THE NEGATIVLAND STORY : Since 1980, the 4 or 5 or 6 Floptops known as Negativland, a performance and recording group based in the San Francisco Bay Area, have been creating records, CDs, video, fine art, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sounds, images, objects, and text. Mixing original materials and original music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture and the world around them, Negativland rearranges these found bits and pieces to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to.
In doing this kind of cultural archaeology and “culture jamming” (a term they coined way back in 1984), Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement.
Over the years Negativland’s “illegal” collage and appropriation-based audio and visual works have touched on many things – pranks, media hoaxes, advertising, media literacy, religion, the evolving art of collage, the bizarre banality of suburban existence, creative anti-corporate activism in a media-saturated and multinational world, file sharing, intellectual property issues, wacky surrealism, evolving notions of art and ownership and law in a digital age, and artistic and humorous observations of mass media and mass culture.
While it is true that, after being sued, Negativland became more publicly involved in advocating significant reforms of our nation’s copyright laws (more recently finding themselves being brought to Washington DC and Capitol Hill as citizen lobbyists for
copyright and art issues), Negativland are artists first and activists second. All of their art and media interventions have intended to pose both serious and silly questions about the nature of sound, media, control, ownership, propaganda and perception in the United States of America. Their work is now referenced and taught in many college courses in the US, has been written about and mentioned in over 150 books (including “No Logo” by Naomi Klein, “Media Virus” by Douglas Rushkoff, and various biographies of the band U2), cited in legal journals, and they often lecture about their work here and in Europe.
Since 1981, Negativland and an evolving cast of characters have operated “Over The Edge,” a weekly radio show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California. “Over The Edge” continues to broadcast three hours of live, found-sound mixing every Thursday at midnight, West Coast time, also streamed online. In 1995 they released a 270-page book with 72-minute CD entitled “Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2,” documenting their infamous four-year long legal battle over their 1991 release of an audio piece entitled “U2”. They were the subjects of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 feature documentary “Sonic Outlaws” and created the soundtrack and sound design for Harold Boihem’s 1997 documentary film “The Ad And The Ego,” an excellent in-depth look into the hidden agendas of the corporate ad world and the ways that we are affected by advertising. In 2004 Negativland worked with Creative Commons to write the “Creative Commons Sampling License,” an alternative to existing copyrights that is now widely used by many artists, writers, musicians, film makers, and websites.
In 2005, they released the elaborately packaged “No Business” (with CD, 15,000-word essay, and custom-made whoopie cushion), and debuted “Negativlandland” – a large visual art show of over 80 pieces of their “fine art” works, videos, home-made electronic devices, and a life-sized animatronic Abe Lincoln robot, at New York City’s Gigantic Art Space. That art exhibit continues to change and evolve and has traveled around the country, showing in Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, and Richmond, VA.
In 2007, Negativland released “Our Favorite Things,” a feature-length DVD collection of their many years of collaborative film work, and in 2008 they surprised themselves and everybody else by putting out a toetapping all-songs project of one member’s compositions called “Negativland Presents Thigmotactic,” and they continue to occasionally visit Washington DC as citizen lobbyists.
More recently, Negativland has been performing a show of radically new audio-visual versions of many Negativland fan-favorites that have never before been heard live. Negativland’s current performance project, entitled “Content!,” finds them teaming up with electronic musician Wobbly, and “live cinema” video artist Steev Hise, to create a visual and sonic performance that reinvents favorite past and present dialog cut-ups, while showcasing Negativland’s homemade electronic noise-making devices that they call “Boopers,” and relying heavily on group improvisation.
And in 2014, for their first new audio release in six years, “It’s All In Your Head” finds the group tackling their biggest subject ever: God. This ambitious and densely-crafted double CD is packaged inside an actual King James Holy Bible which has been appropriately repurposed into a “found” art object. Negativland mixes found music, found sound, found dialogue, guest personalities and original electronic noises into a compelling and thoughtful musical essay on monotheism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, neuroscience, suicide bombers, 9/11, colas, war, shaved chimps, and the all-important role played by the human brain in our beliefs. The audio is presented as a live radio broadcast
(modeled after the “Over The Edge” radio program).
This theater-of-the-mind project has been assembled from basic tracks recorded live in front of blindfolded studio audiences, and documents the unique style of live collage performances that Negativland has been presenting on stages, and on radio, since the formation of the group in 1980.
Negativland is interested in unusual noises and images (especially ones that are found close at hand), unusual ways to restructure such things and combine them with their own music and art, and mass media transmissions which have become sources and subjects for much of their work. Negativland covets insightful humor and wackiness from anywhere, lowtech approaches whenever possible, and vital social targets of any kind. Foregoing ideological preaching, but interested in side effects, Negativland is like a subliminal cultural sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren’t supposed to notice.
About “It’s All In Your Head”: Negativland’s new album, “It’s All In Your Head”, finds the group tackling their biggest subject ever: why humans believe in God. Millennia-in-development, this ambitious and densely-crafted double CD is packaged inside an actual Holy Bible which has been appropriately repurposed into a “found” art object.
“It’s All In Your Head” intends to entertain, inform, and provoke. On the CDs, Negativland mixes found music, found sound, found dialogue, guest personalities and original electronic noises into a compelling and thoughtful musical essay that looks at monotheism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, neuroscience, suicide bombers, 9/11, colas, war, shaved chimps, and the all-important role played by the human brain in our beliefs. Reading the attached Bible is optional.
