With Edward Abbey, Gelsey Bell, George Bergen, Hilary Deeley, Vanessa Gageos, Helen Hahmann, Nuno Neves, Tiago Schwäbl, Anne Undeland, Laura Vitale and Laura Wiens.
“I am speaking to you now from the edge of a very large swampland. I cannot really see where the water ends and the land begins. Radio play loves edges: between seduction and oblivion; between the raw and the cooked; between the fur and the bone; between infinity and the present tense; between the play and the thing; the value of quiet beaver labor away from the mainstream, reshaping the local landscape as she creates shelter for herself and for her little grand idea that stumbles in, uninvited. But I have no intention of offering neat parables to you, not when I am lying inches away from stinky mud. The sun is going down and in a few more minutes if I stay here I will become food for the mosquitos. It’s time to move on, and so from the Big Sloppy….”
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:
In a very short period of time, Soundproof has become internationally respected for encouraging a beautifully polyphonous diversity of storytelling, in every dimension. Given more time, I am sure that Soundproof would have continued to increase its audience, on broadcast and through the digital platforms; to pull the plug now, just when the show is beginning to flourish, reveals a massively self-defeating narrowness of mind and spirit at the heart of Radio National.
Soundproof, under the leadership of the experienced and open-minded Miyuki Jokiranta, has given countless young, talented producers the opportunity and the resources to try new ideas and tell challenging stories in fresh ways. The deep cultural value of such a program cannot be measured by narrow statistical metrics. Soundproof is a program that speaks for the infinite possibilities of the human imagination in the world of words, music and sound. Killing such a program while still in its infancy reveals a toxic corporate mindset that rips out the garden for yet another lifeless parking lot.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Other materials include scraps from a live performance at an International Feature Conference in Basel, and instructional texts on the art of navigation. Sound beds composed by GW and RB. Recorded in the sea-crow media studio on Nantucket Island, over the course of several foggy days in late winter.
Following the premier broadcast on KPLA, Nothing But Fog has aired numerous times throughout Europe, North America and Australia. The below link is for private use within the creative commons; for broadcast or festival rights, please email me.
On this, the John Cage Centennial, I offer Leave it or Double it, a bit of radiophonic fungus produced on invitation from Transmission Arts, with its premier broadcast on WGXC a few days ago.
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.