Soundcheck Review

Phil England, The Wire, no. 144, February 1, 1996

Radio was important in forming a national identity amongst Canadians otherwise separated by vast distances. It bred a strong, almost countercultural, radio art tradition, dating back to 1967 and pianist Glenn Gould’s pioneering Isolation trilogy. These three CDs continue that healthy Canadian traditon.

Many of the artists included here Dan Lander, Christof Migone and Hildegard Westerkamp favour a “writing through sound” approach over traditional storytelling or Hörspiel. Sound events are edited and arranged on tape as a reappraisal of our audio landscape and as an examination of the referential as opposed to abstract in sound. Little attempt is made to ‘musicalise’ sound fragments in the inauthentic decorative sense often favoured by electroacoustic composers.

The two Radius CDs compiled by Dan Lander are not the creative shot in the arm of his earlier collections Radiophonies and Radio Rethink) Of the elght pieces across this new pair, you need to be fluent in French to appreciate three of them. And I’m not.

Meanwhile, his own Zoo disc contains four made-for-radio works. Talking to a Loudspeaker is a formative stab at a critique of radio which starts like a more humourless Negativland. It opens out as it goes along, but the real coup is provided at the end by radio artist Gregory Whitehead with an incantation — intoned long distance down the phone, each line repeated by the congregation assembled at the end — about the potential transmission has for celebratlng diversity and fostering community: “I dream of a time when everybody lives, breathes and touches each other on air…”

In Destroy: Information Only Lander revisits people who visited him in hospital 15 years earlier. Its a piece about memory where diversity is celebrated at all levels: location, modes of discourse, interaction, experience. There’s no attempt to keep people on track. Rather it’s through these digressions (video games, camp fires, flatulence) that the subjects reveal themselves. An open-ended and endearingly naturalistic model for radio, where radio moves towards the participants rather than the reverse.