ps/o1 public health | soundtrax | needle exchange and mapping the city
The story has been told so often of how Ultra-red began not as electronic musicians doing political music but as political activists accidentally acting as electronic musicians. Between 1993 and 1996, the founding members of the group, Marco "Red Leader" Larsen and Dont Rhine participated in the operation and organization of LA's first syringe exchange program, Clean Needles Now. In the early part of 1994, program director and visual artist Reneé Edgington proposed a video project representing the exchange. Of specific interest to Edgington was the program's unique use of art practice as a way of realizing within direct political action the radical potential of avant garde praxis.
During the course of running the needle exchange, the organizers' avant garde tendencies became tempered by more practical concerns. An increase in harassment from private security police necessitated some form of electronic documentation. However, the use of video recorders at the actual exchange sites (which, at the time, were solely street-based) proved too intimidating for the users of the exchange. Ultra-red suggested the possibility of audio recording the exchange. The efficacy of this strategy can be heard on the soundtrack "doubledare" when Edgington received a citation for drug paraphernalia possession by Los Angeles Police. Later, to coincide with Edgington's and CNN's participation in a group exhibition on William Burroughs, Ultra-red subjected the location recordings to the cut-up method. This early experiment with activist reportage and avant garde methodology appears in its entirety as the soundtrack "dare ii [clean cut]."
At the same time as these activities, Ultra-red had launched the electronic music club Public Space. Ground zero for Los Angeles' nascent electronic music community, Public Space provided a meeting place for a diverse group of musicians including those associated with the Plug Research label, noise musicians like the group Fin and out-of-town acts like Spacetime Continuum, Autechre and numerous others. While Ultra-red's tenure with the club ended after a year, the workshop atmosphere of Public Space provided a vital environment for the group's use of the location recordings from CNN in their live performances. The results of this experience can be evidenced in the synthesis between ambient electronics and the cut up location recordings heard on the soundtrack "dare i [silent running]."
The tracks on this CD represent the earliest recordings of the group, before computer-based sound processing and editing presented the possibility of composing exclusively from site recorded sound sources. The soundtracks "safe" and those in the "hype" series Ð first presented in an April 1996 performance at the Update Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark Ð are the results of Ultra-red's first experiments with the new digital medium.
Finally, tracks produced under the rubric "Soundtrax" are significant not only for how they advanced an aesthetic strategy of limiting useable sound materials to site-recorded documents. These compositions provided the blueprint for collaborations between electronic musicians and direct political action: a strategy of musical practice named, Ultra-red.
The drug education program DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is currently taught to more than 5 million children in more than 250,000 classrooms each year. Begun locally in Los Angeles in 1983 as the official drug education program of former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, the DARE program uses uniformed police officers to deliver its message of abstinence to kindergarten children through senior high school youth. Presently, police, taxpayers and business give $700 million a year to fund the DARE program, making it the most funded and widespread drug education program in the country.
The question stands whether DARE actually works in deterring youth from using narcotics, cigarettes and alcohol. Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding the much-publicized cases of DARE graduates narcing on mom and dad, studies indicate the program fails to reach its goal. In 1991, a Kentucky study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that DARE produced "no statistically significant differences" in the choices made by children. Similar findings were reported by a Canadian Government study in 1990 as well as the Research Triangle Institute study of 1993 sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. Faced with mounting evidence indicating the program's ineffectiveness, DARE America launched a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign against the RTI report released in November 1993. Despite this campaign some government officials are aware of DARE's shortcomings. In the immediate wake of questions raised by the RTI study, the Department of Education considered asking Congress to repeal a law requiring that states give DARE a total of $10 million or more a year from federal Drug Free Schools money.
The history of DARE and its unbridled support have a profound sobering effect when placed in contrast to the small support granted AIDS education for actual drug using youth. At least one third of all persons with AIDS are injection drug users for whom sharing needles contributed to the transmission of HIV. In Los Angeles alone, there are an estimated 200,000 injection drug users, 10% of whom are young people. These figures are conservative and only hint at the threat of HIV/AIDS infection to young people using injection drugs. Effective drug education for young people must honestly and realistically address the needs of youth. This means educating young people about reducing the risk of infectious diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis. Dare to say no to politically-motivated programs like DARE which fail to respond to the real needs of young people. Dare to demand clean needles now.
