Dead Letters

1985, 56:27 min.
Gregory Whitehead

Writes Gregory Whitehead, "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." For more information visit

Gregory Whitehead is an American radio artist whose radio art is widely celebrated and enjoyed. It is very difficult to choose just a couple of his works for the Wave Farm Radio Art Archive from his many fantastic creations. Dead Letters is an early piece, created in 1985. It begins as an inquiry into the postal letters that do not arrive at their intended destinations. Gregory visited the New York City Dead Letter Office and from there, he writes, “I simply followed whatever associative path was suggested within the language and performance of the interviews themselves.” The subtitle of Dead Letters is: "the monologue of a hand cut off from the body cast out into the warehouse of undelivered feeling." There is much more to discover about Gregory Whitehead's radio art and his stunning writings about radio at his website - Described by Wave Farm Radio Artist Fellow 2019/2020, Karen Werner.