An experimental art radio show is invading downtown Saturday.
It’s not War of the Worlds, it’s Slo Radio, a graduate student art collective stemming directly from a class at Southern Illinois University — Carbondale taught by Professor Jay Needham.
Produced in partnership with West Kentucky Community and Technical College’s Clemens Fine Arts Center, the Slo Radio Paducah program will entertain listeners with a “live never heard before combination of music, sound and words that for me is kind of a hybrid of musical performance, performance of literature and live theatre,” Needham told the Sun Wednesday.
“Slo Radio is way to think about what’s normally conceived of as a commercial sphere of radio listening and actually open that up beyond the confines of block-formatted radio into a more open form of expression that includes reading and writing, music making and sound creation in a longer form,” he said. “Some of that also recalls or brings in histories and practices of live poetry and improvisation, 20th century music, and radio art among others.”
The group will be broadcasting live out of the Yeiser Art Center in downtown Paducah starting at 7 p.m. on a micro FM signal that will reach a few blocks. Needham thinks the program should last about 90 minutes. The frequency is yet to be determined, but it will be announced on the Clemens Fine Arts Center’s social media channels and on a livestream online for anyone interested in tuning in from outside the signal’s range via www.twitch.tv/sloradio.
Todd Birdsong, the executive director of the Clemens Fine Arts Center, thinks that sound can often be overlooked as an art form in Paducah and hopes that “whoever is tuning in focuses because it’s not just background noise. It’s a specific performance of something that’s different and unique that I think a lot of folks in this area may not have experienced. I would hope that they take this opportunity to get out of their circle and broaden their experience of what art can be.”
Local writers Amelia Martens and Levi McDuffee will be joining the collective to give the performance some “Paducah flavor,” the professor noted. In essence, listeners will be hearing a wandering, creative mishmash of continuous audio art mixing together improvised music, literature, poetry, voices and sound
“You could hear anything from standard musical ideas, ambient soundscapes, poetic expression, dissonant harmonies or even just industrial noise — radio static,” Needham explained. “I think the objective of the collective is to consider sound in general as a part of an aural set of tools … so in this way sound becomes part of a larger cultural symphony.”
Birdsong has collaborated with Needham on projects in the past and the professor has been a guest artist at the CFAC previously. Discussions between the two over the past year served as the catalyst for this new project which serves Birdsong’s further goal of working with more local and regional arts organizations.
“This really made sense to me to do something like this where we could still get together and do something as a small group and create something that we can put out to a larger group without having to bend or break the rules of social distancing, to still be able to reach people in the public and be able to share some creativity as a part of this project,” said Birdsong. “Because I’m a performing arts space I’m really looking for opportunities to connect with groups like the Yeiser — which is a visual arts space — to try to bring those two things together.
“This is a way to creatively navigate these strange times.”
Needham is hoping that people will want to experience the program through “their seldom-used car radios” by tuning into the program from the central downtown parking lot. He thinks this could be an interesting way to safely gather an audience in the time of COVID-19.
“(Parking lots are) really sort of vacuous or empty spaces,” the professor said. “We don’t think of them as being for anything other than that, but they take up a lot of space in our environment and usually tend to be centrally located … so they’re handy places to use or think of as other places than just to perhaps park cars.”
In the end, Needham is just hoping that listeners “bring an open set of ears.”
“For the most part in these times I think people are looking for some new voices or perhaps things they haven’t heard. They’re looking for voices of expression, words of wisdom, the sound of calm … perhaps a kind of a sonic reason, a sense of resolve. Things like Slo Radio have the same objective as a lot of art, which is just to make sense of life.”