Don Joyce ~ February 9, 1944 ~ July 22, 2015

Don Joyce, longtime host of Over The Edge on KPFA passed away on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015. KPFA mourns the loss of Don who was a preeminent innovator in the medium of radio and dedicated to his show which began on KPFA in 1981. This quote excerpted from an email from Don about Over the Edge pretty much sums it up, in his own words, “You’ll find I generally keep to my show (which I LOVE!) and don’t get too involved in station business, politics, or whatever. I’m sort of a social recluse, have a history in art/painting, and am in radio strictly for the art of it. That’s all I care about, live mix radio as audio art.” Thank you Don Joyce for your many powerful and wonderful contributions to KPFA and the art of radio.

Below is a memorial post from the Negativland Facebook page by Peter Conheim of Negativland

Words cannot do justice to the loss of Donald S. Joyce, Crosley Bendix, C. Eliot Friday, Omer Edge, Izzy Isn’t, Bud Choke, Leland Googleburger, Wang Tool and Dr. Oslo Norway, who all died yesterday in Oakland, CA of heart failure at age 71. Perhaps a loud, mournful squawk from Don’s “Booper” feedback oscillator would better sum up the feelings of Negativland, his comrades and partners in art for 34 years, who are devastated. It was Don who coined the term “culture jamming”, and who devoted his life to the art of sound collage and his weekly live radio program, “Over the Edge”, on KPFA FM in Berkeley, where it has continuously lived on the dial on Thursday nights at midnight since 1981, without interruption.

Don was a DJ at the station when a mutual friend, Ian Allen (who died this past January) introduced him to a group of Contra Costa County noise/music artists called Negativland, who entered the station one night, armed with stacks of recordings and electronic gear, and immediately transformed Don’s “normal music show” into a free-form collage sound odyssey, totally blowing open Don’s idea of what a radio program could be and what a DJ could “do”. And in Don Joyce (whose initials were conveniently also “DJ”), Negativland had found its “lead vocalist” without even realizing they were looking for one. It was Don who took the idea of reshaping previously recorded words – in a pre-sampling age – and ran with it to an extent and depth never before heard, and never equalled. “Recontextualization” became his weapon, with the 1/4” tape machine and razor blade his ammunition, and the radio “cart player” – an entirely forgotten piece of broadcast history using endless-loop tape cartridges, which he used until he death – his delivery system.

When he and Negativland discovered their mutual love for “found” sounds, an intensely collaborative creative partnership was cemented. It continued non-stop for the ensuing decades, with Don endlessly scanning the airwaves of radio and television, along with his massive LP collection, for new material, day by day, week by week. There was often a TV and a radio on in his room simultaneously, cassette recorders always at the ready. And as an extremely shy and often quite reclusive person, radio was a perfect medium for Don. He could reach thousands of people each week without having to deal with very many actual humans, just as he preferred it. Creating art was not only Don’s full-time pursuit, it was literally his life’s work. He had made it clear to the group as recently as a few weeks ago that he was happy and satisfied with what he had been able to achieve in his life, and were he not able to continue to work, his life would feel as good as over.

Don Joyce’s singular editing style was laced with profundity and silliness in equal measure. His work was that of a dada humanist, able to wring unforgettable sentiments and statements out of material which originally spoke something entirely different. Hugely inspired by both the droll radio of Bob and Ray and the reckless free-form of the Firesign Theatre, he created a wicked language of repurposed purple prose which has inspired legions of other collage artists over the past three decades. He was the father of the form. One need only to listen to his work on “Time Zones” (on the Escape from Noise album) or “Piece of Pie” (in the No Business CD/book) to immediately tune into his unique wavelength.

He was also an animal lover, a Bob Dylan fanatic, a staunch atheist, a convicted (but never jailed) draft dodger, and slept with the radio on. Cranky, curmudgeonly, loyal and fair, brilliant, hilarious and uncompromising, he was steadfastly devoted to the creation of his art, full-time, for more than three decades. He leaves behind not only his massive recorded legacy via “Over the Edge”, but his work on nearly 30 Negativland albums, two books, three DVDs, and his giant, meticulous paper collages.

There was Negativland before Don Joyce (though not by much), and there will be Negativland after (indeed, Don stopped touring with the group in 2010), and he made it clear that he wished for the group to continue on in some fashion if he was the next member to go. At the very least, there are two nearly-completed albums in the works and possible live shows, and, in late 2015, all 34 years of “Over the Edge” (5000-plus hours’ worth) will be available until the end of time on the Internet Archive, the result of a multi-year archiving project. But there will never be another Don Joyce.

Don Joyce was born in Keene, New Hampshire, where he spent his childhood obsessed with drawing, leading to him getting a masters degree in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. By the late 1960s, he had relocated to Northern California (with a brief stint living in Toronto during Vietnam) where he lived, in Oakland, until his death. He is survived by his sister, his brother, a spider plant which thrived on a window sill through decades of choking cigarette smoke, and his Negativland family.

Don Joyce

11 responses to “Don Joyce ~ February 9, 1944 ~ July 22, 2015

    1. David, that was the group’s collaborative statement.

  1. Totally bummed out…Negativland gave me so many things to think about during the 80s and 90s. The fair use battles alone were enough to make your blood boil. Is there any escape from noise? I hope not. Thanks Don.

