CFP Tuning in to the Neo-Avant-Garde

In the years when the neo-avant-garde emerged, radio was a prominent medium, which offered an unexpected forum not just for art criticism but also for artistic practices, especially in the form of the radio play. Moreover, in the wake of the historical avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde has a strong interest in aural media, in the seemingly autonomous power of sound and voice. Therefore, it is not surprising that postwar avant-garde artists and literary writers in particular started experimenting with the radio play, supported by theories from thinkers such as Rudolf Arnheim, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht.

Still, it is remarkable how widespread the neo-avant-garde affinity with audiophonic art actually is. For innovative artists all across Europe and the rest of the world, the radio play provided a playground to think about the semiotic power of the auditive domain, and to challenge artistic conventions as well as the distinctions between different media and genres. Literary writers Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayröcker created the stereophonic piece of art ‘Five Man Humanity’ in 1968. In 1979, the American avant-garde composer John Cage created Roaratorio, a radio play for electronic tapes, Irish folk music, and voice. In the Netherlands, the experimental poets Lucebert and Bert Schierbeek wrote pieces for the radio. And the French OuLiPo author Georges Perec once said that he found new solutions for his writerly questions in the ‘intrinsic space of the radio drama’.

The conference focuses on the role of audio drama within the context of the neo-avant-garde from 1945 to the present, and it also welcomes papers dealing with genres bordering on the radio play, such as sound collage, radio opera, the radio essay, and the radio documentary. Next to the radio medium, other forms of dissemination of audio fiction (such as gramophones, cd’s and the internet) can be examined in conference papers as well. Papers can address institutional and contextual aspects of audio drama, intermedial and material issues, ideological and political issues:

  • International unions and national broadcasting corporations such as the WDR in Germany, RAI in Italy, and the BBC in the UK helped to create a framework for experimentation. These and other institutional contexts and collaborations have impacted the creative process itself as well. Did neo-avant-garde artists actively work together with certain corporations, or with composers and directors who are associated with a poetics of innovation? To what extent did the collective poetics of neo-avant-garde groups such as the Wiener Gruppe (Austria), Gruppo 63 (Italy), or Tel Quel (France) advance the radio play?
  • Artists who were exploring the semiotics of auditive storytelling often experimented in related media such as music, sound poetry, and acoustic art as well, thereby questioning the boundaries between them. How do radio plays by neo-avant-garde artists relate to experiments in, for example, novels, cinema, or theatre? How do these artists employ the constraints and affordances of the medium? To what extent do they exploit the possibilities of electro-acoustic manipulation, stereophonic positioning, montage, mix, and other semiotic means characteristic of the radio play?
  • Critics and thinkers have often posited that radio can have an emancipatory and political function, as it can reach large audiences in their own homes. How does the neo-avant-garde radio play stage political questions and does it acknowledge its own ideological structure? To what extent do neo-avant-garde artists take the public nature of the radio (and its dependence on the state) into account? Do they reflect upon the manipulative potential of the radio, also in its history as a medium?

Confirmed keynote speakers are:

  •  Karin Bijsterveld (Maastricht University)
  •  Daniel Gilfillan (Arizona State University)
  •  Jesper Olsson (Linköping University)
  •  Jarmila Mildorf (Paderborn University)

Practical information

The conference takes place on 28 and 29 November at Ghent University in Belgium. Please submit abstracts of max. 350 words, along with your title, name, affiliation and email address to Speakers are allotted twenty-five minutes, of which twenty minutes are reserved for the presentation and five minutes for collective listening to audio fragments. The conference does not cover travel expenses and accommodation, but all speakers are exempt from registration costs. The deadline for submissions is 30 March 2018. Notification of acceptance is expected at the beginning of May 2018.


The conference is organised by the Centre for the Study of Experimental Literature (SEL, and supported by the research network ENAG (European Neo-Avant-Gardes, The local organisers are Lars Bernaerts (Ghent University), Siebe Bluijs (Ghent University), Evelien Verschueren (Ghent University), Inge Arteel (Vrije Universiteit Brussels), and Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp).


Tuning in to the Neo-Avant-Garde


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