Gregory Whitehead Anniversary Special (Audio)

Mar 13, 2021
Produced by New Adventures in Sound Art.

New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) marks its 20th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of WGXC with an two+ hour mini-retrospective of recent radio art works by Gregory Whitehead. Whitehead has brought to both organizations many memorable performances and thought-provoking works. Whitehead will introduce his works included in this show, which include: On the Shore Dimly Seen, As We know, Nothing Like Us, Crazy Horse One Eight, Radio Unbroken and As all the Heavens.

Gregory Whitehead is the award-winning writer, director and producer of more than one hundred radio plays, essays and acoustic adventures for the BBC, Radio France, Australia's ABC, NPR and other broadcasters. He is a frequent performer in literary cabarets and mixed media theatre events, as well as a featured guest speaker at conferences and audio festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe. Whitehead is the co-editor of the influential anthology of writings on the history of radio and audio art, Wireless Imagination: sound radio and the avant-garde, and the author of numerous essays that explore the politics and paradoxes of radiophonic space, as well as the diverse absurdities of the moment.

About the Radio Artworks:

On the Shore Dimly Seen (2015, 45:00 min.)

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:
"On the shore dimly seen, through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?"

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 (vocals, improvisation); Anne Undeland (narration); Gregory Whitehead (writer, director, montage/composition, vocals) Premiere broadcast on the excellent Soundproof program, produced by the Creative Audio Unit at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Gelsey Bell is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. Anne Undelan is an actress based in the Berkshires, widely known for her virtuosic voicing of one-woman shows such as The Belle of Amherst.

As We Know (2014, 12:30 min.)

Coded Radiosong based on a remark by Donald Rumsfeld.Coded Radiosong based on a remark by Donald Rumsfeld.

"As we know,
there are known knowns;
there are things we know we know.

We also know
there are known unknowns;
that is to say we know
there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns;
the ones we don’t know
we don’t know."

Nothing Like Us (2017, 13:33 min.)

Radio performance based on Carl Sandburg’s Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, with vocalist Laura Wiens. Premiere broadcast during Radiophrenia festival, 2017.

Crazy Horse One-Eight (2014, 20:00 min.)

A radio cantata in memory of those killed

The “collateral murder” video that documents the 2007 killing of journalists and civilians in Iraq by forces of the US military represents what is possibly the most consequential social media posting of all time, with direct implications ranging from the prosecution of Bradley (Chelsea) Manning and Julian Assange, through to accelerated attempts by the NSA and other global intelligence agencies to expand and enhance internet surveillance and control, while also criminalizing whistle-blowing.

Though the visual aspect of the video has received a tremendous amount of analysis, Crazy Horse One-Eight addresses the weaponization of radiophonic space in the perpetration of these war crimes, while also confronting the casual and dismissive language of the interactions themselves, as evidenced in the transcript of the radio exchanges between helicopters and command.

The public domain transcript for the incident is composed into four “cantos”, which are then voiced by Gregory Whitehead. The recordings are then subjected to a variety of techniques and rhythms/structures of entropic disintegration, interruption and polyphonic accumulation, all of which Whitehead has experimented with a smaller scale in previous works. Brief excerpts from the audio track of the video booth construct acoustic envelopes for the vocal migrations, and create interplays between military banter that seeks to kill and a solo voice that seeks to commemorate.

Commissioned for the 2014 Radio Dreamlands project, conceived by the UK-based Radio Arts.

Radio Unbroken (2016, 13:45 min.)

Radio Unbroken is composed from three “songs”: Lover in Revolt The Future of Radio is Dirty Radio Unbroken

Radio Unbroken is a songspiel for Radio Revolten made by Helen Hahmann and Gregory Whitehead. 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.

Following the announcement that Soundproof had been cancelled as part of a self-destructive ABC Radio National re-focussing on “digital platforms”, Whitehead 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."

As All the Heavens (2020, 10:21 min.)

For Radiophrenia

Based on four lines from a poem by Emily Dickinson:

"As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -"

Composed and performed by Gregory Whitehead with Aimée Anders as the Voice of the No Place.