TRANSMISSION ART ARCHIVE
Ugnayan, for 20 Radio Stations (1974) was created by José Maceda, a Filipino classical musician who spent time in European avant-garde music circles; he was also an ethnomusicologist trained at UCLA who focused on indigenous Filipino music --music performed for centuries in villages as part of ceremonies and rituals. When José Maceda started composing in his mid 40s, he borrowed techniques from western and eastern musical traditions, as you can hear in Ugnayan, for 20 Radio Stations. Artist and performer Aki Onda wrote this about the piece: “José Maceda’s Ugnayan was an expansive audience participatory work for radio to be broadcast at 6 PM on New Year’s Day, 1974. Arguably the most ambitious, provocative, and controversial work in his repertoire, the fifty-one-minute-long piece consisted of twenty separate tracks, each to be played on a different public radio frequency simultaneously, producing a musical atmosphere at the scale of the city. All thirty-seven radio stations in the metropolitan Manila area turned over their channel for Maceda’s sound diffusion, with some tracks playing from multiple stations. Millions of listeners tuned in. Manila’s parks, plazas, and street corners were converted into what the composer called ‘Ugnayan Centers’—142 locations in all. In one of the biggest, 15,000 people congregated, their personal radios creating a stunningly knotted mass of sounds.”
José Maceda’s Ugnayan is not very well known globally and is rarely performed, something that Aki Onda has been trying to remedy. In January 2020, Aki Onda recreated Ugnayan for 20 Radio Stations at Fridman Gallery in New York City in collaboration with Wave FArm. Onda obtained Maceda’s 20 original sound files from the Filipino archive that houses Maceda’s music and set up 20 transmitters, whose signals were received by an array of radio receivers on-site at Fridman Gallery. I got to hear Ugnayan transmitted in this format, and it was thrilling.
One more point of interest: The Filipino word ugnayan translates into English as relationship or connection between people. Ugnayan is the title the First Lady Imelda Marcos wanted for the piece; José Maceda’s original title was Atmosphere. There is a broader political context in terms of the involvement of the Marcos Regime in the production of Ugnayan. See Aki Onda’s insightful essay, “In Light of the Frenzy: How José Maceda Took Over Manila Public Radio.” There, you’ll also see a link to José Maceda’s “Sources of Musical Thought in Southeast Asia.”