Collage arists: Faking "found footage"?

Can we trust collage artists, like Negativland, not to fake "found footage?"

Date: Fri, 23 Aug 1996 00:42:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ken (email)
Subject: That's the bottom line these days

On Thu, 22 Aug 1996 wrote:
> what if Negativland just RERECORDED the whole U2 single, but got an
> impersonator to do the Casey Chasm voice?
Actually, this is a point I think about a lot. I used to play a very healthy amount of Negativland on my weekly radio show in Binghamton, NY. I also do a lot of things similar to the kinds of things they do.

As I do them, I think, how does anyone know that I'm doing all this live and unplanned? I mean, I could have sat in a recording studio and spliced everything together at my leisure, and when I needed a certain source I could've spent time going through our stuff finding it, etc. I do it seat-of-the-pants, but you wouldn't know that.

Furthermore, you wouldn't necessarily know that I wasn't just playing a CD for an hour, where someone else made this crazy mix and I'm just playing it.

Obvious example: When I play an entire Negativland track, without doing anything to it or layering anything on it: Does the listener realize I'm just playing a CD that someone else went through the effort of making? (Of course, on that CD, did THEY make it on the fly, or did they spend time in the studio?)

We, as listeners, might take for granted that, when we hear music by collage artists such as Negativland, it really is a collage of "found footage," and that it's amazing and remarkable that they found stuff that fit so perfectly. (On the other level, we might take for granted that it just "happened" to work out that way, and feel cheated when we realize that they planned it in advance. This varies from listener to listener.)

Yet, what if the band MAKES the "found" footage themselves? When we hear Bono talking about copying other people's work, and then we hear some lawyer-sounding guy saying "copying is a criminal act," we think, wow, how clever: a lawyer refuting this statement. We think, wow, a lawyer who was involved in the suit between Island and Negativland. We think different things, but they're along these lines in some way.

In actuality, we have no way of knowing where this lawyer-sounding guy came from. MORE THAN LIKELY he's just someone (even a member of Negativland?) talking into a phone or a processor or something to sound "found," and he's just reading off of a script to fit in with the mix.

AGAIN, there are even multiple levels to this: Did he read that one line off of a script, or did he read a whole long thing, and then later the band was _somewhat_ clever and clipped this one line out and used it. It's still "found," only it sure wasn't hard to find. OR better yet, did he just open a mic and start blabbing, and then they were even _more_ clever and clipped this one line out and used it.

See, we can assume it's any level, but if it's not really 100% FOUND, and if it's not really LIVE, chances are we think it is to some extent, and we are (possibly) cheated.

Am I being judgmental? Can you simply argue that, it doesn't matter how the work was created, since in the end we just hear the finished product and enjoy it as it is? If we don't know any better, what's the difference?

The answer is: It's not about judging. It's about how we cannot trust what we hear. When artists like Negativland, who are obsessed with media manipulation, start producing stuff that "turns the media on itself," how can they possibly resist the temptation to DO THE SAME THING THEY'RE CRITICISING. It makes their point all the stronger, in a way. Because then they've fooled the "savvy," media-critical listener.

On another level, it makes it much easier to produce something interesting, albeit differently interesting.

So, to come around and address the idea of faking Casey Casem's voice on a "new" version of U2: Sure, they could do it. It'd probably be damned hard to do it well. But it'd be fake. Wouldn't most readers of this message agree that it's just not very interesting if it's fake?

Yet, would most readers of this message be able to confidently tell me that Negativland never fakes their footage? Or that you, as a listener, have NEVER been fooled by faked footage?

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