Emergency Broadcast Network's mutated ads -- The multimedia performance group exploits technology while exploring society's dependence on it

By Glenn Kenny
Updated August 18, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Talk about the art of the deal. Seeming pitchman Josh Pearson declaims from his telepodium (a fiendish, spinning contraption of flashing lights and video monitors) like a schizophrenic anchorman, carefully enunciating the names of all the software and hardware used by his band, Emergency Broadcast Network, as projected images of those products flash on the triptych of screens behind him.

Sellout? No, it’s part of the point: Each show by the Providence-based troupe is like a mutated infomercial in which the greatest irony of EBN’s ultra-ironic work is that it’s exploiting technology to examine society’s dependence on it. Having plugged in nationally with a video clip used by U2 on its 1992-93 Zoo TV tour, EBN has released its first full-length disc, Telecommunication Breakdown. Fittingly, it’s an enhanced CD that includes audio and video, plus liner notes on a floppy disk. (In 1993 EBN put out a five-track CD and a performance video, both titled Commercial Entertainment Product.)

Armed with synthesizers, a video sampler, and personnel (DJ Ron O’Donnell, computer operator Greg DeoCampo, and production assistant Tracy Brown), EBN live is a melange of imagery in which the likes of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, among others, chant ”Electronic/Behavior/Control/System,” only to be replaced by film clips, music videos, and vintage commercials. The band’s cynicism about media can be traced to its reaction to Gulf War coverage in 1991. Says Pearson: ”[Partner Gardner Post and I] were intrigued…about the way television took this serious information and made it into entertainment — the rapidity with which the networks came up with these fancy graphics to complement the live broadcast of rocket attacks.”