r a d i o q u a l i a

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Free Radio Linux, 2002

Technologies: micro FM transmitter, Oddcast Ogg Vorbis encoder, REALbasic

Keywords: open source, performance, sound

"In the hierarchy of media, radio reigns. There are more computers than modems, more phones than computers, and more radios than phones. Radio is the closest we have to an egalitarian method of information distribution. Free Radio Linux advocates that radio is the best method for distributing the world's most popular free software."

On February 3, 2002, to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the coining of the term "open source," a duo calling themselves r a d i o q u a l i a (Honor Harger, a former Webcasting curator at the Tate Modern in London, and Adam Hyde, an electronic musician and software developer from New Zealand) launched Free Radio Linux, an audio distribution of Linux, a popular open source operating system. Like other open source software, Linux is developed and improved by a distributed network of volunteer programmers who freely share the fruits of their labor. The most successful open source software project of its time, Linux was favored by many New Media artists, from Radical Software Group (p.) to Raqs Media Collective (p.) , and served as a model for open source cultural practices of all kinds.

r a d i o q u a l i a programmed a "speech.bot" (software that converts text into a synthesized human voice) to recite all 4,141,432 lines of the source code of the kernel, or core, of the Linux operating system. The speech.bot's output was then encoded using Ogg Vorbis, an open source audio codec, or compression-decompression scheme. The voice was broadcast over the Internet in real time, and relayed to a network of FM, AM and Shortwave radio stations around the world. Free Radio Linux was inspired in part by the "code stations" of the 1980s?pirate radio broadcasts of bootleg programs that were converted by modems into noise, played over the air, then reconverted by listeners' modems into working software. In theory, a Free Radio Linux listener could transcribe each line of the Linux kernel's code, or cut and paste it from the text that accompanied the reading (presented so that people could follow what they were hearing in the audio stream).

The speech.bot's reading was a kind of spoken-word performance that continued 24 hours a day for 590 consecutive days. To sit and listen non-stop to this automated spoken-word performance would have been beyond the limits of human endurance. In this regard, Free Radio Linux echoes such durational New Media art works as John F. Simon Jr.'s Every Icon and MTAA's 1 year performance video (aka samHsiehUpdate). In each of these projects, computers replace artists in the execution or performance of the work. Lines of code such as "Segment #8, Start Address 00ff003b, Length 3, 0xff,0x00,0x3b,0x00,0x03,0x00, 0x02, 0x00, 0x3b" bring to mind both Kurt Schwitters's Dadaist experiments from the 1920s and 1930s, in which the artist used phonetic sounds as raw material in nonsensical yet poetic recordings, and the British band Radiohead's use of a robotic voice on their 1997 album "OK Computer."

Free Radio Linux exemplifies the non-commercial nature of much New Media art. By deliberately operating outside the marketplace and embracing open source methods of production and distribution, r a d i o q u a l i a offers an implicit critique of the proprietary economies of both the art world and the software industry. Free Radio Linux nonetheless received the support of Minneapolis's Walker Art Center, an established art world institution.

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