Appropriating the Media Barrage with Negativland

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Sound, video, and fury presented on the passing of Richard Lyons, also known as Pastor Dick, co-founder of culture-jamming avant-garde music collective Negativland, the third member to die in the last year.

Negativland

Negativland’s art and media interventions have posed both serious and silly questions about the nature of sound, media, control, ownership, propaganda and perception in the United States of America. Photo from SF Gate.

Cultural Archaeology, Danceable Phantasmagoria…

From Negativland: Since 1980, the 4 or 5 or 6 Floptops known as Negativland have been creating records, CDs, video, fine art, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sound, image and text. Mixing original materials and original music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture and the world around them, Negativland re-arranges 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, the evolving art of collage, the bizarre banality of suburban existence, creative anti-corporate activism in a media saturated multi-national 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.

Negativland, Truth in Advertising

Negativland – Truth in Advertising.

Negativland, a collective of three or more friends who sometimes get together to make music. Well, maybe it’s music: recorded audio material – television jingles, radio talk-show clips, conversations culled from radio waves, anything that features the sound of a human voice – is fodder for the collage that comprises a Negativland recording. Mediaddicts who see society suffering under a constant barrage of TV, canned imagery, advertising, and corporate culture, Negativland’s members are, by self-definition, artists of appropriation. They create with mirrors.  — Wired

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Negativland – Gimme The Mermaid, avant-garde sample applied to video and not just sound, with shout-outs to Disney and Black Flag

“But art has always had the job of using the best means available to make statements about individual life,” he continues. “It’s extremely effective to actually apply our hands to this media barrage, cut it up, and turn it into something else that comments on it. That’s one of the best ways to make art that we can see right now. But that’s the central problem: the laws don’t realize the legitimacy of this.”  — Chris Grigg


Negativland-Christianity Is Stupid, the words of Baptist minister Estus W. Pirkle set to footage from the film “Metropolis”

Gathering the most memorable, most evocative, or most provocative chunks from the spew, they reassemble them into something new – occasionally political, frequently critical – and spin them back into the barrage. Combining, say, car-manufacturers’ slogans, sound effects, and a PSA warning against drinking and driving in “We Are Driven” (from their 1993 release, Free), they create a danceable phantasmagoria that disses our culture’s obsession with the automobile: simple enough, thought-provoking, and pretty funny. At their worst, the members of Negativland are repetitive and smarmy; at their best, they are razor-sharp, microscopically focused, and deadly accurate.  — Wired

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Negativland – Negativland (1980)

Negativland is like a subliminal cultural sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren’t supposed to notice.

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U2’s lost song NEGATIVLAND

Sonic Outlaws – Craig Baldwin’s 1995 Documentary covering early sample based artists. Features interviews with: Negativland, John Oswald, Tape-beatles and more

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt