The Transom Review

Volume 9/Issue 3

Gregory Whitehead

June 9th, 2009 | (Edited by Sydney Lewis)

Gregory Whitehead

If you’re experiencing toxic levels of radio as headline delivery system, exploiter of consensus or conflict, or sonic carpet… may we suggest some Gregory Whitehead as antidote. Gregory is a radio philosopher, passionately discouraged with the medium and still wondering at the power of the disembodied voice. His work is dark and theatrical, every beat and syllable, every plosive and fricative… considered and placed just so. In his Transom Manifesto, he writes in the middle of a sentence, “I imagined and then documented.” Offered in conjunction with Gregory’s appearance at Boston’s Megapolis Festival, check out his “Let Us Lay On Splendid Nights,” with tips of the hat to Orpheus, Gaston Bachelard, and Allison Steele the Nightbird. Jay A

Let Us Lay on Splendid Nights

Wings of Eros, Birds of Prey

Gaston Bachelard, Radio Reverist

Gaston Bachelard, Radio Reverist

Way back in 1951, the philosopher Gaston Bachelard published an obscure little essay titled Radio and Reverie, a gentle manifesto that called for radio stations to hire creative radiomakers. These “psychic engineers” would venture forth into the logosphere and craft sublime soundscapes. Listeners would then experience deep reverie through acoustic immersion in nocturnal worlds of their own choice.

Bachelard writes: “Radio really does represent the total daily realization of the human psyche.” Thus the psychic engineer would enter into the daily flows of broadcast representation, to sound out and give voice to the prevailing spirit of the times, and to offer broadcasts that might bridge alienation while opening up an “axis of intimacy”. Through time, such sound bridges would serve to reconnect listeners, one by one, to the “power of the fantastic”.

Even though much of the rest of the essay becomes lost in somewhat misty ideas of archetypes and the unconscious, I love Bachelard’s conception of a psychic engineer because it implies a creative practice for radio that is as subtle and complex as the medium herself.

First, the idea stirs reflection upon the experience of Psyche, a mortal born with a beauty to rival that of Aphrodite. One day, she is carried away by Zephyr into a dark forest where, that same night, she will become the involuntary but not unwilling lover of Eros.

Aphrodite, wild with jealousy, attempts to put Psyche in her place by treating her as a lowly errand girl, and sending her on what Aphrodite hopes will be a terminal journey into the Underworld. Zeus eventually intervenes, and Psyche then joins that small group of humans who may take a place among the immortals, as wife to winged Eros. Psyche soon gives birth to a daughter, Voluptua, who is and does exactly as she sounds.

I sense the spirit of radio everywhere in Psyche’s story: in the capricious winds; in sparky frictions between erotic possession and the treacherous underworld; in the dull bass throb between mortality and eternity; in the time zone of Night, whose son is deadly Thanatos, who is himself the twin of Sleep; and in the birth of sensual delight, because the art of radio gives nothing, and sustains nothing, and creates nothing, unless it can deliver significant jolts of pleasure along the way. Psyche demands it!

Every Radiocast Cuts Both Ways

The word “engineer” in this context is equally as suggestive, as it descends from the Latin ingenium, a term that invokes both pure mental power and its pragmatic application to the world. Alas, the first engineers were more concerned with crushing heads than with stimulating the imagination. Their first engines were weapons such as ballistas and trebuchets, designed to launch hard and heavy projectiles into or over the walls of cities under siege.

Ancient Shock Jock

Ancient Shock Jock

Sometimes, the invading army would hurl rotting corpses into the cities. These were intended to spread disease among the citizens, giving us an early and perversely ingenious incidence of biological warfare.

Radio would seem fully present in this image as well, since the illuminative promise of ingenuity mixes inside every wave with the power of oblivion. For every broadcast that heals wounds and creates community, there is another that foments violence and hatred as shock jocks lob rotting copses into the midst of their grunting mobs, not to infect them, but to feed their rage.

Anyone setting out to make something within the medium must be alert to these crosscurrents, for radiophonic space is as complex and contradictory as the human psyche; one twitch of the finger, and the radio of benevolent community mutates, or mutilates, into a radio of command, control and dispersion. How could it be otherwise, in a medium that gives voice to ubiquity, and a powerful pulse to thin air, vibrations that seem to resonate and replicate with the voices of the gods?

The primal potency of such air born resonance has not been lost on those who fabricate ever more ingenious engines of destruction in the present. Sound waves have been weaponized in a variety of forms, each designed to mess with the psyches of designated adversaries, and eventually to debone them, in every sense of the joint.

One might well imagine an ultimate weapon in the final stages of development in some dark corner of the Pentagon — code name: Joshua. When the word “glory” is transmitted at the proper infrasonic frequencies by the weapon Joshua, a simulacrum of the Voice of God (VOG) explodes onto the battlefield. Exposed psyches collapse into the sucking black hole created by deep vibrations, and the bones of warriors and citizens alike are instantly transformed into jelly.

Sad Songs From Severed Heads

What about casting Orpheus as the prototype for a radiophonic psychic engineer? Orpheus, whose voice and lyre, an ancient acoustic engine invented by Hermes, could reshape the landscape by changing the course of rivers, and by luring trees and stones into nocturnal dances. Even the hardened hearts of the immortals were moved by his song.

Like Psyche, Orpheus survived his journeys through the Underworld, protected, it seems, by the resplendent tonal quality of his resonating chambers. As companion to Jason and the Argonauts, Orpheus served as a sort of sound cancellation machine, neutralizing the dangerous transmissions from the island of the Sirens, who, like so many radios, promised wisdom and delivered oblivion.

Psychic Engineer in Hot Water

Psychic Engineer in Hot Water

Later, Orpheus, his own psyche severely damaged by the loss of his beloved Eurydice, refuses to sing in praise of Dionysus. During the frenzied climax of a Bacchic ritual, a Thracian girl gang known as The Maenads tear off his head, and toss it in the river, together with his lyre.

The head continues to sing as it floats down river to the island of Lesbos, where it was pulled from the water by another girl gang, The Nymphs. They place the head at the center of a shrine, where I would like to imagine it still sings, at least when the wind is right.

A few years ago, with Orpheus in mind, I imagined and then documented an exclusive social club in New England, founded during a Gilded Age previous to the one that has recently imploded. In the course of excavating for the club house, workmen had unearthed two buried Mohawk skulls. During the summer season, these skulls, given the nonsense nicknames “Mahkenoose” and “Pompynoose”, were placed upon the end stakes of the croquet court, a macabre trophy tradition that was then passed down from one generation to the next.

When players strike the stakes with their balls, they shout out the names of the two skulls, to the great amusement of those watching from the veranda. When such sounds float through the late summer evenings of this elegant nihilism, my psyche longs for Orphic narcosis.

Why American Noir Is So Fantastic

In 1962, when nobody except his own parents had ever heard of Jean Baudrillard, Daniel Boorstin, who would later become head librarian for the Library of Congress, and could never be mistaken for a fashionable theorist of the simulacrum, wrote that “the American lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than its original. We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, the solace of belief in the contrived reality is so thoroughly real.”

Not Jean Baudrillard

Not Jean Baudrillard

I have inhabited the Grand American Delusion for my entire life: a country where evidence is routinely fabricated to justify grave and frequently lethal actions by corporations and governments; where private and public securities are exposed as elaborate Ponzi schemes; where public discourse and reportage become ever more subordinate to entertainment and obfuscation; where everybody is a star in their very own reality TV show; and where any idea of transparency begins to sound quaint, which was, as you recall, the same word used by a former United States Attorney General, regarding the provisions of the Geneva Convention as they pertain to prisoners of war.

The fact is, in order to build our perpetually shining City On A Hill, we have created one bewildering blood bath after another, with the killing invariably executed in the name of God, for we are nothing if not righteous. That is our psychic core. What sort of radio casts forth from such a dark idealism? And what sort of radio casts forth when events force us, without warning, to face our bewilderment?

Consider the case of world famous hedge fund manager Sir Harry Hammersmith. In the summer of 2007, he announces a legacy gift of one billion dollars to his Alma Mater, an elite private college south of Boston called Plymouth Mather. He plans to deliver the fabulous gift in person, arriving by parachute to land at the dead center of the college quad.

Local dignitaries and the global media gather at the appointed hour. Harry does indeed fall from the sky, but there are a few little glitches: he has no parachute; he is stark naked; and he has no head. Within minutes of his body striking the turf, global markets crash, and the world plummets into the Greatest Depression. In this scenario, “pleasant iridescence” becomes terribly hard to come by, as you can hear in the voice of the Plymouth Mather president, Dr. Walter Woodworthy.

Night Birds Know How to Hunt

Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me

Returning to Bachelardian reverie, my favorite passage in the essay proposes “that if our psychic radio engineers are poets concerned for the welfare of humankind, tenderness of heart, the joy of loving, and love’s voluptuous trust, then they will lay on splendid nights for their listeners.”

Possibly I am so attracted to this idea because I first fell in love with radio during late solitary nights as a twelve year old boy, with a cheap transistor under my pillow and the great Allison Steele, the Night Bird, on the air. It could be that I was still unaware of the beauty of the medium and was simply in love with her voice, and her irresistible invitation, “come fly with me”. The Night Bird, whose splendid flights of fancy, delivered with cool precision along an axis of intimacy, provided welcome adventures for my adolescent ears.

In 2003, partially in homage to my first encounters with a quietly seductive disembody, I imagined a young psychic engineer from New England. She spends time as an intern at WGBH, but soon becomes frustrated by the byzantine rules of a game she neither anticipated nor wanted to play. So she packs her bags and heads out west, where she starts a one person low power pirate station called WDOA, in the naked state of Nevada, the W and her pronunciation of “Nevada” emblems of her stubbornly rhizomatic New England roots.

Flight Path of the Hungry Raven

Flight Path of the Hungry Raven

Her name is Ava Ravenella, The Hungry Raven, live to air on WDOA: Dead On Arrival, Deserts Of America, Degenerate Or Artful? The choice is yours along Route Five Zero, as Ava flies into the tense borderlands of the American psyche, over and out into the desert night, a flight that swoops down into the final verse of The Loneliest Road theme song, as performed by The Books, who are themselves remarkable psychic engineers:

A Hungry Raven in the sky
an injured rabbit, slow to die
Bones piled in the sun
America has all the fun

Note on sources:

The Bachelard essay is included in his book, The Right to Dream. For more about the power of the fantastic, find a copy of the extraordinary little book by Allen S. Weiss, Phantasmic Radio. The audio excerpts are from Bring Me The Head of Philip K. Dick (2009); Project Jericho (2005), produced in collaboration with Mark Burman; The Club (2006); The Day King Hammer Fell From the Sky (2008);The Loneliest Road (2003).

Final Quote

For all its endless talk of diversity and innovation, public radio has become shamefully monotonous. Intellectual, aesthetic and artistic standards are painfully (embarrassingly) low, while egos and political ambition have become paramount. Here where I live, the regional public broadcaster (Northeast Public Radio) has permitted itself to be nailed up into a soapbox for a self-righteous monomaniac, whose own ubiquitous whingy voice is surrounded by a shockingly dull array of fast food modules and formats, each one a weaker echo of the last. How did this perverse fate come to pass? Why do we let it continue?

The condition of our public spaces tells us very much about who we are as a society, and as a culture. At present in mid-2009, I believe all of our public spaces are in crisis, and indeed the very notions of “public good” and “public service” are under tremendous stress, and threatened with foreclosure. Without healthy public spaces, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to conjure credible ideas for the future. Without healthy public spaces, collective imagination shrivels and dies, and before you know it, we don’t know who we are, or where we came from, or where we’re going. In short: we’re lost.

At the risk of sounding like a man stuck in the desert trying to get his dead horse to suck water from a saguaro, I believe a first giant step towards bringing the public airwaves back into vibrancy would require an investment of a mere one percent of station revenues. One percent!

With that one percent, each participating station could hire an artist (or artists) in residence, charged with the task of creating moments of surprise, paradox, joy, provocation, trouble, resistance, celebration and wonder, not shunted away in the “art ghetto” on a sunday night, but featured throughout the schedule. I know that listeners are hungry (starved) for such moments, and would respond with strong support. I also know that there is abundant unused talent out there — literally hundreds of young (at any age) voices with training, ideas, passion, chops — and no place to take them. What a massive waste of potential and possibility!

Everyone would win through this very modest investment: listeners, stations, creative radiomakers and even corporate sponsors, who are desperate to seem hip, and “socially responsible” and “innovative”, and sometimes they even mean it. Why not offer them a chance to help celebrate the communicative possibilities of a medium still in relative artistic infancy?

In the years to come, we will need to re-imagine and reinvent the American dream: how we produce and consume food; how we transport ourselves through space; how we create and use energy; how we live. Somewhere in the mix will be public radio broadcasting, crying out for its own renaissance and rejuvenation.

It’s an exciting prospect, if we are brave enough to drill through the darkly encrusted cynicism and face the future with open ears and open hearts, in the spirit of “love’s voluptuous trust”.

About Gregory Whitehead

Gregory Whitehead is the creator of radio plays, documentary essays, voiceworks, castaways, soundscapes and acoustic adventures that have roamed the American psyche for the past twenty five years. He is the co-editor of Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde, and the author of numerous essays that explore radio dramaturgy, poetics and philosophy. He is presently at work on a major project exploring voiced memories of the American dream, and on a number of plays for radio and live stage. For more information: Gregory Whitehead

106 Comments on “Gregory Whitehead”

  • milutis says:
    carcass magic

    when the shepherd Aristaeus wondered why his bees were suffering, he went to his Nymph mother, who told him he needed to wrestle Proteus, who in turn told him the story of Orpheus, whose end was precipitated by his nymph mother, at which point he was told to propitiate Orpheus with a dead bull carcass out of which bees spontaneously regenerated . . . a plan for the regeneration of radio??? or the state of the art.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    the P word

    Jay, thank you for that intro, and very nice to be here, across the Transom.

    I would say that I have never been more ENcouraged by the medium, as it exists in various undertones and sub strata, though it is true, I am also DIScouraged by most of what I hear on mainstream airwaves, including those which remain nominally "public".

    I used to think the absence of cultural ambition reflected a crisis of politics trumping poetics, but I’ve come to hear it as a plain vanilla crisis of the imagination, and inside them apples, as a crisis of philosophy.

    So forgive me the scary P word — but we need to talk about it. And we can also talk about directing voices, or why there is so little space for radio plays in the USA, or about the relationship between music and stories (that’s an Orpheus question).

    Or even what happens to the whole notion of "public" when everything goes digital? Do we want to let this happen?

    From Third Coast, to Resonance FM, to Megapolis, to Deep Wireless to La Radia, to Radiophonic Creation Day, to Acousmatic Theater and on and on:

    I know there is abundant energy out there to create something new, whether a new sort of network, or a new sort of radio vibe, and if it takes a bull’s carcass to get there, so be(e) it!


  • miguel says:
    more on the P word

    Hi Gregory,

    I’ve worried for a long time about the lack of room in public radio for creative work. You hear little things here and there every once in a while. But overall it appears that public radio exists in a very restricted space, with restrictive rules, and with a certain attitude (not a good one) towards those who don’t understand or get (or want to get) those guidelines.
    But then there is the question of… why even think of public radio as a place where creative radio should happen?
    That’s one question… but I have another one for you:
    How do you find the energy and inspiration to keep creating in such a hostile environment?

  • Justin says:
    The Play is the Thing

    GW, I think (hope) we all can see the value in someone creating these longer-form theatrical radio productions with some heft, but what is the best way to absorb them? Long gone are the days of the family sitting around a radio on a cold, dark night, hanging on every last word and sound effect until the however bitter climax, in lieu of disparate visual media (tv, movies, videogames) and a general lack of communal ‘ingestion’ in a public setting — does the listening habits of the modern world, and WHO you think is listening, affect the way you construct a radio play?

  • Anna F says:
    micro vs. midsize

    The question seems in part to be one of scale and resources. Experimental radio is definitely alive and well, esp. here in Canada on independent radio stations that are volunteer-run. But this same state of (relative) radiophonic freedom also comes with the need to scramble for gear, only use volunteer labour, etc. It can and is done, but people tend to move on to other pursuits, rather than being able to earn even an honorarium that will allow them to hone their show or their long-form pieces.

    Even though I tend to champion the small-scale, there is also something meaningful about broadcast in the broad sense–that is, radio heard across a lot of geography. It’s a way for different ears to hear something, to share as listeners in something. Micro-scenes tend to be peopled by those of like mind, so I do appreciate that radio, for instance late night national public radio, has the possibility to be both as experimental and diverse as its many unknown listeners. I like that I spent some formative years listening to Brave New Waves on CBC overnight radio, and then later met a lot of different people who stayed up late for the same show. Sharing stories isn’t just about telling them, it is (as Justin points out) about gathering to listen.

