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Open Air – a collaboration with Artangel

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Editor's note: Open Air is a series of audio artworks by five artists, and their broadcast marks the launch of Open – a collaboration between Artangel and BBC Radio 4. Russell Finch, co-producer, explains more about these unique commissions. Hear them at 9.02 each morning this week

Christian Marclay

“The pictures are better on radio.” In my line of work, I hear that phrase a lot. Strangely though it always seems to come from a radio person. For some reason you don’t get many artists or film makers saying it.

Which is where the new series Open Air comes in. Beginning on Monday, Open Air consists of five playful and surprising audio interventions, stripped across the week at 9.02am after the Today programme. The idea behind the project was to select five leading artists – Christian Marclay, Ruth Ewan, Mark Wallinger, Susan Hiller and Peter Strickland – and to give them a blank canvas of three minutes of Radio 4 airtime. Their challenge was to decide what to do with it.

Ruth Ewan

We hear a lot about arts and culture on Radio 4 – programmes like Front Row, The Film Programme and Open Book, as well as the rich output of drama, readings and poetry – but what we want to do with Open Air is to showcase contemporary art on the network by bringing it to listeners at this key point in the morning schedule. It’s clear contemporary art is one of the most creative energies in our culture. We just need to look to art colleges or independent cinema to see how art has cross-fertilised with other disciplines like music, fashion or film. Open Air goes some way to getting that rich creativity onto radio.

It’s all part of Radio 4’s wider collaboration with the arts commissioning body Artangel. Open Air is just the first part of Open, an ambitious joint initiative to commission ground-breaking art projects that will transform the UK's cultural landscape. The transmission of Open Air marks one month until the deadline for artists to submit ideas for Open – 29th April.

For me and my co-producer Joby Waldman, it has been almost surreal to see how this idea has evolved into five pieces of art, which will, we hope, provide a unique and inspiring experience for Radio 4 listeners. An omnibus programme on Saturday 30th will give listeners a glimpse into the creative process behind each of the pieces, with specially recorded interviews with the artists.

What do the pieces sound like? Well, I’m afraid everyone will have to wait until next week to find out – after all, in the art world, a premiere is a premiere. It will be a first for us all – the unveiling of five new works of art, made especially for Radio 4, each morning at 0902.

Russell Finch is co-producer and head of features at production company Somethin' Else.

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  • Comment number 69. Posted by Hoskin

    on 2 Apr 2013 16:50

    I only heard the piece which included audio clips successively patched together and over each other and looped consonants that produced a stuttering sound that became more irritating as the seconds slowly ticked by……I am sure I heard the contributor say when interviewed later in the day that it contained sound that listeners would not normally want to listen to…..he was right.. It DID contain sound that we did not want to listen to.

    Anyone with a computer and a little coaching could patch together brief excepts they have recorded from the radio, but that would not be classified as ‘art’. I found the piece irritating to listen to and unexceptional. It was just pointless noise and why would the BBC want to broadcast noise?

    The commissioning editor said that art should disrupt, but what do the listeners get out of being disrupted by noise? What is the value of this disruption? Are we uplifted, educated, entertained? Are we meant to think ‘Ahh that’s clever!. A series of seemingly disconnected audio clips piled on top of each other in a seemingly random way. Or are they random? Oh! even cleverer! We ARE being disrupted aren't we! Here comes an irritating stuttering sound. He’s done that by chopping and looping bits of audio clips. That’s amazingly difficult to do. Am I being disrupted, irritated or made a fool of….’
    Here are six things you could have used that slot for that would have less disruptive but much, much more interesting, uplifting etc etc

    1. Each country’s UK ambassador would be given 3 minutes to describe his/her country
    2. Listeners would be selected at random to read their favourite poem
    3. Listeners would be selected at random to list 3 things they hate and 3 things they love about their life and why
    4. Musical keys allegedly invoke different moods. The same piece of music would be played in a different key each day preceded by a short statement ‘D minor –the saddest of all keys’ (thank you Spinal Tap)
    5. Modern classical musicians would be commissioned to write a short piece of music/sound describing a famous picture/sculpture
    6. As above but with folk/rock/pop/country etc musicians

