Tag Archives: anne undeland

On the Shore Dimly Seen

Premiere broadcast on the excellent Soundproof program, produced by the Creative Audio Unit at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:


Gelsey Bell (vocals, improvisation)

Anne Undeland (narration)

Gregory Whitehead (writer, director, montage/composition, vocals)

The interrogation log of detainee 063, as first revealed to the public by Time magazine in 2005, offers a detailed hour-by-hour chronicle of the so-called “special interrogation plan” approved by Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration during the months following 9/11. In reading through the entire log that records many months of abuse, I was struck by the persistent use of loud music to assault the senses of the detainee; and in particular, the use of the Star Spangled Banner, during which the detainee would be ordered to stand at attention with his hand over his heart.

Verse two of the national anthem begins:

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These lines provided me with both a title and a commitment to break the “dread silence” that continues to surround the regime of no-touch torture imposed within Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay. By responding to the violence of 9/11 with torture, we betrayed our most  fundamental values, using our flag and anthem as props in acts of criminal abuse. Yet to this day, despite extensive documentation of extreme human rights violations, not a single perpetrator has been held accountable. What is half-disclosed also remains half-concealed.

At the heart of this broadcast: one day in the no-touch torture of detainee 063, as expressed through my verbatim voicing. Other texts float through and around the log, voiced by Anne Undeland: lists of the approved techniques, brief histories in the development of no-touch torture, excerpts from an interview with Dick Cheney, and analysis of what is happening within the interrogation log itself, ten years after it first came to light.

Extended improvisations by vocalist Gelsey Bell both embody and repel the cruel logic of the texts.

Review and essay here:

On the Shore Dimly Seen

From the Limbo Zone of Transmissions


GELSEY BELL is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. Described by the New York Times as a “brandy-voiced” “winning soprano” whose performance of her own music is “virtuosic” and “glorious noise,” she has released multiple albums and her work has been presented internationally. She performs regularly as an experimental vocalist, culling from a wide range of techniques and styles to create her own performance works, to literally voice those of contemporary composers, and to explore improvisation.She is a core member of thingNY and Varispeed, and she has worked with numerous performance creators including Robert Ashley, Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, Ne(x)tworks, Kimberly Bartosik, Yasuko Yokoshi, Dave Malloy, Rachel Chavkin, John King, Chris Cochrane and Fast Forward (as the Chutneys), Kate Soper, and Rick Burkhardt, among others. Gelsey also has a PhD from New York University in Performance Studies.

ANNE UNDELAND is an actress based in the Berkshires, widely known for her virtuosic voicing of one-woman shows such as The Belle of Amherst. She has worked with Whitehead on numerous projects for the BBC, including The Loneliest Road and Four Trees Down From Ponte Sisto.

Four Trees Down from Ponte Sisto

I first came across a sampling of Sharon Charde’s poetry completely by chance, while browsing through a local women’s magazine. I was instantly struck by the disarming directness and documentary detail in poems that dared to articulate the unspeakable loss of her son Geoffrey while a student abroad, under circumstances that remained obscure, with no known witnesses. At the bottom of the page, there was mention of a forthcoming reading at a library nearby, which I attended. As Sharon read, I was once again moved by the calm precision she was able to bring to the most terrible scenes, and by the rich polyphonies that gave subtle dimension to such a raw wound:


That evening confirmed my sense that her poems, written across three decades, comprised an important body of writing that deserved a wider audience. Fortunately, Sharon agreed to the idea of a BBC radio adaptation, and generously provided me with Geoffrey’s own journals, photographs and documents, as well as many supplementary stories and recollections, some of which I then incorporated into the script. Since her writings obliterate the idea that grief unfolds in tidy linear stages, I became increasingly committed to the fundamental truthfulness of an unresolved narrative structure, where the traumatic moment of the fall remains vivid, through to the very last sound.

We considered many actresses to give voice to the play, though my first choice was always Anne Undeland, who brings an open spirit of brave simplicity and deep insight to everything she does. I knew that Anne had recently performed a one woman show based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and she has worked with me on a number of other radio plays, including The Loneliest Road. As it happens, she also lived in Rome during the 1980s, and knew the Trastevere neighborhood where Geoffrey had lived, which helped bring the story fully into the present.


For music and sound design, I had in mind the image of a precious Roman mosaic that I had let slip from my hands, and thus it was left for me to piece it together again. There would be jagged edges to be sure – imperfections – and sometimes the edges might cut fingers. To achieve this acoustically, I improvised to recordings of Anne’s voicings on mandolin, bowed psaltery and a cigar box guitar, and then added a variety of sounds to the mix, including the snapping of twigs and the crushing of dry leaves.

I knew Geoffrey liked Simon & Garfunkle, and that he had used a quote from the song “Old Friends” in his High School yearbook. Though I never actually play the song, those chords and rhythms were certainly on my mind as I slowly assembled the final montage.

An informative article by the Litchfield County Times can be found here.

The play will air on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, June 29th. The first three minutes are excerpted here:

Post-broadcast comments on Netartery

From the blog Beyond Goodbye:



The Loneliest Road

Radio play in the shape of a flight by the Hungry Raven along Route Five Zero in the naked state of Nevada. With music composed and performed by The Books.

First broadcast: BBC Radio 3, October 2003.


Gregory Whitehead, writer and director of The Loneliest Road, interviewed by Gordon House.

GH     So Gregory – where’s The Loneliest Road, and how lonely is it?

GW     The Loneliest Road is an actual road which does exist; it’s the designation for a stretch of highway in the state of Nevada, through a fairly barren desert landscape. But, of course, it’s also a metaphorical road – The Loneliest Road of the American spirit, in every sense of that word, in the year 2003. My objective is to invite the listener on a journey along and over and across this territory via words, sounds and music.

GH     And who are the people we meet on this road?

GW     In addition to the pirate radio host, who calls herself The Hungry Raven, there are two main characters. The first is an individual whose life work has been to memorise the Oxford Anthology of American Poetry. Every word of that anthology he’s able to draw out of his memory and then – in the same way that indigenous cultures would use landscape as a memory device – he’s using The Loneliest Road as a mnemonic device, with mile signs along the road triggering off each poem. So he drives the road back and forth, back and forth, back and forth three rounds trips a week – and it’s a long road. Why? Well, for the answer to that, you have to listen to his interview with The Hungry Raven.

GH     And the second key individual?

GW     An iconic figure of the American imagination, the morally righteous assassin, in this case, one Oswald Norris, born the day Jack Ruby shot Oswald. And unlike the poet, who is constantly in motion, Oswald is fixed in space, looking at cars going by on the road. Now there are not a lot of cars on the Loneliest Road – that’s why it’s The Loneliest Road – but 70 or 80 each day go past him and he “sights in” each one through his rifle, and we overhear him as he imagines the inhabitants of those cars, and unwinds his critique of a fallen America, a critique that is both lucid and slightly mad.

GH     But it’s a metaphorical road as well as a real one?

GW     Yes. And those two characters are the key – poet, assassin, poet, and assassin, turning around and even inside each other; which is which? I believe that’s very much where we are in America right now. There is, always, the Walt Whitman America – the heroic, the genuine romanticism, the idealism of Whitman – that I think is still very much here, though battered. But sometimes the idealism takes on a violent, and even savage tone, often with reference to a Higher Power, which would seem to justify anything. Hear the angel whisper, and pull the trigger. The final chorus of the theme song is “A hungry raven in the sky, a wounded rabbit slow to die; bones piled in the sun, America has all the fun. It’s the Loneliest Road.”

Gregory Whitehead with Oswald Norris (left).