Gregory Whitehead | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Gregory Whitehead


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Sound artist Gregory Whitehead is as much elaborate prankster as impassioned explorer. Often working out of the German Horspiel radio-play tradition, Whitehead explores a wide range of topics and approaches. The short pieces on The Pleasure of Ruins and Other Castaways (Staalplaat/Korm Plastics), for example, make up a remarkable journey through speech--the liner notes assert "All voicings and vocalisms originated from inside Gregory Whitehead's own larynx." "The Problem With Bodies" takes the sentence "The problem with bodies is the reason for antibodies, and the problem with antibodies is nobody at all" as a vocal exercise: a droning elocutionist (Whitehead) instructs a pupil (also Whitehead) to repeat the phrase without using the tongue, then without opening the mouth, and finally without using the larynx, providing a witty examination of the physicality of language. On longer pieces Whitehead becomes a savvy and hilarious media critic a la Negativland. "Pressures of the Unspeakable" (from a collection of radio works called Radius #2 issued on What Next? Records) finds Whitehead in Sydney posing as an expert in scream therapy. The piece patches together Whitehead's appearances on radio call-in shows and amazing performances recorded on an answering machine he dubbed the "screamline." With callers ranging from babbling children to frustrated housewives to a man playing tapes of his sessions with a dominatrix, the work unwittingly captures "normal" people letting go of much more than a scream. On top of everything else, Whitehead embraces the naturally occurring distortion, decay, and interruption of radio and sound signals rather than weeding them out. During the past week he's led a workshop for a handful of Chicago artists; the result will be broadcast Tuesday on WHPK, 88.5 FM at 10 PM. He performs Friday at 8 PM at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee; 666-7737.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Heidrun Lohr.

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