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  • Comment number 68. Posted by haytham_f

    on 1 Apr 2013 18:43

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 67. Posted by haytham_f

    on 1 Apr 2013 18:40

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 66. Posted by Lawrence Jones

    on 1 Apr 2013 15:42

    Only caught the last contribution, but I was very impressed and enjoyed it enormously. Slightly frustrated that I couldn’t identify any of the original sources, but the wave-like transitions between sections were defo of ‘Borg Warner’ [1] quality, so congratulations to the producer/editor.

    I think my emotional bolometer is more sensitive at night when listening to material such as this[2], although I was a huge fan of the late John Ebdon’s adventurers through the archives (which is similar to this exercise)[3] and occurred around the same time (0945hrs).

    My preference for audio collages tend to be contained within records. Forget the name of the Roy Harper track…..but it’s the one that begins with: ‘There once was a man…………and then one hears a series of gorgeous audio rivets :)

    Notes
    [1] I am referring to the Borg Warner automatic gearbox
    [2] CAN recordings sound much better if listened late at night, as opposed to early morning
    [3] ‘How do you do’ :):):)

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  • Comment number 65. Posted by Susan Vosser

    on 1 Apr 2013 11:06

    What an absolute load of drivel! No warning was given although I did hear some producer saying that, next time, there will be a warning. Let's hope there won't ever be a next time. This was an abuse of licence payers' money.

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  • Comment number 64. Posted by HH

    on 31 Mar 2013 19:41

    I thought these pieces were wonderful. There is plenty of safety and predictability on Radio 4 for those who need it; some of us enjoy a little more challenge. Well done - much more please!

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  • Comment number 63. Posted by David Crosbie

    on 30 Mar 2013 12:11

    I listened to the omnibus with comments on Saturday because I wanted to be fair. I hoped there might be something interesting that I'd missed when they were first broadcast. Well, some of the comment was mildly interesting but on the whole the programmes were just as tedious as the first time round. A few seconds in the first programme were amusing because they recalled the time when they were broad cast in context. Charlotte Green corpsing is always funny — but far less funny when it's a snippet. The Oscar Wilde thing was a nice idea for a slot of thirty seconds or less. I can't remember anything of the other three programmes, except that I found them vapid. First hearing was different. I felt — in a small way — violated, cheated, robbed of autonomy. My chosen timetable had been appropriated and trashed. The first programme was the worst. It came unannounced and went on for ever. The choice of switching off or switching over wasn't available because I was desperate to know whether Start the Week would ever happen. OK, it's also annoying when there's a technical fault. But then we know that Continuity is on our side and trying to re-establish normality. Last week Continuity was replaced by something (presumably Artangel) that may have thought it was on our side. But it wasn't. It was — in a small way — the Enemy.

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  • Comment number 62. Posted by Will Matthews

    on 30 Mar 2013 11:34

    Not knowing what it was. At first i thought Radio 4 was broken. Then I thought it was trying to say something. I couldn't tell if it was hackers or aliens. Now i know it's 'art'? I'm usually very conservative but i think this pretty good. Different too.

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  • Comment number 61. Posted by solpugid

    on 30 Mar 2013 11:24

    No, this is someone's bright idea (spare us from bright ideas) that hasn't worked. It takes a real broadcaster to mess around with radio and succeed, and not these vacuous and pretentious 'artists' . 'Open Air' understimated its listeners quite badly.

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  • Comment number 60. Posted by Ernie S

    on 30 Mar 2013 11:15

    I love Radio 4 but this is honestly the worst thing that I have ever heard, made worse by the timing. I was enjoying listening to Radio 4 this morning whilst working but turned it off at 11.03 as I was not prepared to endure another period of agony having to absorb the pain again. Once was far too much.

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