Back in 2014, I finally had the opportunity to catch experimental sound provocateurs, Negativland, when they were booked at the Bumbershoot Music and Arts festival in Seattle. Tucked away in an a smaller indoor space that had been predominantly utilized for acts in the EDM/dance vein throughout the weekend, the trio set up in matching black and grey flannels behind a table overrun with various wires, nobs, and gadgets. I slipped into the show just after it began, but another photographer informed me that some folks had been calling for “the DJ,” to which the group quickly responded that they didn’t expect those kids to last 10 minutes. Pioneers of sonic and video collage, the Bay Area legends had a screen behind them that flashed projections as they simultaneously created and repurposed sound on the spot, chopping up audio samples and injecting them with new emotional context. The “performance project” that they’ve continued to tour since then, is titled “Content!,” the only word printed across the banner that adorned the front of their setup. During one particularly meta segment were clips stating that “we are all content,” referencing the “poetry” of sampling, and making the plea of “we’re not destroying anything.” After 35 years at the forefront of this type of work, their skills of provocation aren’t restricted to the unsettling and overt. Undeniable masters of nuance, their messaging sank in deeper and became more poignant with each repetition. An enthralling presentation, It penetrated my senses to such a degree that I could almost feel a devious smirk physically plastered across by brain. Of course, there were plenty of others that walked out before ever meeting that 10-minute challenge.
Negativland have always done things a little bit different and on their own terms, but those are prerequisites for anyone that’s ever achieved anything groundbreaking on any level in any field. Like many others, my first introduction to their work was through their 1991 U2 EP and, more specifically, the track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Special Edit Radio Mix),” which was constructed around a secretly recorded clip of the late TV host (and voice of Shaggy), Casey Kasem spewing profanity, while attempting to introduce a U2 song on his program, America’s Top 40, years earlier. The U2 request had been made in dedication to a dead family dog named “Snuggles” and the audio involves Kasem mid-meltddown, referring to the Irish band by saying “This is bullshit! Nobody cares. These guys are from England and who gives a shit?!” as well demanding for “somebody to use his fucking brain,” among other things. The cover art for the EP was designed with the name “Negativland” written in a substantially smaller font below the name U2 printed in massive letters, as if to imply that the artist and title were reversed. This led to U2‘s label, Island records, swiftly reacting with a lawsuit and catapulting Negativland onto the radar of people like myself for the first time ever, more than a decade after they originally formed. Low on funds, the group was forced to cancel a 1988 tour, prompting founding member, Richard Lyons to craft an elaborate hoax wherein he successfully fabricated and distributed a bunk press release to the media stating that the band had been prohibited from traveling by the federal government do to a connection in the then-high profile case of 16-year-old, David Brom murdering his family. The false claim that the Negativland song, “Christianity Is Stupid” was the catalyst for the crime spread throughout the media relatively unchecked, resulting in their following album, Helter Stupid  utilizing audio samples and imagery surrounding the subsequent media coverage of the hoax to assemble the tracks/themes and the cover art, respectively. Negativland are known for many things, but shying away from controversy has never been one of them.
The collective has remained active, but lately they have endured a series of tragedies with 3 different members who have been particularly vital to the project passing away, since the beginning of 2015. Ian Allen died at the age of 56 in January of that year, due to complications involved in a heart valve surgery. Primarily active with the group during the incredibly formative years of 1981 – ’87, Allen had a history of health problems throughout his adult life, which ultimately forced him to step away from it, although he remained endlessly supportive and connected to the project until his death. His bandmates credit Ian with introducing the idea of using tape splicing as a compositional tool, as well as introducing them to fellow member, Don Joyce, who passed away of heart failure at the age of 71, only 6 months later. Joyce, who they have referred to as their “lead singer,” was a splicing wizard and a master of sound collage and “recontextualizing” found dialogue. He has also been credited with coining the term “culture jamming.” Since 1981, he produced the live weekly radio program, Over The Edge on the Berkeley station KPFA FM, every Thursday at midnight. This was also the year that he joined Negativland. This April 19th, Richard Lyons turned 57 and died in a Seattle nursing home due to complications connected to nodular melanoma, shortly after his birthday party.
