Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Thu, May 16 2024 6:00 PM

Join us for the opening reception for Peter Whitehead’s “Difficult Listening for Beginners” the latest Window Gallery Exhibit! Peter will give a demonstration of his invented instruments. Reception with light refreshments at 6pm followed by artist talk/demo at 7pm. RSVP for this FREE event!!

Artist Statement:

Two of my earliest memories are of listening to Hank Williams on the radio and playing with the odd electronic sounds produced by poor radio reception when moving the dial up and down. Since then my musical tastes have always been moving somewhere between these two extremes.

Having experimented with the sonic possibilities of found objects, kitchenware and electric guitars for several years I made my first musical instruments while traveling in Northern Thailand in 1989, using available local materials such as bamboo, bicycle spokes, tin cans and rice.

Instrument building became an excellent way for me to combine my interests in sculpture and music and early on I set about creating my own mini orchestra of original instruments and unique sounds. Soon I was invited to compose scores for live dance and films, which lead to live performance and songwriting. Along the way I met many of the Northern California instrument builders community often playing together with them in various combinations.

I have derived many of my instruments from existing folk instruments from around the world, making my own versions using unconventional materials. In most cases I have then had to teach myself how to play whatever I had made.

As time progressed I began incorporating a wider variety of sound sources into the compositions. I have used invented instruments together with electronic keyboards, sampling, looping, toys, vocals and many conventional instruments in various combinations to create both songs and instrumental music.

I grew up on Pop and Rock music in the days when there was a lot of experimentation even in mainstream music, so the influence of this music is never too far away.


Peter Whitehead is a composer, performer, songwriter, instrument builder, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist. He works with both acoustic and electronics sounds. The instruments he builds are often based on folk instruments from around the world, and feature unusual or found materials in place of traditional ones, (e.g. a banjo made from a metal pan). His instruments have appeared in exhibitions at The Oakland Museum (’97), The L.A. Municipal Museum of Art (’97) the Vancouver Museum (’98), The Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, San Francisco (’99) , ODC Theater Gallery S.F.(’00), Gallery 60Six San Francisco (’12), Center for New Music SF (13), Bridge Arts Center, Richmond CA (’19), Ojai Arts Center CA(22), Arc Gallery SF (23), Studio Valencia SF (23)

He creates scores for film and dance and performs solo work using a variety of homemade sound sources, plus an array of more conventional instruments alongside electronic keyboards, toys and sampling.

He is also a member of Closer To Carbon, a trio featuring bass, cello, spike fiddles, sampler, percussion, toys and an array of conventional, invented & found instruments. He was a founder-member of San Francisco’s critically acclaimed Mobius Operandi performance group, known for its spectacular, large-scale, multi-media events. In this ensemble he functioned as musician, actor and musical director. (Exit Vacaville ’95/96, Xibalba, ’97). He is also an original member of the Conspiracy of Beards, a 30-member, all-male, acapella choir which performs exclusively the songs of Leonard Cohen.

For Dance he has composed several full length scores, including Giselle (Underbelly Dance Theater ’94), Come Live With Me and You’ll Know Me (Rachel Kaplan ’97), The Tree of Life ( Michelle Stortz ’97), dear (Maxine Moerman ’96), Red Tuba (Charles Moulton ’98). Anna Halprin Turns 80 (’00), Monk at the Met /Feast of Souls (Sarah Shelton Mann ‘00 – ’03 , with Norman Rutherford), Just Dancing ( Jess Curtis & Gravity ‘06), Frame Dances (Susan Marshall & Company ‘08), Adamantine (Susan Marshall & Company ’09), Quiet to Departure ( Leigh Evans ’10), Botany’s Breath ( Epiphany Dance ’13), Angles of Enchantment ( Garret/Moulton ’14), Shall we go ( 10HL ’18), XO ( Randee Paufve 18)

In 2010 he composed music for a solo by Mikhail Baryshnikov, “For You”, choreographed by Susan Marshall and performed at the Baryshnikov Arts Center NY.

His film scores include Testing the Waters (Elena Konstantinou’10), Bag It (Michelle Hill ’10), Dancing Across Borders (Anne Bass’10), The Key of G (Robert Arnold ‘06), Following Sean (Ralph Arlick ’04), American Dream 2.0 ( Jennifer Thompson ’03), City of Ghosts (Matt Dillon ’02), China Diary & 24 Girls (Eva Brzeski ‘02 & ’97), Shift (Maxine Moerman ’97), the theme music for the San Francisco International Film Festival (’97), Fortune Tell (Robert Strauss ’95).

His recorded music appears on six solo CDs: Three Bags Full (Strange Attractor Records ‘98) Now This, Giselle, Under the Gun, Adamantine, The Brightness of the day is bigger than the bed – (‘01, ‘03, ‘06, ’10, ’12 – Out of Round Records), Angles of Enchantment (’12) with the group Closer To Carbon ( Out Of Round ‘01 & ‘07), with Mobius Operandi on the CD What Were We Thinking (Mobius Music ’98) and in the Ellipsis Arts CD/book of experimental musical instrument builders Orbitones Spoonharps & Bellowphones (’98) and in numerous guest appearances, especially for fellow Out of Round Artists with whom he co-founded the label in 2001.

Since 2017 he has appeared as a guest lead vocalist on four albums with San Francisco Art Rock band The Residents.

He has traveled extensively in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia & Morocco collecting music and instruments along the way.

Originally from England he has lived in the US since 1975, mostly in San Francisco and New York.

Cost: Free!