—is not private but societal and therefore eminently public. Contemporary capitalism has turned this relationship around: it claims that private interests and common welfare overlap, which thus protects the private property of the means of production. The constitution of the public sphere in capitalist societies, Negt and Kluge write in "Public Sphere and Experience," makes "political publicity" impossiblei—publicity that transgresses the border between public and private and has so far never existed in such societies.

We think it's necessary to link today's experience of the privatization of public space to the conceptual separation of public and non-public. In doing so, one realizes that the exclusion of the sphere of production from the public sphere was a kind of predecessor to what is today happening to public space: certain zones of public space are isolated from the rest and put under private control, because what is happening there—the distribution and consumption of commodities in privately owned stores—has to be protected against other usage of the space. The only relationship possible in these places is that of seller and buyer. Other usages are prohibited. The space itself is commodified. Just as with the production sphere, these spaces are not regarded as having been appropriated by the jealous egotism of those who want to make more money with them. It's the other way round; the interest of shop-owners is universalized as the interest of everybody: if they sell more goods, everybody will get wealthier.

In our opinion, it is not enough to simply list the results and reclaim public space. Opposing the ever-increasing reduction of inner cities to places reserved for consumption has to affect the initial separation of the private and the public. It has to question the whole organization of capitalist production, not only the regulation of space. How can artistic interventions achieve this?

The uncanniness of the distributed voice

In the late 1920s, a strange specter was observed in cities. We learn about it in a short text by Günter Stern entitled "Spook and Radio." Stepping out onto the street, Stern encounters an uncanny phenomenon—the distribution of voices by radio: "You leave your home, the music from the speakers still echoing in your ears; you are inside it—it is nowhere. You take ten steps and hear the same music coming from your neighbor's house. Since music is here as well, the music is both here and there, localized and planted in space like two stakes. But they are both the same music: over here X is continuing along with the same song he started singing back there. You walk on—as you reach the third house, X keeps on singing, accompanied by the second X, with muted background vocals courtesy of X in the first house. What makes this so shocking?"ii

The "duplicated voices" leak out of the houses, enter the public space and give it a macabre quality: all of them are simultaneously audible, all assert the same claim to being the one authentic voice. This is the underlying shock of ubiquity that radio evokes: by being everywhere, music loses its ability to transcend what is here and now—it becomes a radically secular phenomenon. Stern states that the medium forces "the human being" to decide whether to just ignore the phenomenon or to "avow" the ghostly voices, with the danger, however, of thereby becoming "himself inhuman." Here lies radio's threat for "the human being," whom Stern always puts in the singular, as opposed to the plurality of the identical duplicated voices. Any attempt at appropriating this "outgrowth," this "immoderation," is doomed to fail, for it would necessarily be turned against the subject of the appropriation and would end up dragging it along into the spectral realm of technology.

What Stern describes as an eerie phenomenon can be explained by the basic technical conditions inherent in radio: the distribution of the voice and its dispersal from one station to an indeterminate number of end devices. In this regard, the broadcast of radio doesn‘t differ from the capitalist way of producing and distributing commodities: they are also everywhere, look alike and thus make it useless to search for an original. Commodities only exist in plural form—like the broadcast voice.

So Stern's story can also be read as an early account of what Guy Debord, forty years later, calls the "society of the spectacle"—a society in which even the public sphere and everyday life outside work time become commodified, a development which Debord claims started in the late 1920s. There are even correspondences in formulations between Stern's delineation from the perspective of a bourgeois music-lover and Debord's description of the alienation of a proletarian individual—for example, when they describe that even gestures and movements are subjected to commodification. Both authors state the observation that the individual is driven into passivity and perfect isolation.

Stern's text ends on a note of desperation. He has no idea how to cope with the uncanny production by radio. That means he does not do to it what a consumer usually does with the commodities that are distributed to him: he does not fetishize it. Commodity fetishism usually reduces the commodity to a thing which has a certain value expressed in another commodity, in money, and which can be appropriated individually if you pay for it and then make use of it. It turns the commodity into private property. All its societal aspects—the fact that the commodity is the product of lots of social relationships—are lost in this appropriation.

