When I was in college, my better judgment took a semester off, allowing me to attend a class on performance art. Running this class was a large man whose sarcasm and ability to crush my soul with a flick of his thick eyebrow—though he was very reserved in that respect for whatever reason. He was fueled by having to wake up at an ungodly hour of the day to commute from Brooklyn to eastern Pennsylvania to teach chumps like me how to use their so-called eccentricities to obtain college credit. He taught us many things, citing examples from such influential weirdoes as William S. Burroughs, The Residents, Frank Zappa, Spalding Gray, among others. Not included in the curriculum, however, was Negativland. Of course since I knew little about them back then I never took the time to have them added or at least be insulted for bring up the suggestion for whatever esoteric reason our guru had in his mind.
Negativland are brave souls indeed, taking on the notion of copyright and public domain, pissing off U2 (or at least their label) before the general public got a chance to piss off Metallica. U2 haters should rejoice, for it is they who know the ache of being compared to Heinrich Himmler (unless you’re Trey Parker and Matt Stone, then it’s totally cool) for questioning U2’s relevance, which is rude and shameful—if you must be called a Nazi, at least let it be Reinhart Heydrich, jeez. This re-release of their third album is not as ambitious, but it is no less a curiosity.
A Big 10-8 Place (10-8 meaning “back on the air” in CB-speak) serves as a play on how far can you go with on-air recordings, which they sample all over the place, and a bit of a tribute to their locality, Contra Costa County, CA. This, as you may have guessed, is more or less of an acquired taste, of a refined air of goofiness, loops and otherwise absurd instances. In fact, a seasoned listener of such things can find a band like Negativland to be like a minimalist industrial band. When you think about it, Ministry topples Negativland in dourness and volume, but is about equal on the usage of found sounds and other mechanical tools of composition. The only difference is that Ministry uses it to enhance the eerie—though eeriness is not really their forte any more—while Negativland invokes social and moral questions while being mostly jolly about the whole mess.
The accompanying DVD is somewhat of an extension of their experimental tendencies and would have been perfect for my aforementioned performance art class. No Other Possibility is their first foray into the magical land of video recording. The whole thing is stuffed with surreal vignettes with no seeming connection to anything else other than some recurring themes. These avant-garde takes on basic skits, home videos and faked commercials jab at commercial imagery and mass marketing, suburbia, etc. Since I’m apparently the only one in the universe who actually likes it, the similarities of No Other Possibility to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! are, to me, apt. Except in this case Negativland seemed to have more of a point. Not that Tim Heidecker and Eric Werheim are unfunny, but irreverence is a rare delicacy in their world. And yet Negativland’s irreverence tastes of sweet urine and bitter chocolate, the way it should taste.
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