Avant-Garde  •  Sound Art

Radio Works

Being most of the time ignored by major record companies, concert promoters, and radio stations, avant-garde music often relies on the financial help of governments to grow. Commissions for works from public organizations, especially in the fields of contemporary music, electroacoustic music, and sound art, have often been the occasion for composers to take even greater chances and experiment with new forms of expression. The role of public radio in all Western countries has been crucial to the development of avant-garde music, but West-German radio stands apart. Very early in the development of radio transmission, a form of art specific to the medium appeared, the hörspiel, or "radio play." An extension of the radio drama, the hörspiel pairs a narrative with music, but its existence is specific to the airwaves -- it could not be performed on stage, since there is no visual elements and it is conceived so that speech and music are integrated into a multimedia work of art. Starting in the 1950s, German composers like Klaus Schoning and Franz Mon developed the new radio play, often called klangspiel, "sound play" (although the term hörspiel remains the most commonly used, even outside of the Germanic sphere). Their works put speech (either in the form of a narrative or of a phonetic deconstruction) at the center, while including music, musique concrète, and collage techniques. Many members of the avant-garde, from John Cage to Pierre Henry, took the plunge and started to devise radio-specific works fitted to a certain duration (usually 30 or 60 minutes). Public radios around the world, but especially in France, England, and Canada, regularly commission programs from a wide range of avant-garde artists that encompass electroacoustic composers and avant-rock figures (Chris Cutler, Heiner Goebbels). Since the 1980s, the group Negativland specializes in live radio performance, inviting the audience to interact through call-in segments. The rise of the compact disc allowed works to be released on record (with its surface noise and time limits, the LP was unsuitable).