Interview with Bruno Beusch, TNC network

published: 
July, 1999

Bruno Beusch and Tina Cassani founded TNC network four years before this interview was made. Their work is interesting in that it serves as one of few examples of complex network art, in which audio plays an important part. Here we don't have audio or netradio so much though, but a form of network art that covers many layers of public life (in which media play a basic part) at the same time. Not only media are used as an instrument, but also human participants are carefully chosen for their speciality.

 

Connected to this, what I like about their work personally much, is the ease with which they 'play' institutions, or the path along institutions to get things done, touching the right string so to speak. Complex net art works need a lot of equipment, input and network-space. Strategies people are trying to develop to ensure independent media art will keep having some space on the net (like independent servers or independent institutions) will never be enough to support them. It is nice to read how clever social networking can accomplish a great deal. Looking at the TNC projects in their entirety, the term 'datajockey' Beusch and Cassani use for themselves seems well chosen.

 

 

JB: Can you tell me about the history of TNC Network?

 

Beusch: Tina Cassani and I founded TNC Network (http://www.tnc.net) in 1995. TNC now has its members in Japan, in Europe and the States. Depending upon the nature of each TNC-event, new people are added to this core-network. Over 150 software designers, networkers, artists, DJs and VJs, theorists and scientists were involved in TNC's recent projects and events.

 

TNC (the acronym initially stood for "the next century/the net century") is probably best known for three main sectors of activity: the running of the pioneering online radio site Radio TNC, launched in 1995, the design and production of distributed, networked events (for instance Clone Party, Crash Party, both in 1997), and finally the production of network-based media fictions (for instance The Great Web Crash, The Headcheese Affair or Hacking Millennium Park, launched in 1998).

 

JB: What have you done before you founded TNC Network?

 

Beusch: When I was 19 years old I started producing for radio, basically Radio France, so my background is both in traditional broadcasting media and in new media. Concerning Tina: her background is visual media and programming. We started working together in 1988, when we started merging her visual projects with the media work I did. This was at the Festival Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Austria. Before we finally started using the Internet, we did several projects that can be understood in many respects as direct antecedents of the network-based projects we have done later with TNC.

 

JB: Can you tell something about these early projects?

 

Beusch: The basic idea behind our work was still the same: devise settings that would allow for the exploration of the possibilities inherent in the emerging networks of creation and communication, based on information theory and media technology. These settings must be open enough, so that different people, not only those that are directly participating in the creation, but also people out there somewhere in the networks, from various cultural backgrounds, can connect and join an evolving, collaborative process.

 

To give you an example: back in 1992, we did a project called 'Besuch/Visite in S.', which was already based on one of those mediafictional settings that we create nowadays for TNC. The backstory of 'Besuch/Visite in S.' was based upon the alleged existence of mysterious artistic archives located in a small town called "S.", somewhere in the "France profonde", between Cognac and Bordeaux. We invited some 15 curators, theorists (like Friedrich Kittler for example), and radio people from France, Germany and Austria to come down to "S." to visit these important secret archives. They had no idea where they went, because we simply told them: "You go to Paris, then you take the TGV to the south, you get out in Angouleme, where you are going to be picked up, and brought to S.".

 

They were brought to a beautiful old farmhouse in the countryside. The secret archives did not exist, and everybody knew this. But, when they arrived, the mayor of this small village - whom we got involved in the fiction - welcomed the guests, and said he was glad they were coming to "S." to visit these famous archives. This was the moment when, for some of the people, things started shifting. They knew it was all fiction, but seeing this very official representative of the French Republic talking about those archives made them doubt about it. This atmosphere of insecurity triggered an interesting investigation about new roles and positions the digital revolution provoked inside the world of art and culture. Suddenly their own role and position would appear insecure.

 

We spent three beautiful days having a symposium understood in its very original sense - with a lot of wine and food. We were sitting in this old farmhouse, eating, drinking, and just talking about those archives that did not exist. And while we talked about them - and about the way information technology radically changed the notion of artist, artwork, archiving, museums etc. - , these archives slowly started to emerge, to exist.

 

JB: How did they emerge?

 

Beusch: They started to exist because all the participants contributed to fill the framework with their ideas and thoughts about them. Friedrich Kittler for instance, made a brilliant, improvised talk about how these non-existing archives could be a model for a way of dealing with information at a time when producing works, recording and archiving no longer have the same meaning as before the flood of information. And on the third day somebody suddenly said: "Maybe we are the archives."

 

JB: Was any material created?

 

Beusch: Yes. Everything was taped by Radio France. Two months later a complete documentation (a book and a CD) was shown at the Secession in Vienna, and at CCS in Paris. During the exhibition the radiostations (Radio France in Paris, ORF in Vienna) broadcasted the CD, which functioned as the acoustic guide through the exhibition. At some time during the show the public present at the exhibition could intervene live on the radio through an open microphone set up in the museum.

 

JB: What kind of art would you call it, performance art?

