From The Desk Of Negativland: “Love Me Tonight”

LoveMeTonight

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

Mark Hosler:

This absurd, hilarious and inventive 1932 pre-code musical, starring then-superstars Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, was a revelation when I saw it for the first time. For its era, it’s as wildly inventive and avant-garde as you could get in a Hollywood film, bursting at the seams with new ideas that still surprise today. Containing astonishing uses of sound-as-music, inventive camera moves, zooms, slow and fast motion for humorous effect, dialogue that often rhymes long before erupting into song, unique sound and picture editing, dirty double entendres, a supporting character who’s a nymphomaniac, and lyrics that are often truly bizarre, director Rouben Mamoulian uses miniatures, layered visual montages, tracking shots and dolly shots that are as unique as any in Citizen Kane nine years later.

Videos after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Negativland: Cyriak

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

Cyriak

Mark Hosler: The undefinable and delightful bat-shit insanity of animator/appropriator/musician Cyriak is not to be missed. His latest from this summer, Malfunction, may be my all-time favorite of his. It visually feels like it is coming from the same universe as the earliest work of Negativland in the 1980s, pure suburban dada surrealism, yet still feels like it’s about something that is burrowed deep in one’s brain struggling to get out! And you may not survive when it emerges. Technically, Cyriak’s use of music, and matching of color, hue and film grain with the CGI stuff he adds, the way the whole thing structurally repeats and develops and expands as you watch it … it’s all genius!  His attention to creepy and unexpected visual details makes repeat viewings a must. Note the car door spanking the person loading groceries in the parking lot.

Video after the jump.

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Normal History Vol. 291: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In this week’s column, I continue to compare songs on Calico Kills The Cat with songs on our new album, Empathy For The Evil, from start to finish. See notes from Sept. 6, 2014.

7. “I’m A Bit Confused” (Calico Kills The Cat, 1989) Jobs have an unpleasant capacity to plunk the tedium of conventional life right under my nose. If it isn’t the general public sniffing around for bargains on consumer goods, it’s the co-workers who have not dared to dream beyond dental plans and annual vacations. I was in my 20s when I wrote this song. I had already opted out of the work force to spend 15 years making music, travelling, touring, writing and creating art. After that, at 40, I began a succession of dumb part-time jobs through which I have learned how to protect my creativity while vehemently disallowing banality to destroy my happiness.

7. “Naked And Ticklish” (Empathy For The Evil, 2014) The lyrics are directly out of my novel Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage, in which the female protagonist tells a story about her online dating adventures. While the song is fictional, aspects of it are from my experience online dating, where, like working at various jobs, I felt exposed to people I never would have met otherwise. For the most part I encountered selfish liars seeking self-gratification. In the song, and in the novel, the protagonist attempts relationships with men she has little in common with, but eventually her inability to trust them is, for her, impossible to ignore.

In my early years as a lyricist, I was more apt to express anger, whereas, in recent years, I’ve found my way back into storytelling with humorous overtones that resonate with audiences. As an anarchist currently working in retail—and a former participant in online dating—I am truly grateful that a good chunk of my life has been spent with likeminded people who continue to inspire me with their ability to sidestep what is apparently regarded as normal behavior.

“I’m A Bit Confused” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

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From The Desk Of Negativland: Bruce Conner

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

BruceConner

Peter Conheim: I am not sure where many of us in the various worlds of art, music, collage and film—or art/music/collage/film—would be were it not for Bruce Conner (1933-2008). Conner was adept at all of these disciplines, not to mention painting and sculpture. He pioneered the use of “found footage” in short-form filmmaking. He unwittingly created the “music video” with early shorts of Devo and David Byrne/Brian Eno. He was old enough to be part of the thriving beatnik culture of 1950s San Francisco as well as the thriving punk-rock culture of 1970s San Francisco, and his work cleanly and neatly bridges divides between decades. In 1999, the Walker Art Center mounted the largest retrospective of Conner’s work, encompassing aspects of every discipline he touched. You entered the exhibit viewing his physical “assemblages” from the beginnings of his art and exited somewhere in the midst of his film work, which continued until his death, even after he declared his “retirement.” So, to many, Conner is remembered above all as a “filmmaker,” but this label doesn’t do him full justice. His pen-and-ink drawings alone are stunning to behold: a fine-point fountain pen drawing one continuous, seemingly unending line, around and around and up and down the paper, never breaking. (Conner would only stop to refill his rapidograph pen, then bring the point right back to where he left off to continue moving the line.)

My personal revelation with Conner’s work was seeing his longest film, 1976′s Crossroads. It is a masterpiece of “found-footage” filmmaking, though it is entirely based upon a single image: the detonating of an atomic bomb at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 as the U.S. Army’s “Operation Crossroads” experiment (a 1954 re-run of which would poison and destroy the lives of generations of islanders). Conner was granted access through the Freedom of Information act to scour through and reprint hundreds of different cameras’ silent-film recordings of this single blast, as it was shot from every conceivable angle via land, sea and air. Varying speeds of optical printing bring the explosion to our eyes over and over and over and over again, with new and minute details appearing constantly throughout its 36-minute running time. But the film’s true majesty is its seamless blend of image and sound, even though the “event” itself was only filmed silently. Electronic composer Patrick Gleeson and minimalist maverick Terry Riley each score one-half of the film; Gleeson creates a synthetic soundscape of chirping birds, droning airplane engines, radio transmissions and the “sound” of the bomb itself, all entirely synthesized. Nothing is real. Riley performs a swirling, churning, raga-like piece with organ and tape loops that would later appear in different form on his Descending Moonshine Dervishes LP. Truth, beauty, death and horror all sewn up together in a perfect ribbon. More info here.

