Free Radio Linux

Spoken-word performance of Linux code

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About the project Edit

In February 3, 2002, to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the coining of the term "open source," a duo calling themselves r a d i o q u a l i a (Honor Harger, a former Webcasting curator at the Tate Modern in London, and Adam Hyde, an electronic musician and software developer from New Zealand) launched Free Radio Linux, an audio distribution of the Linux Kernel, the basis for all versions of Linux - a popular open source operating system. Free Radio Linux was an online and an on-air radio station. The sound transmission consisted of a computerized reading of the code used to create the operating system Linux.

Each line of code was read by the computerised automated voice - a speech.bot built by r a d i o q u a l i a (a software that converts text into a computerized human voice). The speech.bot's output was then encoded into an Open Source audio stream and sent out live on the internet. A selection on FM, AM and Shortwave radio stations from around the world also relayed the audio stream on various occasions. Free Radio Linux was inspired in part by the "code stations" of the 1980s pirate radio broadcasts of bootleg programs that were converted by modems into noise, played over the air, then reconverted by listeners' modems into working software.

Listeners could track the progress of Free Radio Linux by listening to the stream, or checking the text-based progress field in the ./listen section.1 The Linux kernel contains 4,141,432 lines of code. Reading the entire kernel took 14253.43 hours, or 593.89 days. In theory, a Free Radio Linux listener could transcribe each line of the Linux kernel's code, or cut and paste it from the text that accompanied the reading (presented so that people could follow what they were hearing in the audio stream).

In what ways is this project unique and creative? Edit

Free Radio Linux is in itself a unique experience - a kind of spoken-word performance that continued 24 hours a day for 590 consecutive days (it was terminated in 2004). To sit and listen non-stop to this automated spoken-word performance would have been beyond the limits of human endurance. In this regard, Free Radio Linux echoes such durational New Media art works as John F. Simon Jr.'s Every Icon and MTAA's 1 year performance video. In each of these projects, computers replace artists in the execution or performance of the work.

But also needed to point out is the creative aspect of the material used for this one time performance: Linux as the most successful open source software project of its time. Like other open source software, Linux is developed and improved by a distributed network of volunteer programmers who freely share the fruits of their labor. Linux was favored by many New Media artists, from Radical Software Group to Raqs Media Collective, and served as a model for open source cultural practices of all kinds.

What is the social value of this project? Edit

Free Radio Linux exemplified the non-commercial nature of much New Media art. By deliberately operating outside the marketplace and embracing open source methods of production and distribution, r a d i o q u a l i a offered an implicit critique of the proprietary economies of both the art world and the software industry. Free Radio Linux nonetheless received the support of Minneapolis's Walker Art Center, an established art world institution.

Free radio Linux stated that radio was the most democratized way to distribute for free the operating system to the world since radio remains the most widely used medium. As r a d i o q u a l i a states "In the hierarchy of media, radio reigns. There are more computers than modems, more phones than computers, and more radios than phones. Radio is the closest we have to an egalitarian method of information distribution. Free Radio Linux advocates that radio is the best method for distributing the world's most popular free software."

What is the potential of this project to expand and develop? Edit

Free Radio Linux is seen part of many other projects by r a d i o q u i l a which aims at showing how broadcasting technologies can be used to create new artistic forms, and how sound art can be used to illuminate abstract ideas

What was the triggering factor of this project? Edit

What is the business model of this project? Edit


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