JULY/AUGUST 2008

“THE AMBIENT CANNIBAL”

A Review of a Sept. 1996 Episode of Negativland’s Radio Show

94.1 KPFA-FM, Berkeley, Calif.

“The Ambient Cannibal,” an episode of KPFA’s Thursday night program, Over the Edge, begins like all episodes of Over the Edge: with the song “Heaven and Hell” by Vangelis (a composer perhaps best known for his soundtracks to the films Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire). It opens with a soaring, wordless female vocal. It has those rich Vangelis synthesizer lines, a steadily building melody, and, eventually, low male vocals and a church bell. It’s so damn serious, has so much gravitas, that the listener assumes it has to be a joke. And it is—sort of.

The nebulous space between the straight-faced admission and the bald-faced lie, the real and the surreal, is the terrain of Over the Edge. It is also, by extension, the terrain of the Bay Area band/collage artists/media pranksters/copyright activist group Negativland, who, through the commitment of member Don Joyce, are responsible for Over the Edge. Joyce—who trained as a painter at the Rhode Island School of Design—became a member of Negativland after inviting the band to play on an early incarnation of Over the Edge, and it was his exposure to their collage techniques and creative, anything-goes approach that first got him thinking about the radio station as a “performative instrument.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Matthew Simmons

Matthew Simmons is the Man Who Couldn’t Blog and the interviews editor for the journal Hobart. He lives in Seattle.

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