    Now if public radio programming would just stop being driven by ratings and the lack of imagination that the government appointees bring to the table (that’s our dilemma up here)…

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    tight and tidy


    I can say that there are plenty of *listeners* out there who are very hungry for new sorts of radio play (whether docs or fiction, or hybrids), and their response is usually enough to keep me going. Plus, I guess I’m just plain stubborn in my passion for the pure beauty of la radia, even when she’s dragged into the trenches.

    Good collaborators help, too (people like Mark Burman, The Books, and my remarkable ensemble of actors, who have taken radio voicing into entirely fresh territory).

    The tightness in the system is just a symptom of the more general crisis of American imagination, psyche, spirit. There are two possible resolutions: increased tightness to the point of suffocation or a rejuvenated spirit of open experimentation and renewal.

    What sorts of attitudes have you witnessed, in response to proposals for more creativity?

    When I give master classes, I encounter all sorts of talent (conceptual, acoustic, literary) from young potential audio artists or radiomakers, but sadly, they generally end up doing something else within a year or two, because there is no place for them to go. (Web audio is beginning to change that, but it will take time to incubate a new kind of network, and also to address issues of providing adequate payment for high quality work.)

    It would be so incredibly easy for every public radio station in the country to offer the position of an artist-in-residency, or "resident psychic engineer", whose sole purpose would be to push and cross boundaries, and to offer moments of radiophonic invention, humor and pleasure.

    It would not be an expensive project, certainly not in proportion to the bloated salaries of management. I would be very happy to help define such a role, and in recruiting, and giving guidance. Any takers out there?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    size matters


    I love the micro radio scene north of the boarder, and pirates everywhere, as you know. But as you say, it is hard to sustain such work — and even the most talented night birds tend to move on.
    (I thank Psyche and Eros that you are still in the mix!)

    Toronto events like Deep Wireless and Radio Without Boundaries have been so essential in keeping creative juices flowing, and are another source of inspiration themselves, providing a welcoming chance to listen, and to hear some sort of future.

    I do believe that large organizations, through their sheer complexity, get to a point where any sort of difference, or polyphony or creativity is actually punished. Then consultants are hired to tell everyone how to keep creativity alive — but it is cutting against the grain. Thus ambitious and politically skilled people are rewarded, and talented loners (essential to any culture) are in way or another exiled, fired, or they simply drop out on their own, and retreat to their cabins in the wild wood.


  • Darren Copeland says:
    More radio art on the radio at Deep Wireless

    Hello Gregory and everyone at Transom,

    I’m enjoying the discussion, and of course, I enjoyed the manifesto that started the discussion. Gregory Whitehead is one of those muses for me that made the idea of Deep Wireless not just conceivable, but necessary.

    The creative restrictions on commercial and public radio in Canada (which are just has bad as they are down in the states) have meant that the actual radio output of Deep Wireless has never been to the scale or proportion that it should be when you compare it to the performance and conference output of Deep Wireless.

    With the move last November for New Adventures In Sound Art into the Artscape-Wychwood Barns we have the opportunity to reverse those proportions. Our new space provides that much needed physical space for radio to happen – despite the virtual nature of radio there still needs to be a physical infrastructure in place for it to survive.

    This May at Deep Wireless we are planning a 28 day period of broadcasting both on the internet and on the FM airwaves. The latter is still pending approval for a temporary license to broadcast within a 5 mile radius, which will arrive unfortunately shortly before we go to air. The necessity to acquire this license is born not just from the limited access to commercial and public airwaves in Toronto, but from the recent crumbling of the city’s progressive community radio scene.

    The radio station we are establishing is called NAISA Radio and will include programming that reflects the local community around our new home. But it will also provide a place on the airwaves for the mounds of radio art that has been submitted to us over the years that we have not been able to adequately support with actual airplay. Instead in the past we have had to transpose radio art works to performance and installation contexts and this experiment has been a fruitful and enjoyable ride since 2002. But, radio is radio and there is a special kind of relationship that happens in a radio context between artist/creator and listener that can not be re-created elsewhere.

    NAISA Radio will for the short term fall on the heels of those dedicated volunteers that make experimental radio a reality in Canada – as Anna Friz described in her posting. But, there will be a paid infrastructure there to support it. Beyond the 28 day license, we expect that NAISA Radio will continue on the internet and dovetail with other NAISA events such as Sound Travels, SOUNDplay and Art’s Birthday, so hence the name NAISA Radio rather than any direct references to Deep Wireless.

    We are very grateful for the support from Transom, Gregory, PRX, Third Coast, and many of our friends down in the States. Your enthusiasm and support for Deep Wireless means a lot to us – like all Canadians support from abroad always helps to keep the fires burning on the dark cold nights of winter-time grant writing.

    Darren Copeland
    Artistic Director
    New Adventures in Sound Art,
    presenters of the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art

  • Laura Vitale says:

    While interning for a now-big show, I offered the table some "sound art" by a friend of mine, a beautiful text and piano abstraction that (I thought) would weave well into the talking heads. The response was, "Well, we don’t want any artsy-fartsy stuff."

    Their use of the the word "artsy-fartsy" spoke volumes to me. Sure, it didn’t fit, but "artsy-fartsy" dismisses an entire way of thinking and imagining, an ignorance about alternative paths to "truth".

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    radio space


    Thanks for the updates, and that is fantastic news, both about the barn and about Radio NAISA, a place to lay on splendid nights, I am sure.

    Could you say a bit more about the "crumbling" of progressive stations in Canada?

    Of course, you are exactly right about the special relationship between radiomaker and listener that exists on radio, above all analog radio. For me, the delicacy of "tuning" and the gaps between frequencies, as well as the random access, and the unknowing quantity or quality of the relationships in space is — well — thrilling.

    On both sides of the relationship; the strange confluence and complicity between ubiquity and intimacy, all hanging on a specific tuning, which might blur at any time. How could we ever give that up?

    Culturally, we are unwilling to accept that so much that is pleasurable and precious in life is tangled up with imperfection, uncertainty, ambiguity. The relentless drive to turn everything into mathematical models (or business models) crushes the spirit of poesis; the spirits of Psyche, Hermes, Eros and Voluptua; and the spirit of play, without which we may as well give up the ghost.

    Anna, if you are still out there, could you share your experience in the identity of "pirate jenny", which to my ears is among the truly extraordinary poetic/playful/melancholy night flights ever?


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    strange noxious winds

    Yes, Laura, the irony being that this phrase most often erupts from the biggest gas bags in the room, filling the room with acrid smoke.

    Miguel also mentioned the "hostility", and it has puzzled me for decades. Well, Ok, no, the truth is I’m not puzzled, because I know full well where it comes from: the massive insecurities that are triggered in the egos of the ambitious when confronted by anyone with real creative talent.

    What upsets me is when such people claim that they are speaking for the "the public" or "the listener". Zero truth, there! Listeners are starved for moments of grace, humor, beauty, provocation — even moments of pure nonsense, which ring true in a world that makes less and less sense.

    Laura, I’m curious if you were able to get them to even listen to the piece — and then what were the specific objections? (the use of music on most usa pubrad programs is truly abysmal, outdated and ignorant)


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    plays and things

    Justin, oh yes, excellent points, and thanks for those questions.

    I never expect to replicate that old image of the ear bent to the proscenium radio box, which was probably apocryphal in any sense. That’s why my plays (and longer form docs) are structured as three to five minute episodes, and there is plenty of circularity as well, offering lots of entrances and exits. (This has been true since Dead Letters, dated 1984!)

    That’s also why I try to use very familiar formats like talk shows and interviews, so listeners can at least relax within a familiar format, even if I fully intend to invite them into some fairly twisted places. As you know, I also love short "castaways" that can slip in anywhere. I’ve done dozens of 1-10 minute docs or mock docs, and these frequently end up being remixed or bouncing all over the place in webland, all of which is fine with me. (creative commons)

    The detail I put into longer form composition is there to honor the space, and to honor my actors and musicians, but I also know that radio is a lo fi medium, often used on the run or in the bath. In fact, I love the idea of hooking ears that don’t really want to "go there", and I have a whole file of letters and emails from people who pulled off some highway or another to have a listen.

    It’s a mistake to take the current media fads or fashions entirely for granted (including the brevity fetish), because things change in changing circumstances, and in a hurry. There are some who say Facebook and Tweets are the future. If they’re right, well, we are toast. But I don’t think they are right — and I come into very frequent contact with other appetites, other needs.

    We need communal settings now more than ever. There’s a whole new world to invent: new ways of growing food, creating energy, habitat, commerce.
    And somewhere in the mix, new ways to communicate ideas, stories and feelings in more than three tweets and an updated status.

    I fully acknowledge the blips and peeps of pop media: but I don’t feel any need to pander to them because I’ve been around long enough to know that powerful waves create powerful undertows, and it’s a lot more fun to ride the undertows, because the wave is too crowded.

    Dead Letters still gets around 8-10 b/casts per year, and this is a one hour documentary (though everybody still thinks it is a play) about the complexity of communication, roaming from the tongues of dinosaurs to the rosetta stone, with nobody holding hands or playing Virgil. Who’dathunk?


    Justin, can you say a few words about the thinking and (p word alert) philosophy behind Megapolis? I mean, there is something that I am sure everyone would tell you was *impossible*. above all in this environment — but from what I’ve heard, there’s alot of excitement.

  • Laura Vitale says:
    A Drive

    GW, I don’t remember the exact feedback, besides the dismissal ten seconds into listening to my artsy-fartsy contribution. I think it had to do with the abstractness of it, that there was no lesson or moral in mind with my offer to their show.

    I’m too new to speak to structures of power or influence, but I’ve chosen to listen to those wonderful mentors of mine who say: just work your ass off making work, and things will figure themselves out.

    In my mind that sentiment also speaks to Miguel’s concern about creativity in hostile environments. To paraphrase a Joseph Beuys quote that I can’t pinpoint but has stuck with me, "every human is a creative being, and every human has a creative drive." The environment for experimentation is always hostile; it is always inconvenient to make work, there is always a valid excuse to do something else. Cleaning, exercising, relationships, family, job. But creating is what keeps us feeling alive, whether it is inventing a new filing system at work, or distracting a cranky baby, or cross-stitching, or making radio art.

  • Susan Price says:
    Whining in Rochester NY

    I LOVE p-word discussions! But I have some practical questions (the other p-word).

    (1) Where are there learning resources for this kind of rich, many-layered sound productions. I can’t even find the right search term in Google. I managed to attend a Deep Wireless conference a couple years ago and it changed my whole outlook, but finding books or web articles has been a challenge.
    (2) I’m trying to figure out how to find and follow good sound artists (as opposed to good radio documentarians, who are plentiful). I did find Anna Friz on MySpace but that is not a very satisfying site. Most satisfying would be finding an array of artists whose work I could download to my iPod and study with my ears. I sort of gave up on Third Coast downloads because, while entertaining, the sound is pretty flat on too many of them. So many go for realism, not poetry.
    (3) Where are there online venues for sound art acolytes and journeymen to post their work — a community? Transom is selective. PRX is a marketplace, not a very comfortable community for experimentation. You can’t post audio on Facebook. The best model I’ve found is :Vocalo in Chicago, where you can post whatever, get feedback and even get on the air, but of course their mission is not to recruit sound experimenters but the local hiphop generation.

    I’m completely enchanted by Gregory Whitehead’s pieces (though I just discovered them today). I try to incorporate some layered sound into my pieces, though I don’t really know how. So I’m anxious to explore some more.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    Laura, very well put, and thanks for that. I do believe in persistence, but I also believe in chops; from what I’ve heard, you have both, so things *will* figure themselves out.

    I also fully believe that friction and resistance are essential for good art, and I cannot count the times I have raised the bar on myself, simply because somebody told me my idea was impossible.

    A good editor would have given you plenty of resistance, not just instantly discard your idea. The editor should say: ok, hmm, text and music, sounds distracting, but show me how it can work. Then you are given the chance to pitch a possibility, and who knows, maybe run a trial mix.

    Many times, in the face of heavy resistance, I have begged editors to just give me the rope, and if I hang myself, they will never have to look at me again. Then it’s up to me to make something other than a noose.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    p squared


    I hear that not as a whine, but as an accurate diagnosis of how difficult it is to find certain kinds of audio/radio on the web. Many of the classic sound rich sound/radio works are not on the web, either for licensing/contract reasons or because the sound artist or radiomaker does not want to compromise on sound quality.

    A good place to start for archived materials is ubu web, linked below. The sheer volume is a bit daunting, and the sound quality is wildly uneven, but with a little effort, you can find some true gems in the cave. You might also find some interesting radio ideas at

    For community, alas, there have been many efforts over the years, but difficult to sustain. Maybe Jay or Samantha can chime in here, but I know that such a community was part of the original vision for transom, and possibly is still part of future plans?

    Anyone else with suggestions?

    Susan, what sorts of pieces are you wanting to create? From what (other P words) poetics or philosophies? (the most essential software you will ever own)

    For books, I think Wireless Imagination has held up fairly well, though there are some huge (and embarrassing) gaps. And Phantasmic Radio (Allen S. Weiss) definitely pushes all sorts of boundaries, as does his special audio issue of TDR, which was later released as a book. Dumbstruck, by Stephen Connor, is a brilliant read, with all sorts of audio/radio implications. Same goes for Joe Milutis’ book, Ether.


  • James Sanders says:
    re:p squared


    I’d second Gregory’s suggestion that the first place to look is ubuweb. They are the best resource for historical sound art.

    For books on sound art, a couple of the ones I’ve read recently are Kahn, Douglas. Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001;
    Allen Licht’s Sound Art:Beyond Music Between Categories;
    Morris, Adelaide, ed. Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997; and
    Lane, Cathy, ed. Playing with words: The spoken word in artistic practice. London: CRISAP, 2008.

    A great place to start is CRISAP They are out of England.

    I’m mostly interested in sound poetry myself. I didn’t really see an outlet for people doing sound poetry so I along with others in the Atlanta Poets Group started a sound poetry magazin called aslongasittakes:

    Subsequently I’ve discovered textsound: (slightly higher signal to noise ratio). There’s also some sound poetry at PennSound and at EPC as well.

    There was a sound poetry radio show in England but it ended in 2006. You can see the playlist here

    Hope that helps. If you find anything else (especially sound poetry/sound art from outside North America and Europe, I’d love to hear about it.

    James Sanders

  • Susan Price says:
    p squared

    I will definitely follow up with the recommended resources from you and James.

    I’m currently working on what I’m thinking of as a 6-min "memoryscape" — blending samples from 1940s family-recorded 78s (parties: offkey singing, fake quiz shows, lame jokes) along with an interview of my mom, remembering those WW2 times when she operated the recording machine. I don’t want it to be an NPR-style documentary, but more of a more subjective ‘wall of sound.’ I use Acid Pro software and sit and play with the clips till it "sounds right." I’m totally absorbed because these are all the voices of my early childhood. My husband thinks it’s "noisy." I don’t need critique so much as I need encouragement to push over the edge, plus some understanding of the techniques that will help me go there.

    I guess all my work tends to fall in this category — a single voice with a story, plus loops, wild sound, whatever… to heighten the emotion. I can tell a good story, but I’m pressing on with the idea of the listener being pulled into an enveloping soundscape while hearing a tale. My own caution and fear of "lack of clarity" are my worst enemies.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    lucid murk


    It sounds to me as if you are on an excellent path. The source materials are rich, and "fiddle ’til it sounds right" is a fine process. In time, you will start to hear what you want in you head before you hear it from the software — the same as when learning an instrument. And, like improvising with an instrument, it takes time, experience and discipline to accept that very often, less is more.

    Confronted with infinite opportunities to tweak and reshape, simplicity is often the best way through. But simplicity is not the same as "clarity" — no way.

    I’m sure your childhood memories are emotionally complex and ambiguous, and memory is always tentative in any event. What does that sound like? (Beckett was the master of such imaginings, the buzzing, the faint buzzing.)

    So: Simple complexity? Lucid murk?
    Clear as mud!


  • Susan Price says:
    emerging from the murk

    "Complexity" — that’s the word, that’s what I go for — the layering and branching and circling back. Subtleties and ambiguities. Always just beyond my reach. The "less is more" step is usually the painful epiphany I have after the mess is created. But I’m realizing that’s part of the process. (Oh, this applies to my whole creative life, not just sound…)

    Thanks so much for your thoughts, encouragement and inspiration.

