Artists' Television Access

Craig Baldwin: Sonic Outlaws

Friday, September 19, 2014, 9:00 pm, $7-$10

SONIC_moped_legsCo-presented by SF Cinematheque.

Craig Baldwin, ATA co-founder and organizer of the Other Cinema series of experimental and underground film/video and performances , is celebrated through two programs of his amazing and influential work exploiting found and archival footage embedded in countercultural sensibilities.

1st program: 7PM (¡O No Coronado! & Wild Gunman & RocketKitKongoKit)

2nd program:

Sonic Outlaws, 87 minutes\16mm

By their own reckoning, members of the Bay Area recording and performance group Negativland got themselves into trouble by having too much fun. Their prank began with a pirated audiotape of Casey Kasem, the normally boosterish-sounding disk jockey and radio personality, as he cursed a blue streak while trying to record a spot about the band U2. Sensing opportunity at hand, Negativland enthusiastically mixed these mutterings with samples from a U2 song, then put out a 1991 single on the SST label with a picture of the U-2 spy plane on its cover.

“We didn’t know how prophetic it was that the plane was shot down,” one member of Negativland says now.”

Sonic Outlaws, a fragmented, gleefully anarchic documentary by Craig Baldwin, approaches this incident from several directions. Some of the film is about the legal nightmare that ensued from Negativland’s little joke. In a highly publicized case, U2’s label, Island Records, charged Negativland with copyright and trademark infringement for appropriating the letter U and the number 2, even though U2 had in turn borrowed its name from the Central Intelligence Agency. SST then dropped Negativland, suppressed the record and demanded that the group pay legal fees. Trying to remain solvent, Negativland sent out a barrage of letters and legal documents that are now collected in “Fair Use”, an exhaustive, weirdly fascinating scrapbook about the case.

Sonic Outlaws covers some of the same territory while also expanding upon the ideas behind Negativland’s guerilla recording tactics. Guerilla is indeed the word, since these and other appropriation artists see themselves as engaged in real warfare, inundated by the commercial airwaves, infuriated by the propaganda content of much of what they hear and see, these artists strike back by rearranging contexts as irreverently as possible. Their technological capabilities are awesome enough to mean no sound or image is tamper-proof today.

 


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