Radio and the Hegemony of Time
IntroductionF. T. Marinetti's 1933 Futurist manifesto La Radia, crackles over and over again with the end of time. Time was not only rejected as an organizing principle for radio, but through radio the hegemony of linear time was to be overturned throughout modern life. The fulcrum of this revolution was the electrification of language brought about by new communications technology. La Radia's first sentence claims that radio words need not occur in a linear flow of one to the next but would find a “speedy and simultaneous free word style.”[n1] In Futurist hands, radio would impose Marinetti's fabled parole in libertà (words in freedom) “everywhere as its logical and natural mode of self-expression” (266). La Radia's assault on time had words exploding out of their traditional temporal grid and speech itself developing spatial, even sculptural, dimensions. With bonds to the clock thus severed, radio language was free to strike out as something decidedly post-narrative. Marinetti called into being “[a]n art without time. . . without yesterday or tomorrow The possibility of receiving broadcast stations situated in various time zones and the lack of light will destroy the hours of the day and night The reception and amplification of the light and voices of the past with thermoionic valves will destroy time” (267). With more than a touch of sci-fi hyperbole about La Radia, it is tempting to dismiss Marinetti as a ranting technofetishist and the radio he invokes as something more interesting in manifesto form than it might be in reality. But such an approach would neglect Marinetti's unexpected insight into the “lightening fast” and simultaneous speech of today's communication technologies and the reality of the “word-atmosphere” they have ushered into being. Marinetti's prescience about radio is inconsistent though. A study of most mass radio programming would show Marinetti as quite perceptive in some respects: there is very little of yesterday and tomorrow on radio; its content is almost always the stuff of the interminable present. But that same study would show him as wholly wrong in others: the energy of radio producers and listeners has for decades been focused on fixing radio and radio language into a narrative, linear and utterly temporal grid. But such a literal and evaluative assessment of Marinetti and La Radia fails to understand the essential function of the manifesto as a literary genre: manifestos are contentious and polemical statements designed to propose a vocabulary for new debates and, more importantly, insight engagement and action (resonant and discordant, conceptual and material) with and on their assertions. With this in mind, my essay takes Marinetti's language as a point of departure, rather than a road map, for grappling with some important theoretical engagements and practical experiments with radio time.
1. Life and the Radio ClockThere is no area of contemporary life in which time has a more concrete and conceptual presence than radio. Radio itself is the most accurate and consistent time piece most of us experience: it wakes us up in the morning with specially formulated broadcasts, signals the precise top of the hour with familiar tones, provides fixed programming which becomes the general time-posts of our days (be it The World at One, All Things Considered or The Archers), and lulls us to sleep at the appropriate time with an appropriately soothing tune, story or conversation. Radio is our circadian rhythm. But to describe it in those terms belies radio time's institutional, legal and economic underpinnings: particular ads and announcements must be broadcast at particular and precise times, in the U.S. the Federal Communications Commission mandates that every radio station identify itself at the top of the hour, and the intricacies of station networks, automation and program dissemination mean shows must begin and end exactly as scheduled. Our radio clock is very carefully orchestrated and manufactured. On a smaller scale, beyond the time-coded logic of the program grid, individual radio moments are also forced into a temporal sensibility: radio thoughts and words (in stark contrast to Marinetti's visionary and poetic parole in libertà) could not be more rigidly narrative and linear, seemingly always organized into the delineable flow of one idea to the next.(n2) We might say then that time on radio has two distinct but related aspects: at the macro level of programming it establishes a routine or a set of time cues for daily life, while at the level of particular content within that programming a linear, or vector, conception of words in time establishes the limits of language use.
