Tinkering with Test Transmissions at SVA Gallery:
What’s next for our collaborations with Jonny Fluffypunk and the Radiophonic Hut.
As we settled in to the beginning of our 2 week R&D residency at SVA Gallery, setting up for more radiophonic experimentation with Jonny Fluffypunk, we were visited (through the magic of zoom) by our guest blog writer Beth Woodward to dive into all things Radio and talk about our creative collaboration and continued experimentation with Jonny’s show Test Transmissions from the Edge of the World. We plugged her in to a 1930’s wooden ‘Lente Bode’ (‘Messenger of Spring’) radio and had her voice coming through the speaker as we talked about working together and what’s to come next. Read on for her account of the conversation:
“Being virtually invited into the SVA Gallery space with Tara and Jonny was the most visually and creatively stimulating zoom experience of lockdown for me so far. The energy of the pair is contagious and their enthusiasm for the Radio Droodok project reverberates through the screen, travelling through space and time into my kitchen. They start by flying the laptop around the room, which is decked out with a beautiful collection of vintage radio pieces, dials and transmitters and creating a wonderfully eclectic display behind the large window of the gallery, which looks out onto the streets of Stroud.
We dive right in, discussing what plans they have for their time in residence at SVA gallery: they will be tinkering with the radio equipment that I can see through the screen, learning from each other and fellow collaborator and sound mentor Maco, interacting (from a safe distance) with audiences and experimenting with possible future enhancements for their Radiophonic Hut. All to further develop the interactive experience and incorporate more radio sound into Jonny’s show Test Transmissions from the Edge of the World.
The show had its debut using the Radiophonic Hut as a sort of stage to perform in, on and around, in 2019 at Museum in the Park, supported by Stroud Theatre Festival. The aim is to reproduce it in the future for more creative spaces and events around the country. The show itself incorporates Jonny and the Radio Droodok team’s love of sound, storytelling and spoken word to tell the tale of a boy who becomes ‘possessed’ by radio, transmitting through the metal parts in his body left behind after an operation. ‘He’s done it so well’ Tara tells me ‘It’s such an empathic story… it goes through this character’s life and there are moments when it touches on the magic of code and number stations and all these little allusions to radio’. She talks about Jonny’s interactive performance style and how the show and the radio hut are both all about stimulating people’s imaginations and getting the conversation going around the wonder of radio, why it is important and what it means to people.
Described by Jonny as ‘approachable art that wants to bring you in, rather than being alienating and difficult to understand’ this collaboration, like a lot of Tara’s work, is as much about documenting the responses of the audience and their own stories about radio, as it is about the show itself. Tara and her partner Bart, creators of Radio Droodok and Miniature Museum, have been producing interactive art installations that engage people in the wonderful world of museum and heritage for years. Jonny tells me a fun story of how he was entranced by one of their pieces named ‘The Desk of Ingenuity’ before he had even met the couple, convincing me that there is an element of fate (or perhaps just living life on the same wavelength) involved in their collaboration and making me eager to hear more about how these three inquisitive minds found each other.
The magic of mobile radio hut is that as well as being an intimate space for conversation about radio, it is also a functioning recording space that records and creates radio. This is how the gang intend to capture and collect the stories of the audiences that are visited by the travelling hut and is something they have been doing since it’s early days. Within the archives of the radio’s recordings, there is a short but wonderful soundscape which documents one of the first face to face conversations to be had about their ‘potential’ creative collaboration, which has now become a solidly established alliance of energetic ideas, shared learning and playful experimentation. Due to their involvement in the creative community of Stroud and the SVA Gallery, and perhaps their shared enthusiasm for heritage trinkets and eccentric, ingenious creations, Tara and Bart had heard of Jonny before meeting him and even chatted with him virtually from their creative community in Amsterdam. They met officially, as recorded in the soundscape, in 2018 at Stroud Jazz Festival: and it’s clear that they’ve been having a blast ever since.
With a deep respect for each other’s work and a mutual enjoyment of the enthusiasm and style they all bring to the table, it seems that Radio Droodok and Jonny Fluffypunk will be collaborating for the foreseeable future; with ideas and plans that stretch beyond the current show, that are as versatile and timeless as the medium of radio itself. ‘All of these elements that are being used in the show, broadcasting things, recording, fixing stuff, is all stuff we’re going to use for other bits of the radio hut experience’ Jonny tells me, gesturing at the bits and bobs of equipment surrounding him at the gallery. I listen as the two of them speak enigmatically about the magic of radio, its history and all the weird and wonderful stories they have heard about it playing up, such as ‘possessed’ speakers and people transmitting through their fillings! Jonny describes humans ‘harnessing’ radio as ‘something that’s so close to nature that it really is like you’re pushing a finger through reality’ as Tara explains that in some of the earliest experiences of radio ‘people thought that there were ghosts coming through when they heard voices’.
Our conversation flows seamlessly from radio’s past, it’s evolution through important historical moments and the era of pirate radio, onto the future. I ask Tara and Jonny where, if they could choose anywhere, they would like to take the Radiophonic Hut to broadcast. With a united answer which further confirms their compatibility as artists and seems in perfect synchronicity with the show name Test Transmissions from The Edge of the World they agree that ‘a deserted shingle beach on the intertidal marshland, broadcasting out into the emptiness of the North Sea’ is a vision of the radio hut, that they share. With transmitting across shores being such a big part of radio history, Tara would love to take the hut to places that hold those memories and tell the story of radio; In particular, Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraph Station, the Foreland Lighthouse in Dover and the Lightship LV18, once home to the infamous Radio Caroline and now a radio museum.
Jonny, Maco, Tara and Bart will be at the SVA Gallery until the 28th November with live, virtual performances of what sonic magic they have been cooking up during their time there airing on the 27th and 28th at Knaïve Theatre Presents: A Digital Lyceum. The show is still very much a work in progress but when finished will be presented as a sort of mash-up medley of soundscapes that will be compèred by Jonny FluffyPunk himself. This is a definite must see for those who are enthusiastic about the wonder and connection that radio weaves into the past, present and future and the myriad of ways that this intangible medium can be worked.
Despite recent challenges in communication with venues due to the pandemic, the team are hopeful that the adaptable nature of the project will result in further commissions and opportunities to share the multi-dimensional work they are doing to bring about joy and connection. Their hopes for future endeavours include working with the Museums Association, interactive workshops with audiences and taking the Radiophonic hut on an adaptable road show to creative venues and spaces with history and heritage. With the BBC centenary approaching in 2022, they hope to visit radio art symposiums and festivals around Europe, telling and collecting stories as they go, to create an all around visual and sound experience.”
Beth Woodward is a weaver of words, content creator and digital marketeer for artists and heart centred businesses