Photo: Alex Woodward

Tetsuo Kogawa


21 Mar 2009  •  The Arches, Glasgow


Tetsuo performs with hand built mini-FM/ VLF/ UHF transmitters, which react to interference in the atmosphere and the electrical impedance of his hands as he moves them; much like a theremin. His performances have a homemade charm to their vibrating, physical, electronic drones. His radio art is a form of social practice, a statement in opposition to mass media and of the value of expressing subjectivity through a constant process of reinvention.

Tetsuo is a really very influential figure in underground radio art and media-art theory, with over 30 years of collaboration and connection with some of the most influential artists and thinkers of that period, worldwide (He’s published over 30 books, had a series of interviews with Felix Guttari, has known and collaborated with pioneers of experimental music in Japan from the 50’s on (big guns like Yasanao Tone and Takehisa Kosugi and so on…)).   


He’s perhaps best known internationally as the founding father of the micro-fm boom in Japan in the 80’s. Inspired by the Marxist 'Autonomia' movement and their pirate radio stations in 1970’s Italy, Kogawa set up Radio Home Run as a resistance to the commodification of subculture; theorising, practically enabeling and kick starting a Japanese boom which saw thousands of tiny radio stations set up and run, by and for communities across the country.  They became a space for polymorphous chaos, a kind of chaos found through difference and "order through fluctuations".


What is he doing?


Like loads of people at the festival, Tetsuo is interested in potential: the potential of radio and broadcasting as an artistic and political medium.  Here’s a direct quote from him. “Throughout its history, despite efforts by the Futurists in the 1920s, radio has been considered largely a means of communication rather than an art form. Therefore, it is ironic that just as traditional forms of radio are in decline, its possibilities as an art form are reaching extreme potentials. If, as Heidegger wrote “We understand the end of something all too easily in the negative sense as a mere stopping, as the lack of constitution, perhaps even as decline and impotence, the end suggests the completion and the place in which the whole of history is gathered in its most extreme possibility.”) suggests, extreme possibilities are reached at the end of something, what then ends with radio? What is radio's "most extreme possibility?”


Why is it interesting?


Well, I just think Tetsuo is an extremely interesting thinker who applies deeply significant trains of thought to artistic practice as it reflects on, engages with and aspires to change the world.  We shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for this kind of engagement.  I don’t really think of Tetsuo as a musician, or sound artist; he’s a radio artist, part of which crosses over into performance.  Here’s two ways he brings radio art into performance.


ONE: There’s something about that line “of chaos found through difference and “order through fluctuations”" mentioned above.  In enabling radio stations Tetsuo worked to create those stations as units of chaos, units that could differ and create an order through their interaction and fluctuation.  But those units don’t have to be groups of people, they can be individuals working with something on an individual scale.  So in performance Tetsuo works with UHF and VLF radio transmitters, which he makes himself (sometimes live during the performance) and which individually act as chance, chaotic units that he then interacts with (by changing their reception with the impedance of his hands – just like a Theremin works), encouraging them to interact with each other and create some kind of order.


TWO: You can’t perceive radio: you can’t hear it and you can’t see it.  But you can hear or see its effects.  It’s like Tetsuo has a connection with and interest in radio waves, but the space this is worked out in is one degree of separation from us.  We can only engage with the results of that investigation.  That says something about the borderless but local nature of radio that I can’t quite express.

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