Local Report is the latest in a series of communication media works that Robert Whitman has produced since 1972.
The basic structure of these works was for 30 people assigned to different parts of the city or calling area to call at five minute intervals and describe something they saw at the moment; these reports were then broadcast live. Whitman put the incoming calls directly on the air as they came in, his only intervention being to end the call when, as he puts it, “The caller has produced a coherent image.” Ninety calls over a thirty minute period produced the final work. The news reports capture the nature of a specific place and time, revealing it to audience and participants alike.
The first performance of this work was titled NEWS and took the form of a live broadcast program in New York City in which participants called in from pay phones; their reports were broadcast live over radio station WBAI. NEWS was performed in Houston, Texas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and other cities over a two to three year period. Whitman remembers that when he first performed the piece, “Pay phones cost a dime.”
In subsequent performances of this work, Whitman used the latest technology available. In 2002 he worked with cell phones in Leeds, England; the cell phone calls were broadcast in real time on large speakers in a public square in the town. A recording of the resulting sound composition was made available by the sponsor, Lumens, on the internet at UBUweb.
Now in 2005, Whitman continues to explore the newest communication technology: The participants will use camera cell phones to transmit voice and video reports to the central performance site, where information will be played and projected. The reports will be simultaneously streamed live over this website.
While the technology has changed, what has remained constant in these works is that Whitman gets to know the area of the performance and works with local people in each location who know and love their town or area . Whitman uses their reports and descriptions to record and reveal the special nature of each place. Whitman creates with sound--and now with sound and images--a cultural map of a unique locality. Transformed by art, the local becomes universal.
Local Report is being performed in the summer of 2005 in available spaces at five shopping centers in the Northeastern United States. The legacy and promise of the project is to demonstrate not only the possibility of using such public spaces as venues for cultural events and programs, but also that the project can be replicated, that projects can be organized in which individuals -- from school children on up -- can get involved in seeing, describing and ultimately enjoying their own environments in new and more pleasurable ways.
© 2005 Robert Whitman. All Rights Reserved.