Numerous media studies (more sociological than aesthetic) have noted these aspects of radio time. John B. Thompson, for example, in his recent The Media and Modernity, makes an observation about television which may indirectly assist our appreciation of radio time. Thompson notes that the VCR and other video technology have led to the evolution of television as a more-or-less self-contained medium, meaning that viewers “time shift” shows out of an originating program grid and enjoy them at their leisure in such a way as to invalidate the social immediacy of the experience.(n3) While similar technology could have been mass marketed for radio (devices for the timed recording of radio programs for later listening), the commonly understood relationship listeners has with radio and the programming that has evolved to support that relationship has not facilitated a need for such devices. There is no VCR equivalent for radio because, it is thought, radio programming and the radio relationship are so immediate that time shifting is not desired. Radio is indeed generally (and most especially in its commercial form) not time-shiftable, not tapeable. It is viewed as an immediate conduit between a listener and an unfolding world. Radio is, unlike any other medium, “The Now” in the quick production of its headline news, its music charts, its gossip or gripe of the moment, its weather, traffic and stock quotes. Because radio is so firmly lodged in the present even the last hour's news can feel strangely dated. While the VCR (or recordable DVD or programable digital TV) unsettles to some extent the hegemony of time in television, nothing does this (at least on the consumer's end) for radio; and again radio programming is not typically designed with that use in mind.
Marshall McLuhan found radio time a particularly thorny issue. He quotes the Geneva School literary critic Georges Poulet to help him grapple with what he sees as radio's ontological dilemma: “the human consciousness finds itself reduced to existence without duration. It is always of the present moment.”[n4] The problem presented by radio for McLuhan is one of articulating the difference between passage (which is finite and changing) and being (which is constant if not permanent). The unprecedented phenomenon witnessed by the culture of electronic media is that this “present moment” eventually begins to confer a state of being: immediacy and constant focus on the passage of one frame to the next develops into a quasi-permanent state of awareness and expectation of the linear passage of time. This state of being permanently tuned in to time's arrow [n5] transforms modern self perception into something itself akin to a radio receiver: “Thus the self is dissolved not only from instant to instant but even in the middle of the instant-passage, in a prismatic play like that of a spray of water” (241). Almost in direct contrast then to Marinetti's hope for radio to destroy time and create a mode of communication based on parole in libertà and a consciousness of simultaneity, mid-century media theorists were describing a radio which transmitted a complete linearity and instantiated a being almost exclusively attuned to the passage of a single narrative time line.
As McLuhan's understanding of electronically mediated culture developed the idea of clock-time became more than just an ontological/philosophical problem. In his Understanding Media for example, the rigidity of time as an organizational principle is presented as an obstacle to humanity's techno-evolution: “Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time. In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms. This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.” [n6] These notions of “multiplicity” and “repeatability” constitute the first clearly articulated conceptual challenges to the hegemony of time on radio; it is almost as if the force and role of time on radio required the three decades between Marinetti and McLuhan to establish itself before theorists could begin to describe tactics for resistence to it. In spite of McLuhan's ultimate focus on multiplicity, both repeatability and multiplicity are potential destabilizers of the hegemony of time. Repeatability, which I will shortly associate with pre-digital technological efforts to free radio semantics from time's arrow, is best enacted through the tape loop. Multiplicity, alternatively, will be described as a purely digital engagement with and reconfiguration of radio time and is best embodied in the “spangled” or “digital” audio edit.[n7] As will be discussed in detail shortly, in both instances a linear notion of time is forced to give way to something polyvalent, textural or even sculptural.
