Klaus Peter DENCKER (Germany)
Klaus Peter Dencker (b. 1941) – poet, theorist of contemporary art, publisher. Doctor of Philology, professor at the Department of Theory and Practice of New Media at the University of Trier (Germany). Author-compiler of one of the first European anthologies of visual poetry Textbilder. Visuelle Poesie International (Koln: DuMont, 1972), author of twenty poetry books, including such as: Der Junge Friedell (Munchen: Beck, 1977), Deutsche Unsinnspoesie (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1978), Visuelle Poesie (Dillingen: Kruger, 1984) and others. Published a great number of theoretical essays and research articles in journals, books, catalogues and anthologies of contemporary art both in Germany and abroad. From 1975 to 1985 worked in the Art Department of the Saarlandischen Rundfunk as director and editor. Author of a number of experimental documentaries and TV films on art (shown on ARD and ZDF). Holder of a number of prizes and awards, including the Culture Prize of the city of Erlangen (1972), Award of the Berlin Academy of Arts (1982).Taken from the poet’s manuscript. © 1999 Klaus Peter Dencker, Hamburg.
SOUND POETRY GOES RADIO
(for Klaus Schonings 65th Birthday)
Recently, a program announced that “for the first time in the history of German broadcasting … a daily series will be aired from the DeutschlandRadio Berlin in which the audience can directly get involved. The show is called “When Calling Soap” (“Bei Anruf Soap”). Suggestions of listeners coming in by telephone, fax or email will be immediately translated into action by actors in the studio. All this can be followed up in the net under http://www.radio.de/soap
Irrespective of risky claims such as “for the first time” (interactive productions have been around for some time: – on the net at least since Art Com/San Francisco at the beginning of the 1980s and in broadcasting and television even longer) popular branches of radio broadcasting such as the radio play seem to stay on one side of the spectrum, and the artificial-experimental Ars Acustica – productions of the WDR on the other side. The latter is determined by text, sound, and noise plays of contemporary radio productions. Even though they are positioned on opposite ends of the spectrum, there are common features: in all cases elements of findings and locations and the montage of this material play an important role. Rather than the literary momento, the completed work of art, Ars Acustica features action, the process, the making aware of acoustic materials, the mixing of different branches and ways of producing matters. This development was long in the coming.
Klaus Schoening (left),
At the time when the twenty-five year old Klaus Schoning became the WDR’s radio play editor, a remarkable publication by today’s standards, by Friedrich Knilli was released: “The Radio Play. Means and Possibilities of a Total Sound Play” (“Das Hoerspiel. Mittel und Moeglichkeiten eines totalen Schallspiels”).1
Friedrich Knilli, who, like Schoning came to the radio play through his studies of Germanistik and the theatre, tried his luck as an author of radio plays (“Pantalone”, Radio Graz 1956) but soon grew dissatisfied with the results. He than started with experimental psychological research on the reception of the radio play (Graz 1959) that became the basis of his dissertation: “The Radio Play in the Imagination of the Listener” (“Das Horspiel in der Vorstellung der Horer”, 1961).
Knilli’s publication is remarkable because it stands in stark contrast to the publication of the same year “Speak so that I can see you. Six Radio Plays and one Report on a young Form of Art” (“Sprich, damit ich dich sehe. Sechs Horspiele und ein Bericht uber eine junge Kunstform”) by Heinz Schwitzke (since 1951 chief redactor of the radio play department of the NWDR/NDR); against a rather traditional dramaturgy, a form that is too tied to literature and the “Sprachvorgang” (the process of speach): “The common radio play – as a mere form of speech – excludes itself from a wealth of possible sound processes (Schallvorgange)”.2
Knilli’s thrust of argument is that “For the first time the synthesis of all sound art is aimed for in the totality of the world of sound, a total radio play (Totalhoerspiel) which uses the means and possibilities of the musique concrete as well as the means and possibilities of electronic music, a total radio play that overcomes the illusionism of the common radio play. The stage in the listeners fantasy is transferred into the very home of the listener so that the total radio play is freed from the need to just picture characters and locations in its sounds but plays entirely in a self-contained world of concrete sounds (Schallvorgaenge) as a real (diesseitig) total sound play which the listener who belongs to the world outside turns into a total listening-play (Hoer-spiel) belonging to the real world.”3
Klaus Schoening (right)
These programmatic pronouncements already sketch out in its essence the development of years to come and likewise turn the attention to a whole range of historic precedents which were in the realm of acoustics and speech, the pioneers of the future, as expressed by Klaus Schoning as “Ars Acustica”.
