Tag Archives: Gregory Whitehead radio art
On the ABC’s outstanding (thus terminated) Soundproof program, in its last weeks:
The songspiel uses fragments from the manifestos collected at Radio Revolten, a month-long radio arts festival, which took place in Halle, Germany in October.
Radio Unbroken is composed from three “songs”:
I Lover in Revolt
II The Future of Radio is Dirty
III Radio Unbroken
Following the announcement that Soundproof had been cancelled as part of a self-destructive ABC Radio National re-focussing on “digital platforms”, I released the following statement:
Commissioned for the 2014 Radio Dreamlands project, conceived by the UK-based Radio Arts.
Ongoing explorations into the fate of ciphered disembodies during their slow fade into the electromagnetic night:
A hybrid fiction/documentary produced in close collaboration with Mark Burman for BBC 3’s (relatively) adventurous Between the Ears program.
Mark gathered the interview material with a focus on the history of sound-based weapon systems, and I created the character of Colonel Walter Manley, founder of the Jericho Institute, a shadowy research center with a mission to weaponize the Voice of God (VOG).
Mark also recorded a perfect group clamor from the BBC chorus, as well as a number of shofar blasts, while I created several tonal beds, for texture and continuity. We then gradually composed the montage and mixage, bouncing tracks back and forth between our studios, on either side of the Atlantic, for a February 2006 broadcast.
From Steven Goodman’s fantastic (in every sense) history of sonic warfare:
In fruiting the fungus, all I knew from the outset was that I would aim for a duration of 33:33, and that I would use translated excerpts from the Turin newspaper La Stampa as source material – reviews regarding the 1959 appearance of a young American composer named John Cage on a very popular Italian television quiz show, Lascia o Raddoppia. I was careful not to practice or rehearse the texts in any way, but to confront them in a single take, with no way to correct mushroom pronunciation mistakes.
My most extended personal conversation with Cage transpired in 1989 at an unlikely location: Skywalker Ranch. I noticed that Cage was not eating the catered food; he had his own little dish of brown rice and mushrooms. This led to a lively and comic conversation about mushrooms during which my relative ignorance was gently exposed, and I have since come to believe that Cage’s foraging expertise and his fascination for these strange organisms offer fresh ways to understand his philosophy of composition.
The performance he gave at Skywalker (How to Get Started) used the decompositional process of voicing a passage, then playing a recording back into the room while voicing a second section, and so on, gradually creating a rich fungal compost of words, ideas, and decay. The Skywalker auditorium was thus gradually transformed into a mush-room. This would be my structure as well, though performed in private, only made public through the radio broadcast. Each little mention in La Stampa receives its own generation, regardless of length.
Additional tracks are improvisations played by me on bowed cigar box guitar, plucked psaltery and gently thrummed turntable. I kept post-performance shaping to a minimum, and let myself be guided if not by the I Ching, then by the whispers of Hermes and by the forager’s attentive disposition, so present in the art of John Cage.
In 1983, Susan Stone and I received funding from the NPR satellite program development fund for the production of two radio features within a genre we called “cinema in the head”. In my case, this meant an investigation into an assembly of voices, ideas, themes and associations that seemed to belong in the same space, yet had never been properly introduced.
During those years, I was influenced by essayistic films such as Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (which I still watch once a year or so) and the filmic philosophy of Alexander Kluge. I had also recently finished a master’s thesis about the subjective experience of aurality and literacy, and in particular the work of Walter Ong, whose subtle and deep investigations into the history of the word (and The Word) remains a source of stimulation to this day.
In terms of the production process, I was particularly fascinated by the phenomenology of the analog razor cut as a sort of acoustic emblem for a wounded text; an acoustic text stitched together, where the wounds were active as “mouths” – vulnerable openings among the various floating subjects. Such a text seemed to resonate with the qualities of radiophonic space that have always intrigued me, above all the tense interplay between Eros and Thanatos.
All this led me to visit the New York City Dead Letter Office over the course of several days, watching the small group of skilled decipherers make one last attempt at fulfilling a desired yet possibly doomed epistolary communication. From there, I simply followed whatever associative path was suggested within the language and performance of the interviews themselves.
The editing process was obsessive, as I shaved slivers from slivers to get the rhythm exactly right. Inspired by the dance and music of the Tarantella, the structure circles and spins, offering multiple beginnings and ends; entrances and exits into the warehouse of undelivered feeling.
DEAD LETTERS EXCERPT: first 12:38
Later (ten years later) released on CD by the legendary Staalplaat, which includes a booklet of the entire transcript.