The evolution from the McLuhan of Gutenberg Galaxy to the McLuhan of Understanding Media can be read here as one of a developing sense of the difference between the socially dominant form of a medium and its experimental form. While this transformation is not by any means complete—McLuhan does not reach Marinetti's ecstatic projections—he does begin to understand the problems Marinetti hoped to solve via the imposition of anti-time through Futurist radio. McLuhan argues in Understanding Media that western culture is poised to outgrow the conception of linear time as soon as its social dominance is perceived:
It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our bodies is new, there comes a narcosis or numbing to the new amplified area. The complaints about clocks did not begin until the electric age had made their mechanical sort of time starkly incongruous. In our electric century the mechanical time-kept city looks like an aggregation of somnambulists and zombies, made familiar in the early part of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. (149)Having made this observation about the limits of mechanical time via Eliot, McLuhan then casts around for other literary sources which might provide clues about how to disrupt these limits. He finds one solution in the love sonnets of the Renaissance poet Andrew Marvell. McLuhan's reading of one of Marvell's poems proposes a thoroughly modern and logical (if counter-intuitive) challenge to the hegemony of linear time:
He proposed that his beloved and he should transform themselves into a cannonball and fire themselves at the sun to make it run. Time can be defeated, as it were, by reversal of its characteristics if only it be speeded up enough. Experience of this fact awaited the electronic age, which found that instant speeds abolish time and space, and return man to an integral and primitive awareness. (151-2)Time can not be arrested, but it can be accelerated. In similar manner to Marinetti, McLuhan's anti-time depends on speed. The method then is not to stop time or to smash it so that its fragments might be analyzed at leisure, but to rev it up to the point where it begins to hum in an entirely different frequency. But interestingly for both Marinetti and McLuhan listening to this new hum amounts to an explicit return to the primitive, a kind of re-tuning of one's self to the ancient and mystical music of the celestial spheres.
McLuhan (and to a lesser extent Marinetti) discovers in the speed of modernity the undoing of linear time, the end of the “civilizing” effects of print culture and the return of an idealized and authentic communion which replaces communication. Such a method romanticizes and privileges the ear over the eye. The aural/oral, through the modern extension of radio, was nothing less than the road back to the “sacred.” In a discussion of Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane the clock and the alphabet are isolated as the most powerful of the Enlightenment's silent and desacrilizing tools. By “hacking the universe into visual segments” they “ended the music of interrelation” (155). Further, it is radio explicitly that gives us back the sacred: by virtue of its replication of prehistoric communication techniques radio is a connection to an ancient past, and as such is the perfect vehicle and repository for tradition— “Tradition, in a word, is the sense of the total past as now” (301). Modern radio is thus retro radio: it is simultaneously traditional and time travel.
The next step in our analysis of radio time might be a “desacralization” of McLuhan. Shorn of their New Age fuzziness McLuhan's observations about time and radio do point the way to a genuinely modern artistic/poetic perspective on the subject. An endeavor to describe in real, material culture terms how McLuhan's radio time travel works begins at the intersection of the radio broadcast and the recorded word.
2. Recording, Looping and the Destabilization of TimeThe first material (as opposed to conceptual) destabilization of time comes with the integration sound recording into radio. Jonathan Sterne, in his exhaustive social history of recording technology The Audible Past, argues that radio broadcast amounts to a dissemination of bodies (dead and alive) not just through space but also through time.[n8] Time is both absolute and suspended in the broadcast of dead voices: absolute in that the voices of the dead remind us of time's arrow, and suspended in that the broadcast of those voices is a violation of time as we know it, a revivification of bodies lost in time. Indeed early recordings of those who would soon be dead seem a clear rejection of the notion of immediacy later central to radio. In fact one of the primary uses for audio recording cited by Thomas Edison was the transportation of the voices of the dead across the chasm of time. Unfortunately, according to Sterne, the dead usually have very little to say [n9] and disembodying the voice for future generations was a conceptual (rather than real) characteristic of the first years of voice recording.
More interesting to Sterne than these more metaphysical concerns is Jacques Attali's political economy of recording. Attali's suggests that sound recording allows what amounts to a stockpiling of other people's time. Further, through its isolation of certain “valued” sequences of time and the repetition that such isolation enables, sound recording gives rise to a new and fragmented human awareness of time.[n10] As sound recording contributes to an understanding of time as perfectly and invisibly linear on the small scale—we record and playback a sound event from its natural beginning to its natural end—it disrupts linearity on a macro level. Recorded sound problematizes time's arrow by converting its vector into a loop and thus disrupting a normal large-scale teleology.
