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S.F. Weekly preview by Liz Sizensky of Oct 93 Lab performance excerpted 350w

With CACTUS NEEDLE PROJECT, we move from personal stories to the more public sphere of international intrigue. A three year-old group of four musicians__ Sam Ashley, Ben Azarm, Bob Gonsalves and Jim Horton -- who take their inspiration from global conspiracy theories, CNP aims to make audiences think about both political and artistic issues. They make a kind of contemporary protest music, but it's not explicitly so. Instead, the group offers an abstract aural and visual collage of processed sounds and images that give a seedy feel of the undercover way of life. Cactus Needle Project's name is a joke on official government tags for covert operations, and the titles of their works--- 602T263OWJBT2SIMONE616T2324T2 and Yjr Objbu Eit;oyxrt-- play off the idea of spy code.

CNP picks up conspiracy theories at the end of World War II and follows them through to the BCCI scandal. Nazis, the CIA, the Catholic Church and the Mafia are all implicated. The sounds, text and images that the artists use come from surveillance video, government-released documents, court transcripts, a software program called CIA Base (a database of spy info) and group members' research. Their upcoming performance will be divided into four sections, with each member recombining the source material in a different way.

CNP improvises while the computers algorithmically pull sounds from synthesizers, processors and samplers, the players interacting with those sounds ... to shape the final product. But "the idea is not what the technology is," says Ashley, who also uses a modified harmonica in his section of the piece, "it's how we're trying to use it artistically."

This is the common wire connecting these artists: They don't just use technology for technology's sake, they use it to make compelling, provocative art. Although they're all electronics whizzes, they shy away from flashiness and gimmickry in order to create meaningful work. As "multimedia" and "interactively" become hip new buzzwords, ... these artists teach us how to use electronic tools as a means to create engaging art, rather than as ends in themselves


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