Need to Know

1978, 43:00 min.
Lawrence Weiner

In this unconventional radio play staged by Lawrence Weiner, a group of players that include filmmaker Michael H. Shamberg, writer Ann Sargent-Wooster, musician Peter Gordon, and the artist himself weave in and out of overlapping conversations and monologues, which range in tone from turgid party chatter to intimate pillow talk. Occasionally, the dialogue seems to comment on itself: one character describes having watched a movie with “no identifiable characters,” resigning herself to eventually just “identify with the landscape,” and later, two readers have a debate about if all art aspires to the immediacy of music. A narrator (Weiner), whose booming voice cuts through the clamor, posits that the titular “need to know,” a particular orientation towards media and time, was inaugurated with the televised riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. A sustained, deconstructed riff on Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” (1960) floats throughout, performed live by Peter Gordon. Produced as a real-time multitrack broadcast, Weiner arranged and “conducted” these moving parts from the sound booth, live-cueing players and directing a technician to amplify and fade with hand motions.

Described by Weiner as a “sound structure,” the piece parallels his noted typographic works that treat language as a sculptural material, using the arc and texture of the broadcast to experiment with the fundamentals of form. Although unique for the artist as a rare foray into radio, Need to Know resonates with his dramatic video works A First Quarter (1973) and Do You Believe in Water? (1976), and later repetitious doo-wop collaborations with Ned Sublette and the Persuasions. The work aired on WBAI-FM on a Sunday afternoon program hosted by James Umland, a sound artist whose weekly show featured interviews with figures such as John Cage and Dave Brubeck, and who participates here as a voice actor. - Described by Wave Farm Radio Art Fellow 2022-2023, Tyler Maxin

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