Plazm Magazine: Documenting Creative Culture Since 1991
Plazm is a magazine of design, art, and culture with worldwide distribution. Founded by artists as a creative resource, the magazine is now published by the nonprofit New Oregon Arts & Letters.Order Plazm #30 now.
Art and Commodity Capitalism:
Mark Hosler of Negativland in Conversation with Joshua BergerNegativland are collage artists, acting in the rich, centuries old tradition of visual and aural composers, creating arrangements using found objects comprising the world that surrounds us. They are famous for being sued by Island records over their 1991 single, “U2” which contained samples of the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” along with with a bootlegged tape of Casey Casum bitching about having to play U2 again and again. Rather than rolling over and playing dead, Negativland spent the next four years dealing with every facet of the lawsuit. In their book, Fair Use, they have turned their situation into an open critique of Corporate America, its laws and intellectual property rights in the digital age.
What kind of personal history led up to your involvement with Negativland?
When I was eleven or twelve, I got interested in film and animation, I used to read tons of science fiction books. I started coming out from the suburbs to see foreign films in Berkeley. I discovered Werner Herzog, Bergman, and Fellini, which was pretty strange for a fourteen year old kid. I was collecting unusual movie soundtracks and discovered—this was the late 70s—this new DIY music coming out in the wake of the Sex Pistols. I wasn’t interested in punk rock but there were groups like the Residents, Throbbing Gristle, and Pere Ubu. Then I heard Mike Oldfield, who did Tubular Bells. He did an entire record all by himself; he was only nineteen. That was inspiring to me.
I took all my paper route money, rented a bunch of equipment and locked myself in my bedroom during Christmas vacation when I was sixteen. For two weeks I didn’t come out except to eat and go to the bathroom.
Shortly after that, I was working a job where I called people on the phone and asked them questions about their favorite TV shows. It was the perfect place for what became the nucleus of Negativland.
Negativland met while telemarketing?
Yes, I hooked up with Richard and David there, and it turned out they were interested in recording. They knew how to use mixers and make tape loops, how to make echo, which was like black magic to me. There was something I wanted to hear—a big gap in my record collection. I couldn’t articulate it exactly—a combination of conventional instruments, noise, pop, electronics, radio and TV. The very first Negativland recording is very environmental. There’s our parents, grandparents, dogs barking, the water running in the bathroom, the TV’s on, I’m playing the out of tune piano in the kitchen, my grandparents’ organ. It’s related to our experience growing up as white suburban middle class kids on the West Coast. Even the packaging with wallpaper samples on the back and a recipe for a hideous dessert that my mom used to make. The whole record came off seeming conceptual, though we had no intention of that. We were a conduit to the environment we were in.
We pressed 500 copies and sold them out fairly quickly. It was totally thrilling, very unexpected.
We did another record, continuing to make audio experiments in our bedrooms. It was on the third record that I started working with Ian Allen. Ian pushed me to think about the material we were using: the actual commercials, the TV, the talk radio, the short wave. I started carrying around a notebook, transcribing tapes. The actual found material, the content, became more important.