Negativland gets in your head

Len Righi
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

The merry pranksters known as Negativland do not intend to exorcise old demons with "It's All In Your Head FM," a two-hour look at monotheism spun off from their weekly radio broadcast "Over the Edge."

Nor will long-time sound-collagists Mark Hosler, Don Joyce and Peter Conheim settle for simply preaching to the choir about the supernatural God concept and the role of the brain in determining beliefs.

"We've taken pains not to mock fundamentalism, or fundamentalist preachers," said Hosler, 45, a founding member of the San Francisco-based group that has been provoking laughter, thought and outrage since 1979 with records such as "Escape from Noise," "Helter Stupid," "Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2" and "Dispepsi."

"What we're getting at is this belief in a single god and that my god is the right one and yours is not," Hosler said. "It's causing a lot of trouble right now. We have a president who thinks God tells him what to do and we're at war with terrorists who think God tells them what to do.

"We wanted to do a show that would challenge that audience and be challenging for us to put together."

To simplify, Hosler offered this formula to describe Negativland's unusual endeavor: "Take `Firesign Theater' and `A Prairie Home Companion' and put them in a blender with the Beatles' `Revolution 9' and you may have something approximating it.

"It's a radio show created on stage," he continued. "We encourage people to listen. We even hand out blindfolds to the audience."

"It's All In Your Head FM" is hosted by Negativland creation Oslo Norway. "He works for One World Advertising and doesn't care about what's true, just how it can be used to sell products," Hosler said.

Using a bank of sound libraries known as cart machines, Joyce cuts up spoken-word bits on the fly while Hosler layers in the beats and Conheim adds homemade electronics sounds - "icing on the cake," as Hosler puts it.

"This is a visually stripped-down version of the show we've been touring with off and on for last few years," Hosler pointed out. "Before, we used projectors, costumes, puppets, toasters as smoke machines. They made for great shows, but in terms of emotional and visceral reaction, the current show is the most intense.

"There's a lot of improvisation. The way it comes together is different every night. ... It's like three, four or five deejays making room for each other. It creates the rapport of a jazz group."

The first half of the show, Hosler said, "is about how the brain works, the science and cultural background. After an intermission, the second half centers on Islam, Judaism and terrorism. Hopefully the audience is not prepared for where the show goes."

Asked about his own beliefs, as well as Joyce and Conheim's, Hosler replied, "We don't agree on these things absolutely. Some guys might be atheists. I'm definitely not. But I'm comfortable with not knowing.

"A lot of people hate dealing with the gray areas of life," he added. "It's really painful. It's not easy at all. ... Behavioral studies show that most people are hard-wired to believe this or that, while a lesser number can deal with the ambiguity."

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