Get Ready. It’ll Take You A Little While To Listen Through This.
This isn’t really news to fans and listeners of the show. Even before it was clear that Over The Edge might be in some kind of danger, word had gotten out that Negativland was working on this project, in association with archive.org. And what a perfect match, really? Over The Edge is, in every sense, is a sprawling audio soundscape that builds in scope and momentum when viewed in larger and larger chunks. The show rewarded long term listening, and took on an impressive volume when thought of over months, years, and then decades, even. It was very much the creative ‘Life Work’ of DJ – Don Joyce to friends and family.
To sit, face to face with almost 1000 broadcasts by this radio enthusiast evokes the kind of awe that a listener can have when they sit down to listen to even one of Don’s shows.
And this was certainly the relationship a listener could have if they stumbled across the program late at night in the Berkley area. Competing voices all speaking at once, cutting back and forth, with a – Booper? What’s that? – punctuating a rare Bob Dylan track. That voice – The Weatherman? Who? – reads out the phone number. Then Don – feigning any number of characters, most recently Izzy Izn’t – would come on.
“You’re listening to Over The Edge. Tonight: Universe.” And a panoply of sounds would assault your senses, taking you on a journey no other show even considered pursuing.
While Over The Edge goes back to 1981 – and there are recordings of parts of shows from that era – what is left unsaid in a project like this is the career in radio that Don had already enjoyed for almost 20 years before, much of it undocumented. As seen in this photo from the archives of RISD (1966), Don was once a young man, as it turns out, but his passion for radio went back to the beginning.
Rumor has it that he could edit commercials on tape better than nearly anyone else who ever worked with him, and he took that skill with him to KPFA, where he claimed to do a “normal music show” as a volunteer, most likely offering his tape editing skills in the Production room. (And, knowing Don’s taste, it is hard to imagine that even a late ’70’s Don would skew anything toward “normal” when it come to a music show.) It is sad, then, to think that the years where he build up his career, his attitude, his persona, and – dare I say – his creative outlook, are not available in the same way that OTE is. Access to that kind of archive would give us the kind of perspective on this project that we can only surmise.
But even in measuring it’s deficiencies, what a body of work it is, to be sure. It is very clear, from the 6 July 1981 show that starts out the collection, that something crystalized for Don when Negativland came into the KPFA studio, like a post-modern traveling vaudeville show, with instruments and home-brewed gear, tape loops and other oddities which were all a part of their stage show. As Don faded DOWN the LP (that was the source almost every other DJ in the world used), and faded UP these sound sculptors who each had their own collection of audio devices, Don realized that the studio is an instrument as much as anything else these artists around him were using.
Steeped in collage and dada throughout his upbringing, Don saw an entire future ahead of him where the radio show was the painting, and drips and drabs of audio that he and his guests would paint with could be doled out – over years, if possible – to create a dadaist soundscape that stretched on in a narcotic sort of audio experience over a long period of time. A cut-and-paste-drone was what Over The Edge specialized in during the early ’80’s, dubbed “culture jamming” in ’84 so Don could align his work with the other kindred spirits who were working in Billboard defacing or with the Church of the SubGenius.
The shift in the style of radio Don created was immediate and dramatic. While music weaves its way into Don’s show throughout the entire 30+ year run, it is now just another audio source – to be manipulated and chopped up like anything else, use to serve the larger function of The Mix, which could contain any number of audio sources as it built its layered sound. The Mix, an elusive state of audio presentation where the narrative of the listening experience is augmented through the addition, subtraction, re-mixing, or manipulation of sound sources to accentuate the other audio sources in an almost Musique concrète sort of form. Sometimes, like in Jazz, you had to go against the beat, and mix against The Mix. Other times, a violation was forbidden. Don tried every sort of variation over the run of OTE in an effort to find out how far you could take The Mix, chasing themes and ideas over three our chunks, week after week. Hundreds of hours of shows, all pursuing hundreds of ways this aesthetic could be presented, all toying with the idea that it still had to somehow present as radio, that it couldn’t just be be completely impenetrable.
At least, not for very long, anyway.
Take it all in. No matter where you start, no matter how you try to consume it, this is more than you can fathom all at once. 34 years of radio. Week after week. Three to five hours at a time. And now, gone. Nothing new.
It adds up. How can this be?
On the last morning of my camping-trip bachelor party, I was weeping for Don Joyce at a campfire in the early morning. I had been drinking hard for a few days in a row by then, at this lovely riverside campsite. I had left my house having just listened to the “There Is No Don” before I left for the woods, where I would be without technology or phones until Monday morning. And so, with little sleep and very hungover, I poked a fire and cried, nursing a cup of cold coffee, trying to imagine a future without Over The Edge.
