The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Radio, the World, the Discrete

Not only is radio tremulous in its reception of the stars themselves; it
is also analogic, requiring no decoding; what you hear, what you record,
is what there is. The opposite holds for online radio, packet-protocol
radio, no matter how shipped; like a jpg image, it requires specific
constructs to make sense of it all. And such constructs tie into very
notions of software coding, intellectual property, corporate and personal
privacy. What the antenna registers, what the wires contact, may be
contacted by all; they are primordial, inert. Give a wavelength or wave-
length bundle, give a direction or directions or omni-directions, and what
comes in, comes in to any living creature, ready for the interpretation or
not, Rosset's idiocy, or the muteness of the world. Move to the Net, Net
radio, already the raster is at work; there is a fineness, an absolute
floor and absolute ceiling, of the recording/playback - of the apparatus
itself - that cannot be bypassed; extrapolation is trusting at best - that
nothing in-between, no out-of-packet information, exists to trouble the
rest. This is the differend at work, surely, and it is the differend that
characterizes the digital - what is not permitted to speak, what is
literally circumlocuted.

Radio brings the unknown to bear; the Net brings the known to the
bearable. Given a text/image/audio/whatever file - that is all there is,
nothing more; it exhausts itself and is exhausted and the play of content,
the semiosis, exists in the perceiver, not 'out there.' This is secondary
narcissism, looping through the machine; primary narcissism is the realm
of the analogic, our cosmological identification.


The history of radio is merged with the history of the electromagnetic,
and given the movement towards packet and protocol, it is interesting to
observe a movement from externality to internality, from brass spheres
through the Wimhurst generator, from the crystal detector through the
audion. Within the audion, and early triode, the filament glow was
visible, an electronic hearth boiling off electrons. This was the analogic
pulse of vacuum-tube radio, a pulse of light and heat and the quietest of
sounds still sought by rock guitarists and audiophiles alike. Transistors
internalized current into the literal black-box, and integrated circuits
and circuit boards eliminated almost all of the hand-wiring. With the
digital, the unit becomes tight, compact, although as always, still hack-
able; repairs are another matter. The analog was a transitive filter,
passing along the cosmos within rough bandwidth; the digital is active
sampling. The transparency of the analog was reflected in the transparency
of the radios themselves (capacitors and transformers etc. notwithstand-
ing); the opaqueness of the digital, the complexity of the protocols and
their arbitrariness, is reflected in the opaqueness of CPUs. It's both
ironic and fascinating that mod cases now bring the hearth-glow back into
the heart of the machine, with lights that do nothing but illuminate
silent circuitry. We still believe we are among beings; we always will,
and that is part and parcel of our cosmic reach, no matter how mediated it
becomes. The mistake is to take the mediation and machinic for things
themselves; certainly, on the level of _object,_ and certainly not on the
level of _function._ We design within the imminence of potential wells,
both analog and digital; otherwise we would never hear a thing.


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