Sunday, April 23, 2006

April 24, 2006: Negativland

April 24, 2006: Negativland

This week's feature is the band Negativland, as this week's podcast (episode 90) features an interview with Mark Hosler. Stay tuned!

I first heard of Negativland from a roommate, in 1993. He brought home a cassette copy of "Guns" several years before I'd done a proper release of my own, or come up with the idea for Some Assembly Required ...and I can't remember if I was encouraged to discover that there were other artists working with sound, or completely crushed that there was someone else doing something I thought I had come up with on my own - but either way, it eventually influenced me to continue with some of the sound collage projects I'd started in high school.

(the photos are publicity and live shots from the band's live tour in 2000)

I remember sending away for one of their releases at one point, and including a visual collage in the letter, thinking they'd be impressed by something like that. Of course, if they had a nickel for all the half-assed art projects they've received in the mail, I'm sure they'd have been able to pay for all the legal advice they've needed over the years, thanks to their role as canary in the coal mine, as Mark puts it, when it comes to issues of copyright and sound collage. But, I go into some of their legal issues in the bio, below...

The band's very busy, you see, and I couldn't wait for them to come up with answers to the Q&A. The Hosler interview was scheduled to podcast today, and since Negativland is the only artist played this episode, and since I made a commitment to post a new Q&A every week, I had to answer the questions myself. I'll probably end up having to do this from time to time, but don't worry, I was relentless in my fact checking (read: I went to the Negativland website, and doublechecked their entry at Wikipedia). So, you can feel confident that these are the facts... more or less.

If you want to hear it from the horse's mouth, just download this week's podcast - featuring an interview with the band's founder, Mark Hosler. Negativland got it's start in the suburban high school bedroom of a young Mr. Hosler, and he tells us all about it over the phone, in this week's program (episode 90). Check it out!

Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Mark Hosler, as assembled by yours truly, Mr. Some Assembly Required...


*Name: Negativland

*Members: Chris Grigg, Mark Hosler, Don Joyce, Richard Lyons and David Wills all contributed to Negativland’s breakthrough 1987 release, Escape From Noise. Chris Grigg and Don Joyce appear to have gotten involved with the project around the same time as A Big 10-8 Place was released (1983). Wikipedia’s entry on Negativland also reports that Chris Grigg has since left the band, and Peter Conheim (Wet Gate) has joined.

*Founding Member: Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons and David Wills

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: Negativland would appear to be using multiple tools and techniques to compose, including the use of a variety of traditional and non-traditional musical instruments and samplers. In concert, I personally witnessed cart machines being manipulated by Don Joyce and turntables by Mark Hosler, so that’s tape manipulations and turntable creations, at least… I’m sure at this point the band must use some sort of digital editing software/hardware as well.

*Another genre descriptor: Culture Jamming

*Why you use this descriptor: The band is often credited with the creation of this term, (see their 1984 cassette release, JamCon ’84), and its been popularized over the years by cultural activists of all stripes. Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the subject of Culture Jamming. Here’s just a portion: “Culture jamming is the act of transforming existing mass media to produce negative commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of corporate image.” Check out the rest of the story, HERE.

*Location: The members of Negativland have since spread out around the US, but the band was originally from California.

*Original Location: Concord, California

*History: Negativland’s first self-titled CD was released in 1980. It was followed by Points (1981), and A Big 10-8 Place (1983). Escape From Noise was released in 1987 and from there things get interesting for reasons above and beyond the music the band was producing. Needing a reason to cancel a tour in support of the album, the band concocted a press release claiming they had been asked to cancel the tour until authorities could investigate claims that a song off of Escape From Noise had somehow influenced a real-life murder in Minnesota. The murder was real, but the connection was false. The media, however - all too familiar with similar events - ran with the story without doing much fact checking. This helped to give the band some much needed exposure, while making the news outlets look very foolish, which was of course amusing, and fodder for the band’s next release, Helter Stupid (1989), which told the story in detail. The next two studio releases were EPs. U2 (1991) got the band into some trouble, thanks to a big “U2” on the CD cover, which led Island Records to investigate the recording, where they discovered material which led to their claim of copyright infringement. Casey Kasem, another major sample on the record, also got involved at some point, and the record was yanked from store shelves. To fill the gap, the band rushed Guns to their label at the time (SST), which was released in 1992. The band has since left SST, due to these unfortunate events. Free (1993) was the next studio release by the band, and Dispepsi was put out in 1997. Neither record caused much trouble for the band, while both were well reviewed, and saw major college radio aiplay. Negativland has also done some publishing in conjunction with CD releases. Fair Use was released in 1995 and Death Sentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak was put out in 2002. Their most recent release, to date, is 2005’s No Business. Negativland has also collectively released ten or more albums of material from their long-running radio program “Over the Edge” (which airs in Berkeley, California on KPFA), and have several singles and collaborative CD releases as well. The band celebrated their 20th Anniversary with a major tour called “The True/False Tour,” in 2000.

*Motivations: Musical motivations aside, Negativland has never tried to hide their anti-consumer stance. Dispepsi, in particular, was focused entirely on the negative effects of so much advertising on American (and international) cultures. They’d like to see the end of Capitalism, at least as its currently practiced.

*Web address:


Thanks to Mark Hosler for the phone interview featured in this week's podcast (episode 90). It should be live in just a few moments here. Be sure to check out Negativland's website, and join Some Assembly Required at myspace, while you're at it. We've set up a page there to further promote the program online. Thanks for checking out the show!

Until next week - thanks for listening,
Jon Nelson

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