It seemed too big. Too Much. Like there just wasn’t a way that I could process it all without it feeling overwhelming. The show has been so much a part of my life since the mid ’90’s – when I discovered it – that it not only nudged me in the direction of radio myself in 1998, but became something that I could check in with, every week, to either help put me to sleep, or give me something to listen to through insomnia and drunken stupors. For almost 20 years I’d been listening, as a fan, collecting the CD releases, downloading the shows when the started to get traded online. I was, by no means, a hardcore fan. I mostly listened to podcasts and digital recordings after 2004. I don’t even live in the area that it was broadcast, so I didn’t have a lot of friends who also tuned in, and it was hard to meet people who also did, even after the Inter-Web-A-Tron was a daily reality. I just tuned in when I could, and enjoyed the strangeness of a three to five hour mix.
To this day I have the experience of hearing a piece of audio in a completely different context, and I finally realize where Don got a sample that he had been playing for years and years on OTE. The show had become such an important part of who I was, that I had to start explaining Over The Edge to people when I was describing my own program. As recently as June of this year I was writing another journal entry along the lines of, “Why aren’t people talking about Over The Edge as often as they should?”, a line of thinking that I very much regret given the proximity to his death a month later.
I’ve started and stopped several pieces and essays about Don, because I do want to eulogize him in some capacity, but really, how can I effectively encompass his influence on me without just sounding like I’m going through the motions? Over The Edge was one of the first things I searched for when I first had access to the Internet in 1994, having read about it in the liner notes to my copy of the Escape From Noise LP I’d picked up. Negativland quickly became my favorite band, but more pointedly, Don’s radio show – a part of and reflection of the ideas of Negativland – of which I was the real fan.
A cursory listen to my style of radio program and the influence is obvious, and I sample (and re-sample) OTE with a fair consistency, if not in exact audio samples, then in the ideas. I have a more Wavy Gravy / style approach, for sure, but radio is as much mix tape as it is performance. Nonetheless, what I’m sad about is the opportunity to hear a new episode, to hear Don get cranky about something, to hear him spar with Suicide Man, to listen to a new bumper that Don’s incorporating into the larger story, and – of course – a Mix that does something I’ve never heard before.
And I’ve heard the last of the new ones.
So it’s a good thing there are hundreds of old ones to check out, now, for sure.
Here’s An Excerpt From My Journal, Written July 27th In The Notes Photographed Above.
“For my entire adult light, Don Joyce has been a voice in my head. There were two influences on my interest in radio: Pump Up The Volume and Over The Edge. The more like OTE I could get my own radio show the better I thought it was, and only occasionally have I produced something I thought was OTE worthy. Once one of Don’s shows was broadcast, I would tear through the recording to hear what he’d done this time. His aesthetic so influenced me that I started saying “Good Hello” in all my correspondence, and would pinch his jokes at bars and late at night on the air. I only ever saw him once, in Portland for an It’s All In Your Head show in 2006. I was too nervous to approach him, but I sat as close as I could and watched his every move, even though there was little to see from the audience. Most were there to see Negativland. I was there for him.
“Over 20 years I so fully integrated him into my life that I actually can’t believe he is gone. Like The Ramones & Johnny Cash, I assumed he would be on Thursday Nights until the end of time. I had no idea he was even old, let alone at any risk of passing, even though I’d seen pictures of him for most of my life, too. People Like Us tipped me off. I had missed the July 17th OTE, had it on my phone but was saving it for when I had a weekend afternoon, where I could put it on and listen. But her Friday show was on, and she suggested Don was not well. I registered the thought, but it didn’t sound serious. I imagined that he had a cold or something, and she was worried.
“I woke up at 4 AM Thursday morning, 23 July. Out of curiosity I checked to see if I could find any news about the show that night, that maybe it would be an extra-long Puzzling Evidence, and that he might be on the week after. But I couldn’t find anything obvious with the usual searches. Then, I found a cryptic reference to his death on Wikipedia, but the user (named: Jerkey) who had made the edit seemed unreliable. I posted a general query among my friends, hoping for more reliable news that was more upbeat. But after almost five hours of wondering, around 9:17 AM an official statement from the band came out. Don had, indeed, passed. I started crying at my desk at work, and immediately put on the OTE from the 17th.
“Don Joyce was a very unique voice in the world of radio. His friends & colleagues in Negativland admitted that even in the 30+ years of knowing him, they knew little of his life outside of the art he produced and the work he did with them, to which he seemed 100% dedicated. His work spanned more than the career on the air. Don made elaborate paper collages, wrote long and clever essays about culture using his own brand of cut-and-paste wordplay, created magnificent razor tape edits of precise and hilarious quality, encouraged artists that participated in circuit bending and collage by featuring them prominently on his program, and created a cast of fleshed-out characters, each with their own backstories and personalities, all of which played out multi-part dramas – on his program – often with him voicing all of them, both live and on tape. And, occasionally, when time would allow for it, he would participate in Negativland, for almost until he stopped touring with them in 2010, when he stopped only because he wanted to focus all of his energies on the radio program.