  • Allen S. Weiss says:
    Blackout the Transom

    Curious, that the “Transom” site definition of “transom” appears in neither the OED nor Webster’s Third New International, but who am I to quibble. As defined, it is the equivalent to the French “vasistas,” obviously derived from the stupor of the German invaders, proclaiming “Was ist das?” upon seeing for the first time such a curious form of communication. It’s really the same question as the one on the title of your article that I have taught so many times, “Who’s There? Notes on the Materiality of Radio.” Who’s there indeed! Let’s look at your work through the transom. As I see it, this binary mechanism (open / closed) permits the following relations between auditor and studio:
    (1)pass by without paying attention
    (2)listen without looking
    (3)look without listening
    (4)look and listen
    (5)tap on the glass
    (6)call through the transom
    (7)call out orders
    (8) analyze situation
    (9) throw tear gas or laughing gas through opening
    (10) throw grenade through opening

    Classic radio (the one imagined by Bachelard) was limited to possibilities 1-4. Talk radio added 5-8. Your theory of materiality (where both apparatus and body are material) suggests the nefarious possibilities of 9-10, so as to be able to, as its ultimate test, both complete the circuit and destroy the materiality. Possibilities 1-8 provide the phantasms of talking heads, while 9-10 threaten the reality of headless bodies. Alas, in our all-too-imperfect world, all to many journalists have suffered this fate, and infinite homage is due them for their sacrifice.

    We two had always been amused by the blank slate implied by our names — White-head / Weiss — and by the high modernism of their timely colorlessness, but I had never really noticed the more curious binary condition: in relation to White-head, Weiss is minus its Kopf. Might this suggest that your radiophonic career is the quest for the ultimate severance, for an ethereal disincarnate? And that my own is so writerly, almost voiceless? Why all those heads as floating signifiers, narrative unifiers, anatomical qualifiers — Orpheus, P.K. Dick, Harry Hammersmith, and those Mohawk skulls, just to mention a few — in your recent works? To become the floating signifier, isn’t that what a writer really is? Your earlier short experimental works stressed the circuit from mouth to ear, your own boned head without the need of body, the anatomy of the solipsistic radio head with all its holes functioning. This all seemed to change in Oz with "Pressures of the Unspeakable," where the screamscape was a pretext to create, explore, destroy circuits. (Isn’t that where you short-circuited the equipment and set the studio on fire!?) Now the heads are severed from bodies, but they are not your own!!! Isn’t that a definition of drama? You’ve succeeded in that rarest of quests, inventing a new form to contain the experimental in the dramatic. Or do my thoughts remain too literary?

    Perhaps your previous "Notes on the Materiality of Radio" need be followed by a sort of Bachelardian "Notes on the Immateriality of Radio," as you seem to suggest. For if in the earlier short pieces the glitch of the apparatus or the slip of the tongue revealed machine and speaker, in the recent works the disembody is made dramatically incarnate, and the grain of the voice orients the web of the narration. Perhaps a few words to make the recent works and the earlier ones resonate would be in order. I realize that this sounds retrograde, but a good antithesis rarely hurts.

    Finally, a disturbance. The transom was always there, of course, but radiophonic ritual, rules of etiquette, and the tutor code all insisted that the auditor doesn’t try to look in, much less pass through. And especially that the artists don’t show their faces. (Isn’t there a nice Tournier short story to this effect?) Your photo on the site intrigues me, and it’s emblematic of a new epoch of radio. For the Bachelardian fantasy, pure sound fueling the imagination, has of course become contaminated by the internet, where "radio" has become more visual than audiophonic! (The NPR site is a case in point.) In "The Uses of Enchantment," Bruno Bettleheim argues that we should never show illustrated fairytale books to children, so as not to suppress their fantasies with preordained images. Wasn’t radio like that in times gone by? Isn’t that why we were enchanted by our first disincarnate encounters? Isn’t that precisely what the "body without organs" implies? Curious that the alter-ego you created for Allison Steele is obviously black-haired, if we are to believe in the mimological powers of the signifier. I, to the contrary, had always imagined her as a blond, perhaps due to nothing more basic than the consonance of her name "ALLisON" and the word "bLONd." Or perhaps as a little boy I already had a thing for blonds. I don’t know. Another antithesis. In any case, I would like at least some bandwidth where I can only hear the voice. Transomless.

    And don’t forget, Nixon lost the first time around because of his five o’clock shadow!

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    who’s there

    Ah, Allen, thanks for crossing the transom, in any event.

    I actually had a thought about the photo, oh no, can’t do that, spoils the fun — but it’s there as writer of the manifesto, not as the image of the voice that floats somewhere else; and who knows where that own voice comes from, anyway? I’ve been wrestling with that one for my entire life. Every time I think I’ve found my "real" voice, it laughs at me, and moves on. (In the literary and artistic as well as sensual voice.)

    I definitely did not want to see The Night Bird, ever, and she never had any sort of image in my imagination, an abstraction I relished. (I always remind workshop students that a "moo" need not, and does not, always summon the image of a cow.)
    She was just a voice, seductive but not in any carnal way, which I actually experienced as a relief.

    We know that visual stimuli shape and circuit the brain in a very different way than acoustic stimuli. Hypervisual cultures will tend to support a certain "mind set", one where the sort of inner calm necessary for deep listening atrophies and eventually disappears. What goes with it?

    What drives the abandonment of a purely acoustic experience? Is it just "better business" to link every sound to an image, or is there something deeper, some sort of ancient anxiety or even dread when confronted by the sound of something, or someone, not "there"?

    Who’s there? — the question that triggers Hamlet’s migraine, and we know how that one goes.


    (I’ll write more about decapitation later.)

  • Allen S. Weiss says:

    A few thoughts in answer to your question as to how I structure the relations between philosophy and listening (and, sorry to say for the radio, seeing!) in my NYU course on "Sound and Image in the Avant Garde." First, the gist of the matter is that it’s not a course on experimental cinema per se, but rather an investigation (revisionist, I suppose) of the history of experimental film specifically recontextualized from the pov of the sound arts: modernist and experimental music, sound and lyrical poetry, sound art. The reading list is as follows:

    Required Readings:

    Rick Altman, Sound Theory, Sound Practice
    Douglas Kahn & Gregory Whitehead, eds., Wireless Imagination
    Brandon LaBelle & Christof Migone, eds., Writing Aloud
    Allen S. Weiss, ed., Experimental Sound & Radio
    Allen S. Weiss, Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia

    Suggested Readings:

    John Cage, Silence
    Steven Connor, Dumbstruck
    Brandon LaBelle, ed., Radio Memory
    R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape
    Neil Strauss, ed., Radiotext(e)
    Allen S. Weiss, Phantasmic Radio
    Allen S. Weiss, Varieties of Audio Mimesis

    A bit narcissistic, perhaps, but doesn’t one ultimately write books for the very reason that Walter Benjamin insisted on, that there is nothing on the subject with which one is satisfied? There could be much more on the biblio (sound art now seems to be a book-of-the-week-club), but much of it is either very specific in focus or overly technical; the course is a survey, after all, and the readings must serve that purpose. Also, I’m obviously looking for approaches that spark and stretch the imagination, not narrow it down.

    What we discover over and over is that so many experimental works are linked to written texts that serve as manifestos (description as proscription and prescription), and that many of the works themselves are didactic (especially insofar as they self-reflexively reveal their own structures). What it all comes down to is that they force us into new ways of hearing and seeing. (Isn’t that what all art is somehow about!?)

    Also, I am more and more convinced that all the arts are somehow linked: in "Feast and Folly" I tried to show this concerning cuisine; in "Varieties of Audio Mimesis" in relation to music; in "Unnatural Horizons" concerning gardens. This is so very apparent in the NY art scene of the 1960s, which is why the compartmentalization of the arts in academia and academic publishing is so very discouraging. But I also suppose that it means that my lament at the end of my last blog entry about the "windows" (read: visuals) in relation to radio is perhaps the nostalgia for a radio utopia that never existed. I remember our earliest discussions about radiophony in the early 1990s, where you were so adamantly against any sort of visualization, and here you are with your recent dramas which are hyperbolically "visual." I’ve come to find this as an ontological quandary, and no longer just a stylistic choice. Anyway, it keeps me busy!

  • Susan Price says:
    def jam, anyone?

    GW wrote: "…What drives the abandonment of a purely acoustic experience? Is it just "better business" to link every sound to an image, or is there something deeper, some sort of ancient anxiety or even dread when confronted by the sound of something, or someone, not "there"?"

    So (after his mention of Beckett) I downloaded "Krapp’s Last Tape" from Audible and went for a walk. And then my HipHop Playlist came on. Kanye West. Guru. There is some pretty deep acoustical stuff going on there as well as a lot of poignant storytelling.

    Radio may be dead, but sound-rich, audio-complex storytelling is blasting away in teenage ears. I’m a white 60-year-old suburbanite and, still, when I here some of those tracks, I’m drawn in, transported. I listen again and again.

    Maybe instead of radio people learning how to create audio slideshows, we should be advised to get a beat, learn some "dub" or composing with samples or whatever it’s called.

    Just a humble thought on a sunny afternoon. Now for a glass of wine.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:


    And that is exactly what you are doing: composing with samples. The trick is to use the software to bring out the psychological or emotional or poetic qualities that are in the samples, and your (complex) relationship to them.

    If I start hearing too many filters and fx, then the title of the piece becomes What I Can Do With My Software, and that’s a piece I have heard a thousand times, and it’s boring.

    Nick Zammuto of The Books explores more subtle sides of sampling intensively in recent work, listening for the deep integrity of individual samples, and then creating the structure for us to be able to hear it. I’m hoping he’ll pop in through the transom at some point.

    A glass of wine sounds very good to me, too, on this stunning afternoon in the Berkshires.


  • Sue Mell says:
    Charging The Airspace

    I’ve found it difficult to come here and post—Transom being the birth of all things radio for me—when I’ve made nothing for almost a year. Perhaps Gregory could talk a little bit about how he’s kept on keeping on. I had so much support here, from Jay and everyone at Transom, and then Deep Wireless (where I met GW two years ago) was a watershed for me. Like so many others, I’d originally been drawn to This American Life, but making work with Roman Mars, for Invisible Ink, I fell in love with telling stories in more roundabout ways, and in Toronto I saw (heard) all these people being recognized for doing very different things with sound. In a few instances, my more poetic and collage-like wanderings had managed to intersect with shows in the pub-radio domain, but I craved something longer, wilder and more unknown, and Podcast was the word on everyone’s lips: a place to spread out, to make mistakes, to develop my voice. For a while I kept it going—seven episodes of a podcast called “Unintended Detours”. At first, it seemed like the truer I was to what I wanted to make, the better it was received in the larger world: grabbing note from places like Re:sound and even an edited version of an episode that made it on a “mainstream” arts show. But as I continued on I found myself alone, out in the darkness of the loneliest road, running out of gas. And I began to search for other kinds of venues (in particular, writing) where my voice might fit in. Did I just lack courage? Or perseverance? What I struggled with so much, was my isolation (even on the web)—that there was nowhere I could go from here with what I’d made.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Until the Genie Comes Out

    Hey Sue, thanks for joining in.

    I followed your podcast series closely, with each one presenting a fresh sense of your voice (which we talked about several times), and each one also finding risky, inventive ways to put stories together, in your search for the "wild and unknown". No lack of courage, there!

    Perseverance is hard (impossible?) to sustain in isolation, and creative radio offers a road even more lonely than route five zero in the naked state of Nevada. In my case, board service, live theater, music, teaching and writing for other contexts has helped to create a larger world, with a little more air, and light.

    Also, I have no doubt that without long hikes and even longer paddles into open water, I would be road kill.

    For you, it could be that following the writing is exactly the right thing, but don’t be surprised if suddenly the road swings back into audio/radio land — Hermes and coyote love to play those sorts of tricks on us. Near term, I want to be at your first public reading, OK?


  • Marian van der Zon says:
    Pirate Radio in Victoria and beyond..

    New, continuing, and reoccurring pirate radio stations exist, for purposes that move beyond the standard fare that we are subjected to via corporate radio. They often chart new waters in terms of content, context, and technical approaches. During research for an upcoming anthology, Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada, it has become clear that pirate radio has been and is presently active in ways that build community, provide tactical options – often related to protest, perpetuate culture and language, grant access to the airwaves to marginalized individuals and communities, use radios as instruments, and play with the content in radical ways – through radio art, poetics, rants, and the options, wonderfully, are only limited by the imagination.

    While many of these pirate radio stations may be difficult to sustain, they are nonetheless, vibrant when and for as long as they do exist (and many have existed for years). They serve to empower and motivate many people who come into contact with the pirate radio station, and often these folk move forward to imagine and create radio in new ways.

    Here is an example of an upcoming pirate radio event in Victoria BC:

    Temporary Autonomous Radio presents:
    Victoria’s 3rd Pirate Radio Festival: TAR 99.1FM on Thursday, May 7 2009, approx. 7pm-1am
    broadcast range of Victoria!

    Live Music! Confirmed thus far: Joey Only, The Pine Family, Jay McLaughlin, Jennifer Louise Taylor, Gerald Fitzella, Wes Borg, Gail J Harris, Tres Rythm, The Remanes, and more!

    Tune in your radios to TAR 99.1FM on May 7th!

    If you would like to participate – interviews, spoken word, pre-produced audio pieces, sound art, monologues, etc- contact TAR thru Myspace or e-mail.

    TAR is bringing a pirate music festival to Nanaimo soon!

  • Gregory Whitehead says:


    Thanks for that info, and yes creative radio vibrancy is very much alive and well in the thriving global pirate radio scene, which I fully support. These are of course fragile and vulnerable spaces — perhaps like the human ear itself — and possibly those qualities have something to do with the vibrancy, as nothing is taken for granted.

    I have done many live pirate performances over the years, and it’s a very special experience, because there is an acute awareness that the space is being created right then, and may be gone within hours.

    Digging more deeply into the Somalia story, I discovered that most of those pirates were former fisherman in the rich fisheries off the East African coast. Those fisheries are now being gutted by illegal Euro trawlers, and at the same time subjected to ecocide via the illegal dumping of waste, including highly toxic nuclear waste, by waste disposal companies taking advantage of Somalia’s political chaos. Pirates are made, not born, and this has always been the case.

    The designation "Temporary Autonomous Radio" is brilliant: cheers out to TARadio, and I’ll send you some files later today.


  • Karinne Keithley says:
    spatial p

    I teach English, so I’m constantly aware of presence or absence of cultural or literary structures. I was reading this wondering if Americans in fact have a sense of Psyche in that vertical depth, literary mythical blueprint that Freud takes for granted. (My students generally don’t possess a shred of it. "Psyche" stops at Oprah.) When I got to the road listening, it all came together, a transference of lit.mytho depth to expanse. Maybe those roads become more analogous to the unconscious as we cluster more and more in cities. Composing from the materials of these far spaces, edges or interstices, becomes for me the American psyche. psychic. psycho? I was reminded of Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael: "I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom Cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy. / It is geography at bottom, a hell of wide land form the beginning. That made the first American story (Parkman’s): exploration."

    Maybe that deeply boring and dismissive fear of the obscure can be gently circumvented by presenting different terms. Phonographic Cartography? Or yes, by swerves inside the familiar. I find the sounds of journalism are so reassuring to listeners that you can set them incredibly free within that, just keep the questions and answers going and it’s enough ground.

    All this will only proliferate.

  • miguel says:
    fascinating discussion

    This has turned into a more than fascinating discussion.
    I am going to go back to talking about the hostility that creative radio makers experience when dealing with the big names in public radio.
    One of the things that I have observed is the obliviousness of radio makers who think that they know exactly what the listener wants to listen. Gregory, you’ve mentioned this on the course of the discussion. This phenomenon has made me feel like an ignorant amateur more than once. Then you start realizing that there is no such a thing as knowing what the listener wants. Or knowing who the listener is for that matter. And after going through this process I’ve concluded that this is mostly a power game, where some powerful, or wannabe powerful radio makers come up with some arbitrary criteria for what should make it into the airwaves, and then try to defend it against other arbitrary sets of criteria. That is the “Artsy-Fartsy” attitude that Laura talks about. Nothing more than a lot of ego capable of making up a list of rules on what the listener is interested in. That’s not to say that many radio makers aren’t "good" at what they do. A lot of them do their job well. But the line between being a great producer and an arrogant one, is thin.
    But here’s another question for you Gregory, and all the creative radio makers out there…
    If the powers at be ever liked our work… would we be disappointed? Are we supposed to become part of the main stream?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    oprah and psyche


    You are right about lack of awareness of Psyche, but there is such a thing as an American psyche,
    even if we choose to bury it deep in the muck of consumer culture. I hear the buzzing of flies in the compost all the time, as we try to work out the unbearable tensions between our idealism and our compulsive blood bathing.

    I’ve been trying to give voice to this psychic headache in all the recent longer docuplays like The Loneliest Road, The Club and King Hammer.

    I love the Olsen quote, and speaking of Ishmael, I have long thought of Ahab as our first Shock Jock; Ahab, struck by lightning, and then he never stops talking, either through his leg (a telegraphic finger) or through his rants, as he promises the sublime and delivers oblivion.

    In the largeness of space, it is comforting for the American imagination to conceive demons, be they witches, whales, commies or terrorists.

