Culture  CKutting-edge sound

Philip Greene goes behind the mic on CKUT FM’s contribution to sound art

  1. Every Wednesday from 10 p.m. to midnight, host Christof Migone would tantalize listeners with radio specific events such as “Body Map,” in which a reclining body was transposed onto a map of Montreal and people phoned in to discover which part of the body they resided on.
  2. An exploration of contemporary sound and live improvisation hosted by a collective of Montreal sound artists. As Claude Schryer, a member of the collective, described it: “a show of absurd improvised live electronics.”
  3. CKUT is commissioned to produce sound works to be aired at sunrise, about the sunrise, for the festival.
  4. “An International Festival of Radio Fart and Theory” (1991) brings together sound and radio artists from around the world including Gregory Whitehead whose radio piece “We All Scream Alone” asks callers to give their best scream. One of the weirdest pieces of radio you’ll ever hear.
  5. Live on-air baptisms, exorcisms, hymns, stories, ranting, choir action, and homemade instruments make this show the perfect antidote to AM talk radio.
  6. CKUT joins the Radia network which links radio art-friendly stations throughout the world.
  7. A live radio art transmission mash of storytelling, music and sound art. The audience enters the box (a canopy of fabric) and is surrounded by the sounds of radio.
  8. A Dada joke setting January 17 as art’s birthday has become an unofficial radio art holiday. CKUT begins celebrating the birth of art in 2007 by hosting a party and producing art for the event.
  9. Kathy Kennedy’s choral piece, “a long hmm,” is broadcast on CKUT as one hundred people march up St Laurent with radios hmming along.
  10. Every other Wednesday Marc Montanchez leads a workshop where people can learn to bend and transform any sound making circuit to their liking.
  11. On Mondays from 2 to 3 p.m. this show presents sound and radio art focused on a specific theme. Anyone interested in producing for the show can drop in on meetings which happen Tuesday at 12 p.m. in the CKUT building at 3647 University.

Chances are that if you tune in to CKUT 90.3 FM there won’t be any Lady Gaga playing. No offence to pop culture, it’s just that the station prides itself upon providing an alternative to the commercial radio that dominates the FM dial. Instead, you’re much more likely to encounter the sounds of a field recording or a local band. Although this doesn’t distinguish CKUT from most other campus and community radio stations, the role that the station has played – and continues to play – in the development of a sound and radio art scene in Montreal is unique.
Since 1987, when McGill acquired an FM license for the station, CKUT has been a hub for Montreal-based sound art, and has helped to define the relatively new genre of radio art. In the early nineties, under the guidance of a talented production coordinator, Christof Migone, the station gave radio hosts the opportunity to explore the possibilities of radio as an artistic medium. As opposed to presenting spoken word and musical pieces in a straightforward fashion, many hosts took up a more performative approach. Improvisation and listener participation were encouraged. For example, a few of the old- timers at the station fondly remember a live potluck where the whole station had an on-air dinner party in the studio. Another time, invitations were sent in the mail and posted in the classified sections of Montreal newspapers for listeners to call in to the station and describe themselves. This kind of art-making utilized the radio as a live collaborative device, and came to be known as radio art.
CKUT continues in this tradition today and is active in Montreal’s sound art community, collaborating with different sound artists such as Kathy Kennedy and Emmanuel Madan, who have their own sound art projects. Events like the “Magic Sound Box” (see 7) invite listeners to experience radio as a live performance and give sound artists the chance to air their works on the FM. Madan’s 59 second show “A Series of Broadcasts Addressing the Limitlessness of Time,” which aired weekly through 2006-07, confronted the  regimented nature of time in radio transmission by playing a sound that could last a second or years. Becoming a member of the Radia network (see 6) further solidified CKUT’s commitment to radio art.
The focus on live transmission and spontaneity distinguishes radio art from other forms of sound art. At the same time, it also necessitates that radio art be ephemeral. Hardly any of the performances and improvisations aired on CKUT in the nineties remain. Claude Schryer, one of the hosts of electroacoustic show “Sons D’espirit,” (see 2) recently burnt 80 per cent of his archives in a ritualistic cleansing. Even today, the station only keeps show archives for a few months, after that, they disappear. You’ve got to listen to the radio to hear radio art, so turn on CKUT FM.