A still image from Tetsuo Kogawa's CONCILIATION OF SFERICS (2016).
In October 2016, Tetsuo Kogawa sent a video to the Radio Revolten Festival in Halle, Germany presenting his latest research on what he calls “radioart,” a term that describes his practice of “intervening directly in the material called ‘airwaves’” (Kogawa 2008: n.p.). Kogawa prefers this term over others because it moves beyond, around, and through the boundaries of “existent art-forms especially such as sound art, media art, and all of what [is] usually called ‘radio art,’” and it makes room for new practices “involved in ecology, micro-politics and philosophy of technology” to emerge (Kogawa 2016a: 10). As Kogawa explains in an interview with Michal Cáb, his concept of radioart deals with “electromagnetic radiation from radio waves to brain waves and even to X-rays. In other words, the material of radioart is airwaves and electromagnetic waves including lights and sounds.”
Kogawa developed his concept of radioart through years of experimentation with very low-powered FM transmitters and the relatively small transmission areas they produce. In 1982, Kogawa inspired students from his phenomenology seminars at Tokyo’s Wako University to set up a very low-powered FM radio station on campus called Radio Polybucket. A year later, in 1983, they set up another very low-powered FM radio station in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood called Radio Home Run. Kogawa participated in Radio Home Run along with his former students and others from the hyperlocal community until the station went online in 1996. Because of the relatively weak power of Radio Home Run’s transmitter, the station had a comparatively small coverage area, which meant that listeners could easily walk to its studio — located in a modest apartment only a few blocks away — to join the collective and actively participate in the creation of programming as producers.
During Radio Home Run’s tenure, members of this collective, including Kogawa, came to view the practice of walking to the studio — moving through, around, and within the electromagnetic field produced by the station's very low-powered FM transmitter — as integral to their radio-making experiences. Because of this, Kogawa began experimenting with weaker and weaker transmitters that produced smaller and smaller coverage areas in his artistic work, which contributed to the development of his concept and practices of radioart. His recent contribution to the Radio Revolten Festival marks the current state of his thinking on this concept and its practices and culminates from years of artistic research conducted during experimental radioart performances. The piece, entitled CONCILIATION OF SFERICS, prominently features physical movement, radio transmitters and receivers, and nonrepresentational layers of radio static and noise. In it, Kogawa's hands move a quartet of very low-powered broadband radio transmitters through, around, and within the very small electromagnetic fields that they produce.
In this paper, I examine Kogawa’s concept of radioart by discussing its emphasis on movement. To do this, I consider the history of Radio Polybucket, Radio Home Run, and Kogawa’s own thoughts and practices through a theoretical lens of concepts related to the Japanese terms ika and ika-koka, such as Viktor Shklovsky’s artistic techniques of defamiliarization and Bertolt Brecht’s theatrical techniques of Verfremdungseffekt (V-effekt). Discussions of ika and ika-koka among Japanese intellectuals, artists, literary producers, and cultural critics caused these concepts to circulate through, around, and within communities that Kogawa was involved with during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the collective of producers that constituted Radio Home Run in the decades to follow. Ultimately, I trace how Kogawa's concept and practices of radioart were influenced by discussions of ika and ika-koka that moved through, around, and within the community and how they simultaneously created new experiences of ika and ika-koka in communities by encouraging individuals to perceive the airwaves through what I will call kinetic interactions with the material conditions of radio. These kinetic interactions cause the physical relationships among individuals and materials to perceptibly change over time, and, as I argue, they can cause perceptions of radio to shift by making familiar habits one is 'at home' with suddenly seem strange and uncanny, thus revealing new possibilities for interacting with the airwaves and via this form of electromagnetic energy.
I begin by analyzing Kogawa’s recent video for the 2016 Radio Revolten Festival to describe the current state of his concept and practices of radioart. Then, I jump back in time to discuss the concepts related to the ika and ika-koka that circulated among Kogawa, his colleagues, and his students since the 1970s, as well as the formation of Radio Polybucket and Radio Home Run in the early 1980s. Next, I examine the centrality of walking to the practices of Radio Home Run, which listeners frequently did when they travelled to the small apartment that housed the station's studio to become a part of the station's collective of producers and actively participate in the creation of its programs. In particular, I analyze a short 1985 film created by Radio Home Run member, Itaru Kato, that depicts the journey of an individual, as they walk through the streets of Tokyo's Shimokitazawa neighborhood to the station's studio. Finally, I outline the development of Kogawa’s concept and practices of radioart by examining his artistic work with ever-weaker transmitters and ever-smaller coverage areas chronologically through the 1990s and early 2000s before circling back to his recent Radio Revolten contribution.
During my promenade throughout history, I demonstrate that Kogawa’s concept and practices of radioart resulted from the movement of various material and immaterial elements, including ideas, methodologies, and discourses within, among, and around a collective and not the product of a linear trajectory of thought from a single individual. Kogawa, himself, might characterize this oblique etiology as a sort of resonance, another concept that he describes in the following manner:
Resonance does not exchange information but synchronizes between bodies.
"Sender"-"medium"-"receiver", the popular model of communication has become obsolete […] As Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela wrote, there is no "transmitted information" in communication. Communication is a "structural coupling". (Kogawa 1999)
Other artists, such as Anna Friz, also use the concept of resonance to describe how radio moves beyond standard sender-receiver models of communication to direct "awareness to an experience of co-presence within immersive conditions [...] whether that be the literal physical environment of transmission or resonance within the cultural imaginary” (Friz 2009: 48). Throughout this paper, I consider Radio Polybucket, Radio Home Run, and Kogawa’s practices of radioart as examples of resonance in action, since the history of each reveals how various concepts, practices, and materials can move around and influence members of a community.