Knilli turns against the pure “reproduction”, the reproduction of “reality” against “illusionism”, which was finally nothing else than a kind of translation of picture-tone/space-time processes onto one single acoustical level that in the mind of the listener reproduced the acoustical stage. He is not concerned with the reproduction of reality but, rather, with the production of the entirely new, all conceivable “Schallvorgaengen” (processes of sound) erected “Eigenwelt” (self-contained world) in which laws from other medias are transferred and applied to newly developed aesthetical laws.
This way the technical means become not only subjugated to the service of reproduction but they also can gain their own impact (Eigengewicht) and their own characteristics of expression and the development of a semantic function. An entirely new media awareness is thus heralding which sees the medium not only as a means and a mediator but as an element to create, a part of the developing Media Art that is self-explanatory and self-sufficient.
Above all, this is relevant in our use of the term “stage”. The common “Handlungsbuehne” (stage for action) which was built up in the mind of the audience and the terms of audiovisual ability to absorb the stage and place of action should be replaced by another understanding of space. This new understanding of space entails points and levels of action which are conceivable inside and outside of our mind and supported by the technical possibilities of the multi-channel procedure and the stereophony. The so-called acting personae do not exist as such. They are voices and acoustical events that are interacting in an entirely self-contained space that was created by them according to new media aesthetical laws. For example, there is an “increase of information and a broadening of the radio-phonic design possibilities against which Schwitzke, for understandable reasons, revolts because that way the stage of the radio play is transferred from the fantasy of the listener to the home (room) of the listener.”4
Closely connected with the new awareness of media is the awareness of material, a new awareness for the aesthetical quality of technique which is reflected in the opening up of the spectrum of resources of production (Produktionsquellen). Knilli mentions the “Musique concrete” and he speaks of a “self-contained world of concrete sound procedures”. In 1961 Konkrete Poesie already existed for some ten years and have existed for twenty five years. The very term of concrete designing (Konkrete Gestaltung) and concrete art appear closely related to Knilli’s description of his understanding of the term “konkret”: “If one sheds the common perception than one confronts the Aussenwelt (the outside world), which is been determined through characteristics of hearing (Gehoereigenschaften), through Bewusstseinsformen, mathematical series and static distributions and through the pure laws of designing which penetrates and organises the Eigenwelt (the self contained world) of the radio play, a world, which does not reflect the self contained world of the radio play but that realises and proves sound procedures. This world of pure characters (Gestalten) turns the sound procedures into a concrete play and anti-play (Gegenspiel) – in a Totalhoerspiel (Total Radio Play).”5
This experimenting in the second half of the 1950s historically derives from the manifestos of the Italian and Russian futurists around 1912/13 – to mention but the famous manifesto on sound art “L’arte dei rumori” (1913) by Luigi Russolo, who on 11.8.1914 gave his first concert in Milano with self-made machines. With these experimentation apart from the above-mentioned new awareness of material and of media that since futurism and dadaism is well-known, represents an attempt to blurr the borders between the kinds of art and at the same time widening art sujets. Hence, branches such as visual poetry, musical graphic and acoustical poetry appear, which again follow historical pre-figurations. Artists of all kinds, whose style of work was interdisciplinary were involved in this process. This is the decisive moment from which Schoning later describes his work in the studio: “as an open workshop for male and female artists from most different backgrounds: literature, onomatopoety (sound painting), Neue Musik, pop music and jazz, the new radio play, film, fine arts, video, computer, and performance art.”6
It was in the nature of Knillis convictions that musicians, writers, artists and technicians, i.e. all those who deal creatively with acoustical matters work for the radio play. This would eliminate the dominance of one single branch to name but the print media. Moreover, it recalls the first attempts of Kurt Weills “Absolute Radiokunst” (1925), that was stirred by the screening of “Der absolute Film” on 3.5.1925 in the UFA cinema on Kurfuerstendamm in Berlin, where experimentalist film director of the 1920s (who by the way were all artists in their own right) such as Eggeling and Fischinger called for a so-called non-literary film. But it also recalls the practical experiments of the film maker Walter Ruttmann, whose “photographisches Film/Hoerspiel Weekend” that was set on a tape with the noise of a big city (Grossstadt) and aired on one of the programs of the Berliner and Schlesischen Funkstunde, or if we think of the first Wechselspiel of reality with fiction by Orson Welles “The War of the Worlds” from 30.10.1938, or, finally, the interactive play with the audience by Ernst Schnabel in “Der 29. Januar” (NWDR 1947).
