Mobile Radio

art project by Sarah Washington & Knut Aufermann

BARROW June 2012

June 30, 2012 by Mobile Radio

Octopus Collective live broadcast to Lisbon from Peel View House in Barrow Park

The Octopus Collective is a Sound Arts and Music organisation based in Barrow, Cumbria in the UK, with its HQ in the former park keepers house in Barrow public park. Since 2009 we have delivered the FON Festival of music and sound arts, and a programme of commissions and education projects, working with artists from the USA, Europe and Japan including Mobile Radio, Faust, Richard Youngs, John Wall, AGF, Hildur Gudnadottir and others. Our interest in broadcast arts has led to collaborations with Tetsuo Kogawa, Haco, and an ongoing project with Mobile Radio who performed at our first festival in 2009.

For this commission we carried out a radio hacking workshop with the Octopus Collective Hacking Group, followed by a collective radio performance streamed live to the radio art festival RadiaLx 2012 in Lisbon, and finally a drone-based concert for assorted players around the building.













The hacking workshop needed to be short and sweet, as we only had half a day to get each person equipped with an interesting-sounding instrument to perform upon for the radio broadcast in the afternoon. Luckily, everyone was able to bring along an old or cheap radio (or two) which they didn’t mind dismantling. After a bit of trial and error short-circuiting the electronic components, each radio was able to make a range of tones, squealing, hissing or crackling sounds. Knut then conducted the group in a simple improvisation involving tuning the radios in and out of a home transmission frequency which broadcast radio feedback, and this was interspersed with solo spots on the newly discovered circuit-bent sounds








The radio show became an audio tour of Peel View House, led by Andrew Deakin. Each room was visited in turn to experience whatever brand of sonic exploration lay therein. When the hacking workshop room was reached, the group performed their mighty improvisation, before the roving microphone moved on to explore the basement where a percussion duo was taking place. Andrew narrated the tour of the work going on all over the house, including a touching account of his own audio obsessions during an examination of the noise-making objects crammed up to the rafters in his workroom. Throughout the hour-long show, pauses were made to play extracts from a few previous Octopus commissions by various visiting artists, and live backgrounds were supplied by tugging on a string at the radio desk which was attached to a guitar-string contact mic contraption hanging out of the window, made by Glenn Boulter – thanks also to Glenn for some of the photos on this page






The improvised drone concert featured action in all the various rooms and the performers were invited to move around the house to find other people to play with. The ancient harmonium in the music room provided a ready-made drone machine, and the most notable sonic landscape was supplied by John Hall’s set-up where he performed on violin, bastardised turntables, self-made records and assorted objects

BARROW October 2010

October 27, 2010 by Mobile Radio

Radio workshop for Octopus
We were invited back to Barrow to give an overview of working with radio for the sound art collective Octopus in their house in Barrow Park. The Octopus Collective run the wonderful festival Full of Noises










Our stay was kindly hosted by Lanternhouse in Ulverston, a town distinctive for its unique inland lighthouse – shown here with its outstanding views of Morecambe Bay and the lakeland fells


















Luckily, there was plenty of time to check out what members of Octopus get up to in Piel View House. Here is John Hall in his vinyl experimentation room, with adapted turntables and glue records which play backwards from the inside outwards, watched over by Kurt Schwitters. Andrew Deakin can be seen recording tiny snippets of sound for the Radia show: In an Octopus’s Den. Outside the park provides distracting simple pleasures












Now for some work

















Off to the bandstand and back

BARROW October 2009

October 25, 2009 by Mobile Radio

We were delighted to accept an offer by Octopus to work as artists in residence on the F.O.N. festival, together with Haco and Susan Matthews. Mobile Radio proposed to develop content for a live radio broadcast to be performed for an audience at the festival. In the preceeding week we worked closely with the other artists, who also joined us for the performance of our piece MORSONATA. The idea of the work was to convert the sound poem Ursonate by exiled German artist Kurt Schwitters into morse code (he spent his last years living and working on his final Merzbau in the region), and weave this into an intimate portrait of Barrow-in-Furness. We used recent recordings made around the town by other artists, combined with our reflection of a historical moment which joins Barrow past to Barrow present







The shed, the museum, the letter, recording by Haco with Fern Oxley. The interesting thing about Barrow is its primary occupation – building nuclear-powered submarines in the enormous shed. Almost everyone in the town inevitably has some relationship to the town’s military industry. You are not allowed to photograph the shed, or indeed capture anything with electronic devices on Barrow Island where it is situated. Octopus held their festival in its shadow, and invited sound artists to work for a week in the area. Haco, who lives in the pioneering nuclear-free port of Kobe, nearly got arrested on her first recording outing, spotted within seconds by security guards with eyeballs fixed on their monitors. We were safer in the Dock Museum, which gave up its secrets willingly. Here Sarah found the letter that was to become the defining text of MORSONATA, sent by POW James M. Freel Leading Seaman Temporary D/JX.149484, to inform his mother that he was alive after evading certain death on his scheduled submarine (having been transferred at the last minute to another one). He was a Charioteer – human torpedo – charged with riding a missile launched from a sub, then detaching the warhead to plant as a mine on the underside of a ship before riding the chariot away again. His letter is hauntingly humble and prosaic, and was brought to life for us by local actor Damo. The mood was set by an opening and closing song, which could only be Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello. We made our own crude Robert Wyatt-style version for voice and harmonium in the ladies toilets (see pics below)






Keying the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters. It was utterly delightful to be get the chance to work with ex-Navy and Merchant Navy hands Mike Cumming and Bill Jenkins who approached this unusual and challenging task undaunted. They enjoyed listening to morse code again, in fact it sounded like music to Bill’s ears. When it was his turn to listen, Mike was able to follow the nonsensical rhythmic ‘story’ of the Ursonate, and he could relate the exploits of some of the strange ‘characters’. The work is made up entirely of repetitive patterns of speech sounds, which we used as a rhythm track for our submariner-inspired impression of Barrow


Secomark Hand Operated Syren Type 447, which we were able to test and record on a behind the scenes tour of the museum







The set-up for our radio show, which went out live on Resonance 104.4FM in London, and the recording sites we used around the Canteen building. MORSONATA was made up of layers of morse code which floated in and out, plus field recordings, piano and organ treatments made by Susan Matthews, Clutter and Haco. On top of that were intertwined live performances by Susan on harmonium, Haco on egg slicer, electronics, cymbal and voice, and Tonic Train with our usual electronic instrumentorium of circuit bending and radio feedback. You can view a couple of excerpts in this video (it’s a slow-burner), and read a little more on the F.O.N. blog






It’s not possible to do the marvelous F.O.N. Festival justice on this site and recount the performances, instead here are a few samples of John Wall’s extreme waveforms as a teasing taste of how it sounded. Full 2009 line-up list and futher info, and latest F.O.N. activities