The literary/artistic potential of playback's destabilization of linear time was first significantly explored by William Burroughs.[n11] While Burroughs's tape loop speech art experiments developed in tandem with the cut-up method of composition used in his novels and prose poetry, the descriptions of the sounds and effects of tape-machine-manipulated language in his writing far exceeded anything he was able to accomplish acoustically. What he imagined in his prose as the poetic and semantic possibilities for tape art (a very digital imagination) were simply not realizable through the technology he employed. His novel/prose poem The Ticket That Exploded is the best example from his work of literary descriptions of language-tape possibilities surpassing his own tape art experiments: both Ticket's portrayal of two voices being spliced together twenty-four times per second,[n12] and the echoing of slightly altered looping versions of the same subliminal language throughout a large text would have been extremely difficult for him to realize through the analog technology of his day.
While Burroughs experimented with the cut-up, fold-in method of composition in Naked Lunch and Soft Machine, Ticket represents his most intense use of accidental juxtaposition, fragmentation, and looped random sequencing as compositional practices. Ticket's opening scene is a straight-forward allegory on the critical and social power aleatory practices. The narrator captures his opponent's queen early on in a chess game by making a series of random and thoughtless moves. Despite going on to lose the game because of a lack of interest both the narrator and Burroughs have made a crucial point: even though a narrative or a chess game might progress and ultimately conclude as expected, the disruption of an expected and predictable teleology (haphazardly capturing a queen or puncturing the flow of a story with incongruous language) contains an unsettling power.
One of Burroughs's favorite technological chance operations was moving tape erratically over the playback head, a technique he described as providing “liberation from old associational locks.”[n13] In the following passage from Ticket Burroughs both describes this tape mediation of language and attempts to render its effects on the printed page:
“Now listen to this.” The words were smudged together. They snarled and whined and barked. It was as if the words themselves were called into question and forced to give up their hidden meanings. “Inched tape . . the same recording you just heard pulled back and forth across the head . . You can get the same effect by switching a recording on and off at very short intervals. Listen carefully and you will hear words that were not in the original text: 'do it-do it-do it . . yes I will will will do it do it do it . . really really really do it do it do it . . neck neck neck . . oh yes oh yes oh yes . .' (21)The significance of this whining and barking can only be fully appreciated in context; we are enjoined to “listen to this” before the “hidden meanings” of this method can jerk forward into the world. This is not just an injunction to listen carefully: it is an injunction to listen after having suspended a linear notion of time. Ticket is not just a discussion and/or a presentation of a production technique, but a primer for a new mode of listening not wedded to the conception of time as a vector. This accelerated, post-temporal semantics is (like any semantics) necessarily bifurcated: it is a set of techniques for rendering audio speech in conjunction with a mode of listening tuned in to those techniques. Burroughs's demand is hardly unreasonable or dramatic; it amounts to asking that the mind's years of training in focusing on the non-temporal, textural complexities of pop music, commercials, TV and film—the persistent and polyvalent inputs of postindustrial life—be used to engage with recorded speech.
While resonances of Burroughs's own audio art experiments are evident here in his writing about tape machines, there are two larger movements in Ticket that suggest a poetics of looping which Burroughs did not develop on tape. One of the most often used is a technique that resembles a musical fugue. After a page-and-a-half of dense, overlapping, interwoven, oblique references to previously unfamiliar themes, orders and instructions, the prose slows down. As Ticket continues and the narrative flow resumes, the lines that appeared as only nonsensical fragments in the fugue begin to appear in situ in the larger story. As we recognize them now, however, they are not just components of the narrative, but also echoes of the confusion we experienced in the density of the earlier cut-up collage. As we hear these phrases repeated in the more discursive passages—“a male with female laughter,” “St Louis Encephalitis,” “muttering like burlap,” “sperm tanks drained,” etc.—they now carry with them a troubling familiarity that modifies or interferes with our absorption into the more linear parts of Ticket. Repetitions like these point to a second feature in Ticket that is later adopted by others in an effort to find a poetics of digital audio editing: the looping of sections of narrative with slight alterations. For example, “the man caught his ejaculation in a jar” degenerates to “the man caught his spurts like a pack of cards.” In repetition the phrase has mutated from direct speech into analogy. Here Burroughs does not promote the blank idea of time travel through recording, but seems more interested in the creative (readerly) space opened up between competing versions of the past. Here time fragments do not truly loop, they spiral out of control.
