11:42 p.m. 8.Sep.99

Last Night the DJ Saved My Life
David Hunt on a train ride through Linz's VOEST steel plant

I've finally located the new frontier for radical activity in new media, and not surprisingly, it didn't take hours of web browsing or an award for perfect attendance at any of the Ars symposia for me to formulate my symbolic call to arms. Grab any program guide or catalog listing for the events at the festival and prepare to wade through an impenetrable string of knowing buzz-words, insider code, and all around feel good obscurantism. Set your bullshit detector for stun, and let your body be the judge when sampling from the smorgasbord of virtual, interactive, dynamically recombinant, multi-frequency, user-defined, self-regulating, ambient environments, because the text, my friend, is the slow boat to China.

The latest offender is Radian, who supplies the alternately ominous and abrasive soundtrack to the midnight train ride through the VOEST Steel Plant, the crazy Uncle hidden away under Linz's historical stairs, since it marks the site of Hitler's weapons production facilities during WWII. The press states that, "the Vienna group Radian will explore the zone of tension and interplay at the nexus of electronic and acoustic instruments. Reverberating from it will be a self-defined musical microcosm in which minimal shifts and modulations within its tonal and rhythmic structures determine the actual dynamics." Makes you nostalgic for the Robert Johnson complete box set now, don't it?

It's kind of sad since the "self' I want to be defining my musical microcosms begins with my own humble, tone deaf ear, and not the ill advised top-down prescription administered by the Radian press corps, whomever that might be. If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, how come I keep getting force fed semiotic hieroglyphs, right at the moment when my hopes should be soaring for a transcendent, noirish Grey Line tour of Austria's checkered military past.

Doubly disturbing given that the train features retractable panoramic roofs that withdrew to reveal a jet black sky laced with billowing plumes of snow white smoke--swirling blue/violet acetyline flames to rival the Olympic torch ceremony, and giant funnels spilling molten lead into dismal, soot-streaked vats. The whole spooky, ruinous nature of the affair was practically an invitation to Radian's high pitched percussive tics, so twitty and arch, they nearly resembled a dog whistle. To be sure, "zones of tension and interplay" were the last things on my mind while taking in the Byzantine maze of dilapidated piping and scaffolds, illuminated by the train's roving spotlight on this 1 hour haunted carousel. Don't get me wrong-Radian's orchestral static will forever be associated in my mind with Linz's industrial graveyard--the two are at least as tightly woven as Bernard Hermann and Psycho, Philip Glass and Monster's of Grace. I just begrudge the preempting of any emotional response on my part by an acoustic experience that neither needs, nor deserves, an explanation.

Such is the primal nature of sound, that any programmatic definition of its contours, tends to rob it of its own dignity, not to mention that of its intended audience. I knew intuitively, as I suspect my fellow travelers did as well, that when the wheels began to roll, Radian's bleating electronic lament was meant to enhance the sense of discontinuity between a desolated monument to industrial dominance, and the ghostly flicker of its shadow past--not to drown it out. Anyone who doubts this, missed the lone freight train idling slowly on a parallel track as we began to pull into the station, its destination unknown, and seemingly unknowable. A grander metaphor for the inevitable, if blind march of progress would be tough to find, and a soundtrack that tried to upstage it, would quickly reveal its inadequacies.

So if you're wondering what the new frontier for radical activity is, it looks a lot like the old frontier, and most closely resembles, with all their shortcomings, the five senses.