While drug education programs like DARE and SANE (the drug education program of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department) claim to be on the frontline in the nation's so-called War on Drugs, effective forms of AIDS prevention and education for drug users continue to be denied funding. Numerous studies such as the 1993 University of California study directed by the Center for Disease Control have determined that needle exchange programs reduce the rate of HIV infection and decrease new Hepatitis B infections. Both the Center for Disease Control study and the federal review which followed the study recommended "that the ban on Federal funding of needle exchange programs should be lifted to allow communities and States to use Federal funds to support needle exchange programs as components of comprehensive HIV prevention programs." The studies go on to urge that States repeal prescription laws governing the possession of injection equipment. Both the 1993 review and its successor in 1994 were suppressed by the federal government and never made public.
Clearly the message is that the American government is willing to support services for Americans who inject drugs only after they contract the HIV virus. Even then, the government denies funds for programs like needle exchange which could help reduce additional infections. In the war on drugs, drug users are considered an acceptable casualty and HIV/AIDS is deemed the acceptable risk. If we have learned anything after nearly twenty years of the AIDS pandemic, it is that the virus recognizes no ideology or political intention. We are all persons living with AIDS. Demand a sane response to the AIDS crisis, demand clean needles now.
While the Federal government has concealed the facts about needle exchange programs as a proven means of reducing risk of HIV infection, where has been the investigatory journalism to uncover this concealment? Project Censored, a national newswatch organization, rated the suppression of scientific support for needle exchange programs in the top 20 of significant news stories to be censored by the mainstream press in 1995.
For youth, the trade-off for helpful news reporting is the simplistic representation of a drug-filled youth culture. A Los Angeles Times article of November 3, 1994, titled "Late, Late Show", carried the bi-line: "At the new after-hours clubs, the party lasts until long after sunrise. But police say some club-goers keep the beat with the help of drugs." According to the Time's Life and Style writer, Dennis Romero, the drug of choice is Speed. And the police are at the limits of their resources to monitor the use of the drug as well as the often illegal clubs which attract tweakers. The article carefully portrays a youth sub-culture where underground events appear to combine a disregard for property with illicit drug use. To further the point of reckless drug-using youth, the leading photograph for the story depicts a young man shooting up what is presumed to be Speed. The subject of HIV/AIDS and safer using practices is altogether absent. Even such youth-enlightened publications such as URB Magazine, the so-proclaimed guide to underground club culture, assumes a similar silence in providing its readers useful information about reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS for injection drug users. In October 1995, almost a year after the LA Times article, URB writer Todd C. Roberts penned an expose on the increasing popularity of Speed, titled "Built for Speed?" While attempting to offer an informed perspective on the drug's addictive qualities, Roberts makes no mention of the number of youth who inject Methamphetamine as opposed to take the drug orally and nothing is said of the dangers involved with sharing syringes.
By failing to provide useful information for Speed users, such as safer shooting practices or how to access harm reduction services, many articles about youth and the underground music scene only collaborate with the policing of leisure. The hyperbolic rhetoric and mock scandalized tone has long served dominant values when demonizing youth as wild creatures in need of control. Say no to hyped up portraits of drug using youth that fail to provide real information. Such hype only furthers the powers of Super-Vision. Demand access to useful information and life-saving injection drug equipment, demand clean needles now.
Clean Needles Now (CNN) is a free needle exchange located in Hollywood. CNN was launched by a group of AIDS activists responding to the lack of direct AIDS intervention available to injection drug users in Los Angeles. Since its first exchange in June of 1992 (coinciding with Daryl Gates' much anticipated withdrawal from office), CNN has grown to where now it exchanges 70,000 needles per month. While the program receives some money from the City, all funds for the purchase of supplies is provided by private sources and fund-raising activities.
Besides the Hollywood storefront facility, Harm Reduction Central opened in 1995, CNN also operates street-based exchanges in West Hollywood and the Pico-Union area. All CNN exchange sites provide harm reduction services to active injection drug users with a special focus on HIV intervention, bringing everything Los Angelenos need for a safer trip: your source to exchange used syringes for clean needles in a variety of sizes, safer shooting kits (including bleach, distilled H2O, 100% pellet cotton, tourniquets, anti-bacterial creams, cookers/mixers, alcohol wipes, condoms and lube), medical and drug treatment referrals and risk reduction education. In addition to CNN's services and clean injection equipment, Harm Reduction Central also facilities art programming for Hollywood street youth. To access CNN services and/or volunteer your own services call the Clean Needles Now information line 323.243.0280.
Text written for the April 1996 installation, "Sound Tracks" part of the "Without Alarm" exhibition held at the former Lincoln Heights Division Los Angeles City Jail, curated by the Arroyo Arts Collective. Facts for DARE supplied by the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project -- (http://www.welcomehome.orb/cohip). Facts for SANE supplied by the Drug Policy Foundation (http://www.drcnet.org).
In loving memory of Reneé Edgington and Matt Francis.