Perhaps the most well-known of Burroughs's conceptual descendants is the Canadian composer John Oswald. Nearly thirty years ago Oswald began using early audio sampler technology in unintended ways to create “plunderphonics,” a genre of music without a conventional relationship to time's arrow. One of these early pieces was a resampling of William Burroughs's speech called “I Got.” Following Burroughs's own tape cut-up method, and suggestions for editing techniques found in his writings, Oswald loops Burroughs saying the phrase “I got” (a phrase that is an acoustic palindrome when Burroughs speaks it) forward and backward a number of times. “I got” is repeated on its own and in a number of larger phrases until it is impossible to ascertain whether it is being played normally or in reverse.[n14] The complications of voice and listening attention Oswald instigates around this little piece are multiplied in his better-known plunderphonic musical works in which he takes a familiar song, usually a pop song, splices it into minute pieces which he then loops and rearranges to create a new song. While Oswald's pieces hilariously tweak the cultural resonances associated with the famous songs they cut up, here the looping should draw our attention. The music sampler, a device invented to convert microsonic, electrically-generated sounds into the sounds of recognizable musical instruments via looping, is being used on a much larger scale to disrupt the familiar linear narrative flow of overly familiar pop songs.
3. The End of Time and the Digital Audio EditOswald marks a transitional phase in the technological mediation of audio speech and its implications for time on and through radio. While resisting the easy appeal of a straightforward, technologically determined reading, it is necessary to point out that Oswald's sampler does open a digital door through which it is possible to realize much of Burroughs's previously unrealizable tape art. In addition, the digital proposes even greater complications for linear radio time particularly on the small-scale level of content.
In many ways, a consideration of the impotence of Marinetti's most ambitious contentions for radio reveals a culture influencing a technology, not vice versa. Rather than destroying the linear narrative throughout culture, radio has been thoroughly colonized by it. Despite early utopian visions for radio, and despite a well-known tradition of modernist experiment with the recorded and broadcast voice, today's most diffuse radio production theory (the theory taught in courses on radio production) has evolved into a simplistic and straightforward defense and legitimation of traditional, time-line-based, linear narrative. Perhaps the most widely read text in a radio production context, Andrew Crisell's Understanding Radio, establishes a vocabulary for radio theory utterly at odds with Marinetti's original conception of radio and at odds with an enormous amount of non-mainstream radio produced throughout the medium's history. Crisell address himself directly to our current topic by arguing that because all radio signs are auditory “they consist simply of noises and silences, and therefore use time, not space as their major structuring agent.” Unaware of alternatives to time's arrow, Crisell only hears radio in terms of continuity and the flow of one audio event into the next, an interpretive strategy obviously predisposed to hearing radio words in terms of discursivity and linear narrative.[n15] Such an emphasis would seem today anachronistic in virtually any other contemporary literature or mass medium.
Enmeshed as it is in the assumption of linear time, Crisell's theory of radio seems incapable of addressing a vast array of radio broadcasts, literary and otherwise, on their own most basic of terms. It would fail to access the complex semantic potential introduced by looping and the temporal layerings and disruptions of digital audio editing just as it would fail to adequately appreciate the most famous broadcast in the history of American radio, the 1938 production of War of the Worlds, a program whose art resided in semantic play that unsettled an audience's expectations for radio communication and their very relationship to radio as a cultural institution. For Crisell, activating relationships of interpretation is less a concern than relating information or telling a story in a clear and straightforward manner, a manner which does not complicate or problematize the medium or time's arrow. This is not to say that such an activation would be anathema to him, only that his analog sensibility, a sensibility thoroughly organized around linear time, has not positioned him to truly engage with it.
