net.radio and streaming audio
about Chris Byrne
notes from lecture on streaming audio
Artists' use of net.radio has emerged from different cultural strands, including the electronic music and the net.art scenes, but also from a tradition of artists' experiments with analogue broadcast media. From the beginnings of radio as a medium, artists have been involved in trying to push the boundaries of what might be possible, part of a broader movement of people attempting to realise the true two-way communications potential of broadcast. Radio is largely a one-way centralised medium for political and economic reasons rather than technical.
From the 1960s onwards, activists and enthusiasts have set up alternatives to state and statelicensed commercial radio. In many countries, a strong culture of pirate and free radio stations continues to operate alongside the mainstream. The diversity and prevalence of these alternatives depends upon the degree to which broadcasting is regulated by the state, and to what extent regulation is enforced. In the 1980s some countries, most notably the Germanspeaking nations, and to some extent the United States, public/state radio stations developed 'niche' slots for radio art: a notable example is ORF's Kunstradio.
From the mid-1990s when the Internet first emerged as a truly mass phenomenon, artists have been amongst those to use streaming media technologies to reach new and international audiences for their experiments with radio. Early pioneers of this movement include New Zealanders Adam Hyde and Honor Harger. Operating as radioqualia they moved from analogue broadcast in New Zealand to reach a global, if limited, Internet audience. Other artists active with net.radio from an early stage include Negativland. Their Over The Edge radio show, running since 1983, has combined a traditional broadcast slot on Berkeley college radio with webcasts since the late 1990s.
Other interesting models have emerged more recently, including Resonance FM in London, a city-wide radio station based largely in the experimental music scene, but also streaming to a global audience. A similar experiment in Berlin, Reboot FM, has also developed server software to enable audience members to contribute material to the station via the Internet. This echoes earlier efforts by free radio stations and artists’ projects, including Negativland’s OTE, to incorporate audience involvement in more interesting ways than the standard mainstream model of the ‘phone-in’ show.
More recently, the Art World has become interested in radio art: witness last year's launch of WPS1 in New York, where much radio art from the archive is available, along with new material and interviews, discussion etc. Also De Appel curated Radio Days in Amsterdam, an event which whether by accident or design did not include any reference to the long history of free radio in that city. Whether the interests of art institutions will continue to be served by radio art and stations, only time will tell. However for now this represents an interesting area of diversification, for both artists and audiences.
Streaming Internet audio has been around for about a decade. The technology was a natural progression from the use of computers to create audio, radio and multimedia. Streaming enables audio broadcasting across the Internet to global audiences.
A typical interface today for streaming audio is Apple’s iTunes software. A variety of commercial and non-profit Internet radio stations are available via iTunes, streaming audio in MP3 format. Alternative media practitioners, independent artists and musicians have also found streaming audio an invaluable and cost-effective tool to reach audiences directly.
The principle audio streaming formats are Realaudio, MP3, and Quicktime. These are all proprietary technologies, in the case of Real very closed to outside developers. MP3 (and Quicktime) uses MPEG codecs for streaming, and there are many more software tools for creating MPEG compressed audio. An open source codec, Ogg Vorbis, has also been developed. MP3 (MPEG level 3) is the most popular standard today for internet audio.
Some considerations to bear in mind if you want to stream audio to an audience:
- Available bandwidth: audience & webcaster
- Choice of server technology: Real (free only for 25 simultaneous listeners), Shoutcast/Icecast (free), Quicktime (free)
- Possible to create a ‘homebrew’ server using domestic ADSL connection for smaller audiences
Some technologies on the Mac to play with:
Nicecast - Icecast server for Mac OS X - good for live streaming, based on Audio Hijack
Audio Hijack - Record audio from any running application MP3
Sushi - MP3 jukebox which streams pre-recorded files with web interface
Wiretap - Similar to Audio Hijack
Skype - Free Internet telephony using VOIP streaming protocol
The new craze. Not streaming Internet audio exactly, more a hybrid of weblog and personal radio show for download.
- MP3 audioblog + RSS newsfeed = Podcast
- IpodderX: auto downloads Podcasts to Itunes to play on your iPod
- Skype + Wiretap/Audio Hijack = Podcast interview
Podcast genres are mainly talk show and dj-ing Itunes selections, due to its genesis in blogging, rather than radio. Possible to do much more, musicians and artists could make good use of this technology.
A system of licenses inspired by Open Source movement. Enables creators of literary or artistic works to publish their work in a variety of ways, as an alternative to normal copyright licenses.
Streaming audio, net.radio, podcast links
Software and technology links
Creative Commons, Copyleft and Open Source links