PETER WHITEHEAD is a composer, performer, instrument builder, songwriter, painter and fabric designer.

Born and educated in England, he moved to California in 1975, having just completed a degree in biology, and his attention soon shifted to music and visual art.

Since that time he has continued to explore many branches of the two disciplines often in parallel. His work in several fields has received critical acclaim. His soundtracks have appeared in Hollywood movies, on television and in theaters throughout the U.S. and Europe, his solo performances and collaborations have been praised by audiences and journalists alike, his instruments have been exhibited in museums in both the U.S. and Canada, and his fabric designs have sold to leading U.S designers.

He often works in two or more different media concurrently with the ideas and results of one medium feeding another. Painting and collage often happen side-by side in the studio, creating a back and forth flow of ideas and the same relationship is true between music and visual art. Most of his music has grown out of improvisation, which relies on spontaneity, free association and a trust in the moment. A large part of his understanding of these techniques goes back to the keeping of collage journals on a regular basis.

A love of music and of building with found materials came together in the making of musical instruments, the uniqueness or limits of these instruments in many ways shaping the quality of the compositions he has made with them. His work with fabric design grew out of painting and collage and an interest in patterns. Lately he divides his time between New York and San Francisco.


"I remember singing along with Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra on the radio at three years old and my fascination with songs and sounds has remained ever since."

Growing up in London in the 60s with British and American Rock, its not surprising that his first inclination was towards the guitar. Never quite satisfied with the conventional lineup and instrumentation of rock and pop, he gravitated to the more experimental side listening to people like Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, Syd Barret and Frank Zappa as well as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. But an interest in words always persisted and songwriters on the folkier side such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were also influential.

A fascination with unusual sounds and voices eventually lead him further afield to medieval and early music and later to the music and instruments of other cultures particularly those of South East Asia, and soon he began traveling through this region collecting music and instruments along the way.
During a stay in Northern Thailand in 1989 he constructed some small instruments from found local materials. Returning to the U.S. he began to create a small orchestra of one-of-a-kind instruments with unique sounds and soon began recording instrumental music and playing live using an array of invented, traditional and found sources of sound.
His soundtrack work expanded to include movies, live theater and dance but concurrently he was becoming known as a singer-songwriter, performer, live improviser and creator of sound installations.

In the early 1990s he co-founded the critically acclaimed Mobius Operandi performance group, known for its spectacular large-scale multi-media events featuring the instruments and sets of Oliver Di Cicco. In this ensemble he functioned as musician, actor and musical director. (Eating Eden '93, Scatterbrain '94, Exit Vacaville '95/96, Xibalba, '97).

In 2001 he co-founded Out of Round Records, an independent label featuring the music of a collection of San Francisco Bay Area musicians, instrument builders and visual artists.

He also plays with the instrumental trio Closer to Carbon, and in addition he sings baritone and occasional bass with the Conspiracy of Beards, a thirty-member all-male choir which performs exclusively the songs of Leonard Cohen.

His recorded music appears on four solo CDs entitled Three Bags Full( '98), "Now This "('01,) Giselle ('03), and "Under the Gun" ('06) , two releases with Closer to Carbon (I & II - '01 , '07), with Mobius Operandi on the CD What Were We Thinking ( '98) and in the Ellipsis Arts CD/book of experimental musical instrument builders Orbitones Spoonharps & Bellowphones ('98). He also has appeared as a guest on numerous recordings by other musicians especially those of fellow Out Of Round artists.

SOUNDTRACKSHe has composed several full length scores for dance, 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) and Monk at the Met /Feast of Souls (Sarah Shelton Mann '00 - '03, with Norman Rutherford).


Peter's performances fall into several categories, but can be divided roughly into either solo or collaborative.

Solo performances mostly feature songs often written for unusual or self-made instruments, but he has also performed in many venues as a solo or group improviser. During the 1990s his performances usually featured theatrical elements, readings, humor and interactions with the audience, but later he settled into a more conventional singer-songwriter presentation.

From '91 to '98 he worked with Mobius Operandi as musician, actor and musical director.

From '99 to '06 he worked with Sarah Shelton Mann and Contraband as a live musician and performer on stage (Survival Part 1 & 2, Monk at the Met, Feast of Souls, Sky, Bonobo.)

In 2000 he wrote and directed The Mission is Not Impossible, a full evening-length performance featuring his five-piece group The Lower Back People and a stage full of instruments and sound making devices. The show wove together humor, theater and politics with songs and readings about the Mission District of San Francisco, and was created with a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission at the time of the dot com crisis when many artists and low income residents were being displaced from the neighborhood. Due to critical acclaim it was remounted the following year in a more developed form. Most of the songs from this show eventually found their way onto the two CDs Now This and Under the Gun.His music and sound installations appeared in 'Tilt ' , a collaboration with Lauren Elder and Oliver Di Cicco at Zeum, San Francisco ('99).

He has also worked with directors Jess Curtis/Gravity, Angus Balbernie, and The Susan Marshal Dance Company.