It is certainly viable to argue that Crisell has failed to grasp the temporal implications of the technological revolution that has occurred during the past twenty years. Again, in spite of determinist pitfalls, it is possible to suggest that reel-to-reel analog tape facilitated a particular appreciation of radio time while contemporary digital audio editors invite a different kind of temporal awareness. Analog tape and computer-based digital audio editors simply relate to sound and time differently. In most cases when producing a radio program using electromagnetic tape we would first record audio through a tape machine onto the tape. We would then take this single line of speech sound and edit it in the simplest way imaginable: we would use a razorblade to cut out anything we did not want. Typically, what is not wanted is anything that deviates from a direct and narrative flow, anything that interferes with time's arrow. We aspire to “seamless” edits which dislodge nothing, which interrupt nothing, which are in fact deployed to remove interruption, to remove digression and to linearize further our already singular line of language. If such a technique does not have what one might call an “essential” linearity, it does demonstrate (especially in everyday usage) a tendency toward linearization. By contrast, there is no single line of sound in digital audio editing from which offending elements are removed. It is a technique of addition not subtraction: numerous tracks of audio are available in the same computer window and it is as easy to add sound to multiple tracks as it is to add sound to one track; individual pieces of sound can be cut as desired and layered in overlapping positions with virtually no effort; and visual representations of the waveforms which zoom in to the tiniest fraction of a second render simple previously impossible editing moves. The different production and semantic emphases of each of these two technologies is ultimately revealed in their basic units of measurement: in working with analog tape the primary measurement is a constant speed (inches-per-second of tape traveling over the playback head); on a digital audio editor the principle measurement is one of information density or “bit-depth.” While the former unit is tuned to an appreciation based on linear time, the latter unit seems opened to a textural or dimensional appreciation (it is about density or volume).
In an effort to further avoid the charge of technodeterminism it might serve here to note that what I have been describing as the digital's resistence to neatly linear time had some important analog precedents. Henri Chopin's first self-consciously technologically-mediated “audio poem,” for example, his 1957 “Pêche de Nuit,” processed a core text of fish names to disrupt a traditional speech recording semantics based on consistency of time and clarity: the tape underwent a number of speed changes while the recording was intentionally over-modulated. The voice was microphoned so close and hot as to be virtually unrecognizable, while the speed changes overwhelmed and degenerated normal speech cadences; the words were lost for the sound.[n16] In “Pêche de Nuit” we hear the materialization of language back into sound—viz. the eclipsing of an effort to communicate clearly in time by an emphasis on the physical characteristics of speech. A listener is denied sensible language but is still able to hear an unmistakably human voice in very small mouth sounds. Chopin's subsequent audio poems move from manipulations of the voice through recording technology into a poetics of audio editing which completely removes speech from a linear framework. In his Le Corpsbis collection, the subtle and seemingly inconsequential mouth sounds that occur during speech have been spliced into tiny fragments which are arranged into other “natural” sounds (such as dripping water). The contrived sounds are then assembled to create artificial “soundscapes” (such as a damp cavern). If this technique were to reduced in intensity but enlarged in scale it might be described as a predecessor of several recent experiments in digital audio poetry in which extracted speech fragments are used to create dense, spatial listening experiences. In sum, the moment splicing comes to be used as a compositional practiced divorced from traditional temporal linearity it is possible to begin describing a truly digital poetics of radio/audio editing.
