Negativland – Escape From Noise

One of copyright law’s most visible opponents, Negativland presents a sound collages of bewildering perplexity on a variety of topics and situations. Some of the scenarios involved are serious (such as the physical and emotional remnants of car crashes), yet many of them are tongue-in-cheek (lampooning the early Pepsi ad campaigns). Recently, Negativland’s most notable accomplishment was the creation of an album that was 100% sampled from other musicians/personalities material (although it must be stated that their album “No Business” is definitely not the first album to be constructed in this manner). While mainstream DJs bemoan the increasing costs of legitimate sampling, Negativland instead throws caution and convention to the winds as they create unique musique concrete pieces to the music industry and the modern consumer, as they champion “free use” policies and other issues regarding intellectual property concerns. Their most publicized creation was a parody of a classic U2 song, although “Escape From Noise” is one of their most consistent and straight-forward statements.

“Escape From Noise” is one of Negativland’s most acclaimed albums. The concept that loosely intertwines the highly divergent songs is the continual escape from noise: from blind consumerism, fundamentalism, white noise, commercialism, and other nagging (yet perpetual) intangibilities. However, the album does not always hold itself to this concept, as it will just as often make wild right-turns into seemingly unrelated places of interest (although closer examinations can reveal similar aspects between the topics). Simplistic drum tracks with funky synth bass lines and infrequent electric guitar often accompany these songs, as samples narrate the direction of the song title. Occasionaly, a nasal-monotone man will explain along with the song (and, in an amusingly half-hearted attempt, singing), most often with various sound effects popping up at specific intervals.

Many of the songs directly deal with the “escape from noise” motif, often using the actual phrase as a chorus, in songs that present the shadier side of radio broadcasting, white noise desensitation, Christian fundamentalism’s occasional targeting of rock music in “moral crusades”, the possible physical consequences of white noise oversaturation, and the various non-beneficial ways sound can be utilized. They all share a similar vibe to a certain degree, and many of them utilize the same set of samples, though they may be radically altered from track to track. Also, all of the tracks present “noise”, in all of it’s various manifestations, as a fundamentally undesirable situation, one in which escape may be impossible (hence the repeated hypothetical query “Is there any escape from noise?”).

Much like a town with main attractions, the out-of-the-way antique shops and ice cream parlors that are not associated with the larger establishments are often as interesting (if not more so) than the regular institutions. Thus, so it is with the albums “non-thematic related” songs. Included in the collection is an interesting tale of frustration caused by failures on the Playboy channel, a song about Lime Soda, a toddler singing “Over The Rainbow” (with hiccups), a somewhat long explanation of the extra-second inclusion in universal time zones, a mental health examination, and (resulting in what is unarguably Negativland’s most controversial song) a song featuring the lyrics: “The loudspeaker spoke up and said: Christianity is stupid, Communism is good. Did you hear that? Give up! About five o’clock in the morning…til’ ten o’clock at night!” (which meaning becomes even more indecipherable when considering that the samples apparently came from a Christian fundamentalist minister). Finally, the album ends with what it was fleeing and dreading the entire time: a short burst of unidentifiable static noise.

In many cases where music is designed to portray a specific message to the listener (in other words, it is not supposed to be open to interpretation), it often falls on it’s face because the seriousness of the message will often turn off many listeners. Negativland overcomes this by masking the message in humorous appeals to the mundane aspects of life while interspersing their seriousness with various presentations of the surreal and bizarre. Granted, some of the songs now appear to be more controversial now than when the album was first released in 1987, yet they still have the same urgency and sense of relevance now as they did back then.

Hopefully, with this well-constructed work of re-constructed sampling, you can finally answer the question of: “Is there any escape from noise?”.

Negativland Official Page

~ by John Lithium on May 13, 2007.

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