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Film At 11: Liars

Liars recently released latest album Mess, making for their seventh studio album since their formation in 2000. The new video for “I’m No Gold” is, in a way, a mess. Lead singer Angus Andrew stars in the clip as a strobe light flashes him throughout. But it’s these hallucinatory effects and strange visuals that match up with the heavy electronic music that makes the video something special. Check it out below.

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From The Desk Of Negativland: The Mutants

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

Mutants

Peter Conheim: They’ve only made one single LP, in 1982 (and it barely even got released at the time), but to my mind, San Francisco’s Mutants are the most eccentric pop band to ever come out of the city. Ostensibly lumped in with the punk scene of the time, starting as they did in 1977 in the first wave of the Mabuhay Gardens alongside the Avengers, the Nuns and the Dils (and, later, the Dead Kennedys and Flipper), the Mutants are really an edgy pop-music circus act, complete with three lead singers (Sue, Sally and Fritz, or Freddy, as he was sometimes called). Their unbelievably catchy, yet furiously double-guitar-driven tunes are about things as benign as furniture, clocks, magazines and wanting a new drug. (Yes, they really did have Huey Lewis rip them on off his peculiarly similar hit single.) But the songwriting and musicianship on display is anything but benign. Brendan Earley is a hooky genius of a melody writer, and the Siamese twin-like vocals of Sue and Sally presage the B-52′s and Crack: We Are Rock. And then there is Fritz, a good foot shorter than Sue, yowling over the top of it all like a terribly nervous advertising executive being shouted down at a staff meeting and having to rise above the fray to get his points across.

The original seven-piece band still plays together from time to time, though the group went through several dramatic lineup changes towards the end of their initial era that left the singers the sole original members. Those later iterations of the group were also startlingly brilliant, and they produced an EP that never saw release at the time. Most people are familiar with Mutants through their handful of pre-LP singles and compilation tracks, but their magnificent Fun Terminal album is worth tracking down, especially when it inevitably gets a proper re-release with some of the amazing bonus tracks that this writer has heard, but the world at large has not. Are you listening, “hip reissue” record labels? I have all the master tapes. You can find me.

Video after the jump.

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MP3 At 3PM: Field Guides

Brooklyn quintet Field Guides explores interesting new musical territory with debut LP Boo, Forever, out November 11. “Jon Says,” a track off the forthcoming album, is a strong example of the diversity of this music. It’s hopeful and triumphant while also laid-back and simple. The female vocals give the chill sound a new, fresh feel, and the layered vocal parts toward the end are quite impressive. We are proud to premiere the song today on magnetmagazine.com. Download the track below.

“Jon Says” (download):

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From The Desk Of Negativland: Ulrich Seidl

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

UlrichSeidl

Peter Conheim: Austrian “documentary” director Ulrich Seidl has yet to really “break” in the United States’ repertory/art-house-theater scene, but has been cranking out beguiling films since 1980, beginning on Austrian television and eventually moving into feature filmmaking. I first discovered his work in a retrospective at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley around 2003, confronted with a short portrait of a middle-aged high-school teacher titled Der Busenfreund (“The Bosom Friend”). The lines between fact and fiction are blurred in Seidl’s works to the point of literal, blinking incomprehension, and Busenfreund presents a man who illustrates laws of mathematics by carefully drawing brassieres on a chalkboard for his students (who may or may not even be sitting in the same classroom), and going home to his near-comatose mother who is “too bony” and, therefore, he has never established a close relationship with. I stumbled out into the night having absolutely no idea what constituted “truth” any longer.

Seidl’s Models follows a gaggle of coke-sniffing Vienna fashion models who may or may not be being photographed unknowingly through two-way mirrors; Animal Love charts the perilous course that masters of various different animals embark on with their “pets”; Fun Without Limits interviews the aficionados of a rural Austrian amusement park where a key attraction is a grotesque dummy “dying” in an electric chair on an endless loop. Seidl enacts “scenarios” with various non-actors in later films, leading to something vaguely resembling standard narrative fiction, but again, the line between fact and fiction simply never becomes clear. In this way, Seidl pushes Werner Herzog’s “documentary” style to a confrontational extreme from which Herzog generally steps back from the precipice. There is nothing like these films.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: The Rosebuds

The Rosebuds, based out of Raleigh, N.C., recently issued indie-rock masterpiece Sand + Silence. Now they’ve released a new video for “Blue Eyes,” a song full of hopefulness and joy. The clip tells a story of two boys and their adventures as they sneak into an empty church, bring a statue to life and feel the uncontrollable urge to dance. Check it out below.

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From The Desk Of Negativland: Celebrity Vanity LPs

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.

JohnWayne

Peter Conheim: It’s really high time for “celebrity vanity LPs” to come back into fashion. It seemed in the mid-1990s the fever for them peaked, but these platters—and there are lots and lots of them, arguably beginning in the late 1950s and continuing unabated—will never grow tiresome. There will never be a time when I don’t want to put Sebastian Cabot, Actor / Bob Dylan, Poet on my turntable, and enjoy Mr. French from A Family Affair deconstructing “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Likewise, the hair shall always stand up on the back of my neck at the dulcet tones of Leonard Nimoy singing Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now.” But none of these hold a candle to John Wayne’s immortal America: Why I Love Her (1973). It all comes down to “The Hyphen,” a heartfelt poem that compares the hyphen (as in “African-American,” “Irish-American,” “Italian-American,” “Jewish-American”) to the swastika and the Russian hammer and sickle. Yes, that little dividing line is a harbinger of hate, says Wayne.

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