Götz Naleppa


A new wave of understanding and agreement with all sorts of secret service methods which pretend to protect us against terrorism makes Whitehead’s radio performance, On The Shore Dimly Seen, even more precious and important than at the time of its production. Because it is the voice of a radical believer in democracy and human rights: today a lonely voice in the chorus of fear. We hear Gregory Whitehead’s voice chanting the interrogation log of Guantanamo Bay detainee 063 (prisoners in Guantanamo do not have names, they are only numbers), interwoven with the voices of vocalist Gelsey Bell and actress Anne Undeland. Often interweaving documentary and fictive materials into playfully unresolved narratives, Whitehead’s aesthetic is distinguished by a deep philosophical commitment to radio as a medium for poetic navigation and free association. In his voice and text-sound works, he explores the tension between a continuous pulse and the eruption of sudden discontinuities, as well as linguistic entropy and decay. We smell the fear. Whitehead forces us to be ‘there’ as a listener, feeling more and more uncomfortable – he won't let us escape as distant and objective spectators. Unwillingly we become witnesses, become ‘guilty’. ‘Non-touch-torture’, ‘enhanced investigation' - doesn’t that sound human, legal and progressive? Those who use euphemisms have something to hide or to cover. In Whitehead’s work we are confronted with the fact that the government of the proudest democracy of the world hides its actions behind such cynical euphemisms. ‘On the shore dimly seen’ is the first line of the second verse of the US-American national anthem; I interpret the use of this line as title of the Radio Performance as the J’accuse of a brave and upright American artist, who feels shame and anger when the symbol of freedom and democracy is misused against human rights. On The Shore Dimly Seen, a ‘boneyard cantata’ enquiry into no-touch torture, was short-listed for a Prix Italia.