“His dedication to art – to chasing this creative dragon to the bitter end and finding where it might take him if he would just let the tape play – became an inspiration that I cannot fully process, and may never be able to. You can tell a Don Joyce Mix when you hear one. You know his transitions and his work, like a tape-splice fingerprint. I can only say that, in absence of him making new ones, all other mixes – especially my own – will only be a sad reflection of something he just did 100% better.”
So, Where In The Hell Should I Even Start, Then?
Good question. It’s nearly impossible to bite off a chunk of audio like this without some kind of guidance, and the knowledge up front that you can’t possibly listen to it all. But, you can certainly try. If I’m serious about recommending that you should devote even three hours to this program (the average length of a “short” show), then I should at least be able to make some recommendations, if not specifically, then at least generally. Yes, the beauty of this project is the 941 options you have when you sit down to try and listen to a little Over The Edge.
The problem with recommending Over The Edge is that what made the show great was the spontaneous nature of the program. Don incorporated what he called Receptacle Programming, where he would Mix in callers, who would each offer audio in their own forms. (Don made a habit of reminding listeners, “Don’t say Hello.”) Callers could be talkers (Suicide Man usually wanted to wax poetic) or sending their own audio via the phone, giving OTE a wide range of sounds and styles. Shows would veer in new directions unexpectedly, and when The Mix was really good, the callers would start to fall into a rhythm, too. But remembering which one had good callers in next to impossible, as Don refused to do more than the barest archiving when it came to his shows.
And, while true that Don pursued impressive and wonderful themes that ran for long periods of time, it was often the in-between shows that were unexpected that were the most impressive, where Don would take the bits left over from the week previous and nudge his own mixing toward a new and different theme. The entire nature of these shows is that they go largely unnoticed, lost to their supposed un-remarkableness. These qualities – so much a part of the show as anything else – are the less tangible things that I can recommend. Keep in mind that listening to Over The Edge is a dreamy, psychedelic experience by design. It’s going to sounds spacey no matter what, because that is the point.
Which all of that in mind, here are 10 places to start, to see if you even like what Don does in the first place. I’ve provided links for the most part, but keep in mind that If you enjoy what you hear, then keep on digging. The “Search This Collection” link over here not only allows you to come up with your own random criteria for listening to Over The Edge – a method we highly recommend – but also allows you to track down new stuff as you find out more about the program.
All Art Radio (1988 – 2011): A favorite subject of Don’s was Art, and any chance he could get his hands on audio regarding the subject, Don would (and could) go on for hours. The only subject to dominate more of Over The Edge‘s broadcast episodes is that of UFO’s, but Don approaches the subject of art with a sort of fervor that few others could match, so much so that his persona – Crosley Bendix, Cultural Reviewer and Director of Stylistic Premonitions for the Universal Media Netweb – took over a number of shows, where he would discuss this or that arcane aspect of art that is usually not seen as “art,” so to speak. Over The Edge was Don’s art project, and he was so much a student of the world of art that it was a subject he loved to return to.
Another UFO (1988 – 2013): Don was a huge fan of Art Bell and he work on Coast To Coast, but more importantly, the world of UFOlogy was a pastime of the everyman, something that sophisticates gave no attention to. This dream-like game of telephone that abductees would participate in – and then relate on the air for the entire world to hear – was ample fodder for Don’s critical re-mix skills. It is hard to say if Don is really a believer, or if he thinks it is interesting to play the part of a believer, but he approached the subject of UFOs and collage time and again, and often for his longer, five-hour shows, and in some ways, attracted his own Bell-like fans due to his dedication to the subject.
Moonrock Footnotes (1997 – 2001): The closest thing to a “serial” Don created for Over The Edge, “Moonrock Footnotes” was a series of broadcasts by Wang Tool, for the residents of the mining colony on the moon, which then becomes a “tool” in the revolt against the company that owns the mining colony. The story is a little hard to follow, and is sort of beside the point in that we’re only hearing the broadcasts surrounding the narrative, anyway. Still, this story somehow ties into the other ongoing story involving C. Elliot Friday, and which was the subject of one of their CD releases. If you like convoluted, political sci-fi “story” oriented broadcasts, this is the place to start.
