Radio Wonderland: The Story So Far

RADIO WONDERLAND is me, Joshua Fried, performing solo live sound processing by drumming on old shoes (I’m a drummer) and manipulating a steering wheel (I’m a, er, wheel player). RADIO WONDERLAND turns live commercial FM radio into recombinant funk.

All the sounds originate from an old boombox, playing radio LIVE. Nothing is pre-recorded; anything picked up during the performance is fair game until the end. All the processing is by custom software I wrote in the MaxMSP programming environment. But I hardly touch the laptop. My controllers are a vintage Buick steering wheel, old shoes mounted on stands, and some gizmos. You’ll hear me build grooves, step by step, out of recognizable radio, and even UN-wind my grooves back to the original source.

I walk on with a boom box, playing FM radio LIVE. Once onstage, I plug it into my system and start slicing up radio. I arrange those slices both rhythmically, and, by playing them at different speeds, melodically as well, all according to what I hear. I call this process the RE-SHUFFLER. With another algorithm, which I call my RE-ESSER, (studio nerds will recognize this as a joke on de-esser), I isolate the sibilance, so I can compose on the spot with those S, T, K, Sh, etc. sounds, just like programming a drum machine. The ANYTHING-KICK uses spectral processing to morph a bit of radio in the direction of a kick drum.

The sum total is dance music. Every show is rather different, naturally, because the source material is entirely different each time.

So what’s it all about? What is the art-speak that goes with RADIO WONDERLAND? I want to show that we ALL can interrupt and interrogate the never-ending flow of commercial media. So my transformations, taken individually, must be clear and simple—mostly framing, repeating and changing pitch—although when everything is put together the whole is indeed complex. My controllers are simple too: the wheel merely a knob to take things up and down (frequency, tempo) or play radio loops like a turntable, the shoes just pads I hit softer or louder. The surreal quality of using such ordinary objects underscores the absurd disconnect usually found between digital controller and sound, as well as the congenial nature of the aural transformations themselves. So, too, my riffs must be vernacular and not elite. (We need the funk.)

How did this all happen?

I discovered dub, punk, and Eno in 1978 and by ’79 I was making music. I soon realized that I wanted it to dance.

Performed as a one-person–dub band at clubs such as The Pyramid, Danceteria, Mudd Club, Irving Plaza, Limelight, Tunnel, Limbo Lounge, while still collaborating with choreographers and performance artists including the great Iris Rose and Watchface.

Did remix work for Chaka Khan, Ofra Haza and They Might Be Giants.

Had a record deal with Atlantic, releasing “Jimmy Because” produced by Joe Mardin and Arif Mardin (Chaka Kahn, Nora Jones, Bee Gees, David Bowie, Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin).

Skewed meself towards the concert hall and theater, doing Bang On A Can, Lincoln Center, The Kitchen, etc. Did a big collaboration with the great choreographer Douglas Dunn. Had a 16 week run of a gibberish operatic suite, Headfone Follies at HERE Arts Center. Made this web site:

Composer Joshua

Radio Wonderland is (slowly) born. After Headfone Follies I threw myself into the learning MaxMSP and developing the software to execute my dream: of turning unpredictable found sound from commercial radio into sound collages that are truly danceable, live in front of an audience, controlled by odd objects such as shoes and a steering wheel as well as the customary knobs, sliders and buttons.

By 2007 I declared my homebrew software good enough to start gigging.

And gig I did:

RADIO WONDERLAND gigs, 2007-present

I became affiliated withTransmission Arts collective free103point9. Through them, I started performing weekly concerts on the radio, first with “Morning Drive Time” on (2006-2010), then on their upstate FM radio station WGXC

By late 2009 it seemed increasingly absurd to continue relentless performing without a record of some sort to sell, or at least wave around at booking agents with an aim of scheduling bigger and better shows.

So I slowed the live performance schedule way down, and started digging into the large and growing RADIO WONDERLAND recorded archive, now over 150 hours of original live material.

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