The image here is a screen grab from a mixed-media sound art installation I’ve been working on as part of my new series, The DeadWax Project.
I was inspired by revisiting the Negativland/U2 fair use copyright case, which saw Negativland sued by U2’s record company for copyright infringement over a 12-inch single released in the 90’s called U2. That single featured Negativland mashing up and parodying “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with four-letter blooper soundbites from American Top 40 personality Casey Kasem mixed in.
I wanted to take Negativland’s Fair Use hassles with U2 (there were extensive phone conversations between the group and members of U2 about the lawsuit) to what seems to be the very end of the road. I took the same record, The Joshua Tree, which contains the song Negativland parodies/critiques/comments upon, and sampled it extensively.
But NOT the music.
Instead, I recorded all the dead spaces on the album-the deadwax, runout, etc. I recorded the clicks, pops, hum, hiss, and other ephemeral noises that were NOT made by the band U2. I heavily edited them, mashed them up, amplified, and otherwise manipulated these “silences” to create a soundscape (and resulting video featuring the vinyl record I sampled) that questions the Negativland/U2 fair use case in the following ways:
Who owns the physical object that is a vinyl record? Is this YOUR album once you have purchased it in a record store or from an online seller? Or has it simply been loaned to you for a fee?
If YOU own the record, do you have the right to do with this physical object as you see fit? If not, why not?
In relation to #2, who “owns” the silent passages on the record? If the record company or artist claims ownership, does that not call into question the nature of ownership of the physical album?
It’s obvious that the artist owns the original recording/performance that comprises the content on the physical record or digital download. But who owns the physical or digital COPY of this material once it has been sold?
At what point do the answers to these questions dictate how this recorded/duplicated content may be used in the context of parody, commentary, reportage, or creating new works of art that seek to question/comment on the original? Is art “illegal” when made by and for consenting adults without deception?
The first work in this mixed-media sound art series features the U2 vinyl record, The Joshua Tree, and debuts at the University of Chicago, 400 South Peoria Street on April 7, 2017.
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.
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.
Artist and owner of StudioLab 1579 N. Milwaukee #220 Chicago Illinois 60622. firstname.lastname@example.org