Sonic Reducer

Carl Hanni

Since sometime back in the 1980s, sonic provocateurs NEGATIVLAND have
been releasing their own records and records by like-minded acts on
their SEELAND RECORDS imprint. They have contributed mightily to both
the spreading out and subversion of audio culture, and in doing so
ended up in the litigious middle of the on-going debate (legal and
ethical both) about copyright laws, “fair use,” sampling and found and
appropriated culture. They have also released a slew of irreverent and
genre busting records by fellow travelers Bob Ostertag, Realistic,
John Oswald, Eddie The Rat, Porest, Xerophonics, the incomparable
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and many more.

Two of their juicer label releases are /Music For The Odd Occasion/
(1997) by the Aussie crew ANTEDILUVIAN ROCKING HORSE, and /In Your
Dreams/ (1995) by the Boston-area duo HEAD AND LEG. ARH members DJ2
(Paul Wain) and DJ3 (Susan King) and 3rd member/collaborator Ollie
Olsen have crafted an unruly mutt of a record that could be filed
either under “experimental” or “techno/electronic” in your local
record store, if there are any of those left. The techno/dance side is
nervous, jittery and probably too-high strung and full of deviously
annoying voices, lurid samples and dissonance for anyone not seriously
chemically whacked to do a lot of raving to. On the
conceptional/experimental side, they show much affinity for Dada (Hugo
Ball is quoted twice in the liner notes) and its Surrealist cousin,
along with a splatter-palate of samples, appropriations, cut-ups and
studio chicanery, all with the drum machine poking at it like some
meth-head fingering a head-wound. They seem to have equal amounts of
fun with their synths and drum machines as they do with their samplers
and found material. Needless to say they are cheeky, irreverent and
full of mirth. Really, why would they be on Seeland otherwise? You
don’t have to be a nerd, DJ, sample rat or fair use activist to dig
their pastiche, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Song-titles
like “Rigorous Doughnut,” “Lost Sky Daffodil,” “The Third Ore Bit” and
“A Perry Mason Moment” tell you exactly nothing, thankfully. ARH have
put their time and their face where their beliefs are, meeting the
opposition head-on and sticking their neck out in a variety of
above-ground moves dedicated to their belief in the Freedom to Sample
and Use at will. Along the way they have collaborated with Damo Suzuki
of Can, The Boredoms, David Thrussell of Snog and jumped into
Negativland’s fight with the RIAA, and released two more records,
Music for Transportation and Forward Into The Furniture. All in the
name of fun and freedom, bless them.

Head and Leg are Robert Pierce and Ken Lacouture, a pair of cards
playing with a deck of sonic and conceptual mischief. On /In Your
Dreams/ these cut-ups and a dozen of their pals compose, conjure, dice
and splice together 18 tracks loosely arranged around a dream theme.
In addition to the usual guitars, keyboards, etc. the credits include
slapping, murmuring, spitting, bagel, grapefruit, metal cart, bathtub
and wind-up fish. Although the record is dedicated to Jorge Luis
Borges, these guys pretty obviously worship The Firesign Theater, and
that works well for them. These are basically sample and studio/tape
manipulated comedy skits woven together with five “dreamscapes.”  They
take venomous aim at commercial radio with the stupendously sarcastic
classic “The Hits Keep Coming,” which appropriates enough hard-rock
samples (Who, Stones, Zeppelin, etc) to keep them tied up in Copyright
Hell for a lifetime. “Poke You In The Eye” is charming silliness,
“Hey, Fat Lady” disconcerting carnival-barking surrealism, a skit
waiting for a David Lynch movie. They take time out for commercials
(“The All Pain Network”) and a tour of “The Womb Room.” Naturally some
of these pieces work better than others; comedy is tough. But they
have a sure grasp of their studio craft and the record has a
conceptual consistency that’s admirable. Like The Firesign Theater,
this is a sit and listen record, and virtually useless as any kind of
background ambiance. Do people sit and listen anymore in our
fractured, micro-byte time? Head and Leg have more in common with an
old-time radio serial than anything you would hear on the radio today,
low-power FM or pirate radio notwithstanding. If you can find the CD
and find the time, /In Your Dreams/ opens a door into a
time/place/head-space where taking the time to compose something isn’t
dedicated to U2ish bombast, gangsta or singer/songwriter narcissism or
prog-rock wankiness, but something else entirely: actual
entertainment, backed up by concept, produced with great charm, humor
and perhaps even humility. What a concept.


Carl Hanni is a music writer, music publicist, disc jockey and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ. He  hosts the vinyl-only Scratchy Record Show every Tuesday night at the Red Room in downtown Tucson, and spins records wherever and whenever he can. He believes that in a better (all analog) world all records would be released on vinyl, but takes good music from wherever he finds it–even on CD. His feature piece on legendary bass player/record producer Harvey Brooks was recently published in Goldmine.

Leave a Reply