Wade Iverson, aka DJ Disbelieve, aka Probation Officer Iverson, has produced, in sound document form, a provocative meditation on poverty and social disenfranchisement. Working in a veritable laboratory of socialized disfunction, Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green housing projects (ironically now the locus of ambitious and no doubt well-intentioned urban planning interventions), Iverson has mixed on-site recordings, media samples and snatches of songs and rhythms to give some shape from the chaotic whole that he faces as a worker in the justice system. In doing so Iverson is following the advice of the poet Robert Frost, who is sampled on the track “I’m Not Fearing Any Man” as saying, “If you suffer any confusion in life, the best you can do is make little forms.” On the opening track of Out of (our) content, “Help People Help Themselves,” earnest voices intone things like, “The projects are set up in a simple way… everything that he is doing in these projects is showing the people how they can do these same things themselves…. If we can help them get started then they can carry on and make their own lives better.” The sad truth though, borne out through the voices and sounds captured here, is that people’s lives are not getting better. On “A Death on the Playground” a boy’s voice is heard talking on his probation officer’s answering machine, first asking when his court date is and then, chillingly and almost inexplicably, is heard calling her a “fucking bitch.” The liner notes inform us that this same child was shot dead some two months after that call.
As a multi-media project, the short CD-ROM visual component of Out of (our) Content consists of a series of still photographs, mostly unpeopled shots of the squalor of Cabrini Green, that are edited together with Iverson’s mix to create another kind of collage. Here the project seems to stumble a bit because the photographs are neither especially informative (we know what the inner-city looks like) nor artistically accomplished enough to add much in the way of new insights to the sound component.
One of the strongest aspects of the sound component is the fact that Iverson wisely chooses not to try to sum up or reduce the issues that are being touched on in Out of (our) Content. Instead he takes issues, in the form of discrete statements and sounds, and sonically recontextualizes them, allowing them to be focused on anew. Therein unexpected associations can surprise us and open us up to novel understandings: a boy’s voice, separated from the boy and his particular surroundings, becomes the universal voice of children damaged by simply not having enough: enough food, enough love, enough safety.
// Notes from the Road
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