January 2000

The experimental-music and art collective known as Negativland has been recording music/audio/collage works since 1980, producing a weekly 3 hour radio show ("Over The Edge") since 1981, hosting a World Wide Web site since 1995, and performing live on occasional tours throughout America and Europe.

Negativland have released 18 CDs, one video and one book ("Fair Use: The Story Of The Letter U And The Numeral 2") since 1980. They were the subject of the 1995 feature film "Sonic Outlaws" by Craig Baldwin, and composed the soundtrack/sound design for a critical 1997 documentary on advertising, THE AD AND THE EGO.  Negativland coined the term "culture jamming" in 1984, and this phrase is now often used to describe the work of many different media artists and activists. Their most recent music project is a collaborative CD made with British anarchist pop stars CHUMBAWAMBA entitled "The ABCs of Anarchism", and they are completing a new book/CD project "DEATHSENTENCES OF THE POLISHED AND STRUCTURALLY WEAK" to be released this summer.

This spring Negativland are embarking on their first tour in seven years: the epic TRUE/FALSE 2000 TOUR, a 2 1/2 hour performance conceived entirely as a stand alone show and not to promote any particular new release. Most of the material in it has never been heard before. Negativland might be called a "noise" band because they like interesting noises in their music, or an "idea" band because they often rearrange found sound content in order to make some new and previously unintended point with it. Negativland is interested in unusual noises (especially ones that are close at hand), unusual ways to restructure such noises and combine them with their own music, and mass media transmissions which have become sources, and subjects, of much of their work. Negativland covets insightful wackiness from anywhere, low-tech approaches whenever possible, telling humor, and vital social targets of any kind. Without ideological preaching, Negativland often becomes a subliminal culture sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren't supposed to notice.

Negativland's particular musical practice incorporates found sounds and musical samples into their collage compositions. Our contemporary interest in collage (a hallmark of 20th Century art of all kinds) is prompted by the fact that art and commerce have now merged to a degree where corporate commerce now finances, grooms, directs, filters, manufactures and distributes almost everything we know of as "culture." This inevitably uncomfortable partnership of art and commerce to produce "mass culture" means that art is no longer any kind of independent creation at all. It is now instigated, owned, operated and promoted by administrators, subsumed by demographic targeting and subjected to economically inspired "guidelines."

In doing this kind of collage music, Negativland has become, by necessity, interested in copyright law and the "fair use" statute within it. What began as their natural attraction to found sound in a society overflowing with disposable media has now become a conscious desire to show, by example, the crucial difference between piracy (counterfeiting another's work straight-across in order to profit from the marketability of the subject used), and the transformative re-use of material from multiple sources to create new, "original" works; it's called COLLAGE and it has had indisputable legitimacy in virtually all art forms throughout this century. However, the owners and operators of mass-marketed music (being only the latest medium in which collage is being practiced) are now naively attempting to criminalize the technique of audio collage, as if it was an illegitimate intruder on originality and nothing more than a form of theft. History knows better. Collage is NOT theft, but considering it so will kill it off entirely or (as has turned out to be the case) turn all direct reference artists into "criminals." Copyright laws originally designed to prohibit the pirating and counterfeiting of complete works (laws which Negativland agrees with) are now also being used to prevent collage art from being published as if there is no difference between the two.

All art is based on creative theft, always has been, and any reasonable person appreciates this as crucial to the practice. Collage is appreciated PRECISELY because it takes this fact to the limit, yet remains "original." Negativland believes that collage has a well-established artistic license to appear in mass media, or anywhere else, free of charge and free of charges. Because ART IS NOT A BUSINESS, no matter how many art-dumb corporate lawyers try to argue that it is.

Negativland's view of corporate culture from outside its fringes, and their first confrontation with what they consider to be the ill-advised aspects of our nation's copyright laws, produced the 1995 book "Fair Use: The Story Of The Letter U And The Numeral 2." This book details the purposeless folly that often results when art and law collide. "Fair Use: The Story Of The Letter U And The Numeral 2" has now become a primary reference book for those who research music and intellectual property law, and is presently on the reading list of many law schools and university classes on media law and the arts.

One example that illustrates the need for Fair Use in collage is advertising, especially the high-tech seduction and emotional button-pushing going on in national brand advertising. It is this which has become a special subject of interest for Negativland because of its telling view into the successful manipulation of the mass psyche, and the degree to which it exploits our common mental environment with the promotion of personal dissatisfaction and constant desire-mongering on a universal scale. It is simply inconceivable that this daily, never-ending stream of public suggestion and desire creation has no effect or influence on our spirits, our health, our jobs, our laws, our environment, our culture, our political process, or our national and international policy. This is the water we fish swim in.

Negativland's continuing interest in advertising as a socializing phenomenon designed to create unconscious consumers led to their 1997 conceptual cola-opus, DISPEPSI, and extended into found-sound audio design work for Harold Boihem's critically acclaimed independent film, THE AD AND THE EGO. This one-hour documentary is a biting and insightful analysis, by example, of television commercials and their impact on our modern way of life and thinking. It has played throughout the U.S. and won first place for Best Documentary in its category at the San Francisco International Film Festival's Golden Gate Awards.

On their last full-length studio CD release, DISPEPSI, Negativland left the multi-leveled cultural import of Pepsi advertising for the listener to decide, all through the mockery of a single example of corporate brand advertising: one which spends multi-millions of dollars bombarding and assaulting all of us with a never-ending, un-asked for, and unavoidable barrage of billboards, print ads, TV and radio commercials, promotional attachments, product placements in films, public school programs, vending machines, sports sponsorships, logo licensing, etc., making it virtually impossible to go anywhere in the civilized world without encountering their "message": to consume as much of their nutritionless beverage as often as you possibly can.

The conceptual content of the DISPEPSI CD focused primarily on a single multi-national corporation's advertising, not because it was any more offensive than that of any other multi-national (although the particularly meaningless nature of their product certainly adds the kind of pathos we like), but because it allowed a much more in-depth focus on a typical corporation's commercial output. It created a single, coherent "subject" for this obviously conceptual work of art, and allowed a whole variety of cut-up and musical techniques to hang together within a single, recognizable "context." Negativland's concerns with mass advertising in general ultimately rise to consciousness more effectively in the midst of the concentrated flood of one company's diverse commercial campaigns, which intend to redundantly drill one brand into mass unconscious via saturation. All other ads do the same thing, but we focused on this ultra-familiar brand name in order to actually simulate this particular (and particularly effective) aspect of all advertising.

Finally, Negativland strives to keep socially aware perceptions alert in art, and culturally aware criticism alive in a society choked and intimidated as it is by all-encompassing, self serving laws of "protection", lobbied into existence by the politically powerful commerce establishment, with their never-ending desire to become immune from any inference that the world they make for us might not be the best of all possible worlds.

Negativland distributes their hard to find recordings on their own independent label and through their own mail order service, NEGATIVMAILORDERLAND.

1920 Monument Blvd. MF-1

Concord CA 94520 USA

fax 510 420-0469

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