  2. My condolences to his family and friends
    Don thank you for all your hard work and view point
    I can so clearly here the intro to your program ..
    producing funny insightful programs .. time after time after time ..
    Over the Edge … Over the Edge … Over the Edge …
    Thank you KPFA for hosting the show

  3. For the past 20 years, I crossed paths with Don every Thursday night (except the first of the month) as my show, “The Hear and Now,” a baby in comparison to the long run of his, gave way to “Over the Edge.” (In the first year or two, Joe Frank was sandwiched in between us for an hour.) Typically, Don would arrive at the beginning of the second hour of my show to start his elaborate old-school setup: two or three salvaged radio-station cartridge machines and the corresponding stacks of his prerecorded carts; yards and yards of cables; reel-to-reel tapes (in the old days); dozens and dozens of vinyl LPs; a Sony digital recorder; and the toy box of special effects relays, gizmos, and thingamajigs.
    I was hipped to Negativland some three-and-a-half decades ago by Henry Kaiser and have been as addicted to the ensemble’s work as I was to that ofThe Firesign Theatre. And Don’s programming of “Over the Edge,” usually all by himself but sometimes with the Negativland crew and cohorts (such as People Like Us / Vicki Bennett), was the golden thread that seemed to bind (sometimes tenuously) everything together.
    His radio artistry was pure genius, on the “theater of the mind” level of Ken Nordine and Firesign Theatre. Fortunately hours and hours of it are digitalized and documented on discs and on the Interwebs.
    But, my grid, I’m going to miss seeing him Thursday nights, segueing “The Swan” from my closing theme into the Vangelis “Heaven and Hell” snippet of OTE’s theme. I’ll miss driving home to the nightcap of anarchic, crazy wisdom that he collaged and sent out on the airwaves and through my car speakers.
    For gird’s sake, tune into KPFA Radio tonight at midnight and hear his colleagues celebrate the life and brilliance of this unique human being.

  4. I started listening to Over the Edge in 1982 or 1983, near the beginning of it. I played a sample of a record into the phone and heard it mutated, coming out of the radio speaker. It was like an ‘aha’ moment. From then on, I was hooked and listened most every week. Around 1988, when KPFA was at a much smaller studio on Shattuck, I asked Don if I could be on the show, and he said yes. Of course, I wrote out an elaborate script of what should be played and when. Don said, “I don’t think you understand how the show works”. He was patient though and like a Buddhist master he tried to dissuade me from going into that line of work (‘give up’ he would tell me) but it only strengthened my resolve. We did probably a dozen shows together over the years. At one point, years later, at the new studio, he went out for a smoke and (probably illegally) let me run the show on my own. This was many, many years later from when I started. Don said to me at that point: “Here’s your chance to be abstract!” He had a great sense of humor, and was a wonderful man and artist who will sorely be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. I’m glad I did. When I heard that he was sick, I wrote him an email saying to let OTE go if it came down to doing the show, or his health. To have a sense of accomplishment about his work. I realized later I was telling him to give up. I don’t think he ever got the letter, but I was pleased to read later that he left us with a sense of accomplishment about his work. Rest in Peace, Don. You have earned it.

  5. Many years of listening. Many long asthmatic nights near the cliff,
    almost over the edge myself, enjoying the spontaneity and intellectual
    play. Thank you Don Joyce and Negativland!

  6. My favorite show…not bad tonight either, even without him. Hope it can continue –

  7. Let us rejoice Don Joyce..When I was around the old station–over Edy’s–’80 +-, I’d see him often early Mo’nday morning after my gig (‘Late Night Cafe’) and during Susan Elquist’s “Blues in the Night’..tuning up. I’d get home, and listen myself to sleep. ‘Bye, Don.

  8. I am devastated by the loss of one of the most creative, inspired and unique individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. My condolences go out to all who were close to Don, including the Weatherman, the Negativland family, Dr. Hal and Puzzling Evidence.

    I first heard OTE in 1982, although I had no idea what I was hearing then- I knew nothing about KPFA at that point. I was in high school in Auburn, CA, and I just happened to tune in during the middle of a show on my old-style boombox. I listened intently, fascinated, until the reception broke up… After moving to the bay area in 1985, I finally found out what it was that I had heard three years before. I instantly became addicted to OTE, and I called in every week to interject my own sonic contributions. Every week before the show was to begin, I would have my own tape machines and other various sound sources at the ready. I never identified myself with any particular moniker like many other regulars did, (hello to suicide man, metallurgy, etc) but I did have many stimulating verbal exchanges with Don, when there was a specific topic of discussion on the table. Mostly however, I was content adding my share of found sound to the mix.

    In about 1996, I was living on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, about four blocks from Don’s lair. I would occasionally see him walking down the street; On one occasion, during a well-publicized struggle between KPFA and Pacifica Radio, I saw Don on the street; I approached him with an idea for a show which was inspired by the aforementioned conflict. I told him that I had amassed enough audio material related to the Roman Empire, the gladiatorial games, etc. to make for an interesting Over The Edge show. As I was presenting the idea to him, Don gazed to the North, in the direction of the KPFA studio; he literally scratched his chin; I could see that I had struck a creative nerve of some sort… He told me to give him all the material I had, which I soon did, in the form of cassette tapes.

    About ten days later on a Thursday evening, I received a phone call at home; I said, “Hello?” … I was greeted by those immortal words, “Good hello.” I returned the sacred greeting of course. Don was calling to tell me that the ‘Roman’ show would air that night. I was thrilled. I prepared a special set of mixing materials to contribute, and thus ‘Roman Receptacle’ became a part of Over The Edge history.

    My love for and involvement in the show has continued to this very day; I am deeply saddened to know that I will never again hear Don say “Good hello” to me again, at least not live. On that point, a somewhat ironic silver lining appears: Don’s voice, his biting insights, his humorous social satire- his every recorded utterance, will now become one with the countless audio sources he drew from to lovingly construct each Over The Edge program. In a very real sense, he will be a more fundamental part of the show, past, present and hopefully future, than he has ever been. Along with everything else Don was, now he has become… found sound. He will forever be part of the gossamer thread weave that is the Universal media Netweb. Good goodbye Don.

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