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Digital Cuts

Ralf Homann, 2000 / pdf / mp3

Why political web or FM radio is in fact a hairdresser's salon

The scissors are clicking and clacking and with every cut the production of meanings proceeds: Fancy codes and relative identities. They were fixed with gel or washed away by fragrant soaps. In acts of some sort of purgation old pigtails, treasured relics, disappear as new personalities are being tried on.

Tinges and transitions are an option, even the standard cut is a new mix. Fakes are always the original and copies individual. The head tames the unruly, tricky material and carries it off into the remote future. All is accompanied by unceasing gossip and stories that mean the world. If the world is a stage the hairdressers is the protostudio of all radio stations. The minimal equipment of chair, scissors, mirror, turn table, microphone and transmitter; some well thumbed newspapers, phone and computer. A huge radio receiver. And what’s best: While the radio babbles on, everyone’s talking, thinking reading papers; people surf and broadcast at the same time. And all the while hair’s being cut. All simulateously. Cutting hair while listening with one ear, nothing’s ruled out and much more is possible and all that at a calculable risk. Nobody would voluntarily want a shave while the barber is watching a film; listening to the sound of a radio in the background, though, is as calming as the scissors click and clack.

WebTV is desperation, WebRadio is no permanent perm

Nothing is more boring than drying a perm. The hissing of the drier prevents any talk and drier itself hamstrings any movement – amounting to the same effect as taking a sleeping pill. Even worse is the TV set. For a while now TV has resorted to programs that are exciting also without the medium TV itself, because the latter no longer has anything to offer itself. TV blockbusters are programs that work with closed eyes and whose plots and stories can be read up on afterwards. TV is changing to an audio program of trashy radio plays.
The last act of desperation is the fusion with the internet. It's like the relation of a hair drier to a curler. Making a perm is interactive, each curl a new mouse click, which needs renewed attention, while web TV will make the screen a mere ornamental poster which will stick quietly in the corner, and will no longer have anything in common with the anxious glance into the hairdresser's mirror. The radio that sits on the hair spray shelf has it easy in comparison: It doesn't demand any attention, it can afford to be placed anywhere and the sound can match any haircut, should the need arise.

The aesthetics of waiting

Not until the last waiting client reaches the finishing line, will the hairdresser have won. That's exactly why the world-wide art of waiting is never as much fun as in the coiffeurs waiting line. While the queue follows the pattern as packages moving up a step in a production line, the communication of waiting is always simultaneous. Skipping, zapping and mixing plots, subjects and themes, picking up old threads and anecdotes generates the actual plot. Delays form into loops, communication gaps create exciting rhythms, that can be intensified by jumping between different queues. He who comes too late will be enriched by the stories. Hence even the finished customers stay on just for the beauty of the wait and for the endless stream of stories. When the conversation falters and the stories run out, the eyes can always still feast on the hairdressers dance around his chair or drink in the gaze of someone else’s eyes.

The Disappearance of the moral medium

At the hairdressers the wisest and weightiest, as well as the most foolish and silly insights can be bandied without risk. How one values each piece of information is completely up to oneself. A fact that matters especially in book-believing regions, because in those areas consumption in general and that of media in particular is always a question of high morals and authority, where media are often confused with religious services and the wrong type of ritual is always inexcusable. However, the information that is generated at the hairdressers is always raised to the status of penance, because through it a subject finds maturity. The phrase 'At hairdressers I heard...' is the information before the information. Individual truths, blatant lies and dubious relations can be checked for their truth value. The hairdresser’s credibility is based on staging the private publicly. In contrast with a music club the hairdresser's salon doesn't need a door keeper or any other form of territorial ex- or inclusion. The suspense arises from the sense of limited adventure, where curiosity and schadenfreude don’t have to be disguised. And, no need to worry about the disclaimer: A simple hat should do.

The Informal Radio-Salon

Time and place of radio-salons are a matter of agreement, wandering is possible, the luggage light. Thus the radio salon is close to being the last hero, who as we know, makes do entirely without baggage. The tools and rules of the trade are of secondary importance, above all else the quality of work is based on the courage of the client. Mobile salons can be used in places where convenient communication is strongly recommended: At parties, camp sites, housing complexes and in the periphery of huge demonstrations and convention they are seen to be enriching. By contrast, they might be tricky at event whose folklore demands hair to be in specific styles. Then again, no one can see which program is being listened to at a hairdresser’s anyway. Since the basic question of authority: 'Who is in charge here?' can be pressing, a well organized radio barber is best when it consists only of waiting clients and remains itself as ephemeral as a hairdo. So, please, come frequently! After all nothing is as inconspicuous these days, as a well-groomed appearance with the by now obligatory set of headphones, that keep your sight free for what really matters.

Digital Politics

Digital is not analog. Analog politics asks for origin, which does not matter to the digital one. The digital hairdresser doesn't judge a person by his or her hairdo, which kind of renders him absurd. But this has its advantages: Less ethnic, more ethical, and more aesthetic. On the other hand: Analog politics can act contradictorily, fights against catch-22, and it can go into overdrive; digital politics overloads and just cops out. But that's no skin off my nose: Politics always operates against its own conditions. This is a subtle contrast with fine art, which acts regardless. Which in its turn shares something with political radio: Like political radio is also a kind of wireless party. And those who know each other from the hairdresser’s really know each other.


Translated from German, first broadcasted during Ralf Homann's residency at Villa Romana, Florence, 2000, and published in the Amsterdam festival net.congestion reader.

-> net.congestion