The CD "Three Bags Full" features selections from soundtracks created specifically for both film and dance. This CD was included in "The ten best records you never heard in 1999" by Magnet Magazine. His work with the trio Closer to Carbon has been described as music for imaginary films. On the release of the second CD the group invited 18 film makers to create a short film each for one track on the two albums. These were shown at the launching and made available as DVDs. He also created the artwork for the covers of both these CDs. The trios first CD was voted "Best Outside Jazz CD of 2001" by CD Baby.


His songs have often been performed in unusual theatrical settings or with an element of performance art but stand alone as recordings. In recent years they have been presented in a more conventional singer-songwriter style.

He has released two CDs of songs: Now This ('01) and Under the Gun ('06)

They are characterized by the use of a large variety of invented and conventional instruments, rich arrangements and strong, well-crafted lyrics.


Founded in 2001 by a group of about fifteen San Francisco Bay Area musicians, instrument builders, performers and visual artists, the label was created in order to allow full artistic control of the recording and distribution of the participants music. Most of the label's music falls into what has been called "Urban Folk", although Closer to Carbon was described by one writer as "Outside Jazz" (See Link for artists and CDs available.)


To buy CDs Out of Round automatically sends you to CD Baby. CD Baby also links to a number of online music services which carry the CDs - Rhapsody, iTunes etc. Available on many of these)


Over the years Peter has played, sung and recorded with the following groups:

Mobius Operandi
Beasts of Paradise
The Lower Back People
Closer to Carbon
Unusual Instruments Trio
The Conspiracy of Beards

Other musical collaborations include 'Vinculum Symphony' ( with Beth Custer and a thirty piece classical/jazz/original instrument orchestra, '99), 'Below Zero' ('00) and Lotta's Opera ('06) both directed by Kim Epifano


Three Bags Full - A compilation of soundtracks for film and dance (Strange Attractor/Out of Round '97)

Now This - Songs ( Out of Round '01)

Giselle - Soundtrack for a modern dance adaption of the classical ballet of the same name. (Out of Round '03)

Under the Gun - Songs (Out of Round '06)

Closer to Carbon I - Instrumental studio trio. Music for imaginary films (Out of Round '01)

Closer to Carbon II (Out of Round '07)


A pivotal moment occurred during an extensive journey through South East Asia in 1989-90 when, feeling a growing disinterest in guitar playing, Peter left the small instrument he was carrying behind in a hotel. Later in the journey the desire to make music and an ongoing interest in the use of found materials and sculpture came together in the building of a few simple instruments from materials collected in a small town in North East Thailand. After returning to the U.S., this interest developed further into the creation of a small orchestra, mostly put together from found or non-traditional materials.

A growing interest in world folk music sparked the development of a number of instruments based on existing traditional instruments from around the globe. Many of these have been incorporated into live dance and theater performances, and a number of studio recordings for film, dance and theater have been created using an extensive collection of both self-made and conventional instruments together with many found or ready-made sound sources. In particular the score for "Giselle" features very few traditional instruments.

Peter has also written a number of songs using his own instruments.

Several of these instruments have appeared in exhibitions at The Oakland Museum, The L.A. Municipal Museum of Art, the Vancouver Museum, St Mary's College, Moraga, The Yerba Buena Center For The Arts and the ODC Theater Gallery, both in San Francisco.


Peter began painting and drawing at an early age. As a youngster he received several prizes for his work, but in his late teens decided to concentrate on academic matters.

Following the completion of a degree in Biology in 1973 however, he returned to painting and in 1975 moved to California where the interest developed further.

Explorations into the worlds of painting, sculpture and collage have continued throughout his life. During the 1980's he exhibited sculpture in several San Francisco galleries, but in the 1990's following his return from Asia a shift in focus from visual art to music and instrument buildingĀ began.

A connection to visual art was always maintained however, often in the form of large collage books which served as inspiration for both music and later paintings. Instrument building grew out of sculpture and an interest in the use of found materials to create useful functional objects, but later the desire for expression with color in an abstract form was satisfied by a return to the medium of painting.

He works in acrylics and other water-based media usually on canvas or paper. His paintings are about painting - color, line, brushwork and composition with no objective references. A finished painting exists as a focus for contemplation, a place to which the viewer can return repeatedly.


Peter's work with textile design grew out of a friendship with New York designer Lourdes Sanchez, who encouraged him to try to make designs. So a life-long interest in painting and collage and a fascination with patterns came together in a new medium.

He uses a hand-painted, heat-transfer method to create the originals. Although his paintings and textile designs exist as two separate bodies of work there is often a back and forth flow of ideas and inspiration.

His designs like his paintings are often inspired by plants and animals patterns and other formations in nature, as well as the less natural world of city streets and formations resulting from decay, cracking or shifting of urban environments. Walls, fences, sidewalks and the accidental juxtapositions of a rich variety of man-made materials and structures often yield intricate and unique abstractions which may serve as starting points for the development of designs. In a similar way, musical patterns can also lend themselves to visual design.

Working with the Luli Sanchez studio and Cherry Design Partners (both New York) he has had success with sales to a variety of leading designers in both apparel and home furnishings. Kenneth Cole, Beth Bowley, Target, Yellow River and West Elm being among his clients.

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