Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Performance Review: Negativland

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Turns out the gods aren't bored. They're all in your head.

This was the premise and title of a performance by an ensemble called Negativland. Negativland performed at the University of Pennsylvania last Friday night. We at "The Gods Are Bored" are lucky indeed that our daughter The Heir has such a weird taste that she doesn't even invite her friends to the shows she goes and sees. She takes us instead.

In this case we didn't see the show. The ensemble members handed out blindfolds before they began and asked us to use them. The blindfolds were the gaudy paper kind that kids wear when they bat at pinatas. The reasoning was that the program was meant to be like a radio show (in fact it was simulcast on an independent station). The ensemble members thought the audience would be distracted by their busy technological and script-reading activities during the performance.

Negativland got to the point right away: There is no God. Then they expanded upon this premise using their trademark technique. It's known as "plunderphonics," and it consists of stealing snippets of audio from a vast variety of sources and bending it to uses the original artists or speakers would hardly dare to imagine.

Blindfolded, the technique was compelling indeed, very spooky and original. In a break from their usual aural collages, Negativland ran longer sippets of conversation from learned atheists as well as scary fundies of every stripe, from Christian to Islamic to Catholic to Judaic. We at "The Gods Are Bored" recognized the voice of the elusive atheist speaker who sparked this web log by declaring, "If you want to know how silly religion is, just substitute the name 'Zeus' for the name 'God.' In Zeus We Trust. One Nation under Zeus."

Negativland did not use that quote, but with much dramatic crashing and booming and repetition and speeding up and slowing down, they drove home the point that this God stuff is for the birds. Not even for the birds, they're smarter than that.

The second half of the show used 9/11 to support the thesis that God people do horrible things, and they ought to be shut down by pure reason. We at "The Gods Are Bored" have always argued that people don't do anything in the name of God that doesn't really have some other underlying agenda, so we didn't quibble with this thesis.

As for "There Is No God," well, we at "The Gods Are Bored" think it's like this. Either there's no god at all, or every single god and goddess that ever existed, every totemic animal, every angel and faerie and alien off a UFO, every single one exists, NO EXCEPTIONS.

We at "The Gods Are Bored" have been known to offer up prayers to goddesses so ancient that their names and deeds have been totally forgotten. Everything is, nothing is.

Negativland feels that nothing is. They present a dramatic and fascinating show in service of their views. Afterwards they mingle with the crowd, signing autographs and soliciting opinions. Not many artists dare do that.

We at "The Gods Are Bored" thought these three artists might not want to hear the message of the Sacred Thunderbird and how worship of it changes lives, so we remained polite. It was an interesting evening. We never removed the blindfold until the last sound rolled off the machines.

You can have Madonna and Billy Joel. When we at "The Gods Are Bored" go out, we go OUTTTTT.

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