    What would Oprah do with Ahab?


    For one of the most remarkable manifestos about Words and Time (or words *in* time) that I have read in quite a while, Transomers should check out Karinne’s "I, Heapist" at:

    (Susan, if you are still following this, I think you would find Karinne’s writing very helpful.)

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    mainstream or eddy


    Most (not all) gatekeepers vastly underestimate their own audience. Of course, they will pull out various focus studies and surveys to back up their tightness, but it’s an illusion. Sometimes it’s about power, sometimes it is just their own limitations — I’ve seen both.

    We know that healthy ecologies support diversity, and that in fact diversity is essential for resilience. It seems so foolish that the public radio system would work so hard (rightfully) to achieve ethnic and racial diversity, while crushing aesthetic or poetic diversity, as reflected in the stranglehold of a very small number of formats and styles.

    To be honest, I no longer listen to NPR, it is just too tedious, dull witted and boring, and I include here those programs that are supposed to be "creative". (the most odious convention being the smarmy hand holding — quite offensive, really, the combination of narcissism and patronisation)

    I love the word "eddy" as it describes the action of fluid moving past an obstacle, dynamic motion that then creates its own counter current. Healthy mainstreams create lots of eddys — and some paddlers live for them.


  • Susan Price says:
    P by the sea

    Traveling. Following by iphone but still savoring every word. Susan

  • Justin Grotelueschen says:
    Thinking of the Megalopolises

    >Justin, can you say a few words about the thinking and (p word alert) philosophy behind Megapolis? I mean, there is something that I am sure everyone would tell you was *impossible*. above all in this environment — but from what I’ve heard, there’s alot of excitement.

    Not much more can be said than has already manifest itself here, and what is slowly bubbling below the surface. It’s not difficult to tap into a group of already creative and motivated radio-friendly individuals who are anxious for New Adventures to come over the Transom on the right, left or Third Coasts. It’s something else, I guess, to be able to meld those minds with the artists, musicians, the newbies who just needed a chance to get some tools in his or her hands. We have the luxury of a great many people jumping into the fray to fashion something full of new energies while retaining some of the tried and true.

    The thread running through, the megapolisity, is simply one mechanism we chose to highlight in order to capture the imagination: travel, existing within a space and yearning for others, exploration of the urban-centric environments many of us inhabit — in search for the farther reaches. It makes sense to more of us in these days because it represents how most of us now live and create; the internets has removed the logistical challenges from the collaboration between individuals and orgs in different cities, states, and countries, but you can’t shake that yearning to hunker down in the same auditorium, community center, art gallery or Elks Lodge and absorb that communal wonder, in the experimentation of it all. Luckily it’s only a bus ride or flight away, and in present case co-director Nick and I still have to sustain that level of excitement and prove its importance to call people from the lonely roads that Sue referred to in order to stamp that pass to Cambridge this coming weekend. There’s a lot of noise in the world right now and I’m rewarded to at least take a shot at cutting through it to reach disparate peoples doing amazing things and bring them together, hopefully present those different terms (a swerve or two inside the familiar) like Karinne suggested. We hope all the Internet personalities who have expressed some excitement now yearn for some of this communal exploration at Megapolis this weekend (although I know some with obligations who will catch up later via this fine website, the MegaFest datacenter at, Flickr, Twitter, and everywhere else that accepts the binary spray).

    But back to you, Gregory, it really all springs from the unique abilities of your type to blow peoples minds (while trying not to blow yours in the process), welcome us to the Heap and then take a minute afterward to wave from behind the curtain and get people thinking hey, I can capture some imagination too. If one can’t DIY these days, there’s no hope for humanity much less the individual psyche. It’s too early in the spring to be road weary just yet, eh?

    Justin Grotelueschen
    Co-director, MEGAPOLIS Audio Festival
    Boston / Cambridge, MA, USA
    April 24 – 26, 2009
    ph: 617.777.4680

  • milutis says:

    gregory asked me to chime in again–although I’m in the midst of traveling and can’t read all of the above. Although the problems of radio are problems of data generally so there you go. It seems one important thing to think about radio is what is radio without radio, or how does one do radio without interacting with production politics above. Jack Spicer’s poet-as-radio for instance, or Cocteau’s–both explicitly Orphic. (Orpheus myth itself is a kind of network without center–there is no "original" text; whatever’s there in Virgil, in Ovid is still a report of a report, fragmentary, contradictory). In a recent panel I was on that Danny Snelson organized, we tried to expand what would be called "radio poetics" into realms that may include things, for example, like experimental translations–how does a word get from point to point, and what is its network and ambience. (by the way Danny was saying that there is a new good experimental Orpheus translation from the portuguese called Morpheus kicking about somewhere.)
    It would be nice to do radio as radio, but there’s a certain sluggish backwater miasma feel to most of it. A bit hoggish too, the way the radio time is parsed out . . . I have routinely had trouble convincing even pirate and community stations to let me commandeer a 15 min, or 30 min or hour block for some weekly experimentation. Only fat, indulgent, three hour DJ blocks need apply. Same goes for public radio with their BBC wall of drone after midnight. Wall to wall Car Talk. Etc Etc. TV is more interesting in terms of programming. Radio’s problem is that is somehow imagines itself the better medium, and becomes worse in the process of its self-congratulation (see Deleuze).

  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    Ahoy Justin,

    Gatherings like Megapolis are so essential, bringing large numbers of hungry ears into one zone. Each hunger may be different, but everyone is hungry, and with hunger comes an alertness that in turn offers the chance for a remarkable *quality* of communication, and community.

    (I write this watching an intensely alert and hungry red tail hawk waiting for an opportunity to communicate intensely with an unfortunate vole.)

    The word "megapolis" is itself interesting and even paradoxical, something I’ll touch on saturday afternoon. The ancient polis lost vitality and resilience when it became too large, because it was essentially a community of speakers. Once it became too "mega", the polis declined, because the quality of the convocation, and the eros of the colloquium, were reduced.

    The last twenty five years (basically my whole artistic life) has been far too supportive to the "mega" (as in megabucks or megalomania) and punishing to the notion of polis. Yet I feel the intense hunger for high quality community everywhere I go, and eventually it will express itself in a more general cultural way.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    radio poetics


    Thanks for the chime, I was hoping you would return with more than a bull’s carcass, because you are one of the very few writers/performers/thinkers exploring the impact that various communications technologies have on consciousness and language.

    Not many people seem to read him anymore, but in the eighties, I was very inspired by the writings of Walter Ong, who charts the interplay between distinct technologies of literacy (different kinds of books) and consciousness in extremely subtle and poetic ways. Being a Jesuit, he is also concerned (without a hint of dogma) with the impact such technologies have on our relationship to god, or the gods, and on communitas.

    Yes, the Orpheus is so beautifully without source or confirmation, and is an assortment of the most inconclusive and contradictory scraps and shreds, as if the Maenads had swooped down to disperse his story before they even got to his body.


  • milutis says:

    walter ong is very interesting and overlooked because of our derridean dispensations, . . . there are some really intelligent and interesting responses he makes to derrida, typewritten notes, hand hammered dialectics with the frenchman somewhere online. I think these were Ong’s lecture notes before he died. so he did not have his head in the sand, fearing things poststructuralist.
    with regards to Ong’s "secondary orality," one important thing that radio has that internet does not is the quality of presence of whatever the voice and sound does. One grad student I know wanted to coin the term tertiary orality for web 2.0 which I thought was a bit egregious. Because there is somewhat of a disconnect online, the analytics of data entry, the abstraction of the computer. at the very least, it’s more back to the world of the written culture. Which is why I like it when electronic/web pieces are staged, even if that means just someone driving thru a site in a live space. there are definitely ways of negotiating the paradoxes therein. And Ong, as well as McLuhan, unhip perhaps, still are very useful for untangling these.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Ong versus Derrida

    I’ll take Ong in this match any time. I’m glad the Derridean fad appears to be fading, or is it still fadding? I know I no longer encounter master class students who explain their pieces as Derridean "moves", so I take that as a promising sign.

    Ong’s description of the passage from primary orality through the distinct stages of literacy (he at his best in the passage from manuscript to industrial print, and the idea of "industrial reading") is so much more satisfying than the windy polemics against phonocentrism, where speakers (or phonies) have no history. Ong is not quite so good on secondary orality — not his temperament, I imagine.

    Orality and Literacy remains a must read, and I see many used copies available online for three bucks or less.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Fave Ong Quote (I remember shouting out loud when I first read this.)

    "Sight isolates, sound incorporates. Whereas sight situates the observer outside what he views, at a distance, sound pours into the hearer. Vision dissects, as Merleau-Ponty has observed (1961). Vision comes to a human being from one direction at a time: to look at a room or a landscape, I must move my eyes around from one part to another. When I hear, however, I gather sound simultaneously from every directions at once; I am at the center of my auditory world, which envelopes me, establishing me at a kind of core of sensation and existence… You can immerse yourself in hearing, in sound. There is no way to immerse yourself similarly in sight.

    By contrast with vision, the dissecting sense, sound is thus a unifying sense. A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart. The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together."

    Justin, the ancient polis was very much an oral/aural culture, hence the ideal was harmony (even when achieved through dissonance) — would be a good vibe for the festival, no?

  • milutis says:

    the reason it may be useful to think this dynamic of incorporation and unity beyond radio can be found in McLuhan. He talks about the ways in which certain print media can be sonic (e.g. the front page of the NYTimes) because of the way it creates a space of resonation (Anna F has been talking about the resonation paradigm for transmission art). He also has an interesting explanation of new journalism which would make Tom Wolfe a kind of sound artist, and not just because he used bizarre onomatopoeia and such. McLuhan’s idea was that it’s not an issue of subjectivity OR objectivity, or subjectivity over and against objectivity in New Journalism (making s* up versus the truth) but rather the quality of immersion that people like Tom Wolfe bring to the event. If people did not now ignore McLuhan perhaps we would not be having the kind of zero sum argumentation that happens around non-fictional work like Michael Moore documentaries and James Frey memoirs.
    Where Derrida is right is that this unity is not the sentimental soft-cookie me-space, but rather something more fragmented and elusive.

  • milutis says:

    this is danny’s blurb for the Morpheus book not out yet:
    "Transmutilation(†), Crawford writes, has a cleaner, sharper edge. Summoning an oracular arsenal of today’s sharpest tools—homophony, algorithmic association, strategic deletion, binary encoding—Morpheu hijacks the legendary magazine Orpheu: a mystical artifact damned to the suffocating underworld of European Modernism, 1915. Recomposing this orphaned journal on federal funds, Crawford’s alter-ego Pierrot reverse engineers the industrial ineptitudes of pages lost for readers with such hands as might touch never horrified to look toward the present. Concentrate Pierrot. For the affect is not a personal writing, nor is it a translation; it is the mutilation of a power of the pack that throws the poem into upheaval and makes it squeal. Morpheu seeks not to restore its prey to the land of the living—instead, Crawford plays the perverse puppet-master, reanimating a zombie tranny, a rotted corpus stitched together in full drag. The magazine, like our hero Pierrot, is impaled from the opening on that fated epistolary device – † – an elegant disguise for the ‘I’ in history.  Wait. I don’t feel anything yet. / “That’s cause you can’t seem / to separate yr mythemes / from yr morphemes.”"

  • Karen lewellen says:
    but Sir, what if….?

    Gee this is such fun.
    I know I am a dreamer and like it like that. I
    refuse to feel that a medium that reaches 99% of
    households is dead, or has lost its magic. To
    me the situation is simply legislative. People
    are not leaving radio, radio due to the removal
    of things that insured richness commitment and
    creativity has left the people.
    What if two things happened? somehow media
    ownership was restored, allowing those who still
    believe in radio the chance to have stations
    again, and requiring those people to remain
    dedicated to that community before they could
    sell? My other what if ha less to do with
    art, and more with content, restoring the
    fairness doctrine motivating even those with
    little imagination to seek out alternative voices
    because they have too?
    When companies started running bunches of
    stations like fast food chains, not even putting
    live voices in communities, folks started looking
    for other ways to feed their desire. But the
    desire is still there. I always felt restrictions
    on the number of stations, and the requirement
    of balance fulfilled the constitutional mandate
    of promoting the general welfare and insuring the
    blessings of liberty. Thoughts?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    resonance and monotony

    Joe, this is a very important point that somehow the quality of the communication is more defining than the technology of transmission — so for example radios can also be more "readerly", due to relentless imprint of a certain repetitive format that no longer creates space. Somebody used the word "flat" — like a page.

    On questions of authenticity and objectivity, yeah I am endlessly stunned at how these borders are patrolled and walled and wired while the entire culture radiates the most perverse celebration of mendacity and delusion.

    In voiceplay workshops, I give students an assignment to record a one minute narration in their "real" and "most authentic" voice — the results are always revealing, hilarious and terrifying!


  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    This all sounds fantastic — danny tells me he’ll try to stop in tomorrow and elaborate.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:


    I doubt the situation will ever change from legislation; it will change because the franchise model will reach its natural limits, and collapse.
    Like food and energy production (and, hopefully, how we use money) radio will become local again — because circumstances will require it.

    Over the next ten years, we are going to have to reimagine how we do the most essential work of feeding ourselves, fueling motion and warmth, and creating habitat, and commerce. I’m sure you have heard of "slow food" — well, at some point, we will see a resurgence of "slow media", and radio will become intensely local, again.

    Are you involved in audio/radio in some way — producer, listener?


  • The Geography of Listening

    "quality of the communication is more defining than the technology of transmission" GW

    I’m curious what you mean by this Gregory. I mean maybe I’m a little to Canadian here (read McLuhan), but I always have a hard time separating the technology and the communication.

    I live part of my year in the Canadian Arctic where "radio" (I’m speaking really broad here) has always had an important role: ranging from military stations for the Cold War DEW Line to national broadcasting stations like CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)–not to mention the use of radio phones and shortwave for the necessity of remote communication (cellphones still don’t work in a lot of the area). With an economy of means, radio still reaches a vast amount of people for the minimal amount of cost. For example, there is Northern specific programming for radio but not necessarily for TV due to the sheer cost of production. And in an inverse manner, this "simplified" form of communication is all the more important as it connects a small group of people over an epic geography.

    Of course future investment however is in the internet for the North where massive subsidies are in place and infrastructure has been government funded to connect these remote and far from economically sustainable communities.

    I’m all for the magic of FM noise, but compression artifacts have their own charm too. Are podcasting, internet streams and online archives like UBU helping to revive "radio" in a new way?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:


    I mean quality in the Ongian sense of a character or disposition, such that radio can feel like print, or (as Joe mentioned) a newspaper front page can resonate like a radio.

    I am fascinated by your comments about "epic" geography and the use of radio, and your response as artist/architect/philosopher.

    Can you relay a bit of your thinking behind your most recent installation of the Geodesic Radome, and McLuhan’s truly brilliant idea that "a border is not a connection but an interval of resonance"?


    This is extraordinary —-

    "The Geodesic Radome is the ultimate metaphor symbolising the shift in modern warfare in the second half of the 20th century: an architecture that distributes its structural tension/compression through a network similar to the communication network it shelters. Paul Virilio argued in 1975 “the [cement] bunker is the last theatrical gesture in the endgame of Occidental military history”; and it could be argued the geodesic dome is one of the first known architectures to introduce an international theatre of communication and networked warfare."

    (and yes, there will be an audiostream)

  • Susan Price says:
    an aside

    I keep thinking about this: When motion pictures became "talkies" many were appalled at the death of the "art" (or poetry or lyricism). So for me, I think, the bugaboo is going from the magic of communicating through a constrained channel to the demand for LITERALness. Being too literal "flattens" me every time.

    I also keep coming back to Kerouac’s "Belief and Techniques for Modern Prose." which kind of goes the same place for me. I turned it into a short radio piece here:
    (But then I wrapped it into a video, because my friend "didn’t get it." Ha-ha.)

    P.S. I love "I, Heapist"

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    literally flat


    Yes, and "literal" does not play to radio’s special and distinctive qualities as a medium, qualities which support more immersive, ambiguous, unstable and uncertain sorts of structures and vibes, as well as vocal styles.

    You have fine quality in your voicing of the kerouac, which is a fantastic choice for a radio text; I’m curious if you work with a director, on the voicing? Sometimes a pair of ears in front of you helps to keep consistent vocal focus through a long text like this. I have a couple of specific feedback notes, happy to send along, if you hail me from the email link on my website.

    In structure, I’d love to hear what would happen if you introduced "breaks" between the bites, over the back beat, using scratch sample looping of your own performance. That may give it the extra bit of audio hypnosis to keep ears hooked for the whole sequence.


