Signal To Noise
Negativland, June 12, 2006, Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles.

Tonight descends from on-high the edict of Headism (“Monotheism – but in stereo!”), a doctrine of rational humanism slightly right of Gandhi while actively refusing God in all His Pluralities. Crepe-trimmed blindfolds are handed out at the door so that they may better amplify the listening experience over the two-hour programme. “Something in me snapped – but nothing happened” goes the sample; Negativland (Peter Conheim, Mark Hosler, Don Joyce and other members appearing on tape; playing turntables, cart machines, CD players and homemade electronics) hoists the black flag of “It’s All In Your Head Radio”, with unexpected rejoinders from audience members seized by Christ-energy. Sounds merge with avant-turntablism and after all the “U2” hoo-hah, it’s encouraging to see Negativland actually working as a band examining themes – of spirituality, torment and doubt – rather than floating in an inertia of controversy. Samples about epistemology mix with liturgical chants; the crackle of priestly vinyl and their clean-cut image of dress shirts and nice ties neatly mirroring their evangelical counterparts. “There’s more than just a story going on here – and I want to know what it is!”, vows one Fundamentalist. And at points where the evangelical alleges that the uncertainty of post-modernism will “jar the ear” – here comes the violet lightning of sheer noise shooting down the pipe. “Psychoanalysis has taught us that our intellect is a feeble thing.” The pillows and masks allow for comfortable, dreamless sleep while Negativland introduce some outwardly discomfiting concepts in a theatre suffused with the modern-day exaltations of Celebrity: Garbo, Chaplin, Lloyd. Returning to the themes of “Christianity is Stupid”-era Negativland, “Dr. Harold Camping” examines the birth of a soda can as determined by Intelligent Design alongside suggestions like “Scientists say the brain has evolved as much as it ever will.” Another good point: “A million-to-one chance happens eight times a day in New York City.” Playing music of the jungle, they segue into Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and perform a skit in which, in a parody of blindly-faithful High Evolutionaries, they shave a monkey at the zoo to demonstrate how closely monkeys resemble humans. In the second half, the examination of Islam dovetails nicely with Middle Eastern instrumental samples and beats, and eminences as disparate as Kirk Cameron, Christopher Hitchens and Rev. James Dobson offer their opinions on the subject. While the concept of various revenges meet other revenges, the malicious militias strike and noise marches hand-in-hand with martial drums as the implicit undertone of one faith versus another is crystallized eloquently with the sample “You infect my world with your presence”. “You’re listening to “It’s All In Your Head FM” – We’re all Muhammad now,” says Joyce, as a children’s choir sings “God Only Knows” over interviews from suicide bombers and finally from speaker left comes the most glorious exaltation of G-O-D and from speaker right comes the cry – perhaps in exultation, perhaps in despair – “There is no God!!!” One of the most compelling and fulfilling question marks you could possibly hope to see and hear this year.

(David Cotner)