Hosler and Dimuzio get their groove on.

By Fred Mills


On July 15 the
great, still-not-late, Negativland drops
Thigmotactic via its own
Seeland label. It’s described by the band’s handlers (term used loosely –
nobody, not even U2 or SST Records, will ever be able to genuinely “handle”
Negativland, eh?) as “going deep into song making territory.


The record, we are advised, moves “in a very different
direction than other recent Negativland releases, and with a decidedly surreal bent. These eccentric toe-tapping
electronic folk-pop noise songs are strung together to forma continuous and
cohesive listening experience, with themes emerging around meat, pants, milk,
cows, trucks, Herb Alpert, Richard Nixon, and even love. Thigmotactic continues in Negativland‘s
decades long collage and cut-up tradition, but while the trademark sound of
found audio elements is sparingly collaged through-out, the cutting up here is
also in the lyrics, created by combining dream journals, bits of advertisements,
found poems, automatic writings, stream of consciousness, old National Geographic articles, and


“The fifteen songs and two instrumentals were written,
composed and performed by Negativland‘s
Mark Hosler, with contributions
from the rest of the group, and with well-known San Francisco noisemaker Thomas Dimuzio contributing lots of
rather unexpectedly normal sounding instruments, arrangements and
production. The found ethic continues with the artwork that accompanies
each track, created from found materials to illustrate each song. Many of these
have been shown as part of Negativland’s traveling art show “Negativlandland“, and, in a creative
experiment in financing this release, each one-of-a-kind work is for sale via
Negativland’s web site, Negativland
has always existed as an umbrella under which the group releases collaborative
work in many mediums – music, noise, collage, film, design, animation, fine
art, books, lectures, essays, sculpture, performance, radio, web sites, etc. –
with the term “Negativland Presents” sometimes being used as a way to
release work that might be mostly the product of one member’s brain, or uses
members outside of the immediate collective.”







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. 


Okay, but what, you still ask, is Negativland exactly? That’s hard to answer. Negativland definitely isn’t a “band,”
though they may look like one if you see their CDs for sale in your local
shopping mall. They’re more like some sort of goofy yet serious European-style
artist/activist collective – an unhealthy mix of John Cage, Lenny Bruce,
Pink Floyd, Bruce Connor, Firesign Theatre, Abbie
, Robert Rauschenberg,
1970’s German electronic music, old school punk rock attitude, surrealist
performance art, your high school science teacher…and lot’s more.


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 multinational 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. 


While it is true that, after being sued, Negativland became more publicly
involved in advocating significant reforms of our nation’s copyright laws, Negativland are artists first and
activists second.  All of their art and media interventions have intended
to pose both serious and silly questions about the nature of sound, media,
control, ownership, propaganda and perception. Their work is now referenced and
taught in many college courses in the US, has been written about or cited in
over 150 books (including NO LOGO by Naomi Klein, MEDIA VIRUS by Douglas Rushkoff, many legal journals, and various biographies of
the band U2), and they often
lecture about their work here and in Europe. Negativland is now on the advisory board of a Washington DC
based intellectual property lobbying group called


Since 1981, Negativland and an evolving cast of characters have operated “Over The Edge,” a weekly
radio show on KPFA FM in Berkeley,
California. “Over The Edge”
continues to broadcast three hours of live, found-sound mixing every Thursday
at midnight, West Coast time, with online access. In 1995 they released a 270
page book with 72 minute CD entitled FAIR USE: The Story of the Letter U and
the Numeral 2
. This book documented their infamous four-year long legal
battle over their 1991 release of an audio piece entitled “U2”. They
were the subjects of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 feature documentary SONIC OUTLAWS and created the soundtrack and sound design for Harold Boihem’s 1997
documentary film THE AD AND THE EGO, an excellent in-depth look into the
hidden agendas of the corporate ad world and the ways that we are affected by
advertising. Their 1997 all-cola focused epic, DISPEPSI, also tackled
some of these same topics. In 2002, and to very mixed reaction, they unleashed
the dark and noisy book/CD project DEATHSENTENCES OF THE POLISHED AND
, which combined destroyed sounds with images of things
found inside of wrecked cars in automotive wrecking yards. 


2004 found Negativland working with Creative Commons to
write the Creative Commons Sampling License, an alternative to existing
copyrights that is now in widespread use by many artists, writers, musicians,
film makers, and websites. In 2005, they released the elaborately packaged NO
(with CD, 15,000 word essay, and custom made whoopie cushion), and
debuted “Negativlandland” – a large visual art show of over 80
piece’s of their “fine art” works, video, and home-made electronic
devices, at New York City’s Gigantic Art Space.


More recently Negativland have been touring a new performance piece called “Its’ All In Your Head FM”, a
two-hour-long audio cut-up mix about monotheism, the supernatural God concept,
and the all-important role played by the human brain in our beliefs. Christianity
and Islam are the featured religions, as Negativland asks its audience to contemplate some complex,
serious, ridiculous, and challenging ideas about human belief in a show best
described as “documentary collage.” In late 2007, Negativland released Our Favorite Things, a feature length
DVD collection of their many years of collaborative film work, and in 2008 they
surprised themselves and everybody else by putting out a toe-tapping all-songs
project called Negativland Presents Thigmotactic.


Negativland is interested in unusual noises and images (especially ones that are found
close at hand), unusual ways to restructure such things and combine them with
their own music and art, and mass media transmissions which have become sources
and subjects for much of their work.  Negativland covets insightful humor and wackiness from anywhere,
low-tech approaches whenever possible, and vital social targets of any
kind.  Foregoing ideological preaching, but interested in side effects, Negativland is like a subliminal
cultural sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren’t
supposed to notice.


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