robert gregory tribute

The Hidden Essence In Quiet Things Speaks So Loudly

A man of few words about himself, Bob Gregory was also an elusive person. I called him the Copperfield of friends, but only to myself. Like cicadas, he made himself disappear for years at a time. I am not quite sure why. Last time around, through a long string of friends, I found him in Kentucky, where he had been living with his wife, Karah. She taught at the university. And, surprise! He had been writing songs and playing the mandolin. These are the songs of a friendly English Ph.D. sound poet, I said to myself and became refreshed. Here’s one of them—to help set the mood:

Green River Cowgirl by Bob Gregory

Bob lived in Miami Beach in the late 80s-early 90s, and he and I hung out quite a lot. Back then, we collaborated creatively and in myriad other ways. Two things about him that instantly made a deep and honest impression on me when I first heard him recite poetry one evening at The Cameo: his unusual tone of voice, and the naturally uncanny nature of his writing. With both, he swept me off my feet, musically speaking. It was easy to become friends.

Here’s a little something i did with (and without) him intended. I made it for the Fishtank Radio Journal, a series of short radio programs about sound artists and their ideas which I produced it in the mid-90s. This segment features Bob’s voice taken from an interview we recorded originally ca. 1991, as raw material for our piece, Portrait: Bob Gregory | Bebop In The Forest Of Lonely Rhythm, which came out in 1992, on the Nonsequitur Cd series, The Aerial: a journal in sound #5:

Robert Gregory Fishtank Intro by Gustavo Matamoros, Fishtank Radio series (ca.1996)

I loved Bob… as did many other people I didn’t know. Actually, I think everyone he met fell under his spell. There were a few people in Miami like him then. And by people I mean artists … the experimentalists … artists like Charles Recher, Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts, Shahreyar Ataie, Russell Frehling, Jeffry Knap, … all magicians of one kind or another … all explorers … all gone from Miami, some geographically and others eternally

We worked on several pieces besides Portrait, including one commissioned by New American Radio. He also helped me curate artists like Jackie Apple, and Alison Knowles into the WORD(S)OUND festival. That one happened in 1993.

Bob, like me, trusted that “thing” we all find but don’t have a good name for. And yet, we recognize it as the main ingredient that compels us to engage in discovery, in doing something that isn’t yet acceptable, something new. About this, Bob said in our Portrait interview: 

“With the domination of the culture over what’s likable and what’s desirable. If you make a piece, what you are doing in a certain way is saying, I’m going to take something that is not acceptable, and make it enjoyable or acceptable. It’s as if there is a little secret delight hidden in the world that you found and nobody knows about it. So you take it and hold it up and say, yeah… but look! So when you are selecting material, you are selecting it in a very independent way. You say, I don’t care if this is a note or a noise. I feel an attraction to it which I can’t explain. Therefore, I’m going to use it. And so you work that way, by attraction, rather than by what key you might be in. and it is the same thing with the text [of the poetry]. And in some way what you are doing is asserting a certain right: the right to feel what you feel and be attracted to whatever you are attracted to… like whatever you like, whether anybody else does or not. Right? So if you make sure to work with people like that, they just egg you on to do even more of that.”

In conversation with Bob Gregory, Subtropics Archives

So let’s call it “it”, and I have always aimed for Subtropics to include as much of it as possible.

Special thanks to Michael Hettich, Lynne Barrett, and Karah Stokes
with much appreciation,

Subtropics 25 will pay tribute to our favorite sound poet Bob Gregory, with the playback of unpublished audio content from our Subtropics Archive and in the presentation of acousmatic collaborations with composers such as Brenda Hutchinson (Sentences), Jon C Nelson (And Sometimes Wind From The South) and myself (Portrait: Bob Gregory | Bebop In The Forest of Lonely Rhythm).

—Gustavo Matamoros, artistic director, Subtropics