The audio is presented as a live radio broadcast, modeled after Negativland’s weekly “Over the Edge” radio program on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, CA. This theater-of-the-mind project has been carefully crafted from basic tracks recorded live in front of blindfolded studio audiences, and documents the unique style of live collage performances that Negativland has been presenting on stages, and on radio, since the formation of the group in 1980.
Since its previous album release six years ago, Negativland has kept busy with its weekly radio program, lectures, art gallery shows and live performances in the U.S. and Europe. Currently in the works are several different studio albums, including Negativland’s all-electronic “Booper Symphonies,” two brand new “Over the Edge” album releases, more art shows, and a new touring live show called “Content!” with upcoming performances at festivals such as Bumbershoot, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and Moogfest.
NEGATIVLAND ALBUMS, BOOKS, DVDS AND ART SHOWS
Albums and EPs
1983 A Big 10-8 Place
1984 Over The Edge Vol. 1: JamCon ’84
1985 Over The Edge Vol. 1 1/2: The Starting Line with Dick Goodbody
1986 Over The Edge Vol. 2: Pastor Dick: Muriel’s Purse Fund
1987 Escape From Noise
1989 Helter Stupid
1989 Over The Edge Vol. 3: The Weatherman’s Dumb Stupid Come-out Line
1990 Over The Edge Vol. 4: Dick Vaughn’s Moribund Music of the 70’s
1991 “U2” (EP)
1992 “Guns” (EP)
1993 Over The Edge Vol. 5: Crosley Bendix: The Radio Reviews
1993 Over The Edge Vol. 6: The Willsaphone Stupid Show
1994 Over The Edge Vol. 7: Time Zones Exchange Project
1995 Over The Edge Vol. 8: Sex Dirt
1995 Dead Dog Records (as part of the “Fair Use” book)
1997 “Truth In Advertising” (EP)
1998 “Happy Heroes” (EP)
1999 “The ABCs of Anarchism” [with Chumbawamba] (EP)
2002 Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak (Book and CD)
2005 No Business (Book and CD)
2008 Negativland Presents Thigmotactic
2014 It’s All In Your Head
1989 No Other Possibility (as part of A Big 10-8 Place reissue)
2007 Our Favorite Things
1995 Fair Use:The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2
2002 Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak
2005 No Business
Compilations and Remixes
1984 Yogi Cometbus Audiocassette Magazine – “Seventy Dreams”
1985 Local International – “One Through Twenty”
1987 Northern California Is A Noisy Place, Indeed – “Paul McCartney’s Penis”
1987 Objekt 3 – “Radio Advertising”
1987 Zamizdat Trade Journal – “General Cavendish”
1987 Unsound Magazine “Play It Again”
1987 Potatoes – “Perfect Scrambled Eggs”
1987 Mashed Potatoe – “A Mashed Version Of Potatoes”
1990 Live At The Knitting Factory Volume Three – “You Must Choose”
1992 Bob’s Media Ecology² – “Tribal Mandate”
1997 Resonance Magazine – “Fast Talk”
1998 Staalplaat’s “The Sound of Music 3” CD – “The Weatherman’s Big 10-8 Doof”
1999 Knitting On The Roof – “Tevye’s Dream”
2000 Hate People Like Us – “What’s Music?”
2001 Yo-Yo A Go-Go 1999 – “The Immortal Words Of Casey Kasem”
2002 Tracks From The Best Dance Albums Of All Time – “Christianity Is Stupid”
2003 Ikebana: A Tribute to Merzbow – “An Actual Attack”
2003 Dubtometry – “Asphalt”
2006 Musicworks – “No Business” / “Favorite Things” / “It’s All In Your Head FM” (Rehearsal)
Retrospective Art Shows
2013 “Our Favorite Things” Ghost Print Gallery, Richmond, VA
2012 “Our Favorite Things” La Luz De Jesus, Los Angeles, CA
2010 “Our Favorite Things” Nau-haus Gallery, Houston, TX
2006 “Negativlandland” Creative Electric Studios, Minneapolis, MN
2006 “Negativlandland” Consolidated Works, Seattle, WA
2005 “Negativlandland” Gigantic Art Space, New York, NY
Other Art Shows in US and Europe
2010 “Thigmotactic” Sean Pace Gallery, Asheville NC
2010 “Dead Fingers Talk: The Influence of William Burroughs” IMT Gallery, London, England
2009 “Motion Graphics Festival” Chicago IL, Boston MA, Atlanta GA, Austin TX
2007 “In Appropriations” Gulf Coast University Museum, Ft. Myers, FL
2007 “Madonna and Child” Madison County Arts Council, Marshall, NC
2007 “Homegrown” Southeastern Center of Contemporary Arts, NC
2007 “System Error” Siena, Italy
2007 Sonar, Barcelona, Spain
2006 Scope Art Basel, Miami FL
2006 “Illegal Art” Art & Culture Center of Hollywood, FL
2006 “Illegal Art” Pacific NW College of Art, Portland, OR
2005 Projections on Side of World Intellectual Property Organization Building Geneva, Switzerland
2004 “Co-lage” Matthews Gallery, Tampa FL
2004 “Illegal Art” In These Times, Chicago
2004 “Illegal Art” Resource Center for Activism and Art, Washington DC
2004 “Illegal Art” SF MOMA, San Francisco, CA
2003 “Illegal Art” CBGB Gallery, New York, NY
2002 “Version 2.0” Chicago MOMA, Chicago IL
2002 Shack Obscura Van De Griff-Marr Gallery Santa Fe, NM
2002 “Deathsentences” Cornish College, Seattle, WA
2002 “The New Gatekeepers” Columbia University School Of Journalism, New York, NY
2001 “Pixelplunder” year01.com, 2001 Toronto Canada