Negativland releases have a long history of unique packaging, tracing back to their first self-titled LP in 1980, where each one-of-a-kind jacket featured a different hand-cut segment of wallpaper, along with images from various advertisements, pasted onto them. The first pressing of their 1983 concept album, A Big 10-8 Place included a baggy of lawn clippings (among other things); Escape From Noise  included a bumper sticker with the name of their song “Car Bomb” printed on it; and their last album, It’s All In Your Head, which was released just prior to the show that I saw and explores the phenomenon of the human race’s attachment to religion, was released in the form of a double CD packaged within a modified King James version bible. Yesterday, the collective announced some fascinating details about their upcoming album, The Chopping Channel. Not only is it the final release completed with the help of both Joyce and Lyons, but it’s easily one of the most “out there” packaging concepts that they’ve offered to date. The following announcement fittingly arrived via BoingBoing.net, a site which was originally founded in 1988 as a pioneering zine on the ground floor of the cyberpunk movement.
Good Hello, Consumers of Media About Media:
Courtesy of our friends at Boing Boing, this is Negativland speaking to you. Thank you for reading about all of our deaths over the past year and a half!
Though we have traditionally operated more as a collective entity than as a ‘band’, those of us that continue to be alive miss our recently departed members (Don Joyce, Richard Lyons and Ian Allen), and deeply valued seeing them publicly commemorated in ways they wouldn’t have been able to tolerate for more than two seconds had they still been alive. (Except maybe for Richard, who would have loved it.)
Negativland is excited to announce our newest album: “The Chopping Channel”, which is Volume 9 in the ongoing series of albums edited from our long-running livemix radio show, Over The Edge. Atop an atomized mix of thousands of fragmentary samples, remulched into one continuous and time-saving stream of music, the salesmen (and woman) of the Chopping Channel dare to sell you the music you’re already listening to, as well as the flesh-and-bone essentials you’ll need to survive in the global years to come. This project was completed before the deaths of Don and Richard, and it will be released on October 21, 2016.
In keeping with the album’s theme, and while supplies last, each mail order copy of this new project comes with two very unique extra items: two grams of the actual cremains, or ashes, of deceased Negativland member Don Joyce, and one of Don’s handmade audio tape loop “carts” used in the creation of Over The Edge and Negativland live performances between 1981 and 2015.
This is not a hoax. We’ve decided to take the Chopping Channel concept to its logical conclusion by “productizing” an actual band member. It is also a celebration of the degree to which no idea in art was ever off-limits to Don, and offers a literal piece of him, and of his audio art, for the listener to repurpose and reuse. We are pretty sure he would have wanted it this way.
Like most Negativland projects, the album’s audio themes and packaging are deeply connected. To let you know more about “The Chopping Channel”, our good friends at General Injectibles and Signals, Inc. have produced this very informative educational video:
Thank you for listening.
The official pre-order page on the Negativland website describes the release further, beyond the details of the “BONUS REALITY PACKAGING!”:
Negativland’s newest album is the summation of years of on-air research and development of the Chopping Channel: A place on the dial where music—and lots more!—was swallowed, digested, exhumed, consumed, and presented for sale at prices that didn’t last long. Broadcasting live from Negativland’s legendary Over The Edge radio program, this album brings you cultural appropriation at its most typical, with jokes that aren’t that funny because they aren’t really jokes. Atop a relentlessly atomized mix of thousands of fragmentary samples of indeterminate origin, re-mulched into one continuous and time-saving stream of music, the salesmen (and woman!) of the Chopping Channel dare to sell you the music you’re already listening to, as well as the culture you’ll need to survive in the years to come.
A cavalcade of special guest hosts, including Mark Gergis (Porest, Mono Pause / Neung Phak), alongside regulars Bud Choke and Help Suit, breathlessly parade the goods you need and instant-compose new modern music classics. The Over the Edge program is history’s longest-running freeform radio show, as heard on Thursdays at midnight on KPFA FM in Berkeley, California. Originally helmed by the late Don Joyce, and now by Jon “Wobbly” Leidecker, it’s the latest release in a series of Negativland albums carefully crafted from on-air recordings, and represents the last released work completed with Don Joyce before his death in 2015. DON’T LET THIS GO BY… GO BUY!
The official release date is slated for October 21st, but this is one album that will definitely be limited to a set number of copies, for obvious reasons, so you’re gonna want to PRE-ORDER IT NOW!!! I already placed my order, as evidenced by the image above.