  • Susan Price says:
    kerouac dreamer

    GW – I will email you for specific notes. Your mention of "what would happen if you introduced "breaks" between the bites, over the back beat, using scratch sample looping of your own performance. That may give it the extra bit of audio hypnosis to keep ears hooked for the whole sequence" brings me back to where I started in this conversation. I have no director, no text book – self-taught like one of those strange outsider artists… except not quite crazy enough. I’m a good self-learner but my craft won’t get better till I can watch/listen to someone saying "here’s how I do scratch samples and use them to…"

    E.g., attending a Walter Murch lecture where he dissected the sound for a scene in Apocalype Now was extremely instructive. (It was also here on Transom.)

    It would be cool to have tutorials (on Transom or wherever), like in Photoshop. ["How to make a glass button" walks through various effects that produce a desirable result.] So… "how to make a flat sound bite come from an anxious 3 AM" would be excellent.

    This was going to be short but I’m on the Outer Banks, glass of wine with lunch, starting to ramble… THANKS for your generosity.

  • Jim Andrews says:
    links to gregory’s work

    here are some good links to some of gregory’s work.
    you can get these as a playlist at

    gregory’s site is has a wealth of gregory material also.

    there is also some gregory work at (Helen Thorington’s New American Radio project)

    thanks, gregory, for the introductory mix of excerpts from some of your recent recordings with related texts. of course, you’ve been about both text and sound from the beginning. allen weiss mentions your essay ‘notes on the materiality of radio’–that’s going back to the eighties–what a brilliant and helpful essay that was. helpful to me in grappling with sound and text and radio. i’ve been following your work since then. since ‘disorder speech’ and ‘dead letters’. and your work continues to enrich my life and help me with my own work and directions.

    terrific discussion. i’m following it with pleasure.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    jig nio

    Jim, thanks for those kind words. I remember very well our first contacts, back when every day’s mail would contain strange and wondrous cassettes, sent from all over the world via the "slow viral" network of the K7 underground.

    For a true mind tickle, Jim’s jig and nio projects are a must destination — check them out! .

  • Galen Joseph-Hunter says:
    New Spaces

    Good morning.

    Firstly, let me please preface the following thoughts with this: the most challenging aspect of cultivating “new” space (or anything new, for that matter) is the absence of time for reflection. That being said, Gregory asked that I chime in with some thoughts, and being a tremendous fan of Gregory, his work, and Transom, I hereby oblige.

    For any of you who are not already familiar with free103point9. we are a nonprofit arts organization cultivating Transmission Arts. This genre absolutely includes creative radio, but also encompasses a wealth of other practices working conceptually and/or formally with the electromagnetic spectrum. We began as an artist collective in Brooklyn in 1997.

    In late 2004, free103point9 Co-Founder, Program Director, and Artist, (who is also my husband) Tom Roe and I moved our residence 120 miles north of New York to Greene County where we established Wave Farm on 29 acres in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountain Park. Wave Farm was envisioned as a space for residencies, installations, and performances in support of Transmission Arts. In 2006 we broke ground on a Study Center building project, which is on hold pending horrific delays fueled by a local planning board whose actions have become fodder for at least one forthcoming opera. How wonderful to see works of art emerge from such a disheartening display of fear and prejudice, but I digress.

    When free103point9 learned of the rare full-power, non-commercial FM application window to be opened by the FCC, we were of course interested. With the help of some key individuals and organizations (Prometheus, Future Music Coalition, Dharma Dailey, Aliza Dichter, Alan Korn) and a terrific number of individuals who made donations so we could hire an engineer and broadcast attorney, we successfully applied and were awarded our license in October of 2008.

    What has emerged is an ambitious vision for a media project made by and for local residents of Greene and Columbia Counties, while simultaneously serving free103point9’s mission to support experimentation with and creative use of the airwaves. The station’s call letters are WGXC, and the projects recently drafted mission is:

    WGXC is a community-run media project, re-envisioning radio as an innovative platform for local participation. Our inclusive programming connects diverse voices, and distributes information across the public spectrum in New York’s Greene and Columbia Counties.

    We are in the heart of the organizing phase, and the project is being embraced by a truly astounding and comprehensive representation of the listening area. We will launch an online version of the station project May 9th and hope (funding pending) to be “on the air” summer 2010.

    And now I see that I’ve carried on far too long…

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Wave Farm

    Thanks for stopping in Galen.

    You and Tom have done a magnificent job in creating both the wave farm, and the station. Your efforts are among the reasons I am not at all discouraged about the future of creative audio and radio.

    All hungry ears should check out the rich and varied flow at free103.nine, as well as the summer programs on the farm.

    I hope to see some of you at the Megapolis fest.
    I’m putting the final touches on "How To Cook A Radio" now: voices, sounds, and I never miss a chance to sing an odd song or two —

    Signing off until next week,


  • Anna F says:
    radio dreams redux

    Hi GW,

    I’m back in the discussion after falling off the dial for a bit… and a fascinating discussion indeed! So many threads to run off into the sunset with, but I’ll limit myself to a couple.

    In radiophonic terms, we are speaking of engineering conditions for activity of the psyche–extending, initiating, shifting, tangentially stimulating, psyching out the psyche. I always want to be careful to distinguish between imposition and engineering, but this is where, in the end, anyone can reach out and just turn that dial whenever they please, so the engineer can really only propose, not impose. I think the most compelling radio is still that which transmits the feeling of liveness–and by that I mean immediacy of experience. Preacher, radio artist, politician, foreign correspondent–it’s when the radio crackles with distortion from too much feeling that I really hear all the life on the other end. When nothing is clean–when things get noisy.

    Contrary to a lot of writing on radio, the radio voice, for me, is never disembodied, though human bodies are invisible or recede. Radio is about sharing the subjectivity of the ‘here’ with many places, and many bodies, be they human or non-human. Who’s there? becomes a multi-layered question–with the ‘who’ and the ‘there’ constantly in doubt, in the best way possible.

    You asked about Pirate Jenny many posts back, so I’ll return to her briefly. An ongoing thread in my radio art/works has been to reveal some glimpses of the imagined/dreamed landscapes of radioland, and the denizens who people it. I have returned on and off to the mythical tale of "the little people who live inside the radio". Pirate Jenny is one such ‘little person’–but if once there was a whole cast of little people inside each radio, providing all the voices and playing all the music, in this era of rampant downsizing there is only one person per radio, or perhaps the radios are even automated?!! Pirate Jenny is one such little person, stuck in her radio, plotting mutiny and seeking contact with others of her kind when the Ears turn off her radio at night. She sends out an SOS to the ether, and monitors the airwaves for a longed-for response.

    I staged this piece as a pirate intervention, as a live theatre piece with radio sound, as a ‘takeover’ of the airwaves late at night on campus/community radio, and as a composition that aired on european public radio. Each iteration provided some other angle on the story, on the experience of making/listening/becoming radio. What remains, for this conversation, is a question again about ‘who’s there?’ Who is Pirate Jenny, and where could she be? In and on the radio. And how far is far away, when she is listening for a response? The clock radio in the next room is further than the radio down the street with a larger antenna. Who could be listening? I never knew. And like any good pirate, the frequency shifts constantly.

    Bachelard notes that imagination (reverie) determines the limits of psychic production. In this sense, reverie (as opposed to dreams of the unconscious) is a lucid, nourishing state–one much like radio listening.

    xx anna

  • Danny Snelson says:
    Chirping In

    Involuntary but not unwilling:

    Hardly &so is radio! Missing out on lots, but having had slowly caught up, cramming essay &essays conversing, eager to add some bits, just a bit, &thinking on the go for radio transom. So sweet those notes from Joe &tnx for corralling the marvelous crew exchanging here Gregory—fabulous reception this corner pipes!—have some quick queries firstly:

         Gregory: can chat more on radiophonic information networks? Charles above dropped a question on podcasts, streams, e-archives as radio revivalists (!).. . Good question &a link seems intuitive to make, but my feeling for the media is similar to the Siren seduction, actually, I’ll translate:

    Orpheus (radio) served as a sort of sound cancellation machine, neutralizing the dangerous transmissions from the island of the Sirens, who, like so many internets, promised wisdom and delivered oblivion…

    That’s backward &counter-intuitive—radio as noise cancellation, how perverse!—but I think lovely-accurate: in the abstracted blitz of data glut—with all its sultry info promises—it’s the raw line of the radiowave blanket that muffles logic simultaneity?. .

    In other words: the internet can’t be radio! Shldn’t be &lies (insidiously, deceptive up to 320 kbps) when Paul Whiteman seems to orchestrate the radio crooning Blue Sunday at, or you drop into gilded radiphonic bliss via Lies! Lies? No, Gregory?

    But digress, &really, eager to flesh out my own radio bodies: the persistent P’s, gone hand in hand: poetry, poetics, philosophy (on the radio, isn’t this one an F?). Well anyhow, once more, restored—&quote: Orpheus served as a sort of sound cancellation machine, neutralizing the dangerous transmissions from the island of the Sirens, who, like so many radios, promised wisdom and delivered oblivion…

    Recomposition, I’ve been calling new radiophonic writing techniques. That blurb before, on a similar practice Alejandro Crawford is calling Transmutilation. Involves: republication, translation thru limited–necessarily contingent–vocabularies, data sorting, homophony, &forms of recombination that remix with concentrated–typically discrete moments of–authorship. Milton’s Paradise Lost: poetry. Johnson’s Radi Os: radio poetry. Radios (Paradise Lost translated thru the limited vocabulary of Radi Os): recomposition.

    But I’m losing track &falling apart over the keys.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    power, dis and digi

    Well I know I said I was signing out until post Megapolis, but these two p/f word morsels from Anna and Danny are irresistible.

    Anna, I share your aversion to the power side of engineering, but I am also aware of it all the time, the airwaves that are tuning us, not just the ones we tune. Strange (and enticing) to see how Bachelard links his vibe of psychic engineer with "love’s voluptuous trust". And indeed that sort of abandonment (possible because of trust) is both rare and precious. Giving in to the flow — oh my.

    I understand your distance from disembody — a tired concept, now, that was tired even ten years ago. But I am not sure what you mean by sharing your "here". When I tune you in, your "here" is already gone, neither here nor there, which is what makes the "who’s there" so bewildering and bedeviling. It’s not you on the air, so how can it be "hereness"?

    Pirate Jenny’s almost plaintive call into the goopy ether is one of the most sublime moments I have heard, your ability to be cheerfully melancholy.

    Danny, lies lies lies indeed! The space, quality, character, position, vibe, feel — all different in web "radio", McLuhan would be spinning fast in his grave, at the mere mention they might share the same media space.

    Recomposition and transmutilation sound very promising, as author becomes other, via a sort of ruled entropy. Any examples/excerpts you can post?

    More later,


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Magnificently eclectic ganglike audiophiles….


    A fine raucous and polyphonous weekend, with many aspiring and talented psychic engineers in attendance. Cheers out to Justin and Nick, who conjured beautifully structured chaos in record time.

    Now where were we…?
    ah yes, the paradoxes and mysteries and uncertain here/hear of the voice, off.


  • Karen lewellen says:
    Gregory, answering our question of last week… in part

    Hi Gregory,
    You asked the other day after my steak in radio,
    producer, listener? The answer is both. I have
    been a listener since about 4, two years longer
    if you count the Fisher Price radio I got before
    this. Radio introduced me to the music I make,
    and taught me how important communication and
    story telling is to the imagination and human
    society as a whole. That opened the door
    to my various radio projects touching on both
    music and storytelling.
    My hosting / production story is a unique one.
    Presently I serve on the board of AIR, and am
    writing this from Toronto Canada where I intend
    forging a new castle. In fact for transom
    members here, sing out. I am in a unusual
    situation and wish a fast education as to how one
    reaches the Canadian audience via radio
    outside of traditional places like the CBC. I
    could write more, but this is long enough
    Karen Lewellen

  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    Karen, amen to the imagination.

    for alt radio in toronto, radio "naisa" would be the place to start (new adventures in sound art).

    I was hoping I might lure Darren back in to elaborate on his allusion to recent turbulence in the creative radio scene in canada, Darren, tu es la?

  • Anna F says:
    here and there, here or there

    Quick note to illuminate Darren’s passing reference to turbulence on the air–in fact, the brouhaha is just at one particular Toronto campus/community station, but unfortunately its the one which used to support Deep Wireless events and on which Darren and I have both made radio (Darren for much longer than I). It’s a case of meltdown at an individual station, and not a death knell tolling for c/c radio in Canada in general. For instance, CKUT Montreal is very strong in terms of supporting indy radio art, and they are also members of the international Radia network, which is a great radio art exchange that more US stations ought hop on board with.

    But back to the heres and hears– I agree that my ‘here’ is gone by the time someone hears some piece of radio art that I’ve made on the radio. But something of my ‘here’ remains and is shared with the multiple ‘heres’ of listeners: as a radiomaker I am both here and not here when I get on the mic–present but working in aggregate sum of accomplice devices and human agents. Depending on conditions, my already tenuous presence recedes behind recording media, relayed connections, or the time elapsed since a mic transduced my voice. ‘Here’ can start sounding a lot more like ‘there’ or ‘then’, or ‘way back when’. But the ‘here’ of broadast radio is that strange meeting place that is shared among unknown others and which manifests in many geographical and temporal sites. It’s the paradox that provokes this talk of trust and mystery–all these half-met hearings in the dark, all these blind dates. In some iterations, i.e. independent or community radio, those meetings expand easily to include other kinds of social talk–esp. when people can operate both as senders and receivers, and when a community is engaged in conversation with itself, with radio as one point in that circuit.

    This slippery radiophonic territory is a large part of what has motivated me to work with smaller transmission circuits, such that there is a geographical ‘here’ to work with and bodies do meet somewhere. That said, any of those radio works (installations, performances) are still suspiciously dark.

  • The DEW Line and Canadian Radio

    My apologies for the delay in response. Here is the background you requested on my interest surrounding the DEW Project and Mcluhan. It seems to be late in replying but reconnecting on a different front about the activity of radio in Canada, albeit historical.

    The DEW Project came out a body of research explored in the past few years that Canada has played in the development of 20th C. communications. When moving to the North (Dawson City, Yukon Territory) to start a new art college several years ago, I began researching the history of radio in the Arctic–a medium deeply embedded in the ideology of the country from the establishment of CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) through the dialogue between Glenn Gould and Marshal McLuhan ("Dialogues on the Prospects of Recording" (1965) [check it out on UBU: ]. Gould’s 1967 radio documentary "The Idea of North" revolutionised what radio documentary could be when refigured to be just as much carrier of information as sound composition–in this particular work a fugue. With "The Idea of North", Gould furthermore touched on the place radio has in the creation and survival of the Arctic. Radio is a medium that has the ability to connect isolated locations across vast landscape while being cheap to produce content for as well as inexpensive to deliver–the perfect requirements for communication in the Canadian Arctic.

    Of course, radio in the Arctic has a much longer history than Gould’s documentary/fugue and even CBC itself. The World Telegraph was originally to be built right through the Yukon Territory and Alaska, but the sub-Atlantic line cut short the completion of this ambitious project to connect North America with Europe via the Bering Straight. However, with the Klondike Goldrush at the end of the 19th C, renewed interest returned to this region and a telegraph line became of extreme importance for stakeholders in the boom industry of prospecting and mining. The difficulty of course was the laying down of line across inhospitable stretches of land so the desire for wireless communication soon came to the forefront. As early as 1902, the New York Times reports the US military experimenting with wireless telegraphy in Alaska–only a decade after Edison filed his patent. In the land of permafrost, few trees, and uneven coastline, wireless telegraph was a welcome addition to the Arctic and at times the only means of possible communication.

    The largest wireless project in the Canadian Arctic of course was developed a century later at the beginning of the Cold War and was called the DEW Line–an acronym for Distant Early Warning. Stretched along the 70 N latitude from the Western tip of Alaska, all the way across Canada, and across Greenland, the DEW line was a dual electromagnetic system: on the one hand it sent out radar pulses to detect Russian bombers coming over the ice cap, and on the other hand it was a troposcatter communications network that linked the 70 or so remote stations together –ultimately connecting to NORAD’s command station in Colorado. Buckminster Fuller was brought on board in 1954 to develop a rigid radome shelter for the antennas. This contract was a pivotal role in the development of the geodesic dome that took the 20th C by storm: from military endeavours to counter-cultural sites like Drop City.

    I am arguing the DEW line and the Geodesic Radome are a unique pairing in the history of communications warfare as constructed during the Cold War, much like Paul Virilio argued in 1975 that the cement bunker was a unique defense architecture of WW2. While Virilio saw the bunker as the end of occidental warefare strategy, I see the radome as the beginning of networked warfare. Radar first saw its practicality develop during WW2, but it was the DEW line built in 1954-7 that allowed the ambitious project of a transcontinental wireless communications network linked to each other over vast distances that paved the way for current satellite technology. In certain ways this network is as unique as the geodesic dome that sheltered it, balancing forces of compression and tension like radar and radio.

