Radio Without Boundaries: Breaking free of format and formula

0 Posted by - May 30, 2011 - Conversations, Features, Sound

“If it makes a sound, it’s radio to me.” — Roman Mars

One of the targets for serious re-imagining at the Radio Without Boundaries conference (which finished up yesterday in Toronto) was traditional radio. Long considered a cultural wasteland, the befouled soundscapes of industrial radio have inspired a new generation of artists who are actively refashioning and expanding the boundaries of radio’s possibilities. At the forefront of this creative movement is Roman Mars, founder of Public Radio Remix.

Public Radio Remixis an experimental sound stream hosted by PRX (the Public Radio Exchange) to showcase pieces from the PRX archive and to develop new approaches to radio.  “It’s an effort to break apart format” said Mars in his artist talk on Saturday.

Public Radio Remix has no format and no schedule. It actively seeks out experimental documentary work and sound art. And it has a distinctly anti-traditional flavour. It reimagines what radio might be and could be and perhaps should be without the often arbitrary constraints imposed by commercial structures.

Mars got his start in community radio in San Francisco and found his way into producing at National Public Radio, where he still occasionally contributes programming. But even here he found the constraints of format far too limiting. “Public radio has become synonamous with news, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s all this talk about “bias” in public radio … the real bias in public radio is against joy.”

Mars’ enthusiams for the eclectic and odd and beautiful potential of public sound are as infectious as they are inspiring.

Because there is no schedule, tuning into Public Radio Remix is always an experiment. You might catch lengthy samples from You Are Listening To Los Angeles, a sound stream that combines real-time police radio (from Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, San Francisco or Chicago — your choice) with ambient music; or experimental narrative work from the folks at Housing is a Human Right Storytelling Project; or short documentaries from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

Or you might find work from One Hello World: Voice Recording the Human Condition, an ongoing project that gathers random stories from strangers and sets them to music. You might even catch Mars’ own show, 99% Invisible, a podcast about design.

One of the wonderful things about Public Radio Remix is that it offers a diverse sampling of some of the most innovative work being done in sound. What is often only available to a small community of festival goers and afficianados, through the Public Radio Remix stream is now available to everyone on the internet.

I caught up with Roman Mars after his artist talk to chat about the pleasures of breaking format.

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