The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny radio theatre performance, radio art broadcast, pirate radio intervention (2000-2003)

The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny (excerpt) by annafriz

Presented at Send+Receive Festival of Sound, Winnipeg (October 2000), aired on ORF Kunstradio, Ö1, Austrian national public radio, Austria (February 2002), interventions occurred at CKUT FM, Montréal and on unlicensed frequencies in Montréal (summer 2002), and a final performance took place as part of the Great Small Works Fourth Radio Cabaret at PS122, New York City, NY (December 2003). The piece has been streamed and sampled on radio shows and sound blogs around the world. In 2011 I did a remix of the piece, and it has since gone on to play at Radiaator in Tallinn, Estonia (March 2011), the Outside the Box New Music Festival at University of Southern Illinois (April 2011), Carbondale, and will be featured as part of an upcoming stereo program with the NYC-based traveling audio festival ((audience)). 

When I was young, I half-believed that the voices emanating from the radio were the voices of the little people who lived inside. Turn on the radio, the little people begin to talk, change the station and they change their voices. I imagined the radio people waited inside while the radio was off, ever ready to perform at the click of the dial. This dictatorial relationship is no worker’s paradise, so inevitably there would be dissent. What if one such person, sick and tired of our listening whims, decided to take action? What if she attempted to communicate with other radios, dreaming of a secret relay network linking clock radio to car radio to walkman, while we, the Ears, were inattentive, absent or asleep?

The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny evolved from this fiction, and was initially presented as a live performance at send+receive festival of sound in Winnipeg in October 2000. I developed the concept over the next two years into my master’s thesis project, with versions that included a radio art piece for broadcast, a late-night “takeover” at CKUT FM in Montreal, a pirate radio intervention in Montreal, and a re-configured live performance for theatre/cabaret. 

The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny is a tale of a radio pirate featuring Pirate Jenny herself, transmitting from inside the black box of radio tech- nology that is atopic—a Futurist nightmare in which she is imprisoned without contact with others of her kind. When I extracted her from Threepenny Opera and put her on the air as a modern-day mutineer, Pirate Jenny became all my radio listening and longing folded in on itself and demanding acknowledgment. But rather than an insurgent chambermaid plotting bloody revenge against the bour- geois clients of the hotel, this character is a radio pirate who is inas well as onthe radio. This fable maintains ties to Brecht in more than name alone: Pirate Jenny’s alienation and loneliness prompt her to take action by transforming her radio into a transceiver so that she can both send messages to other radios and monitor the bandwidth for the longed-for response. Pirate Jenny transmits when the Ears turn off her radio, and listens to the distant signals of other radios performing for other Ears, so she knows she is not alone. Through Pirate Jenny, radio can literally be- come (self-) conscious. But will another little radio person hear her and respond? And will she be able to decipher the message when she finally receives it?

Who are the people in the radio? is the sister piece to this original musing about the little radio people. 

Listen to an admittedly lo-fi stream of the 2002 piece over on ORF Kunstradio, just scroll down to find the show and the realplayer link. 

Outfront (a program formerly on the CBC, the English language service of the national public radio) did a feature on this work as part of their “Ultrasonique” series. 

I have also written about Pirate Jenny in the following publications: 

“The Art of Unstable Media”, in Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada. Langlois, Andrea, Ron Sakolsky, and Marion van der Zon, eds. New Star Books, (forthcoming spring 2010). 

“Re-enchanting Radio”, in “In Focus: Sound Studies” section, edited by Michele Hilmes. Cinema Journal, 48:1 2008, pp 138-145. 

“The Clandestine Transmissions of Pirate Jenny.” in Acoustic Space Reader. Riga, Latvia: RIXC, 2003.