    Without being too nostalgic, my interest in returning to this history is three-fold: 1.) I had started working with Parks Canada’s Historian for the Arctic David Neufeld on creating an online digital archive of a specific DEW Line station called BAR-1. 2.) I was interested in the current role that communication plays (particularly the internet) in the creation of an ideology of the Arctic (or for that matter really of any site) , but 3.) with the melting of the polar ice cap, Arctic Sovereignty has become an important issue being defined through scientific research and public debate while warranting my attention as a citizen of this geography.

    To specifically respond to Gregory’s question about ‘McLuhan’s truly brilliant idea that "a border is not a connection but an interval of resonance"’ I have little to say. I think essentially what is being stated quite poetically, is that borders and nation state boundaries are not modular systems with predefined entities docking or exchanging data at set points. Instead borders are fluid systems with turbulent dynamics or, in the case of sound, resonant patterns with amplified activity (think of Alvin Lucier’s work here as resonance defining an architecture). There is something about a border that in itself often looks no different on either side geologically speaking, but of course it is the exchange or rejection of ideology and resources that is heightened along this membrane. Perhaps we could throw in another term here to keep the poetics going: the north pole with its melting ice cap is not a coordinate but a strange attractor. I think the key here is movement, not just a shifting border but the exchange of information and resources across it. As several nations publish their scientific finds hoping to extend the 200 nautical mile limited to their coastlines, it is interesting to see what waves these proclamations will make, how these waves are received by the UN, and ultimately how these crests and troughs (both in terms of continental shelves and in our McLuhan/Lucier resonance patterns) will be respected or denied by the sovereign states so keen on claiming the northern most part of the globe.

    In regards to radio, I think the association is quite obvious. What a perfect format to engage this ocean of ideas: where channels are not locked in. Where there is a lovely spectrum between tuned in and tuned out. Between within range and out of range. The gap the agreed signal must cross between receiver and transmitter. And most importantly, all the lovely noise in between and all around with resonant patterns surging out of the electromagnetic fields.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Ocean of Ideas

    Charles, this is an extraordinary project that resonates full spectrum. I’m having so many thoughts at once, I’m not sure where to start.

    We know the harsh experience of the past hundred years that what begins as poetry often ends in a weapon, thus I would not be at all surprised if, in the DARPA bowels of the Pentagon, there is a team of psychic engineers on the dark side seeking ways to weaponize the resonating interval of the border. Eg, one could well imagine borders becoming zones of demarcation — electromagnetic pulses that both run interference and attract "intelligence".

    The idea of the North Pole as a zone of communication, and not just a location (however strategic), is very suggestive, above all when other variables such as peak oil (or peak everything) are entered into the mix. The North Pole as a perpetual "remix"?

    The wireless imagination so often seems to connect (eros) only to simultaneously disperse (thanatos), and these two impulses both define (articulate) and refuse (turn into refuse) who we are.

    More later — this is a very thrilling project, with much to mull.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    wherefore art thou romeo victor tango


    I am completely with you on the strangeness of the blind dates, but I do wonder if the here/there of it all just muddles the boglands (the "Big Sloppy" of the electromagnetic glop) even further.

    What if we we simply acknowledge this voice "off" as having its own autonomy? Then we don’t have to worry about who it is, but rather come to grips with its own wild otherness, that has defines own unstable identity and ambiguous space. Testing this idea led me into exploring ideas of bardo, limbo, prosthesis, android, androgyne, and even purgatory (totenklage lacrymosa). What if the triangle (body/tech/body) is not a nervous system (circuitry) but more like a resonating otherness?

    And yes yes yes on the rich exchanges between radio space and performance space, which as you say can become a beautifully looped genesis of communities, often in ways entirely unexpected.
    I love how you express the idea of a community in conversation with itself — and this looping back and forth is a crucial dimension to how creative communities sustain themselves, and flourish. (I have seen you do this in persona, and it is a beautiful thing.)

    Communication is community, but only if it plays.


  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    This just in from James:

    Dear contributors to and friends of aslongasittakes:

    Happy May Day. Issue three is now up at aslongastittakes! It features an essay on 17th Century Icelandic sound poet Æri-Tobbi by EIRÍKUR ÖRN NORðDAHL, an interactive sound application by JIM ANDREWS, and audible and legible sound poems by GERARD ALTAIÓ, SERGEY BIRYUKOV, JOHN M. BENNETT, JAAP BLONK, DAVID BRADEN, MIKE CANNELL, ANYA COBLER, TIM GAZE, EVGENIJ KHARITONOV, NOBUO KUBOTA & W. MARK SUTHERLAND, CHAD LEITZ, PHILIP MEERSMAN, STEPHEN NELSON, EIRÍKUR ÖRN NORðDAHL, MARK PREJSNAR, and CHRIS STROFFOLINO.

    I will post the announcement to the Buffalo Poetics List and the yahoo sound poetry list, but feel free to forward the announcement on to others.



  • The Poetics of Weapons

    My hope is that what started at weapons can end up as poetry. Speaking of Danger (eros and thantos style), these two complimentary quotes have been kicking around the cranium the past few weeks:

    "It’s a dangerous game Cherrycoke’s playing here. Often he thinks the sheer volume of information pouring in through his fingers will saturate, burn him out…she seems determined to overwhelm him with her history and its pain, and the edge of it, always fresh from the stone, cutting at his hopes, at all their hopes. He does respect her: he knows that very little of this is female theatricals, really. She has turned her face, more than once, to the Outer Radiance and simply seen nothing there. And so each time has taken a little more of the Zero into herself. …ice crystals swept hissing away from the back edges of wings perilously deep, opening as they were moved into new white abyss….For half a minute radio silence broke apart. The Traffic being:

    St. Blaise: Freakshow Two, did you see that, over.

    Wingman: this is Freakshow Two–affirmative.

    St. Blaise: Good.

    No one else on the mission seemed to’ve had radio communication. After the raid, St. Blaise checked over the equipment of those who got back to base and found nothing wrong: all the crystals on frequency, the power supplies rippleless as could be expected–but others remembered how , for a the few moments the visitation lasted, even static vanished from the earphones."

    Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.


    "That’s a negative ghostrider, the pattern if full."

    Jerry Bruckheimer, Top Gun.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Vitale Unmix

    In the aftermath of megapolis, Laura Vitale sent me a quite unusual little voice play titled "Vitale Unmix"; a reminder that radios work on us as much as we work on them. Laura can you chime in with an exegesis, and perhaps also mention what Rick Moody & Co. are doing in collaboration with the echos of Kraftwerk? Good fun, and important, in the discussion of the flow of voices, into, hither, fro and yon.


  • Susan Price says:
    sound art resources & inspiration

    I’m usually not this compulsive, but I felt the need to pull together all the resources mentioned in this discussion for my future reference and ongoing education. You can find it here:
    Let me know if I got anything wrong or if you’d like me to add anything or anyone.
    Listening to the archives at ubuweb has been very instructive and the conversation here has helped me a lot. Thanks, everyone!

  • Laura Vitale says:
    White Unitard —> Whitney Houston

    Gregory, I’m glad you found that piece entertaining, because when I first heard it I wanted to die (even though I recorded it, and it is of my voice.)

    What Gregory is referring to is a piece whose origins can be drawn to a white pleather unitard. I’m a member of an experimental theater collective named (somewhat unfortunately) Piehole. We were gathered at my house for a meeting one evening, and one friend, a tall, fire-haired, full-hipped, Nordic member of Piehole, slipped the unitard from her backpack and cried, "Everyone try it on! Now we can compare our bodies without having to touch each other!"

    So we did. And did. All nine of us, tall, tiny, male and female. We made a slide show with the the PhotoBooth program and spent hours morphing ourselves into each other with a stop-motion animation type of thing.

    Those photos never actually turned into a finished project, but I was moved to make the audio equivalent: a recording of my naked voice belting Whitney Houston’s "How Will I Know"?

    Donning the same white unitard unearthed and then lay to rest some notions how our bodies exist in the world, notions imposed on us unconsciously from every angle, from family, to schoolmates, to television. Hearing myself belt Whitney Houston served the same purpose. Although I’ve never bought one of her albums or even ever deliberately listened to her music, I was infused as a child with their teachings of what ROMANTIC LOVE is. When I try to sing that Top 40 romantic love, without the training, without the back-up, without the talent, without the million dollar orchestration, it sounds like who we all really are, even Whitney Houston: just another person fumbling and wondering, "Am I loved???"

    In a personal sense, also, I’m trying to "find my voice" and I thought, what better way than to release myself from any control. Very often I (we) am (are) caught up in very intelligent manipulations of media whose end products are pretty sterile.

    As for the Kraftwerk Unmixes that Rick and I are working on, I hope he has time to pipe in about that, but the gist of his idea is to bring humanity back into the robots and see what grows from there.

    Anyway, at the root of both ideas is just to be flawed and human, that being a good thing.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Open your One True Piehole

    and who knows what will fly out?!

    yes, in the digital realm, I often hear far too much "perfection" and thus no life, no body, no soul. Good processes need to build in the opportunity to make mistakes, big and small — and from those mistakes, good things invariably emerge.

    having just finished a long project based loosely on the last novels of philip k dick, the slippery question of what is "truly" human in our human/ness is still following me around — your unmix dances back and forth across the border, sounding to me in one moment as a raw unmediated vitale, but in the next moment as some sort of unworldly android, channelling a scrambled Top Forty station from the Big Sloppy.

    I also hear it as an act of resistance, that is: the only way to get some of these embedded popettes off the brain is to perform a sort of exorcism via extreme singing. The cultural unmixing of the self.

    I hear an album emerging from this idea: Laura Vitale, Unmixed. (With the white unitard as the cover image.)

    I wish there was an easy way to upload the songfile into the forum — is it on the web somewhere?


  • Laura Vitale says:

    Gregory, I’m playing with ideas for how to develop the Android Top 40 Unmix. Since it’s a work in progress I haven’t posted it anywhere. But if someone reading here actually wants to hear it, shoot me an email at and I’ll share away. Other stuff of mine is posted at, a very new and sort of rough website.

    Exorcism, yes!

  • martine ketelbuters says:
    New podia for the radio

    On Sunday evening I was in Ghent (Belgium) sitting in a private living room with 50 other people listening to radio programs. A selection was made out of student productions, Edwin Brys brought a Danish documentary -we projected the translation on the wall- and somebody made us listen to a program he had heared on the Dutch radio and found on CD.

    Radio on the festivals, on the internet, in the ‘salons’: a small group of enthusiastic listeners is sharing an almost paradoxical and clandestine experience. The mass medium on a couch

    With the radio students we organise regular listening sessions, creating these circumstances where young makers can present their work and get feedback. And of course for the pleasure of listening (together). It isn’t radio any more – we have a tape/a CD/an internet file – but we listen and during that action some communication from tape to audience is happening or is not happening. And we discuss it.

    The radio students of Rits (School for Audiovisual and Performing Arts in Brussel) found their platform in an internet radio ( there are no fm frequencies to get any more – which is partner of the Radia network ( We aim to make adventurous radio, sometimes it is more abstract, sometimes it is very communicating, but we try to get all the aspects and genres of this fascinating medium.

    Let’s invest in alternative and new podia for our radiophonic adventures and let us invite some poetic dramaturgy.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:

    Martine, thanks for stopping in.

    As a guest at RITS, I was deeply impressed by the quality of training you are offering, effortlessly bridging spaces that are often kept isolated from one another. I was also impressed by the sheer diversity of interests, backgrounds talents of your students.

    What is your analysis of the slow but steady elimination of creative radio adventures on Belgian public radio? For so many years, at least from an outsider’s perspective, it seemed as if you were thriving, and with vigorous audience support. Then suddenly: a pulled plug, and ensuing silence. is of course a promising alternative network worthy of passionate support (along with the loose affiliation of private radio salons, wherever they spring up), but we sill need to confront the suffocating tightness of our respective "public" airwaves. Again, going back to Bachelard : if he is right that the vibe of a given radio will tell us volumes about our collective psychic condition, well then, what are the psychic implications of such relentless aesthetic monotony? Who benefits? Surely not "the public"!

  • Laura Vitale says:
    From Rick Moody

    I’m copying and pasting on behalf of Rick, who can’t find his password to log in to this discussion:

    "Hey Gregory, admire your work. A lot! I’m just appending a quick note, because Laura Vitale alerted me to this thread, on the vulnerability factor and the "unmixes." At least with the Kraftwerk piece she and I did with the venerable Piehole, the concept was to take away the machined surface of ProTools and try to turn the technology back to the human path, by leaving the flaws in. With Kraftwerk, where the thematic material was/is all about man/machine interface, it’s easy to ruin the perfection of the surface by inducing the "untrained" singers to sing without recourse to words or rehearsal. This restores the voice to its rightfully central position in music making, and especially the voice in its pristine state, unmediated by edits or digital effects, etc. For a while I was working on a series for Weekend America where we talked to people about the most important song of their early childhood, and this series was destroyed by the exigencies of the marketplace, but its idea was similar: people actually singing (with "untrained" voices) the songs without being able to remember them, mangling the lyrics, slaying the time signature, f—– up the melodies, to me this is really human and thus really20beautiful, because every sound that is true to the wild field of sounds in nature has a limpid wonderfulness to it. Having recently read MUSICOPHILIA with Sacks, I can report that the neurologist remarks that it is possible that at a certain point singing was language–they were identical–and this sloppy, impulsive, immediate music reminds us of this. Which is why more Kraftwerk recordings will be made at some point."

  • Susan Price says:
    p from the greatest generation

    Still here… on the ass-end of the Third Coast (Rochester) considering real voices [Rick Moody's comments] and lessons learned.

    Bachelard via GW: ‘if our psychic radio engineers are poets concerned for the welfare of humankind, tenderness of heart, the joy of loving, and love’s voluptuous trust, then they will lay on splendid nights for their listeners.’ So… before tape, back in the early 1940s, my mother was her own psychic engineer on shellac platters. I have to get back to work on my piece, which is here:

    It isn’t NPR, but it isn’t "phantasmic" yet either. It dawns on me that I could do a version now without my mother’s narration, but the pathos for me is understanding that this "hilarity" was the Irish-American, corner-of-Rowan-and-Ridge-St-Louis way of coping with death and worry (the un-Artaud).

    If anyone is interested in listening to 6 minutes from a neophyte, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Doing it publicly here, if it enhances the conversation, is fine or offline at

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    another sonitarium

    this just in from my friend henning lundkvist in malmo:


    Sonic Imaginaries
    Reflections in and on acoustic public space

    Listening in its social and political dimensions is, without doubt, still widely underrepresented in current art discourses. Whether this is despite or due to the fact that sound is held to be of ephemeral and fragmentary nature, remains an unanswered question. Many prominent thinkers such as John Cage, Murray Schafer, Michel Chion, Pierre Schaeffer, Roland Barthes, and most recently Jean-Luc Nancy have written about – and described – various modes of listening. However, contemporary art theory and criticism rarely touches the subject of listening, visual references rule the art discourses. Sonic Imaginaries is part of the longterm research project Sonic Thinking, which proposes to take some of the above mentioned authors and develop their ideas further, into an investigation of the material and the broadly construed philosophical implications of auditory experience. The project aspires to make acoustic space largely accessible for radical contemporary thinking, in turn giving new tools to devise ideas, strategies and methodologies, adding to a critical engagement of contemporary art practices in socio-political issues.

    Fri 05/01, 19.00 – Sonic Imaginaries 01: Sound, talk and drinks

    Sat 05/02, 19.00 – Sonic Imaginaries 02: Sound, talk and drinks

    Thu 05/07, 18.00 – Sonic Imaginaries 03: Round table
    Guests: Mathias Holmberg, Mathias Kristersson, Henning Lundkvist, Thomas Millroth, Danilo Stankovic, a.o.

    Our round table discussion will address the acoustic phenomenology of public space and possibly zoom in on the context of contemporary art. We want to reflect on the ways in which listening, as aesthetic experience and practice, is formalized in art works and exhibitions, how listening is organized in modern society, how it constitutes, amends or reinstates notions of time and space, how listening shapes social and political realities. Along the question if a different acoustic space can be produced and with it a new public, we want to draw a connection between acoustic space and the notion of public space as a site and product of conflict, thus to bring related theories of public space into actual dialogue with the methods of various artists who use acoustic space as a site and material in their work.

    KHM gallery
    Ystadsvägen 22A

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Fun Fun Fun on the Autobahn

    Rick, please keep me posted on this project, as it develops — I loved the first foray.

    Improvisation remains an abiding passion for me, so the idea of inviting a gang of "players" over, and floating out a concept for group performance makes immediate sense. I find myself telling young producers over and over: there is no shame in enjoying what you are doing, and letting us hear it. So often the joy (and the pure fun) gets edited out: why?

    Kraftwerk is such a perfect choice for this idea, since they themselves were so interested in the robotic aspect of pop culture, and the fact that the autobahn sings us as much as we sing the autobahn.

