Dead air. It appears with anticipation, proving the existence of its opposite: the distance between you and me, a mouth and an ear. It can be alive. The broadcast of sounds turning to meaning, it's an intimate art.
In a basement, in the dim front of the room, they talk into microphones, put records on turntables, play MP3's, raise and lower levels on the mixing board. Behind the table, where the equipment is set up, sits a mess of stuff in the darkened other half of the space, the muffled things that sit in cellar storage. A computer collects the noises as data. It sends a signal and relays that message. If you are close by, you can tune in from your stereo. But let's be honest; that signal is weak and who knows it's there? Otherwise you may stream it on your own computer, or listen to all of the archived shows, at kchungradio.org. Streamed live, the deejays can see the digits on the stream's counter, each number representing a set of ears. There's usually five or six listening in -sometimes up to 60. It is KChung Radio. And here you go, now you know it's there too.
A late season's rainy night in April brings a slew of KChung's people for a meeting in a room above the station. Radio is an ephemeral thing. Joining mind/body and equipment together, they make noise in a moment and then the sound disappears. So it's nice for the deejays to see who else takes part in the sound. It's a relatively eclectic bunch of Los Angeles' bohemians: musicians, contemporary artists, writers. Some work at record shops, some teach school, and others; I don't know. Solomon Bothwell is here. He is tall, slight, and deceptively confident. He started KChung and the rest came into place, five nights a week, with 25 distinct shows of scheduled air-time, between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight.
Solomon Bothwell: "I thought there was no reason why I couldn't start something myself. It wouldn't be anything serious or large scale but it would be something. I imagined a sort of humorous small-scale version of a community station. I came up with a silly name and got a tiny part 15 AM transmitter and started telling people KChung was a real thing. The more people convinced, the more real it became."
At first there's just three of us down here, and then it's more: new energy and electric. Music is being left to play from the previous show. What's "on air" now and out there in the night, it's an after thought for what's in here now, at the station. building up. Cables are laid. Broken down machines are put back together, plugged in, and tuned up. A joint goes round. One of the musicians is blind, the other two are sited, and then yeah, suddenly they are live. "You know it all comes down to the beauty of being in that basement late at night and knowing that no one is listening but the sky and the concrete floors." The hosts of Sunday night's Field Recordings For the Afterhours are Max Hegedus and Nick Crozier Malkin. Tonight, Nick's friends, The Faraday Trippers are fruitfully feeling up their instrument for a Theremin three-way. And I wonder, because I am in the basement with them on the concrete floor, do I need these magic visuals (the grope and subsequent orchestrated squawks of these totally otherworldly instruments) to trip so hard? Does it sound this wondrous out there in radio-land? I hope so. I leave the station and within a block the signal falls from my car's radio. The sea of static remaining is oddly enchanting.
The station's shows are a mix. Some are experiments, and others shows with those of musicians and scenesters (No Age, Fos FM, Zen Mafia etc.). With a surplus of airtime, skills, and opportunity to connect intimately with an audience, all these DJs experiment with compelling and touching sounds.
The station has a sizable contingent of "performance artists" in its roster who are experimenting with radio's broadcast intimate format.
On May 6, Guru Rugu led a 3 level shushing meditation, It involved intervals of radio silence interspersed with "hushes"," shushes", and "shut ups." Listeners were invited to either listen or shush along at home.
1) Shhhh'ing the negative aura energy in the space around us.
2) Shush!'ing the negative spirits in the space around us.
3) Shut up'ing the negative thoughts within
Adam Overton is the spokesperson for Guru Rugu. Guru Rugu hosts a monthly show of experimental mediations. They can be described as conscientious attempts to subtly alter the mind and bodyscape through stories, chants, and sound collages. Adam says that the guru finds hosting a show "constructive." He says that the guru might say, "this is a good idea but never get around to do it. You get on and here's your time window and its ticking and its radio and people are listening and there's this intense sense that it is happening and you can't go back and you can't revise. It's like you are on a stage. There's an urgency and an adrenaline rush." Adam adds the Guru likes adrenaline rushes.
The Spoken Film Project has Yelena Zhelezov providing live translation to "Soviet era film in the genre of industrial romance." Tonight, Yelena will talk through and describe the entirety of 1961's "The Long Day." She claims it has never been translated from Russian to English before. A tale of a workers romance -- it is foreign to me but I am entranced by Yelena's dark accent and the otherness of it. As I listen, I work on a drawing.
Costumer Care is a 30 minute Kchung program. The entirety of the show is recordings of costumer service representatives speaking on the phone with a Mr. Stephen Van Dyck. A prank call, in its form, is an expression of dead air- deliberate miscommunications between a liar and his patsy. The concept of Van Dyck's show might first lead you to assume that he's a prank caller. You're wrong. His dialogues with "representatives" of Time Warner Cable or Caribbean Cruise Lines are ambitious attempts to connect when name, address and social security number usually suffice.
Stephen describes the impetus of his show as such:
"I have been having lengthy, chatty, sometimes personal phone conversations with customer service agents since I was a kid. I talked to a lady once for three hours bonding over our mutual desire for a pet goat. She lived in a small town in West Virginia. Her house sat atop the tallest hill in the town, and she was often the only part of the town to get snow. So she wanted to have a goat to pull her up the slippery hill. I have many stories like this one, and when I realized it seemed unusual to many people that I did this, I began recording it. Mostly because I think it's a beautiful missed opportunity to have a moment with someone. And how could these other people let a chance like this pass them by?"
During a taped exchange between himself and a representative of Bank of America (he was trying to secure free checking) Van Dyck explained himself further: "I am at home and I'm dealing with bills and stuff that isn't fun to deal with, and I guess you guys have to deal with this, so it's nice to connect and have a conversation."
His recorded exchanges generally begin with the programmatic discourse of each business he is on the phone with. But then he'll ask a question of the customer service representative. Something subtle like "You must have to deal with people's emotions a lot," or "you have an accent, where are you from," or "have you ever been on one of these vacations you are booking." These questions touch off conversations revealing a cruise ship booker too poor to take vacations. A Costa Rican representative who'se been to the jungle and watched toucans and jaguars. And this conversation between Stephen and a loan consolidator:
Stephen: You're kind of like a social worker?
Loan Consolidator: Yeah I guess so.
Stephen: I guess you don't need to watch any dramas when you get home.
LC: No. I don't take any calls once I get home. When I get home no more calls, no more problems I don't want to be involved in solving them when I get home. I kinda want to chill out.
Stephen: So you just want to watch comedies probably.
LC: Yeah, you know, you gotta laugh at life or else you'll probably die crying.
Stephen: Yeah, oh I know.
Frequently Van Dyck's recorded calls end with warm yet uncomfortable good byes. Protocols have broken down, everyone has just affirmed that they are indeed