“What you’re about to hear,” said the middle one of the three guys onstage dressed in matching gray plaid shirts, “is 100 percent feedback. Okay, maybe 90 percent.”
This was not what I expected out of Negativland, the band/art collective responsible for inventing the term “culture jamming” and notorious for getting nearly sued out of existence by U2. I was hoping for a multimedia extravaganza featuring mockingly sampled TV commercials, pop tunes and maybe a chopped ‘n’ screwed RNC stump speech or two. At least a little self-mutilation, perhaps. But a solid hour of feedback? Not what I had in mind.
The feedback was coming courtesy of a curious little homemade instrument called the Booper, a simple oscillator/FX box invented by arguably Negativland’s weirdest member, David “The Weatherman” Wills. (You can watch The Weatherman’s highly idiosyncratic “How to Use the Booper” tutorial here.) With four or five of these Booper gadgets fired up at once, the three members of Negativland onstage this past Thursday at the Echoplex here in L.A. unleashed a slow-motion tidal wave of noise that was actually a lot less horrible than I thought it would be. In fact, by the end of the performance, I was rather enthralled.
I’ve been sitting here for a while now trying to explain to you how over 45 minutes of improvised feedback could be “enthralling” and so far, I’ve come up with bupkis. We even had a brief power outage that forced me to rewrite this entire post and still, I got nothin’. All I can tell you is that the Negativland guys were very clever about tweaking their Boopers (and yes, I know that sounds masturbatory—and it probably should) just enough to keep all those drones, shrieks, rumbles and roars from getting completely monotonous. It was noise, yes, but it was purposeful noise—or at least they were able to make it seem that way. I’m pretty sure they snuck in a few drum machine beats and loops, too, although I can’t say for sure because my vantage point was too far from the stage. In a nice gesture towards Negativland’s borderline-geriatric fan base, the usually standing-room-only Echoplex put in about 20 rows of folding chairs, but I was standing towards the back. Which is okay, actually, because my borderline-geriatric ears couldn’t have handled all that feedback at closer range.
Apparently this all-Booper show was a kickoff of sorts for a gallery show here in L.A. featuring the art of Negativland. Called “Our Favorite Things,” the show runs through Sept. 30th at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery. We’ll try to check it out before it closes and report back to you on that, as well.
Oh, and to all of you who tweeted and Facebooked responses to our “What requests should we yell out?” query—thanks, but it really wasn’t that kind of show. I think even during the encore, if I had yelled out “Christianity Is Stupid,” I would have at best elicited an extra squawk of Booper-induced feedback.