 

Beusch: I much prefer the term "networking," understood in its most comprehensive sense as a configuring activity in the telematic environment. We connect different media, we connect people, we connect know-how from various backgrounds - this is what it is basically all about.

 

JB: So there are always a lot of people involved in your projects. How do you select them?

 

Beusch: Once cultural phenomena have condensed into a setting charged with tension, what subsequently occurs is a link-up of the know-how and infrastructure made available by a wide array of individuals and sub-networks. It simply depends on what we need: is it technical knowhow (so we get technical people), is it content (do we need for example hosts or dj's or musicians)...

 

JB: Can you give a concrete example?

 

Beusch: Of course. The setting of the Great Web Crash, TNC's first big media fiction, is a good example to show how this works. On February the 4th, 1996, TNC staged a planetary information breakdown on the Internet and on several major radio stations throughout Europe. Radio TNC was transformed into an emergency Web station, and became the platform for a continuing collaborative process. The idea of an emergency station on the Web was chosen because it could evolve in a very dynamic way over a certain time - and because this was the moment, early 96, when streaming audio started to become an interesting tool.

 

In a first step, we got radiostations involved, like Radio France's or BBC's newschannels. They broadcasted the fake news that the net had gone down worldwide. They said: "Please connect to emergency net radio Radio TNC, which has just been set up in order to give you the basic information on what is going on".

 

In a second step, we invited different radiostations and media partners from around the world to host the programs of this emergency net radio for one month. This is how it really got around the world. Again including very different backgrounds: from national cultural stations like France Culture or ORF Kunstradio to stations with a very different message, like Paris DJ Radio or Radio Fritz in Berlin, all the way down to the audio-section of HotWired in San Francisco.

 

JB: How long was this running?

 

Beusch: It was running until December 1997. During this time, and this is the third element in this project, we created several events, one a monthly basis. The most important were Crash Party (to celebrate the anniversary of the first Web Crash, one year after it happened), and Clone Party, which was commissioned by Ars Electronica for the Festival '97. Clone Party was a huge distributed, networked event, connecting parallel online and offline worlds which resulted in a free space of communication bringing together over 400'000 users around the world during a period of sixteen hours. Local events in clubs, museums and radio stations were networked through the Internet, via ether and satellite.

 

It began in clubs in Kobe and Tokyo where DJs and VJs started injecting there soundstreams and videostreams into the global 'partyloop'. Four hours later St-Petersburg joined, then Linz, then Lausanne, Berlin and Paris. In the end the Beta Lounge people in San Fransisco mixed the final mix out of the data streams that had been circulating on the net for hours.

 

On the Web interface, you could choose between seven different live real audio/real video channels, there were chats, webcams etc. And, most importantly, there was a meta-party-channel, broadcasted via the Internet and via radio by Couleur 3 in Geneva/Lyon, Paris DJ Radio, Radio Fritz in Berlin and others. It functioned as indicator of complexity, scanning the party floors in the Internet and in the real world, engaging the circulating data streams and inputting the live statements of partygoers and party floor operators into the global party loop.

 

The effect was very interesting: a lot of people were of course listening to the linear broadcast whilst at the same time surfing on the net and chatting. The radio would tell you: "Go to this chat", or "Now tune into Real Audio stream number three, because this and this currently happens there".

 

One of the most interesting moments of the Crash Party occurred immediately after a restaging of the web crash, when users were called upon to restore the crashed homepages by uploading Image files from a cache to an FTP directory which had been set up for this purpose. Within minutes, the server was hopelessly overloaded. Of course, the users were not the least bit interested in a reconstruction of the original, rather preferring free-style repair. And they began to totally revamp the designs of the homepages - including those of public broadcasting stations...

 

JB: The amount of media you are able to involve in your projects is quite amazing. Does your experience with radio help you with that?

 

Beusch: Maybe. We know the mediascene pretty well. And again: one of the main aspects of our work is really to do this sort of networking, to go into the institutions and find the people who are interested in this kind of work. This is the way we are spreading the virus. We are not trying to get our way via the hierarchical system, from the top down. We try to find out who is interesting in these institutions and we then try to find a way to mobilize them to participate and to bring their specific knowhow into the project.

 

JB: You do this on a very personal, social level?

 

Beusch: Yes, it is really a kind of social engineering.

 

JB: Would you still call yourself an artist then, or are you an artist curator, are you an organiser?

 

Beusch: To describe our activities we coined the term 'datajockey' which has since been used by many artists working in this field. It is really about comprehensively processing and manipulating a large amount of data material. Organising, getting people involved, networking, on a technical basis, on a social basis.

 

"Vous n'êtes pas des organisateurs, vous êtes des artistes, merde alors!" ("You're not organizers, damn it, you're artists.") This was one Paris curator's commentary in 1992 on our activities, which thus did not conform at all to the usual preconceptions. It is clear that the projects and events we have initiated (and which are based upon the new structures of co-operation and responsibility inherent in network-linked systems) can no longer be subsumed by traditional conceptions of a work of art and its author. This is just as discernible in our goal (the set-up and expansion of TNC Network) as it is in the various functions that we are carrying out thereby.

