7/27/2008

Negativland News

If not for Negativland, there would be no Charlottesville Podcasting Network. I grabbed onto this collective in my first year of college, when listening to WUVT my dorm-mate telling me he couldn't believe the station would play a lot of noise, a comment prompted by a Negativland track. Just before then, I read a note in the Record Exchange's Music Monitor that U2 was suing Negativland for copyright infringement. Then, my friend Jeffry Cudlin let me borrow Dick Vaughn's Moribund Music of the Seventies, a radio show in which Negativland pretended to convert KPFA, a Pacifica station in San Francisco, into a 1980's Top 40 outfit called the California Superstation.

Those three pieces of evidence led me to conclude that the band was worthy of further study. Of course, this was back before the Internet, when music stores often were your only source of information on something you were interested in outside the mainstream. So, I walked to the Record Exchange on Main Street in Blacksburg fairly often and stocked up on fantastic collages that made me think about sound in a very different way. Sometime on a trip to Charlottesville in 1992 or 1993, I visited Jeffry, who lived with Tyler Magill on Valley Road at the time, and got to borrow several excellent CDS from Tyler on infinite loan. As in, I still have them - I think he thought I lived in town.

The lessons from Negativland: Sound was something to be manipulated, language could be subverted through subtle puns, and that culture could be jammed. And it could all be done with somewhat good humor, by geeks and misfits. I have hours and hours of my own sound collages that I put together in the same fashion. The skills I learned to do that paved the way for my radio career and now podcasting career.

Negativland came here last year for a very interesting two-hour live radio show at the now departed Satellite Ballroom. It was the only show I attended there. I had a great time, even though the material was 100 percent new to me. Part of the joy of recorded Negativland is that you must listen to it three or four times to see the patterns and to get the jokes. I had hoped that the show, which was about religion, would be made available as a CD.

Today, I found out that there is in fact a new album. However, it's a new album of songs, actual songs, as opposed to sound collages and archives of their experimental radio programs. That's much better, in a lot of ways, and much more ambitious.

Interesting that it's a song-based album, and listening to the first
song (can't speak highly enough of Rhapsody) it sounds like Escape
from Noise
. In any case, I'd rather have songs than pure noise. I
think this is why I don't tinker at all with any sound any more. I'd
rather have order, and some sense of structure, perhaps leading up to
a purpose. There's no sustaining joy in the purely random.

The album, called Thigmotactic, starts strong with a sample-heavy track called "Richard Nixon Died Today" but then stumbles fast with "Lying on the Grass" which makes me wonder if Mark Hosler should be writing all the songs.


The second song ("Lying on the Grass") and the third song ("Extra Sharp Pencils") are kind of embarrassing and make you wonder if one member of the collective should be allowed to take over an album like this. But then, somewhere in that third song, something kicks in, and yeah, this feels like Negativland, in a very fresh new way that I'm glad to hear. The fourth song ("It's Not a Critique") sounds like Negativland-of-old, with a mix of
samples from music and talk shows, put together in a way that sounds
almost musical. The content is the same call-to-media-awareness, with an updated delivery
style.

And then, as the songs proceed it's very clear that this is a welcome addition to the Negativland catalogue. "Virginia's Trip" is a lot of fun.

But, then, as I continue to write this article, I realize that the live show is also available, but there are not many copies left. My wife found out I paid to download Dr. Horrible. I guess this is where I should say, no, there's no way I'm buying it, honey.

Let's just hope she doesn't use my computer.

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