BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Negativland is a band of self-described "culture jammers"
whose musical collage art has landed them in hot water
during the last decade.
The band's music is a process of cutting up, splicing
together and warping various sounds and recordings, netting
the flotsam and jetsam of our media culture and fusing it
back together in striking, poignant and sometimes grotesque
new shapes — and often, new statements. It's just like those
art-school collages, only in aural, not visual, art.
It's a less-traveled road which has made all the
difference for Negativland.
Two decades and countless lawsuits into its career,
Negativland is touring for the first time in seven years.
The True/False Tour brings the band's culture blending into
a live and ultimately more bracing setting. The multi-media
show incorporates musical instruments and countless sound
devices, as well as eight film projectors and three slide
"It took us two years to develop this show because we
wanted to be able to do it right and to create something
that very few people have experienced before," said Mark
Hosler, a charter Negativland member. "About 85 percent of
the show, too, is all original material that nobody has
heard before. We actually even collage our own material
from our own records."
Indeed, by 1986 — when a group showed up named Pop Will
Eat Itself — Negativland already had established the recipe
for that meal. Raiding the sonic junkyards of suburban
culture — television, telephones, other people's records --
and juicing up the sounds with occasional keyboards and
percussion, Negativland began in 1980 making records that
were disjointed aural sculptures.
The core members of Negativland met at an after-school
job: conducting telephone surveys about people's favorite
TV shows. Discovering a shared fascination for tinkering
with noises, they followed a friend's advice and assembled
their first collages into a self-titled album.
"The covers were all hand-made, not because that's what
we wanted to do but because we didn't know how you got
things printed, how you turned a piece of artwork into
printed pieces of cardboard," Hosler said. "So I spent my
senior semester of art class making the covers by hand,
using old wallpaper books and such. The covers, basically,
were collages, too."
In the visual arts, this appropriation rarely raises any
concerns, but in music — particularly since the advent of
hip-hop and sampling — the word "appropriation" attracts
lawyers like blood attracts sharks. Negativland has
received more than its share of mail with "Attorneys at Law"
in the return address, starting with 1989's "Helter Stupid"
album, the cover of which featured a photo of convicted
Minnesota mass murderer David Broom. The album was a
disturbing masterpiece on media manipulation.
The most famous run-in with the law, though, occurred a
couple of years later when Negativland picked on someone
much bigger. The band released a single called "U2," which
made fun of Bono's band by picking out the melody of "I
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on kazoos and
included tapes of a profanity-laced studio tantrum by
swell-guy radio star Casey Kasem. The resulting legal
battle with U2 galvanized the band as crusaders for
redefining the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. The
battle and the band's resulting theories are chronicled in
a book, "Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral
2," and the group's web site is now a clearinghouse for
discussion of the limits of sampling and collage uses of
other musicians' work — the difference between piracy and
"the transformative re-use of material from multiple sources
to create new, original works . . . Collage is not theft."
"In the visual arts, collage is making one-of-a-kind
pieces, and it's under the label of fine art. Music,
though, is mass produced. It's pop culture. The monied
interests are more involved and they make it into a whole
new ball game," Hosler said. "Nobody cared when we were doing
this back in the '80s. Only with hip-hop becoming a bigger
part of music did things change.
"The mentality has changed. We saw it happen with the
`U2' single, and now it's happening with computers and the
Internet. Napster is a front-page story on USA Today, and
it's all about the issues we started dealing with in '90
and '91. Once it becomes digital, the concept of theft and
property is turned on its head. The original and the copy
are the same. And the way the music industry makes money is
by having tight control over the distribution, so once that
becomes endangered, they freak out. These threats against
Napster are the terrified screams of a dying industry that
wants to stop the future from happening."
Hosler, in fact, sees virtually all art as collage art.
In other words, every new idea is simply the recombination
of other, old ideas into a new form.
"That's the natural creative impulse — it's
transformational more than purely creative, as in starting
from nothing," he said. "We take chunks of actual things and
recombine them. It's not outright counterfeit when you
create something new. But now these businesses want to stop
that, stop people from being creative. Time-Warner and all
that — they want total control of everything and they want
us to sit back and be passive consumers. If you follow that
logic all the way through, it's the death of culture. It's
mean-spirited, and it's just dumb."
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Side, 6906 S. Lewis Ave.
Tickets: $15 at the door
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.