Focus Piece

Cosmic Radio: Sonic Installation Shock Forest Group

Written by Callum McLean
Photos by Boudewijn Bollmann

Behind every technology lies hidden a web of interconnected histories – whispered stories linking together the fabric of our natural world, and the violence repeatedly visited on it, and on us. If only we listened a little better, we might hear them.

Enter the Shock Forest Group. For this artistic collective, listening is a vital act: a gateway to better understanding our environment and each other. Ahead of their latest presentations online and in the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven on 2 and 3 December, we wanted to recap the Group’s work so far and give you a taste of what to expect.

Formed in 2019, the Shock Forest Group’s early work centred around the ‘Schockbos’ after which they named themselves: originally a testing site and dumping ground for the former munitions factory in Zandaam, now the cultural space Het Hem. Including designers, coders and linguists, the collective has since morphed and grown to include current members Katya Abazajian, Sheryn Akiki, Axel Coumans, Susanna Gonzo, Daria Kiseleva, Jelger Kroese, and Nicolás Jaar, the prolific producer known also for musical side-projects Darkside and Against All Logic. 

Those original projects at Het Hem attuned to a number of different historical traces and led to a dazzling variety of forms. The group listened carefully to The Shock Forest and the former munitions factory, representing them in multiple ways: among others, through field recordings, archives, breadmaking, sound installation, a generative sonic composition, and a journal article. Besides this impressive breadth of work from the group – thanks to the extreme interdisciplinarity of its members – these projects were marked by a radical embrace of uncertainty, radical empathy and conscious practices of listening. Tapping into very real and shocking histories, they also uncovered ghostly traces connecting military production there to ecological and all-too-human violence around the world.

Now, Shock Forest Group prepares to present the latest results of a new phase of their latest project, Cosmic Radio. This has resulted from the group’s residency in Eindhoven, the first research phase of which which was presented earlier this year at STRP Festival in Eindhoven, in a range of forms: an installation, film and radio programme

In their work, the history of radio in the Netherlands opens a doorway to a maze of forking paths. On the one hand, it points to familiar ground for the group: roots in colonisation. The Philips company, headquartered in Eindhoven, was responsible for the first long wave radio broadcast in the world, to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. From that origin, the group traced diverging links to other key radio sites in the Netherlands, but also highlighted radio’s roots in cosmic questions and natural resonances. They showed how the antenna of radio infrastructure derive from those of insects and plants, how ‘sensing’ and ‘sending’ are intertwined in our language and communication, and how radio has long been employed to look to the cosmos for answers.

This second phase of the project centres on a series of workshops with participants invited to join the core group as a ‘New Temporary Shock Forest Group’. Researching, listening and experimenting together over several weeks, the group now prepares to present their learning at the Van Abbemuseum. On Saturday 2 December, the group will open a window onto their process through a series of unpredictable, semi-improvised actions in the museum. Besides a sound installation and the turning on of a series of antenna, the form of the day’s events remains to be seen, landing somewhere between a live jam session, a series of readings and performances, and a participatory action. The following day on Sunday 3 December, the results of that day and the workshops will be broadcast live in a radio transmission. 

Join the group at on Saturday 2 December from 12.00–17.00 at the Van Abbemuseum. Tune into the live radio broadcast on Sunday 3 December from 12–17.00 at