Radio station with no programmes goes live on Dartmoor
It may be a full time licensed radio station, but that is where the convention of a new artwork for Dartmoor ends. The creation of composer Lucinda Guy, its studio is 365 square miles and it’s only DJ is a computer algorithm.
Skylark, which began broadcasting on 105.8 and 107.6 FM in November 2020, can only be heard by the people of Dartmoor National Park (it is not available online) thereby reflecting the voices of all the moor’s inhabitants back to them.
Sarah Washington, Mobile Radio:
‘More than just an irregular and innovative radio station, Skylark is in fact a giant sound installation. It feels like you could be dropping in on any point in history, tuning in to timeless people intertwined with wildlife and elemental forces across the mercurial moor. Each leaving their imprints on the other, and on the listeners, many of whom will find themselves drawn to become immortalised within this localised mythic space of poetic fragments, melodic markers, and atmospheric trails.’
Skylark’s creator, Lucinda Guy:
‘Over five years of planning, imagining, daydreaming, composing and chatting, I have been trying to solve the puzzle of how to achieve this in a way that absolutely is radio – socially, culturally, legally. How to get a full time FM radio licence, and fit all the legislative criteria, whilst doing everything differently.’
Undeterred by COVID-19 and grey skies, Guy and a team of engineers, artists and computer programmers have been installing transmitters on high ground while maintaining social distancing and giving recording boxes to local residents to be ready for going live this month.
Skylark blends the scripted and unscripted, clean sound on professional microphones with rough on a cassette tape or phones, the outdoors with echoey village halls, new content and archive. And it enlists the human ear and brain to make sense of whatever material appears together.
Many of the beautiful, immersive recordings of Dartmoor’s wildlife are produced by Skylark’s chairperson, Tony Whitehead, a Dartmoor based artist with an interest in the sounds of the natural environment, especially bird-song. The lockdown of spring 2020 provided Tony with a unique opportunity to record on his daily walks, when the absence of traffic allowed animal voices to be heard more clearly.
Tony Whitehead, Skylark Chairperson:
‘I love recording the sounds of Dartmoor, particularly its wildlife, through the seasons and over the years. It’s an ever-changing soundscape, and it’s great to be able to share the voices of the moor, along with the recordings of many other people, on Skylark.’
Dr Michael Punt, Professor of Art and Technology , University of Plymouth:
‘Skylark is an adventure that will engage a distributed community in the production of a version of cultural identity in a region most known through the idealization of its tors, picnic sites and ponies. And that seems to be a good idea (especially at the moment as some fairly basic expectations about the future are becoming slippery). Skylark redefines Dartmoor as a community that can speak for itself through its undivided attention to the sounds of place and people. In this creative collaboration with its users it has the potential to give voice to the previously unheard and also shift the nature of radio as a technological form away from the familiar to something that may surprise us.’
Dr Hannah Drayson, University of Plymouth:
Far from being simply an avant-garde experiment, Skylark is the result of a long engagement with questions about the nature and form of community broadcast. It’s broadcast acts as an invitation, the talk-show radio studio with its mic and sound-desk set up, with glass booth and recording light has been disposed of. It has melted into the landscape in favour of material gathered through a network of community projects, workshops, audio-recorders in boxes, archival material, snippets of instrumental performance, artists submissions, and roaming radio producers. The result is not quite the moor ‘talking’ to itself, but more reinforcing its own presence, sonic moments running through temporal wormholes, to produce a revisioning and reinforcement of the moor’s own atmosphere. Where else do radio transmitters function to send an atmosphere back into itself?
Samantha Hill, head of communications, Dartmoor National Park:
‘This is a great initiative and I’d like to wish Skylark every success. Connecting Dartmoor’s communities is so important, now more than ever, as people feel isolated due to the ongoing pandemic. This radio station will bring that community voice into people’s homes with a rich tapestry of sound.’
Ed Baxter, Resonance FM:
‘Genius idea, inspiring location – the future of radio’