 

Looking back at the last 10 years, media has been subjected to a gigantic process of change. During this time, we were often playing the role of the iconoclasts, attacking the status quo and confronting radio - that is to say, our production partner - with the pattern of change going on before its very eyes. And we took advantage of this situation to propagate forms of work which were appropriate to changed conditions of production, meaning that we did away with the rigid partitions separating technician, author, director and producer which had been based upon top-down media-thinking. Nor were we faced by resistance when we first integrated public broadcasting stations into networked events and introduced them to the concepts of network-linked production processes. The fact that this was often the first time that their programs were being presented live on the Internet - through the channels of Radio TNC - most pointedly brought these new realities into confrontation with their conception of themselves which was a relic left over from another age.

 

JB: How do you fund your projects?

 

Beusch: Like any other artistic project, raising funds from anywhere.

 

JB: What's from anywhere: the state, sponsors, technical companies..

 

Beusch: Not that much sponsoring. We try to use the resources in an intelligent way. For instance, TNC does not have its own server, we just try to use the existing resources, and link these together, exactly as we do with the human knowledge. This is the only way to do TNC-like projects. Ars Electronica supports us, the National Technology Museum in Paris supports us... Residing on their disks is another way of spreading the virus ;-)

 

JB: So the webcrash project lasted until December 1997. What are you presenting at Ars Electronica 1998?

 

Beusch: We just released a CD in the Ars Electronica/Kunstradio edition. It's a highly remixed version of critical sequences of the networked events, radio shows and webcasts produced by TNC Network between '96 and '97. And then we are here to present TNC's new network-based media-fictional setting, Hacking Millennium Park - the tracking down of a secret networked virtual theme park due to open in 2000.

 

JB: What is it about?

 

Beusch: The backstory goes like this: In summer 1998, a rebellious piece of software, searchbot Ver Mela Parka, escapes from a secret information construction site in cyberspace and attemps to alert netizens to the shadowy plans of a project called Millennium Park, a huge, networked, virtual theme park in cyberspace, due to open in 2000.

 

Ver Mela arrives in the email boxes of a few people around the world and pleads for electronic asylum. Yet the human hosts of Ver Mela - including people like Derrick de Kerckhove from McLuhan Research Program in Toronto, or Douglas Rushkoff - sadly witness how the first defector of the information age falls victim to a fatal code error and vanishes from their screen. Despite the doubts of bot specialist Andrew Leonard - "Bots can lie if they're programmed to lie", TNC believes in the veracity of Ver Mela's message and sends out its Data Jockeys on a mission to track down the secret information construction site in cyberspace. The only existing clues are three attached files brought by Ver Mela Parka. The files, which have been coded in an unknown programming language, are sent on to Ars Electronica Futurelab where Horst Hörtner and the other members of the crack team get their most powerful machines working round the clock - but the only result so far is a repetitive error message in Japanese: isseiki no chizu... So far for the backstory, which forms, again, the framework for a dynamic, collaborative process.

 

JB: How is this process unfolding?

 

Beusch: During past weeks, we met keyplayers of the international digital scene in order to collect the most solid base of information about the mysterious information construction site in cyberspace.

 

TNC's Data Jockeys then reverse-engineered the collected sound material by digitally processing discontinuous bites of data within single information beats. "Information could be a beat", for instance, one of these samples, originates from a Millennium Park talk with Mark Pesce, co-inventor of VRML. These info beats are then passed over to DJs and producers whom we invite to create special Millennium Park Mixes, inspired by the ongoing cyber saga. The initial Millennium Park track comes from Marco Repetto (inzec records), followed by mixes by Richard Dorfmeister / Rupert Huber, Bernhard Loibner, Shantel (essay records) and many others.

 

The result is a continually evolving sound environment, where the information reported on the virtual theme park mutates into beats, samples, and loops - the Soundtrack of Millennium Park. The tracking down of Millennium Park becomes a journey beyond the fringe of the ectronic scene at the turn of the century.

 

JB: How can the audience keep track of this evolving soundscape?

 

Beusch: The metamorphosis of the Millennium Park Soundtrack is presented in a weekly net radio/radio show on Radio TNC and on Radio Couleur 3 (TNC's Global Soundtrack), every Sunday, from 11 pm to midnight CET.

 

JB: Why do you call it a soundscape (or soundtrack) when there are also very strong visuals and other aspects involved? Could you be a representant of what would be called a new type of broadcasting, not television, not radio, not web only?

 

Beusch: I am sure we are all somehow working on this kind of converging media. We are all trying to find new formats. Sound is of course only one, yet crucial component of the Millennium Park project. The same processes I described above also apply to the visuals. And finally, the whole project, which is being supported by Ars Electronica Linz, the Media Art department of German National Radio BR in Munich, Couleur 3, and many others, should turn into an annual festival for digital culture, with its first edition to be held in early 2000.