Seize The Means

Radio Wonderland


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Compositions by Radio Wonderland
Instrumentation is boombox, shoes, steering wheel, laptop and electronics

Produced by Radio Wonderland and Marcelo Añez
Mastered by Scott Hull at Masterdisk
Cover artwork by Paul Dignan and Joshua Fried
Design by Kurt Hoffman

Get the 12″ vinyl album through AL!VE or at BandCamp

On Seize The Means, each track is made of 100% live radio grabbed during a Radio Wonderland performance. Radio Wonderland is Joshua Fried, performing live digital processing controlled by old shoes hit with sticks (Fried is a lifelong drummer), and a vintage Buick steering wheel (yes, he also plays a steering wheel). Radio Wonderland pulverizes mass media into little audio bits that dance.

In Radio Wonderland performances nothing is pre-recorded (except for what comes up live on the air); anything picked up during the performance–commercials, music, news–is fair game. All the processing is live, programmed by Fried in MaxMSP software. Each gig starts with the ritual of Fried walking on stage, sometimes entering through the crowd, carrying a boombox playing FM radio LIVE. He plugs it into his system and starts slicing, repeating and transposing bits of radio he selects on the spot. He builds grooves, piece by piece, out of still-recognizable bites of radio, sometimes winding them into pure musical sound and later un-winding them back to the original source.

One of Fried’s algorithms, the Re-Esser (studio nerds will recognize this as a play on the word de-esser), isolates sibilance, so he can compose on the spot using “S”, “T”, “K”, “Sh” and other sounds like samples in a drum machine. The Re-Esser is featured on “Radio Family”, the opening track of Seize The Means. After grabbing the phrase “no family conspiracy to hack,” Fried loops the words “family conspiracy”. The Re-Esser isolates “F…” “C…” “Sp…” and “Cy…” as Fried controls the process to make the transformation clear. The four percussive bits then become part of the groove (also made of radio of course).

Marshall McLuhan’s writing about the intimacy of radio communication wasn’t lost on Joshua Fried… Seize The Means… deconstructs voices from the ether in an absurdist, subtly undermining manner akin to Negativland.
Richard Gehr, Village Voice (Nov 2-8 2016)

The idea of it alone should be enough to make you want to get down, but it is as incredible in action as it seems on paper.  …[As] Radio Wonderland turned French talk radio into a funkadelic dance party, my toes started tapping and I couldn’t stop. …Radio Wonderland needs a dance floor.
Morgan Murray, The Scope, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Simultaneously classic New York nightlife and rigorous hacktivism.
Nick Hallett,curator, columnist (BOMB, Interview, Art In America)

Call it sonic alchemy. “Let’s turn the corporate poison into something like medicine–a dance groove,” says Fried. Seize The Means recalls techno, tech house, microhouse, dub, and IDM (otherwise known as miscellaneous). But the randomness of the source material and the transparency of the processes set it apart. At any moment, percussion might morph into a voice, or vice-versa; a loop will contract into a waveform then expand back. The typical solidity of electronic beats gives way to viscous plasticity. “I like to call Radio Wonderland grooves vertically integrated” Fried says. “Instead of off-the-shelf drums and synths on the bottom and cool samples on top, everything–from kick, to riff, to funny bit of radio voice–comes from the airwaves, equally part of the collage.”

Seize The Means exhibits a playfulness rarely found in experimental or electronic dance music. In the midst of the throbbing “Good to Be Back In L.A.” suddenly the beat disappears and one is thrust into the middle of an ad, “staring down a crunchy taco”. But several tracks push past irony into pounding catharsis. Radio Wonderland’s process destroys as it creates, building new sounds from the shards of the old. The sensation can be both wrenching and exhilarating at once, especially when applied to the sound of a human voice. The title track is particularly cathartic, spinning a station ID, a traffic report, a bit of song and various snippets into a relentless, hypnotic meditation on “Power!…”, the spoken bit of sound that becomes its main motif.

To represent Radio Wonderland in audio Fried reviewed his entire live archive, which had grown to over 250 hours of music, and picked out the best shows to be distilled into album-length tracks. “Each track on Seize The Means started as a single concert,” says Fried, “but this is not documentary. How could it be? Only a real live performance has the electricity of the unknown. The album conveys the music without telling the whole story of how it was built–in fact the album started as an experiment, to find out whether Radio Wonderland stands up on its own as pure audio.” Early responses to Seize The Means indicate that it stands up well indeed.

True to concept, no overdubs were added; every sound on a given track comes from its underlying concert. But Fried and Grammy-winning engineer/co-producer Marcelo Añez (Ricky Martin, Shakira) did bring current mixing techniques to bear on the material. In the cases where post-production went beyond what Radio Wonderland can currently execute on stage, Fried made sure to use only techniques that could be coded in software for use in future performance. Thus Seize The Means is partly a prototype for Radio Wonderland 2.0.

Jason Friend