U2 Vinyl Record Sound Art Project: Dead Wax And The Sounds Of Silence

I am lucky enough to have a neighborhood record store, Laurie’s Planet Of Sound. In Chicago, there are lots of neighborhoods with at least one shop nearby, but even after more than a decade in Chicago I am still feeling very spoiled by this.

So naturally when I decided to start doing vinyl-based sound art, Laurie’s became a go-to place for me. I like the people who work there, it’s a shop with a lot of character, and I always find unusual vinyl records there. Mostly though, I go in, do my own research, and take what I can find.

But today, Thursday Feb. 16 2017, I needed just a bit of help. With fun results.

“I’m looking for a really crappy copy of The Joshua Tree.” Yes, THAT Joshua Tree, the 1987 release by U2 produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, recorded by Flood, and album photography by the legendary Anton Corbijn.

Which got laughs, questions about why I needed a crap copy of an RIAA Diamond-selling record (the highest record sales award you can get..Gold, Platinum, Diamond, lots of money). I explained to them what I’m about to explain to YOU, except this is not the condensed version.

Earlier in the day, I spent some time in an isolation tank, floating in pitch blackness, having some zen experiences, contemplating the void, getting salt water in my eyes, and hearing my own blood rushing through my ears with a bit of tinnitus thrown in for good measure. OK, more than a bit.

I got out, showered, and went home to do some research and try to get some inspiration for a new sound art project to work on. I sat down at the computer and started thinking about that isolation tank. About how black it was. As black as the dead wax on a vinyl record, except not as reflective. As in, not reflective at all.

Thinking about dead wax and vinyl records and sound art all together started making me contemplate Negativland for some reason. I have no idea why the name popped in there except that in relation to sound art, they have always been front and center in my mind as a group of people working on things that obsessed them even when it had the potential (fully realized) to get them into big trouble with corporate media.

That controversy happened when Negativland released some material featuring appropriated sounds from DJ Casey Kasem and U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from the Joshua Tree record. This is all documented by Negativland in Fair Use and is generally fascinating.

Then I started thinking about how one could revisit this controversy, paying tribute to Negativland’s work with one hand and poking the goofy lumbering corporate media they had to battle with the other. But, it must be stressed, without reinventing Negativland’s wheel or breaking into their wheelhouse, so to speak.

So I decided to make a little pilgrimage to Laurie’s Planet of Sound to see if I could first find some source material-preferably The Joshua Tree-and go from there.

My goal was to find a beaten-to-death copy of The Joshua Tree, one with a lot of surface noise, skips, and age-related wear of the worst kind. Something that looks like the dog took it out to the back yard and buried it. And then dug it up again and took it surfing.

But Laurie’s likes to stock records that do NOT resemble this, so I was out of luck-even after squatting down and dealing with the knee-destroying Fifty Cent Bins. As in, records for sale at the incredibly high price of fifty cents, not bins crammed full of recordings by Fifty Cent.

I had set some parameters for this little project on my walk to the record shop. The rules for this art project are that my source material must be purchased from the local record shop, must be a U2 record on vinyl, and most important of all, the use of my source material cannot contain ANY MUSIC from the record.

You read that correctly. This sound art project investigates the intersection of copyright, physical media, the ephemeral nature of that media, musical history, and appropriation.

Which is why this project, Dead Wax and The Sounds Of Silence, uses samples from the album’s runout grooves, the spaces between songs, even silences found within the album itself. These are recorded, edited, manipulated, mutilated, and otherwise altered to create a new, transformative work.

I suppose it’s fair to say that this project also riffs on John Cage’s 4’33, which I include below at the end of the post (while this clip lasts, it may be yanked at any time from the poster’s account via the whims of YouTube) for reference.

This project is ongoing, I was just pretty eager to share all this before memories get too blurry about what happened on the day of the record store trip.

What ultimately happened at Laurie’s? I had to settle for a copy of the U2 vinyl record, Wide Awake In America, which features Lanois/Eno. Sure, it would be more historically accurate and fun to manipulate the silences of The Joshua Tree in general, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in particular. But for now, source material has been obtained, and the manipulation begins in 3…2…1.

Updates and progress reports to follow.




Every artist goes through evolutionary changes in their art practice, and I’m experiencing some of those lately. Over the years I have created a great deal of visual and audio artwork, but only lately have I realized that the audio work I have done should be placed in an art context rather than a musical one.

When I paint, I use the tools of the trade to create visual art. But almost exclusively, I’ve felt the work I have done in the past with audio to be something residing either in music or cinema-limitations or short-sightedness  I can only attribute to a lack of serious investigation into sound (and indeed, painting, drawing, etc) as part of a larger transmedia art practice.

But now that I’m exploring that option, I feel the nature of my art practice shifting into something both totally unfamiliar and very comfortable. I see my work in painting and photography in a very different light now, and my audio work has a new importance I never really assigned to it before.

And so…the practice changes to incorporate these things. It means I have to revise a good many things-my artist statement, the way I present my work, the way I structure my art studio space and hold shows and events. But these changes are good ones-the alterations one makes to her or his practice should come when they are ready, and this is definitely something that’s been a long time in the making, even if it was only subconciously fermenting away.

Stay tuned.

The State Of Art in 2017


Ramblings ahead.