    Hey, I want to be at the next one! Long live Limpid Wonderfulness!


  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    "I want to be there when the band starts playing…"

    Susan, thanks for posting that link — I’m curious to hear your thinking about the treatment of the recordings (fairly intense reverb)? Why those choices? Is memory an echo chamber? Or?

    On your idea of embedding as some sort of video, you can just use quicktime to screen the title, and a background color of some sort.

    Sound maps the brain in a profoundly different way than optical stimulus, so when a listener becomes a viewer, they are experiencing a completely different piece.

    I just went over this bumpy terrain with Julie at Third Coast, over the issue of what the audience would watch for a "screening" of The Loneliest Road. After mulling the issue once again (since it comes up quite often), we decided on nothing — they will sit together in the dark, and listen. Will they be a little uncomfortable? Maybe — but that’s good.

    I’m always surprised at audio/radio/sound art festivals by the number of presenters, all with fabulous things to say about sound, using visual slides (sometimes ONLY visual slides) to convey their ideas.

    Hypervisual cultures will create hypervisual brains which will then have impacts in every dimension of the society. Not hard to "see" the result. But the roots of democracy are in the polis, and the polis was an expressly acoustic political culture, based in the eros of voices. (Yes, I know, many voices were excluded — another story.)

  • Susan Price says:
    echoing memoryscape

    Gregory, thanks for taking the time to listen.
    (1) I wanted to distinguish my mother’s current voice from the recordings and slammed on the "cathedral" preset… then I couldn’t back myself out of it. This goes back to the lack of craft and my search for ways to create a space (esp. a psychological, temporal one). Listening to the ubu archives & other works may help, as well as some reflection on the audio nature of memory, but I can’t always tell what I’m hearing without a few hints. (This goes back to my original whine about learning resources.)

    (2) Yes,visuals change everything. When I saw the black screens on your site’s QT movies, I realized that’s how I could upload sound pieces to YouTube and Facebook.

    I did play extensively in AfterEffects with translating each track into visual waves — lovely, but, like you say, maps somewhere else in the brain. If I do the video now, it will be a separate project.

    As I’m writing, I’m thinking: what do we look at when we talk on the phone, that purely aural experience that isn’t music? We look at a blank sheet of paper… and we doodle. I don’t know what that implies, but I thought I’d say it anyway.

    Thanks again for nudging me along. Susan

  • martine ketelbuters says:
    public radio versus adventurous radio

    Dear Gregory,

    but we have very good public radio in Belgium. VRT (Flemish public radio) would be offended to hear that they ‘re loosing creativity. On the contrary, they will complain about a lack of creative people -remembering the creative sessions they organised for their employees.-

    In my experience, with the arrival of the manager, the public radio gradually from a production centre turned into a broadcast company. By moving that accent from making radio to distributing it, the whole process turned upside down: where once a radio program existed because there was this need to make that program, it is now ordered from the top: format, audience, length, music colour,.. has been decided on. There is of course creativity needed to fill in that format, but we have very passionate program makers.

    We invited a VRT manager at RITS and she was very clear: ‘We don’t want artists in the radio station (yes to interview, but not to produce work), so if you think you’re an artist, stay away!’ (very disturbing for the students). Where in the earlier situation the critique was that there was not enough attention for the audience, in the second model the concept of the listener as a consumer/client was introduced. And the artist was banished (and became a synonym for bad communication with a small audience, there where the station wanted an audience as large as possible.)

    At VRT (like in so many broadcast companies) they know what their customers want, and that is not: documentaries (to long) nor elaborate productions (to complicated) nor fiction (to old) nor soundscape (to weird) or subtle montages (to expensive). I’m making a caricature now, but in the radio station people will honestly think that their public benefits from the fact that they’re being protected from foolish radio adventures they’re not into.

    The problem is not that radio programmes miss quality or creativity but that the range of what radio could be is becoming so small. And together with this change in mentality, the most important cause for that is of course the economical reason: there is hardly any production budget/mentality/structure left for radio.

    But I’m nor pessimistic, nor bitter. I believe in this medium and I want to inspire people to develop it. Maybe one day they will be managing the broadcast company and maybe we will have more adventurous radio, but in the mean time let’s stay underground and look for new podia. This medium developed in the radio station (where else) but it does not need to stay there.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    anyone with passion need not apply

    Well, Martine, it is a sad story and a common one, and certainly rings true for the USA as well. I like how you express the passage from a production centre to a broadcast company.

    In the USA, public broadcasting has experienced the identical transition, from serving the idea of a "public", in all its complexity, diversity and unpredictability, to serving "users" or "customers", and of course this change of vocabulary is indicative of a radical shift in both philosophy and ethos.

    The dramatic expansion of corporate sponsorship obviously plays a huge role here, as the line between sponsorship and ownership becomes ever more blurred, and before you know it, there IS no more public space: just an assortment of market niches and target demographics.

    The marketeers and managers (who would actually rather be working at Google or Goldman, but do not have adequate talent) complain about the high price of quality — while zealously protecting their own obscenely bloated salaries. Meanwhile, those producers who comply with the new identity and conceive themselves as "entrepreneurial businesses" are rewarded with "investmente" so that they can deliver their "product", all in accordance with the volumes of surveys and focus group data from which managers can pretend to know exactly who their listeners are, and exactly what they want, and when, and in what quantity.

    Those stubbornly individual producers who believe that celebrating the creative power and communicative possibilities of the medium represents the highest form of public service: well, sorry, you are out, dead and buried.

    Passion is dangerous, because those who are genuinely excited about the medium are slow to submit to the new neo-con rules of the game. Yes, I mean neo-con, for the same mindset brought us rendition and "enhanced" interrogation.

    I have challenged station managers and boards to commit a mere one percent of their total budget to create an artist in resident position, whose mandate would be to create moments of joy, humor poetry and "creative disruption" dropped in throughout the day and night, as well as to consult with individual programs on improving their overall sound quality and vibe — one percent!!! So far, no takers.

    I would love someone out there to weigh in and tell me how the above analysis is wrong. I fully understand (and fully support!) the many individual exceptions, as well as the handful of stations that courageously adhere to the more noble aspirations of public service — but the trend seems overwhelmingly clear, both here and abroad.

    New podia? Yes, Martine, absolutely — but I am not willing to give up the airwaves without a fight, and I know you will be there too, with the immortal Edwin and others, ready to take on the challenge when this current delusional neo-con fad
    eats itself, which appears to the encoded fate for such "models".


    Ah, but Whitehead, you are painfully out of touch — the numbers of listeners have actually never been higher, our model is working very well indeed, and it is you who are being delusional, clinging to your silly ideas about philosophy, creativity and poetry. Stop your day dreaming, and get with the program.


    Yes, the quantity of listeners may be there, but the quality of their listening, and hence the depth of the relationship, has never been thinner nor more shallow. The numbers look great for the top fast foods chains, as well: does this mean that the public is well served?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    this just in from uniondocs (speaking of fresh podia)


    Fresh and real every Sunday at 7 pm. Post-event discussions w/ directors & producers. Reservations suggested. Email

    Turning the Seams Inside Out:Fun with Conspicuous Editing ;Love & Radio’s Nick van der Kolk on experimental narrative radio May 17th | 7 pm

    Radio is both blessed and cursed with the ability to hide the editing process. Two phrases are joined together to seamlessly create new sentences; breaths rearranged to preserve a natural speaking rhythm. But in film, every editing decision is an integral and conspicuous part of the viewing experience. The editor becomes a character, an invisible yet apparent guiding hand.

    In radio or audio work, the question becomes: “How can I apply that sense of the editor as character to an audio-only environment?” Using  music, ambient audio, quick cuts, guttural sounds, and even flat out noise, blips, pops, van der Kolk lets the listener in on the process of editing.

    Nick will be speaking about his own inspirations for his podcast Love and Radio: filmmakers like Errol Morris, who mastered the art of creating that invisible guiding hand as a persona in his series First Person by using very deliberate edits and cutting together bits and pieces of conversation in groundbreaking ways.

    Also, Nick will play radio pieces from WFMU’s The Dusty Show–which has such a unique, intricate, quick-cut style, you can’t help but feel you’re there with the host in the editing booth.

    In this evening of audio, Nick will deconstruct the editing process in both film and radio, and give producers a toolkit of techniques they can use to foster their own sense of editor’s voice, expanding the possibilities for creative expression in narrative storytelling.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    and meanwhile on the air, across the waves ….

    The tireless and talented Coraline Janvier has organized 24hr of creative radio ——

    The Organization JEL organize the Radiophonic Creation Day
    23rd May 2009

    While Digital Radio (DAB) is spreading all over Europe, it’s time to remember that, since its birth, the radio  has always been a medium for creativity and not just a powerful means of communication, capable of the best as much as the worst.

    This idea is still true for many radio and Web radio stations around the world which celebrate radiophononic creation everyday, through the production of inventive and surprising sound pieces. On May 23rd 2009, from midnight to midnight, will thus be set up the first international Radiophonic Creation Day, a 24h programming devoted to radio creation. More than 40 radios and artists, coming from 12 different countries, produced sound pieces that will be broadcast in streaming on the festival website and on FM via 9 radios in Europe.

    This festival is not only a way of showcasing the lively contemporary radiophonic creation scene, but also to introduce this art to a wider audience. The Radiophonic Creation Day attempts to include every aspect of radiophonic creation by proposing radio plays, creative documentaries, field recording,  experimental  and concrete music, sound poetry, Hörspiels and unidentified sound objects.

    We hope this event will inspire the production of creative programming in European radio stations and accelerate the setting up of a found to help radiophonic creation. Nowadays, this neglected art still suffers from a lack of financial help that continually threatens its position among the radio production line.


    There is more information and streaming links via:

  • susan stone says:

    Catching up at last to the party while waiting here in LAX for a plane to catch up to me.

    Salut, Gregory. These postings are music to my old radio schizophonic ears. Parole in libertà indeed.

    Sifting through the pile before hopscotching across the country. And reading backwards: how about that broadcast artist-in-residence idea? Take it to the listeners & just maybe they can earmark-the-art & check the box on their next pledge of support form. And kudos to the excellent biblio links & titles on the sound arts as suggested by you, Susan P, James, Allen. Ditto the toolkit ideas on returning to granularity & mechanical play (systems to chaos!).

    Susan Stone

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Radio Schizophonia

    Thanks for the steinchime, Susan!

    Yes, lo those many moons ago: radio schizophonia on WBAI.
    Wild free mixes, in cabaret style, living and dead, lucid and looney.

    My fave: the one where we invited listeners to call in and share their weird "other voices" — and oh my, the phone lines were humming.
    Then the attempt to do an american english version of Artaud’s Judgment: mon Dieu, that one almost killed me, and you were so kind to bring that bottle of bourbon.

    Of course your own work featured stunning gorgeous layer upon layer of voices, in every dialect and inflection. Susan, is all that beautiful work archived anywhere in one place?


  • Susan Price says:
    susan stone archive

    I found this excellent program featuring Susan Stone at the Exploratorium in 1991. Includes her work as well as discussion around it:

  • susan stone says:
    poesia sonora oggi


    Ha! Broadcast memories of midnight in the garden of good old ‘BAI. "Live from the Broca Memorial Institute for Schizophonic Behavior" (circa 1979?) …what was it, our 2-hour radio debut with head surgeon Dr. Johan Weisskopf, with his most revealing clients of varying disordered speech abilities:

    David Moss, Patricia Vicinelli, Gerhard Ruhm, Tristan Tzara, Alexander Haig, yes the very one. And the calls came in, imagine. And no one called the cops.

    Or changed the locks on us.

    In our broadcast defense in early audio daze there was a clinging to the idea that (apologies to F.T. Marinetti) "….La Radio , the name Futurists have given to the great manifestations of the radio, shall be freedom from all point of contact with literary and artistic tradition….a new art that begins where theater cinema and narrative end!"

    Okay that was the hopeful manifesto in 1933, and just around the corner, who knew, came those novel uses of radio to subdue or motivate nations on the brink of war, to be followed by Artaud’s poetic analysis of the condition of the postwar body…and onward the facts and fictions in a medium’s evolution of suspended disbeliefs.

    Huzzah and a Gadji Beri Bimba to the precious blank canvas of radio.

    P.S. to Susan Price, you dear spelunker to dig up that audio link!

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    suspended disbelief

    Susan P: thanks for posting that link — the program should be required listening for all aspiring radiomakers.

    Susan S: listening back to heat and viscera, I am thrilled all over again by the open form, the play of associations, the lack of the Patronizing Hand Holder, the celebration of texture and tone.

    I have zero interest in the slaying of sacred cows, but by contrast to your lush and personal voicescapes, the prevailing formula for so-called "creative" documentary on NPR (the "creative" shows) is so narrow, stilted and predictable. (And yes, I know, as per Miguel’s post weeks ago, that there are occasional — very occasional — exceptions.)

    The only sense of freedom is the freedom from mystery and play. Or, even worse, there is the occasional attempt to "do art" which ends up as mere arty, because it comes from no place necessary nor urgent nor real.

  • Susan Price says:
    does looking back on avant-garde make me retro-garde?

    I posted the link on my sound arts resource page for future reference:

    I read quite a bit of "Phantasmic Radio" this past week and have now jumped into "Wireless Imagination." It’s an eye-opener for me to have the history of sound art revealed with its links to Modernism. This, along with my archival listening tours, has really helped me better understand the "art" part of sound and radiophonic arts. I love a good epiphany. Thanks all!

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Dust & Static

    This just in, from cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbush, via Harry Willis Fleming, who is presenting a BBC essay on the industrialization of space and its after vapours:


    The locomotive is the only direct middle class experience of what Marx called the ‘large industry’ which up until then was stowed away in factories. In the post industrial age it’s no longer of that dimension, like Sheffield — gigantic machinery parks that only the workers experienced first hand. The middle class is so thoroughly shielded from that submission or harnessing of the powers of nature. Only in these few occasions [on trains or planes] does the middle class mind get the experience of being melted, smelted into the machine, sitting literally in the machine, vibrating so that you feel you are in the heart of a pulsating machine …

    The railway was the first shock, spearhead experience which, like oil on water, spread and spreaded until today we have no spatial experience. What I find is the loss – the cell phone thing. Pedestrians in the street do not relate to the space or the sidewalk they are in, they live in a non-space, in a non-time, too. Pre cellphone time, you would communicate. If you looked at a beautiful woman you’d be thrilled to get eye contact. Non of that any longer.

    We live in the dust of it, in terms of the explosion of the thing. The explosion of the locomotive in an Arcadian, idyllic world — and what we are left with is dust, either settled or a hazy dusty landscape. We’re now like the static of cell phone culture. We are living in a non space, one dimensionality. We are not aware of space. If you are hiking in the Alps you need extended meditation to see that landscape which was seen in the 18th Century. You can’t manage it because you have to eat your way through all the layers of non-space that have occurred since the coming of the railway and ending with the present-day static of our cell phone culture.

    "We live in the dust of it, in terms of the explosion of the thing."
    This is a profound statement, and rings true to my ears: but what sort of art might bridge the dust and static and reconnect to each other, and to some sense of shared public space? without a notion of shared space, and connections among citizens within a commons, how is any sort of democracy possible?

    such bridges are another task for our future psychic engineers.

  • Cambra Moniz-Edwards says:
    space, imagination, bodies

    I’m bookmarking the Bachelard as I type! Have you ever read Adorno’s "The Princeton Radio Project"? As a non-musician, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by his incredibly detailed musical taxonomies, but there’s a fantastic bit connecting radio as a medium to the human face! (via the pseudoscience of physiognomics).

    The very tactile nature of this lovely medium and its seemingly unavoidable connection to our own physicality continue to amaze me.

  • Cambra Moniz-Edwards says:
    ISO Psychic Engineering Residence

    As a recently classified Mistress of Media Arts, I would absolutely love to knock on NYC’s community radio doors, to connect friends and lovers (currently hosting sites named things like "No Commercial Value") with the ears of the uninitiated.

    Let’s do it!

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    tactile radiophony

    Cambra, yes, and the few short works of your that I have heard exemplify the tactile/sensual/corporeal "feel" — your ability in your voice/sound castaways to capture an analog sense of immediacy and raw physicality, even though working digitally, struck my ear immediately.

    In workshops, I always encourage the search for little tricks and techniques to bring physicality into a process that has been made sedentary, and overly focused on a single very tight point of production, namely the monitor screen.

    When I think back at the days of the razor blade, I am not nostalgic or sentimental: but there was something of a pure physical pleasure in analog editing (grease + block + slice + tape the listen back) that I believe was conveyed in the aesthetic of the final b’cast — the bodyness of the b’cast was enhanced (wherever it came from, it’s here/ness, there/ness or pure otherness) because the body was so invested, and engaged.

    In the same way photographers should learn analog exposure, I believe it is good practice (though rare) to do at least one razor work, as part of sound production training.