Stern does not fetishize the voices—he renounces appropriating them. He is driven into isolation by them, but he does not consume them. Fetishizing, consuming the radio voices would in Stern's case mean to deny their "immoderation," their supernaturalness, by establishing a personal, private relationship to them. Stern doesn't make any use of them, doesn't ask them for any information. They are too strange for such interaction. The radio voices, as Stern experiences them, are more like the ghostly shadows of commodities as we know them: they are distributed like them, they are always present en masse and they are everywhere, but they exceed the limitations of private appropriation and control. They have the unholy notion of an unknown collectivity about them, one that Stern for one cannot ignore. It is the achievement of Stern's desperate observation to show up the excessiveness of radio, an excessiveness that creates an uncanny sphere and brings about an uncontrollable situation. Stern suggests that this irreducible excessiveness is there as radio waves are always there, and that it has the potential to subvert commodity fetishism. Perhaps it's a good idea to set it free.

Radio Ballet

As a group, we are looking for ways of making radio that work with this potential inherent in the medium. One model that we have developed in this regard is the Radio Ballett (Radio Ballet). It does not entail much more than inviting people to public radio shows. The first Ballet took place in Hamburg’s main railway station in May 2002. Around 200 people—normal listeners of the local radio station FSK, not dancers—invaded the place equipped with small radios and headphones. The main station is a privatized space, which means that it is under video surveillance and security guard control. Their task is to detect people who behave in a way that contravenes the strict regulations of the space, and then throw the offenders out. The Radio Ballet in the main station consisted of a choreography that suggested gestures which contravened regulations—like holding out hands as if begging for money, sitting down—very simple things. It turned out that the security apparatus was powerless in this situation. Excluding all the people who participated would have been completely impossible without disturbing the usual comings and goings in the station. So the performance helped the excluded gestures to assume the nature of a nightmarish reappearance—everywhere at the same time.
We developed the model radio ballet for several different spaces and situations. A series that we called anomalisation of everyday-life did not happen in places subject to regulations like train stations, but in places that are still public in the traditional sense—like the shopping streets in the inner cities. But these are contested places right now. Most cities are working on different means to reduce the aspects of public space there and turn them into homogeneous places that are completely reserved for the exchange of commodities: homogenizing the appearance of the streets, rebuilding whole streets as shopping malls or turning streets into business improvement districts, to mention a few.
Political articulations like demonstrations became nearly impossible in the inner city of Hamburg. In the beginning of December last year we invited the listeners of our station into the main shopping street of Hamburg—Christmas shopping time. Usually busses and taxis are driving through this street—but because of a Christmas parade they changed the street into a pedestrian zone. The radio ballet asked 400 participants to explore how the place and its reduction to a single use—practicing commodity fetishism—influences the gestures and behavior of people. A strange phenomenon, as there are—so far—no regulations how to behave. Nevertheless everybody is behaving normally. Deviant gestures are excluded by the eternal repetition of the same gestures: walking down the street, stopping, looking into a shop window, walking into the shop, buying something, coming out again, walking down the street. The radio ballet repeated these well-known gestures at the same time. It is fairly normal when one consumer stops in front of a shop window, but it is rather unusual when 400 radio consumers stop at the same time. When 400 people walk backwards instead of forward, everyday life in the shopping area becomes abnormal. These exercises in deviant behavior enabled the listeners to find out how the normalization of public spaces works—and to get used to abnormal behavior collectively. Gestures and bodily movements became possible that no one would have done alone. Even gestures that are forbidden for demonstrations—like jumping and then starting to run—could happen and produced ghostly moments: an invisible mass of people became visible just for the few moments of the action. This dispersion of deviant behavior produced an uncontrollable situation.

The counter-economy of radio
This uncontrollable situation is a result of the distribution of radio. The radio ballet invites listeners to turn the dispersed constellation of radio reception, which we witnessed in Stern’s description, into an association. This is the association of producers. They produce the radio ballet, as it only comes into existence in the association. It cannot appear as a product; it only happens and claims spaces in the free and irreducible collective production. It is not a radio broadcast that is produced somewhere, behind the doors of a radio studio, and then made public. The process of its production itself is public. Doing so, it follows Bertolt Brecht, who claimed that radio, in its function as a supply medium, has to be able to transform the situation of the listener and to realize “his mobilization and redrafting as a producer.” The radio ballet engages the listeners in active listening. This does not only mean that it keeps the listeners in motion. Active listening means that the act of dispersed listening is the act of producing the work.
Capitalist production and commodity fetishism repress exactly this public aspect of production. It makes the appropriation of a commodity into a private act. The radio ballet claims the commodified space for an act of public appropriation. This appropriation will never be finished, as it will never reconquer a place. It has to take place again and again. This public production exceeds, with its enjoyment of space and movement, the boundaries of the capitalist economy and its notion of private property. We have to admit that a society without commodities, without private property and without an origin, seems spooky. But instead of expelling these ghosts that are already haunting the capitalist economy, we should start to welcome them as guests.