By the end of the 1950s outside the Federal Republic of Germany there were increasingly numerous experiments, which were closer to the programmatic of Knilli. So, for example, the “Omaggio a Joyce” produced in 1958 by Luciano Berio and Umberto Ecco for the RAI in the “studio di fonologia musicale”. This was an acoustic/musical adaptation of the Sirene chapter from the “Ulysses” about which Joyce in 1919 said: “I have written this chapter by means of music. It is a fuga with all the musical signs in it: piano, forte, rallentando and so on.” Or the production “ The Awakening of a City” (“Erwachen einer Stadt”), written for the Finnish radio by Jyrki Mantyla, a 12-minute collage without text or voices, a rhythmically organised composition intertwined with music.7
There were also attempts of the Sound Poetry as, to mention but a few German speaking authors, the Vienna group around Gerhard Ruhm , or by authors such as Ernst Jandl and Franz Mon. Sound Poetry too possesses a kind of tradition such as the imitation of the language of birth in the poetry of Oskar von Wolkenstein or the onomatopoetic play with words in the period of the baroque, Morike, Morgenstern and Scheerbart, and the futurists and dadaists, foremost Hugo Ball, who in 1916 on the occasion of his famous lecture in Zurich noted: “I have discovered a new branch of verse, the ‘verses without words’ or sound poems” and from whom we know that his sound poems were written according to musical works (for example by Debussy); or the outstanding works such as the Ur-Sonate by Kurt Schwitters. And Sound Poetry is by no means restricted to the German speaking world. We find it with Apollinaire and Khlebnikov, van Doesburg or Werkman and in particular with the Italians, who stood up for a renewal of poetry, a poetry that is perfectly suitable for the reproduction on tapes and the radio.
Yet in West Germany the radio play by authors such as Eich, Hildesheimer, Hirche, Hoerschelmann and Weyrauch were all supervised by Heinz Schwitzke at the NWDR/NDR was dominating the scene. Slowly, experimentation, not least under the influence of the experimental literature and in particular of the Concrete and Sound Poetry, held sway and received with Heinz Hostnig at the SR (later the successor of Schwitzke at the NDR) and Helmut Heissenbuettel at the SDR editorial, artistic and theoretical support.
During this period of change Klaus Schoning started his job with the WDR. The editor, author, theoretician and teacher founded an up to today uniquely prolific and successful chapter of acoustical Media Art, one that surpasses Knilli by far in his realisation of the 1961 program.
Schoning, who soon followed Knillis’ way to the radio play from a small s to a capital S, opened up the editing board not only with the authors of the experimental and Sound Poetry, which explored, at times with composers, not only the visual, but also the acoustic aspect of language.
After years of stagnation, or as Schoning puts it more eloquently: “After the first phase 1963-1968, in which screenings and programs devoted to a Standortbestimmung of the traditional Radio play”8 something developed that Schoning called at the end of the 1960s the point of departure for the avantgarde field of “Ars Acustica”.
Manfred Leier wrote on 13.3.1969 in the “Welt der Literatur” about this new leap in quality of the radio play, whose “witness” be Peter Handkes “Hoerspiel”, produced on 21.11.1968 at the WDR. Schoning attempts almost at the same time as the Handke production to define for the first time what is new about the new radio play on the occasion of the screening of a program by Erasmus Schofer “Through the Desert and so on” (“Durch die Wueste usw”, WDR, 10.03.1968): “The radio play is not any more a radio play. Peter Handke called his first radio play “Radio Play” and put the title in inverted commas. This is symptomatic of a tendency in the German radio play, in which language is no longer a means of creation as the picture or Ur-picture determining poetry that is presented to the “listening listener” … Today, the new radio play discovers the possibilities that were for a long time in the shadow, within the acoustical-technical medium.”9
For the time being the new quality was determined by authors such as Ruehm , Harig, Kriwet, Jandl, Mayrocker and Mon. A key work was “Ein Ausnahmezustand” by Mauricio Kagel from 4.12.1969 for which Schoning instead of the term “New Radio Play” preferred to talk about Ars Acustica and a work which, after it received the Karl-Sczuka-Award, was the initial fuse for the donator to rename the award into “Karl-Sczuka-Award for Radio Play Music” as a way of honouring ”the best production of a radio play which in an acoustical form of playing uses musical materials and structures”. Thus, the series “Composers as Radio Play Authors” was established.
