Negativland, It’s All in Your Head

Robert Ham

By Robert Ham

on 10.28.14 in Reviews

On their 1987 album Escape From Noise, Negativland titled one of their songs, simply, “Christianity Is Stupid.” Now, close to 30 years later, the Bay Area-based sound-collage collective has a more thoughtful perspective on the subject of faith and religion.

Built from materials used for the live performances Negativland have put on since 2005, the group uses It’s All In Your Head to reassert their belief that Christianity (and Judaism and Hinduism and Islam) is dumb. But, as the title of the project suggests, there may be a neurological explanation for people’s belief in a higher power.

Conceptually, this is no different than any other Negativland release or their weekly radio show Over the Edge. The group processes samples of found sounds and thrift-store vinyl finds with their own electronic bleats and stray bits of comedy from the band members: At the end of the first disc of this two-CD set (pointedly packaged inside a copy of the Bible), Don Joyce and Mark Hosler act out a scene where they shave a chimp as proof of man’s primate ancestry and therefore the nonexistence of Adam & Eve.

Reasserting their belief that Christianity (and Judaism and Hinduism and Islam) is dumb

The main voices here, though, are those of philosophers, scientists and other folks who try to explain both how the brain works and how that could predetermine a belief in a god. “The notion here is that we, not God, are in fact creating our own response unwittingly thus tricking ourselves into believing it is coming from elsewhere,” as one woman puts it in “The Way We Know Things.”

Negativland may think religion is foolish (and sometimes dangerous), but what never comes across in It’s All In Your Head is the sense that they look down on anyone who believes. They illustrate this point to stirring effect on the second disc with people describing the sight of people holding hands as they leapt from one of the towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Negativland understands the need for humans to reach out for something to grasp on to in our darkest times; they’d just much rather it be a fellow human than some invisible entity.