Radio Art (essay)

From Unearthing The Music


Radio Art - An essay by Michal Rataj for Sound Exchange.

This text is a personal account of the inception and existence of the Radioatelier programme on Czech Radio 3 – Vltava, which focuses on sound art for radio, as the author has been the programme’s producer since its inception. Since 2003 we have mapped the world of the acoustic arts, initiated new works and sought to establish a new continuity, something that could not have previously been said to exist in the broader context of the acoustic arts [1] in the Czech Republic.

From the start of broadcasting radio was usually, with its tools and principles for production and distribution, a natural partner for experimental forms of the acoustic arts. We are aware of the history of experimental radio studios since World War II throughout practically all of Europe. In Czechoslovakia this chapter began in 1964, when the Slovak Radio Experimental Studio opened in Bratislava, followed in 1967 by the Czech Radio Electronic Studio in Plzeň.

In my view it was definitely not this institutionalised, Czechoslovak Radio electroacoustic music that gave myself and my generation the initial impulse to explore our work, conditioned by the media and technology. Nor was it the similarly fragmented tradition of experimental literature and poetry, dating back to the »voiceband« of the 1930s and the concrete and phonetic poetry of the 1960s, whether by Ladislav Novák, Jan Kolář or Josef Hiršal, or other authors, notably Stanislav Dvorský and Miroslav Topinka, who projected various sound concepts into their texts. It is true, however, that some young artists have taken these inspirational sources (e. g. Lukáš Jiřička, Jiří Adámek [2]), dusted them off and let them resonate today under entirely different conditions.

It was this background which, during 2002, shaped the first contours of a new programme for Czech Radio 3 – Vltava. Paradoxically, Czech Radio’s Audiostudio in Prague, which had been set up in the euphoria of 1990 as an experimental studio seeking to draw on the 1960s–70s tradition of the Plzeň Electronic Studio, did not contribute to firming up those contours. What does still resonate is the work of Radio Mama, which in 1993–95 broke with established ideas on what live radio could be by using sound and interactive live broadcasting. The key personalities – Dušan Všelicha and Jaroslav Dušek – later formed the core of Radio Lemonade Joe, which was a combination of radio and improvised theatre.

Radioatelier made its début on 25 January 2003. The feeling accompanying the formulation of the initial principles of Radioatelier can be described as a tabula rasa. The programme lay somewhere between the surviving myths from the period before the revolution and the flood of new information that began to fill in the missing knowledge and experience. That ambiguous orientation gave rise to a number of questions that were of crucial importance to me:

  1. What do terms such as sound art, radio art, ars acustica mean in the context of the contemporary Czech scene?
  2. How can such a programme be defended within a broadcasting institution?
  3. Who will be the artists who should start making new radiophonic works?


One thing was clear: only the artists themselves and their works would help to define sound art for radio, not only in the new scene, but also as part of the open global scene. With almost no budget, I began looking for artists who displayed any sign whatsoever of an affinity for sound, including composers with a traditional education in music, intermedia and the visual arts, and theatre professionals with an interest in music theatre or the German radio drama tradition.

The first surprise for me was that many artists who work with sound in this country did not really know one another. That gave rise to another challenge: to establish a platform that would facilitate greater awareness of what »others« were doing outside »our community«. I began to discover that it was actually quite interesting to try to find ways to persuade artists with very different backgrounds, aesthetic preferences and approaches to composing with sound to get involved in studio work or joint broadcast projects.

I soon realised that I needed not only to seek out artists in this country, but also to try to follow the broader international context, which could serve as an inspiration for many Czech artists, motivating them to modify their views and initiate new working methods. Since 2004 there have been premieres of works by foreign artists who in various ways reflect the broad pallet of the Czech Republic’s reality in a wider or narrow sense. That aside, Czech Radio’s membership of the European Broadcasting Union, which gives it access to a broad community of producers in other countries, [3] is a great way of building up an awareness of the international context.

On 29 September 2012, the 97nd Radioatelier PremEdition was broadcast, adding another acoustic dimension to the spectrum. There are around eighty original compositions, ranging from electroacoustic music to updated forms of concrete poetry, »voiceband«, the experimental feature, German-style radio drama, improvised music and traditional soundscapes. It presents artists whose background is more in composition and academia (Tomáš Pálka, Jan Trojan, Petra Gavlasová, Sylva Smejkalová, Peter Machajdík), but also artists who are part of the contemporary intermedia scene (Guy van Belle, Jiří Suchánek, Michael Delia, Miloš Vojtěchovský, Jan Dufek, Ladislav Železný, Martin Janíček and Jaroslav Kořán). We can hear acoustic compositions by others who have been influenced by improvised music (Ivan Palacký, Alex Švamberk, Miroslav Posejpal, George Cremaschi, George Bagdasarov, etc.), or who are involved with theatre or performance art (Jiří Adámek, Lukáš Jiřička, Pavel Novotný, Johana Švarcová).

In this context it is not possible to list all the relevant names, and harder still to categorise them. What is important is the sound, and that is available from the Radioatelier archive at ( Today there is an active art scene on the radio in the Czech Republic.


[1]     Regarding the terminology associated with contemporary art on the radio, I refer to my publication Michal Rataj: »Elektroakustická hudba a vybrané koncepty radioartu«, AMU, Prague 2007, translated into English as Michal Rataj: »Electroacoustic Music and Selected Concepts of Radio Art«, PFAU-Verlag, Saarbrücken 2010.

[2]     In Jiří Adámek’s work it is possible to detect the influence of Ernst Jandl’s radio dramas, and Lukáš Jiřička’s work reveals his inspiration from the poetry and literature of the 1960s and collaborations with European musicians.

[3]     EBU Ars Acustica,