The development to the third phase from the textual radio play to the text-independent radio play that is guided only by acoustics was therewith completed. The criterias of production changed radically. Terms such as GraphoPhonie appeared: “The acoustical universe as scripture, as GraphoPhonie (P. M. Meyer), that inscribes itself into analogue or digital taping systems”.10 A whole range of productions with composers such as Cage, Henry, Schnebel, Allende-Blin, Otte, Ferrari and Curran came along. In 1985 these works were introduced to the public at the 1st “Acustica International” in Cologne. This was followed up in 1986 with the establishment of a regular “Competition Acustica International”. In 1990 the “2nd Acustica International” took place in New York and in 1994, 1996 and 1997 in Cologne.
Since 1991 the “Studio Akustische Kunst” became an independent branch at the cultural program of the WDR, which produces (apart from a two month break) almost weekly a 90 minute program for WDR 3 and 60 minutes in WDR 5 which was aired up until three years ago. Today the 60 minute program with the WDR 5 has been abolished; instead, there is now a firm, identifiable platform for acoustical art every week at the WDR 3.
This year Klaus Schoning can look back to almost 40 years from the radio play workshop to the radio play studio to the studio for acoustical art with over 1000 productions from 1968 till today. The stages of his professional life and his programmatic can be found in important productions such as the “Klangreise zur akustischen Kunst. WDR 1963-1993”, an Anthologia Ars Acustica, which was aired from January to December 1993 with interesting productions in WDR 3 and 5 and the eleven parts of a series Ars Multilingua from 1994, as well as events in which Schoning contributed: “Film hoeren” 1995, “Akustische Kunst – Medienkunst” 1997 and above all in the periodicals of the Studios Akustische Kunst (all written by him over the years).
The climax of his work is the production of the series “Metropolis” (Klangbilder grosser Staedte – Sound pictures of big cities) and “Soundscapes” (Sound pictures of nature landscapes) as well as “Satelliten-Ohrbruecke (satellite ear bridge) Cologne-San Francisco from 1987 and six years later “Satellite Ear Bridge Cologne – Kyoto” by Bill Fontana. Especially the co-operation with Fontana must be stressed (since the project “Distant trains. Cologne-Berlin” in 1984, a radio play on an imaginary journey from Cologne to Berlin, and “Metropolis Cologne” in 1985 with Mauricio Kagel and Gerhard Ruhm since 1969 and John Cage since “Rotario. An Irish Circus over Finnegans Wake” in 1979). The first WDR marathon 16.-17.6.1982, a thirty hour non-stop airing (in co-production with RTE Dublin) of the entire “Ulysses” by James Joyce, or 14.-15.2.1987, the 24 hour Live airing for the 75th birthday of John Cage “NachtCageTag” were outstanding productions.
In theory, after the programmatic definitions of the new radio play at the end of the 1960s Klaus Schoning defined in a second step towards the end of the 1970s the re-opening of the artistic productions yet again: “Music and literature combine themselves in the dimension of a new electro-acoustic art. Radio play listening.”11
The third step, prompted by a contract for the Documenta VIII to erect an Audiothek, followed in the 1980s with his essays “On the traces of ‘acoustical art’ in the radio” (“Auf den Spuren der 'akustischen Kunst' im Radio”12 and “Outlines of acoustical art” (“Konturen der akustischen Kunst”13 ) was a remarkable opening of the field of experimentation: “It seems logical, that in the next phase acoustical works as well will become works of fine art, such as the “Sound sculpture” (Bill Fontana, Alvin Curran, Les Gilbert), as well as sounding objects (such as by Thomas Schulz or Stephan von Huene) to be included in the further development of acoustical art in the radio. <…> The emancipated cooperation of artists of different backgrounds and of different media <…> is the basis for an aesthetical ‘program’ of an open concept.”14 In a catalogue of the Goethe-Institut Kyoto in June 1993, where it was again stressed that: “The encounter of acoustic art with fine art, the co-operation of radios with museums of modern art refer again to the rarely made use of intermedial possibilities of the Ars Acustica.”15
This way the next steps were already laid out. They could make use of the new transfer possibilities, the further opening up of the public space, the ever increasing range of electronic media that led to new definitions of elements of action, space and time and new interactive forms of playing.