There are some recordings by William S. Burroughs that include chanting intended to reflect bad energy or a magickal attack back to its’ sender. I can’t think of anything more appropriate as we begin 2017 in earnest than this. Curse, go back indeed!

What does a growing wave of far-right leaning governments, emboldened hate groups, and a seeming rise of general ignorance imply for the art world?

That remains to be seen, but if the New York Times is to be believed, there could be a boom in art collecting-or at least something to look forward to (note: I don’t believe there’s anything to look forward to on Jan, 20th 2017) once the Trump administration takes over in Washington D.C…

“Detailed policies have yet to be decided, but Mr. Trump’s stated commitments to reducing taxes and regulation, as well as to negotiating better trade deals and investing in infrastructure, have helped the Dow Jones industrial average climb to 19,833.68 at the close of trading on Dec. 28, about an 8.2 percent increase since Nov. 8.”

“This in turn is creating a feel-good factor in the art world, where America’s 1 percent makes up by far the largest proportion of the most serious buyers. Not only might they have more money to spend, but Mr. Trump has even appointed Wilbur Ross, a billionaire art collector, as secretary of commerce and Steven Mnuchin, the multimillionaire son of the leading New York art dealer Robert Mnuchin, as secretary of the Treasury. From the commercial art world’s point of view, what’s not to like about the new administration?”

That’s from a New York Times article by Scott Reyburn. To be clear-I personally don’t think there’s anything to look forward to come January 20 2017 when the inauguration begins. But there is a lot of speculation about what is going to happen to the arts in America and how the new right-leaning administration could challenge, censor, oppress, or otherwise try to stop dissenting voices.

Many established artists with currency in the art world have made statements about their feelings on how money changes things, whether or not it is a corrupting influence, etc. I don’t need to repeat any of those things here, or reinvent the wheel when it comes to perspectives about the nexus of money, fame, and art. In 2017 that nexus should be questioned more, challenged more, and questioned yet again.

The fact that we have an incoming administration populated by million/billionaires is troubling enough…but revelations that some of that money comes from the art world (as in Mnuchin’s case according to the NYT) should serve to inspire conversations and questions about this among artists, curators, dealers, etc. Not that “art money” is to blame for, well, anything, but since institutional critique is an important part of the arts it stands to reason that such things are probed and examined.

I write that even as I contemplate changes to my own art practice to make my work more sustainable. Changing the content/substance of one’s art to make money isn’t what I’m talking about here, more about best practices to promote the work that I do and try to make it more visible out in the world. Art wants to be experienced, no? But I find myself questioning the larger environment that I live and work in as an artist. The old questions are still valid and relevant, but they are complicated by the new reality we wake up in starting January 20th, 2017.

Is it wrong to earn a living from your work? Not at all. But I find it important to question the nexus of art and commerce all the same. I don’t have any answers except that we have plenty of examples of what can and does happen when money has too much influence. Is the volume of income from art problematic at some point? Is the ability to make art and use it as your sole income a two-edged sword in that doing so removes you from the “real world”?

These are some of the questions I am asking in 2017.


Artist Statement

Joe WallaceI’ve been contemplating my artist statement again recently and realized it was in dire need of an update. So here I am with a much more relevant statement addressing the work I’m doing right now. Thanks for your interest and please see the contact information at the end of the statement if you need to get in touch regarding commissions, purchasing work, or other details.


The urban landscape is filled with patterns, grids, shapes, and repetition. Whether you’re in New York City, Tokyo, Chicago, or anywhere else with that type urban sprawl, the sheer density of buildings, cars, people, and streets creates an overwhelming amount of visual information to process. That information is a metaphor for life in the city, and it’s an experience I try to recreate.

The feelings of movement, isolation, loneliness, and voyeurism one gets in the city is a very important part of my work. Glimpses of people, shapes, patterns, moods, experiences sail past us on the street, on the subway, in the taxicab on the way to the airport, everywhere you need to be in the city, leaving it, or returning.

The city is awash in the smells of food, beer, exhaust fumes. The sounds of the streets are forever ebbing and flowing. Our time on the pavement on the way to and from our struggles and triumphs is punctuated by boozy hours, random encounters in the night, the tyranny of the alarm clock, the kiss goodbye, or the lack of one. The skipped breakfast, the hurried lunch, the wondering what happens tonight.

My work is about urban alienation, the pressure of the city, the contradictory feelings of anticipation and dread, the joys, the need, the unpleasantness and the excitement of the urban sprawl. Where do we go in this vast metropolis to get away from the crush of humanity, or even ourselves? How do we find connections to others in the emptiness of city living? Who shares their joy and how? Where does it all lead? The neon and glass storefronts reflect your face as you walk by, but is that who you are?

Some of what I do is about answering these questions–whether that is in the work itself, or in the process of showing it to others and finding a middle ground with fellow travelers in the concrete jungle. The city is indifferent to our wants, our lusts and our joys, but it is also a place where we can meet together to share a moment in the shadow of the tinted glass towers.

–Joe Wallace 2016

Contact me at jwallace242@gmail.com for collaboration, commissions, or other proposals.



Artist and owner of StudioLab 1579 N. Milwaukee #220 Chicago Illinois 60622. CONTACT ME to BUY ART or to COMMISSION WORK at jwallace242@gmail.com