Some of the most beautiful products are the simplest. Take Radio.Garden, for example. This project by Golo Föllmer at Martin-Luther University Halle displays a photorealistic globe full of green dots. Swing your mouse over one of the dots — in Iran, Estonia or the Faroe Islands — and you can hear a local radio station.
The interface itself is surprisingly calming. You’re immediately drawn to the farthest corners of the Earth. Rolling over Iceland brings up some Spice Girls and some local talk radio. Visiting Tehran calls a swirl of disco out of the ambient hisses and pops that Radio.Garden adds to the experience. It’s a beautiful reminder that wherever you go you can probably hear Eric Clapton or Jamiroquai clamoring out of a tinny speaker in some back-alley cafe or a dark taxi.
“By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places,” writes Föllmer. “Radio Garden allows listeners to explore processes of broadcasting and hearing identities across the entire globe. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away — or using local community radio to make and enrich new homes.”
He’s absolutely right. Radio has been given short shrift in this era of always on information. It’s a medium from another era, truncated in about 2000 by consolidation and the bubble gumming of the airwaves. But we’re reminded by this beautiful project that there is nothing more magical than picking up a tinny FM station on a long drive between two distant spots and living, for a moment, behind the windows and walls of a far off farmhouse silhouetted by the moon and full of light and sound and life.