Whether or not this roughly sketched development will materialise as Manfred Mixner (who referred from the IRF to the SFB) wrote in the journal “Language in the technical age” (“Sprache im technischen Zeitalter”) has to be doubted at the end of a necessary discussion. He said: “The discussion about the specific aspects of radio play petered out in the last years: in the 1960s and 191970s one could have good arguments on the new radio play, the political radio play and the o - tone radio play. The post modern pluralizing tendencies made way for the establishment of the so-called ‘Audio art’ of the ‘Ars Acustica’ without putting up a fight; the, as it seems, Totengesang to the radio play of the coming Fin de Siecle. Because, what the artists, who submit to the non verbal mystification of sound, often overlook: the ‘de-wordification’ of the program and also of the several channels of culture (Kulturkanale), are promoted without second thought.”16
Mixner is simply forgetting that the development of the arts and within the respective experimenting is always the finding of new “languages” and that the “de-wordification” is just the task of one language in favour of another, whereas not necessarily the “abandoned language” is of a better quality. The history of media in particular holds plenty of examples where the advent of a new medium prompts the vanishing of the one that was there before. (K. P. Dencker. “Mit der Elektronik zurueck in die Zukunft? Ueber das verschwinden der Kuenste in der schoenen neuen Medienwelt”17) without which the prophecy of death really comes true, in contrary: the inter disciplinary widening of means and the robust thrust of innovation leads not to the widening of the limits of sensibility and awareness.
This was said implicitly by Klaus Schoning again and again in all of his theoretical works. Especially him we can not the least accuse of a lack of responsibility and cultural sabotage. Because to his manifold services to the radio play we must add his supervision of an extraordinary project, that is the 60 series of “History and typology of the radio play” (“Geschichte und Typologie des Horspiels”) by Reinhard Dohl (published in 7 volumes in the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft), which were from 1970 to 1986 developed for the WDR. Next to the doing (machen) Klaus Schoning stands also for the regulative of reflection, the doing of analysis and mediation, either through him or through one of his aides. This makes him so special in the current scene of Media Art.
Klaus Schoning is one of the foremost examples for the chance of public state-borne broadcasting to protect and foster culture. The state system, the WDR as patron, Klaus Schoning as the right man at the right place: – a stroke of luck for the history of media and Media Art.
1. Friedrich Knilli. Das Horspiel. Mittel und Moglichkeiten eines totalen Schallspiels. Stuttgart, 1991.
2. Das Horspiel, s. 108.
3. Das Horspiel, s. 8.
4. Das Horspiel, s. 58f.
5. Das Horspiel, s. 110.
6. WDR, Koln, Studio Akustische Kunst, Programmheft: Januar bis Februar 1998, s. 22
7. vgl. dazu Hermann Naber, radiospektakl... Horspiel und Horspielversuche anderswo – ein Uberblick. In: Akzente 16, H.1, 1969, s. 2ff.
8. Programmheft, s. 24.
9. Rundfunk und Fernsehen 17, H. 1, 1969, s. 20ff
10. Programmheft, s. 25.
11. Textsorten und literarische Gattungen. Dokumentation des Germanistentages in Hamburg, 1979, s. 621ff.
12. Documenta VIII. Katalog. Kassel 1987, Bd. 1, s. 127ff.
13. Bestandsaufnahme Gegenwartsliteratur. Text und Kritik, Munchen 1988, s. 67ff.
14. Bestandsaufnahme, s. 85.
15. Katalog des Goethe-Institut Kyoto, Juni 1993.
16. Manfred Mixner. Sprache in technischen Zeitalter, H. 117, 1991.
17. In: Gronemeyer-Festschrift, Hamburg, 1993
Translated by Astrid Strohbach (with David Hollenberg).Previous (Arrigo LORA-TOTINO), Next (Gerhard RUEHM)