Christianity Is Stupid (1991) / It’s All In Your Head (2002 – 2005) / Your Brain Is God (2011 – 2012): Don was a vocal atheist, and felt that the preponderance of religious radio (and the lack of the opposing viewpoint) was a serious problem in our culture. He came back to the subject of religion as something to lampoon over and over again. The earliest broadcast – “Christianity Is Stupid” – is a three-hour talk show that debates religious and does not do any collage work, and purports to be the new format of the program the entire time. “It’s All In Your Head” / “Your Brain Is God” are series dedicated to audio juxtaposition of religious radio mixed with the very simple notion that all religion is, in fact, all in your head, and is not based on any fact. For those who are not intellectually-minded, these can be difficult shows to listen to, but were absolutely a part of Don and his worldview, and are a window into who he was.
How Radio Was Done (2006 – 2009): This sprawling, 106 part series covers the story of radio from its inception in the late 1800s, and then moves forward, year by year, to offer samples of radio from those periods in time. This is the point where Don began to really want to push the long-form idea of Over The Edge, and this series was an effort to top another long-running series that took up almost a year and a half prior to this. Where different series would be returned to over the 30 year run of Over The Edge, to run with one theme for three solid years was an impressive feat at the time, and it was exciting to listen to these shows as they were coming out.
The Universe (2013 – ): Don’s final series was, as far as any of us fans were concerned, going to be the last series he ever did, but we envisioned it lasting for a decade or so, to make the point that you could do something like that. However, he only got to episode 91, with a number of tangents and other thoughts mixed in throughout those last couple years. These shows are very open, with lots of music – uncut or edited – played with long passages about space. Very atmospheric, and a great end-run for his program, no matter how you look at it.
What’s About The 60’s? (2013 – 2014): The subject of “The ’60’s” as a whole, monolithic entity, came up often on Over The Edge, and this series-within-a-series was not only emblematic of the kind of regular digressions his show would take, but it was the subject that seemed to be the most informative on his personality and perspective. Don was always very much of “now,” and his program always pushed forward, but it was easy enough to reflect on “The ’60’s,” only because it was influential, and not just on him.
The All Nordine Show (2001): If you like Ken Nordine, and his own radio experimentalism of word jazz, then imagine Don Joyce remixing for three hours Ken Nordine broadcasts and recordings. It is a pleasure, boggles the mind, and evokes the William S. Burroughs dictum of cut-n-paste in the most specific and demonstrable way possible. I love this show.
Any Episode w/ The Weatherman. The Weatherman is a character in and of himself, and as Negativland continued in the future, he (unfortunately) retreated more and more to a world of agoraphobia and cleanliness. However, when he is on the show, his strangeness and the recordings he brought to the group – including his very distinctive voice that lights up any reading of dry text – is a part of the overall aesthetic of Over The Edge that graced shows spanning the entire run of the program.
Any “Dick” Episodes: Goodbody / Vaughn / Pastor. Richard Lyons is not only another oddball that Negativland picked up in their early years, but his own work as a prankster is something that has run hand-in-hand with Negativland’s – and Don’s – career. More importantly, Richard could maintain a character for hours at a time, making him a good person to bring into the studio for live radio. Richard collected a number of – ahem – Dicks that he would bring to the show, pretending to be a church Pastor, a used car dealer, and most dramatically, a radio DJ that, “invented ’70’s nostalgia.” Dick episodes are heavy on broadcast mistakes, behind-the-scenes accidents getting on-the-air, and call-in contests that often go horribly horribly wrong, all to comic effect.
Here’s a few further comments while I’m winding down:
For the sake of your sanity, chronological seems the wrong way to go about this bounty, even if that is the one I’ve used to far. The first three episodes are “exceptions,” and incomplete in one way or another. The first complete show in the archive – “Advertising Secrets” from 1983 – gives you a sense of what OTE will eventually become, and while the pieces are present, everything sounds like it might later, it is a little looser, and the form isn’t quite what it would become.
However, it is hard to recommend just dipping in here and there. When you start to skip around you feel like you missed something, something that you couldn’t actually retrieve with a chronological re-listen anyway. Not only is the archive itself incomplete, but the way the show was meant to be heard was to be stumbled up while tuning the dial. It wasn’t designed to “start from the beginning.”
On top of that, most of the early shows were recorded on tape, using humans to push “record” and “stop” when the show was over. Bits and pieces are missing here and there, and it wasn’t until quite a while into the series that it was being adequately archived. It is this incompleteness that is the ultimate sadness, and the renewable joy that is at the heart of this archive. You will never hear it all, never ever ever, but you can try and chase down the same sounds that Don was if you would like to try, and for a while, you’ll get a sense of what it was like to tune in, Thurday at midnight, and into the wee hours of the morning, hearing something you would never hear anywhere else.