    Mistress of Media Arts! Congrats on that, and possibly you would share a bit from your thesis ? (though I would certainly understand if yo want a long break from that thing)

    I like to hear the random sorts of sound that communicate persona — the "sound through" — and not just the self conscious umm-ing and uh-ing that seems to have crept in among the hand holders in recent years.

  • Susan Price says:

    GW: ‘This just in, from cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbush, via Harry Willis Fleming… a BBC essay on the industrialization of space and its after vapours:"What I find is the loss – the cell phone thing. Pedestrians in the street do not relate to the space or the sidewalk they are in, they live in a non-space, in a non-time, too. Pre cellphone time, you would communicate. If you looked at a beautiful woman you’d be thrilled to get eye contact. Non of that any longer. We live in the dust of it," ‘

    But wait… If we walk down the street and are more compelled by the intimacy and immediacy of the voice in our ears instead of the view in front of our eyes… doesn’t that reflect back on the power of aural experience — disembodiment and all that?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    twitter space


    I believe Wolfgang is more concerned with the nature of the space than the means of communication. When he says we live "in the dust of it", the "it" is public space, or any sort of sphere of shared experience.

    In place of public space, we have this series of atomized messages that may happen in public, but experienced privately. Twitter represents the extreme form of this — well, the extreme for now, though I suspect more will be coming along the same trend.

    From the perspective of twitterspace, radio is still far too random and open, and thus hopelessly inefficient. But ah — then comes twitterradio, ie, an infinite number of digital streams from which each listener can devise their very own customized 24/7 program. (And that listener will also have their own private newspaper, their own private blog, their own private tivo schedule, etc.)

    Radio happens in sound, but sound is not what matters: what matters are the relationships, on all sides of the radiation. There is chaos, and uncertainty, and mystery and randomness — and this is what creates the possibilities for truly sublime, chance moments of communication, where all sorts of gaps and blanks and differences may be jumped. Eliminate the intricate nature of this shared space, and the spirit of radio is turned into static.

    Now obviously I am well aware that radio’s potential for creating communities can be betrayed — but so long as the space is in fact public, there is at least a chance of the potential being fulfilled. I do not believe there is any potential for community in twitterspace (which includes facebook etc.), because the space itself is an illusion, or as Schivelbusch says: the dust of it.

    Charles, if you are still there, we are squarely in Pynchonille, biting into such dust.

  • "In the Zone": Pynchon, Headphones + Sonic Dust

    Tune in Toyko. Still here, or there connected to there.

    Definitely Pynchon[v]ille (sic. "as in ill" ~lil wayne.): Dust "In the Zone" or more aptly:

    if you can hear the sound of the V-2 coming, then you’ve already survived.
    If you don’t hear it coming, you’re probably already dead.

    3 things here:

    1. I’ve done a little thinking on this concept of private vs. public aural space as delineated by headphones (pushing–with the bass line laid down by J. Sterne (mad props)–the Marxist social space of the stethoscope into the psychotopology of the headphone bubble). If this type of discourse interests you (and you don’t gag on Merleau-Ponty/Lacan/Barthes/Deleuze or you just like gagging) then consider this Leonardo Music Journal article:

    From Stethoscopes to Headphones: An Acoustic Spatialization of Subjectivity

    (if you want to read this article ping me and i’ll get it to you)

    Just online this week and materialising this conversation, I curated a sound show on the acoustic architecture of headphones for London’s Architectural Association Independent Radio Station. It includes 15 artist who play with or depend on these concerns. More info here:

    Headphones: Sound Without Space

    It’s the first in a series of 3 shows on sound and space. the third show is on

    "Transmission: sound between spaces"

    and will probably be of most interest to the crowd here. it will be out in a couple months most likely. I’m still collecting work for this show while I finalise the second show, so if any of you think you have something essential in this field please drop me a line.

    2. I think there is a lot to lament about the proliferation of headphones and the isolation they cause in the social sphere of public space. But do we really loose immediacy? what is immediacy in the public sphere? I think Susan brings up a good point when it comes to reclaiming the aural connection over the visual one. Sure with headphones we loose the immediacy of the soundscape (but this is a battle i’m afraid we’ve lost in the urban situation if you’re a disciple of Schafer, and i think headphones are a suitable weapon in defense). This aural connection between people either online (cellphone) or offline (sound recording) can create a strange hybrid of public/private that develops a new immediacy perhaps of more quality than the thrill of a pickup. I’m thinking here along the same lines of the introduction of the book several hundred years ago: a private act suddenly possible in bed alone, but a discourse more public than shouting in Hyde Park–hmmm, i wonder which is the real precursor to radio?

    3. "Radio happens in sound, but sound is not what matters: what matters are the relationships,! on all sides of the radiation. There is chaos, and uncertainty, and mystery and randomness — and this is what creates the possibilities for truly sublime, chance moments of communication, where all sorts of gaps and blanks and differences may be jumped. Eliminate the intricate nature of this shared space, and the spirit of radio is turned into static. " (GW)

    However, phenomenologically speaking i think sound is actually an important material aspect of "radio." But I would definitely agree with the latter part of this paragraph. I like the fact that i have no idea who listens to my late night radio show in Dawson City (barring the random caller). This is in direct contrast to internet audio streaming of The DEW Project where i could track the IP of every listener tallying a count and geographical spread. Something about a message in a bottle that attracts me to FM and is perhaps completely contrary to community–or at least doesn’t expect it–which is maybe more just in contrast to the promise of the Facebook/Twitter hype. I’m curious how Facebook "space itself is an illusion" and different than radio space? Or is it just the different promises surrounding these different spaces? GW are you referring to the membership aspect here vs. the democratic radiation of radio? Or something else entirely?…
    Does Schivelbush’s claim "We are living in a non space, one dimensionality" refer to computer code? or to the lines of Twitter and Facebook updates? I think Scanner’s work here is somewhat applicable as much as Virilio’s dromology.


  • Susan Price says:
    dust to dust devil

    We are covering so many dimensions & continua here: literal to surreal; live to recorded; broadcast to narrowcast; masses to dust; public space to private space; inside-my-head space to out-there space; and more. Let me throw in this scenario for consideration:

    Live spacewalk from NASA TV: I was listening to it like radio as I chopped vegetables – it was mesmerizing and miraculous even tho it was just a guy getting instructions from his supervisor about tightening bolts.

    At the same time you can search Twitter on "spacewalk" or "Hubble" and catch the live stream of comments from earthlings who are watching (it would be interesting to get this in audio as well)

    While Twitter can be a narrow conversation among your fellow idiots (like Facebook), it also has broadcast qualities (message in a bottle, chance encounters) depending on how you tune your dial. I just noticed that astronaut Mike Massimino is twittering from the space shuttle with 300,000 followers.

    From the expressive text angle, check out twistori:
    I think I can use my new word "aleatory" to describe this… yes?

    I don’t have the conceptual depth to put this concatenation of phenomena into the dimensions of the conversation here, but dust does occasionally ride the whirlwind.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    Numb from numbers

    " but dust does occasionally ride the whirlwind. "

    Susan, that is a sound riposte to Schivelbuschian melancholy.
    I don’t doubt the poetic possibilities for tweets and blips ( and even status updates — but the Ongian question would try to smoke out the implications of these forms of chatter of subjective consciousness, to which I would add questions about their impact on the experience of community (since they all make vigorous self-claims for community).

    Charles asks: "Does Schivelbush’s claim "We are living in a non space, one dimensionality" refer to computer code? or to the lines of Twitter and Facebook updates?"

    I believe the answer is *code*, but tweets and updates are also code, since scattermedia are nothing but behavioral models hungry for ever larger supplies of numbers. Scatter media need to "get our numbers", to turn us into numbers, such that we can fully inhabit their models, and thus become commodified.

    This is most naked in myspace and facebook, but the same code drives all the others, as well — it sure ain’t eros cooking down there!

    Charles I like you thinking on the hybrid experience of a simultaneous private/public "feed" — and yes, it is perhaps identical to the transitional phase from manuscript to industrialized literacy. But then if we fly with Pynchon for a view from the meta/eteher:

    I am struck these days by the nasty riptide formed by one current that is sweeping away all privacy (that is, the transference of identity into number) and then an equally as strong current sweeping away any sort of public sphere. Where is all going? Schivelbush says: static dust, non space, which does indeed get into Virilio dromology and disappearance.

    Your pleasure in the message in a bottle (even speaking literally: I have cast forth many over the years,and found a few) is also something I share, though I try to keep myself from getting weepy and sentimental about its gradual suction into the maelstrom. Suely those bottles will pop up somewhere else, in some other latitude or longitude, but where?

    I need to think about this more: these questions are damn complicated, yet essential.

    Schivelbusch is a sort of radical humanist : he knows that at heart, humans are "mad animals" (as per peter weiss in marat/sade) and that we need to be civilized. Following Norbert Elias, he believes that civilization is created not from above (laws, politics) but in countless small exchanges among real people: gestures, nods, small acts of kindness, polite ritual salutations, or even jostles and outbursts and riots.

    When these moments occur in a shared physical space, they "resonate" with our intrinsic carnality, and slowly, through time, we create a functioning civil society.

    Now what happens when all these nods and winks happen in the immaterial mathematical space of digitopia? Well, suddenly, there is the tacit assumption that we have become something other than mad animals — a la "the singularity is near".

    Well, unfortunately, I think Kurzweil needs to get out his suite at the Four Seasons and reconnect to his mammalisn self, for the sinularity is anywhere but near!

    I love the strange and slightly insane (slightly?) writings of Philip K. Dick, in part because he has not utopian delusions about artificial intelligence: his androids always leak, and indeed their deepest longing is for raw flesh. His question : what does it mean to be human? bangs around between my ears every ding dong day.

    OK, more later, I have prattled on too long.

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    sound walks

    this just in from sound walker and microcaster michelle nagai

    Dear Friends,

    On Sunday June 7th, I will join over 20 New York-based sound artists and musicians in an experiment — the ISSUE Project Room Soundwalk-a-thon — a fundraiser and collective public inquiry into the connection between urban space and our sonic imaginations. Organized by my New York Society for Acoustic Ecology colleagues Andrea Williams and Todd Shalom, and the fine folks at ISSUE Project Room, this Soundwalk-a-thon is envisioned as a way to couple the traditional walk-a-thon structure of fundraising with a more creative way of walking.

    The basic details are as follows: you can sign up to be a walker on a soundwalk; you can sign up to sponsor someone who is walking; or you can give a straight donation without walking. Regardless of whether you can walk on June 7th, you can still help support ISSUE Project Room through this great event!

    I ask you to please sign up for my All Borough Bag Walk and pledge your support. The first five registrants will get a super special, limited-edition, signed map/score for the walk. Here is some more info…

    Participants are invited to trace a route to the Can Factory that is determined by the presence of discarded plastic shopping bags. They will be instructed to approach the walk’s end point in their own time by following the naturally occurring visual-aural litter landmarks created by plastic shopping bags that have come to rest in public spaces around the city. Rather than a map, participants will use eyes and ears to shape a trajectory from point A to point B. As they encounter bags along the way, participants are asked to stop and listen to the surrounding landscape, and to consider the role of each particular piece of bag trash in shaping the sound and sight of that moment. Participants will also document where the bag is located and in what condition/context it is found. Each participant will receive a package in advance of the walk containing full instructions, score and materials for documenting the process.
    Of course, there are a ton of other great walks happening on the same day. If my walk doesn’t appeal to you, you can sign on to another. The goal is to raise money to support ISSUE Project Room, an incredible organization founded in 2003 by Suzanne Fiol. ISSUE produces more than 200 experimental arts events in the NYC music/art community each year. Your support is critical at this time, as they work towards moving to 110 Livingston, a space in which they have the historic opportunity to create the first 20-year home for experimental arts in downtown Brooklyn. More on all that at the ISSUE website.

    Please visit the site and sign up either as a walker or as a “sponsor,” contributing a gift of $10, $20, $50 or more. There’s a full list of fantastic soundwalks from which to choose. Please let me know if you’ve got any questions.

    Thank you so much.

    All the best,


  • miguel says:
    the future

    First of all… I want to thank you Gregory for initiating and maintaining this fascinating conversation.
    I hear we are in the last days of it so I wanted to posse a very simple question…
    What is the future of radio going to look like (or sound like)? For those who say that radio on the waves will die, that everything will happen on the internet… what do we say to those?

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    street view

    miguel, I was amused to see this quote today from googleguru larry page:

    "Putting someone’s house on Street View is not the same as putting it in a newspaper," he said. "It’s radically different."

    I can imagine a time when the waves are abandoned by large commerce interests because the "numbers don’t work". That will mean b’cast radio would return to being a medium for passionate amateurs, or small not-for-profit community stations.

    I could also imagine that at the same time large corporate newspapers fold up, small mom & pop local newspapers would thrive and multiply, together with a resurgence of ‘zine culture.

    Unfortunately, I can also imagine a future where anything that cannot be centrally recorded through the internet will be declared illegal, in the name of national security.


    The above quote from L. Page comes from an article reporting Googlian anxiety over Twitter’s ability to update information "by the second". Where does this mania end? (My suspicion: it ends where all manias end — in deep depression.)

  • Gregory Whitehead says:
    My one percent solution….

    Samantha, our benevolent Webmeisterin, has suggested closing out this chapter in an ongoing discussion; all the above will now be transformed into a "review", and available for download. So just a few closing words, with an ear to the future:


    In the spirit of Bachelard’s bold plea for psychic engineers, and against the patronizing sighs and hostile cynicism of "the system", my message to a new generation of radiomakers (at whatever age, Susan P.!) is quite simple: there is no finer form of public service than to pursue to the utmost your own creative passions, and the subtle complexities of your own distinct and singular voice. Vibrant publics are sustained by intense "privates"; otherwise there is no basis for exchange, dialogue and communitas.

    For all its endless talk of diversity and innovation, public radio has become shamefully monotonous. Intellectual, aesthetic and artistic standards are painfully (embarrassingly) low, while egos and political ambition have become paramount. Here where I live, the regional public broadcaster (Northeast Public Radio) has permitted itself to be nailed up into a soapbox for a self-righteous monomaniac, whose own ubiquitous whingy voice is surrounded by a shockingly dull array of fast food modules and formats, each one a weaker echo of the last. How did this perverse fate come to pass? Why do we let it continue?

    The condition of our public spaces tells us very much about who we are as a society, and as a culture. At present in mid-2009, I believe all of our public spaces are in crisis, and indeed the very notions of "public good" and "public service" are under tremendous stress, and threatened with foreclosure. Without healthy public spaces, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to conjure credible ideas for the future. Without healthy public spaces, collective imagination shrivels and dies, and before you know it, we don’t know who we are, or where we came from, or where we’re going. In short: we’re lost.

    At the risk of sounding like a man stuck in the desert trying to get his dead horse to suck water from a saguaro, I believe a first giant step towards bringing the public airwaves back into vibrancy would require an investment of a mere one percent of station revenues. One percent!

    With that one percent, each participating station could hire an artist (or artists) in residence, charged with the task of creating moments of surprise, paradox, joy, provocation, trouble, resistance, celebration and wonder, not shunted away in the "art ghetto" on a sunday night, but featured throughout the schedule. I know that listeners are hungry (starved) for such moments, and would respond with strong support. I also know that there is abundant unused talent out there — literally hundreds of young (at any age) voices with training, ideas, passion, chops — and no place to take them. What a massive waste of potential and possibility!

    Everyone would win through this very modest investment: listeners, stations, creative radiomakers and even corporate sponsors, who are desperate to seem hip, and "socially responsible" and "innovative", and sometimes they even mean it. Why not offer them a chance to help celebrate the communicative possibilities of a medium still in relative artistic infancy?

    In the years to come, we will need to re-imagine and reinvent the American dream: how we produce and consume food; how we transport ourselves through space; how we create and use energy; how we live. Somewhere in the mix will be public radio broadcasting, crying out for its own renaissance and rejuvenation.

    It’s an exciting prospect, if we are brave enough to drill through the darkly encrusted cynicism and face the future with open ears and open hearts, in the spirit of "love’s voluptuous trust".

    Thanks to all for such an invigorating and pleasurable discussion, which leaves me in a different place than when we started, no question. Of course, you know where to reach me, for any further thoughts, enquiries, provocations, rants, lamentations and enthusiasms. As some of you know, I will always read/listen to materials sent my way, and I am happy to give honest and prompt feedback, if requested.

    Thanks also to my old pal Jay for extending the invitation, and to the talented Transom crew, for making it happen.

    — Yours into the fog, GW

  • Jay Allison says:

    What a fine ending statement, GW. Really fine. We will forward that on and hope it resonates.

    This discussion has been animated, intricate, and challenging, and we’ve been proud to host it. Let’s continue to conspire…

    thank you all for your lively thoughts.