The work of the writer and musician Erik Belgum is, in many ways, the literary distillation of the ideas presented by Chopin, Burroughs and Oswald. Belgum has develop a new genre of speech recording and broadcast called “ambient” writing. These loosely formed vignettes, narratives and monologs are often built with cut-up techniques and are designed to fade into the background rather than be the center of attention. As Belgum describes it, his goal in these pieces is to change the environment of a room. Their engagement is spatial as opposed to temporal. Unlike more familiar narratives which command attention be drawn to the flow of an established sequence of events, projects like his Blodder are intentionally non-invasive. They lack both technological wizardry and a dynamic voice; their consistent, virtually monotone speech prevents quick absorption. Listeners are, in sense, discouraged from listening to the story and the overall effect is a kind of speech-based pink noise not totally different from supermarket music.[n17]
In some of Belgum's other ambient pieces, and more regularly in his audio interpretations of the works of other writers, this placid veneer is punctured in a way that helps us expand our evolving conception of a non-temporal digital poetics. The flow of the monolog is often extremely simple and the voicings flat and non-expressive; the pieces sound like overly-familiar stories (even if a forced concentrated listening might reveal a degree of literary experimentation). As soon as this state of vacant attention—hearing something unfold in time but not really listening to it—is established, it is disrupted by a seemingly inappropriate insertion or overlay of some other bit of speech. In Belgum's interpretation of Raymond Federman's Take It Or Leave It, for example, such a method is used not to pop the listener out of a frame of absorption in a story but to draw the listener into something previously distant. As the “First Pretext” of Take It begins, the narrative is interrupted by tiny processed glitches recognizable as Chopin-like speech sounds (only much finer and digitally distorted). These tiny fragments pepper the larger thread of the story but they are often so small as to make you wonder whether or not the narrative has been interrupted at all. There is also an amusing narrative and technological solipsism throughout Belgum's version of Take It which further problematizes a traditional notion of radio time. At the “Second Pretext,” parts of the story are split between the stereo channels and are confusingly and intensely feathered together until “one more word and it's too much, everything is lost” where the split stereo field is again centered. Left and right channels overlap significantly, each carrying a phrase of the story, but the effect is one of near incomprehensibility, of exaggerated parole in libertà. Ironically, when the story comes back together in understandability “everything is lost.” The clear narration of the story comments on the technological play: while the editing has gotten us lost, the attempt to get back to the narrative thread only re-iterates our condition as lost listeners. Alternatively the phrase “one more word and it's too much” might be Belgum signaling to us that he knows he is pushing our limits of listening and that he will return us to a more familiar linear narrative before exhaustion and dissociation set in. Following this reading, “everything is lost” might resonate with his sadness at having to abandon his playfully electrified project for the sake of our listening, for our desire to follow the familiar arrow of time.
At this point it might prove useful to begin outlining a typology of production strategies based on the work of the theorists and artists described here as well as my own radio work. This typology will describe editing practices which have moved beyond a fixation on linear time and which contribute to a radio aesthetic much more concerned with the contrapuntal, the simultaneous and the spatial in a listening experience. Rather than aspiring to the seamless edit, I would propose: the breathless edit which splices phrases of the same speaking voice unnaturally close together in order to draw attention to our expectations of proper speech rhythms as they exist in time; the weave edit where two or more separate lines of speech are cut into various pieces and rearranged in an interlocking manner (to create two or more racing and conflated time vectors); the repeat cut in which two or more versions of the same speech echo each other or follow one after another (to create a sense of uncertainty about where the beginning of a given speech/thought really occurs); the stuttered edit in which a line of speech is broken by sporadic and uneven returns to earlier points in that line; the simple interjection edit in which a small fragment of related or unrelated speech interrupts a longer line of thought to support it, argue with it, or distract from it; the fugue edit in which the same line of speech or alterations of it are layered in increasing density to the point where spoken language approaches sound or music; and the distant echo in which parts of speech are offered first out of context and then appear later in the linear flow from which they had been extracted. Numerous additional edits might be found through the study of other media (contemporary television, early film, etc.) which have always been open to more complex notions of time than have evolved for radio.
This typology might be summed up by invoking John Cage's most significant contribution to music theory. Cage opined that he was not so much interest in music as he was in the “organization of sound.”[n18] In this era of digital production technology in which audiences have long developed reception and appreciation methods for the simultaneous and polyvalent inputs of mediated culture, radio should no longer take as its primary concern the replication of discrete linear narratives born out of anachronistic technologies. To paraphrase Cage, we are no longer interest in time but in the organization and play of a multiplicity of time's arrows.
1. F. T. Marinetti and Pino Masnata, “La Radia” in Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (eds.), Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994), 265.