Onetime Negativland member Ian Allen died on January 17th, a result of infections and complications following heart-valve replacement surgery at a hospital in Sanford, California. He was 56. The band reported the news on its Facebook page.
A member during their 1983 album A Big 10-8 Place, Allen was part of the group on the vanguard of “culture jamming,” the wry use of existing recorded material and tape splicing, joining the eras between John Cage and contemporary hip-hop sampling. He was most active between 1981 and 1987, leaving before the group’s critically acclaimed, confrontational mid-Eighties run on punk label SST. That run included their 1991 U2 EP, which kickstarted a legendary court case over unauthorized samples.
“His impact, inspiration and influence on the group is impossible to overestimate,” the group wrote in its statement. “There would be no group as we know it today, no Over The Edge radio show [on KPFA], no ‘culture jamming’ and no A Big 10-8 Place LP without him.”
The musician had struggled with serious health issues throughout his adult life, the band reported, which prompted his departure from Negativland. Nevertheless, he remained close to the group, attending every concert the band put on in the Bay Area.
“With Ian’s blessings, we were thrilled to recently revive and rework an early Eighties unfinished tape loop based on his work, called ‘Like Cattle Act,’ and made it a part of our current live set,” the band wrote. “He was part of creating Negativland’s Points LP in 1981, introducing to the rest of us, on the track ‘BABAC D’BABC…,’ the idea of using tape splicing not just as a way to make loops and connect tracks but as a compositional tool unto itself. This revelation led to the exploration of this technique full-on in 1983’s A Big 10-8 Place, and he played a major role in the creation of that record and its unique packaging.”
The group also credited Allen’s contribution to the concept of culture jamming, as well as introducing the band to radio DJ and Negativland member Don Joyce, inspiring their radio show. It said that the way he pushed the band members, and suggesting making their 1983 LP a concept album, set the standard for Negativland releases. He also had a more unordinary influence on the group: “Ian was obsessed with the number 17, which is why it appears in various ways on so many Negativland projects and texts in the Eighties and Nineties (please note the day he died!),” the band wrote.
“For those who knew him, he was a visionary, magical, impish, playful and eccentric thinker, a true genius who was light years ahead of all of us with his ideas about art, sound, society and technology,” Negativland wrote. “He will be dearly missed.”
Allen is survived by his brother, Pyke.
Additional reporting by Christopher R. Weingarten