Wednesday, July 27, 2011

5 Minutes With Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky

Paul D. Miller also known by his stage name DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid, is a Washington DC-born electronic and experimental hip hop musician whose work is often called by critics or his fans as "illbient" or "trip hop". He is a turntablist, a producer, a philosopher, and an author. He borrowed his stage name from the character The Subliminal Kid in the novel Nova Express by William S. Burroughs. He is a Professor of Music Mediated Art at the European Graduate School

Q1.What was the first record that you bought and how did it change your life?

Paul D MIller: I didn't really need to buy records because my Dad had a zillion cool jazz records. So I grew up, very middle class, very established in Washington DC's academic scene. My father was Dean of Howard University, and my mother is a historian of design (she has a recent book out about the history of African American women designers called "Threads of Time."). Needless to say they had a great record collection. Probably the first record from my Dad's collection that really blew my mind was Donald Byrd's "Black Byrd" - he was a student of my father, and had wanted to be a lawyer. He played my father's funeral. That would change anybody's life.

Q2. You work in an interesting world of crossover, between contemporary art, Beat literature, global street culture, dub, remix and Break beat. Do you think that in today's world of instant gratification culture is it hard to reach young people with such a challenging fusion of styles?

PM: Adam Smith once wrote "all money is a belief." We live in a hybrid world, and that's just the way it is. Dub and tape collage understood this intuitively at a very early point in the 20th century, and the rest is just an extension of everyday life. When you get to the point that editing itself is an art form, and the way we fold space and time into samples, then upload that kind of stuff to social networks - you realize that this is the real information economy. I look at economists like Raj Patel, who has a great book like "The Value of Nothing" where he is trying to come to grips with the idea of "free" in a market driven society, and what hip hop and reggae etc would update with the idea of "cultural capital" - twitter feeds and your "followers" are a good example of the attention economy. Believe it.

Right now , I'm listening to alot of music from Asia, Africa, Brazil. Not the obvious stuff, but things from underground or art music. I've been doing sound art and digital media installations for the last 15 years. So I guess I never thought of anything as separate. Brian Eno's whole idea of using the studio as an instrument was explored by the Jamaican scene before the British Rock scene, and King Tubby is pretty much the inventor of the whole way we look at audio editing in a modern "bass minimalist" mode. My favorite museum show at the moment is Paola Antonelli's "Talk To Me" at MOMA. It's basically a visual update off almost everything I just mentioned. Dub aesthetics is GPS of the mind.

Q3. In 2010 you became one of the first DJ's to put together an iPhone app using the iPhone as a mixing tool. The DJ Mixer app has now been downloaded over 1 million times. What will you do with all the money?? ;-) No but seriously, Do you feel that it is important for artists to look at alternate revenue streams as well as selling their art?

PM: Well, amusingly enough we're up to 6.5million downloads now, and because it's free, the economics weren't what you would expect. I made money, but it wasn't a commercial project. The basic idea was to "democratize" the tools of what it means to be a DJ. As usual, everything I've done has started as an art project. The DJ Spooky iPad/iPhone app is in the same trajectory. Today, I'm editing material for music video, and I enjoy what my friends Eclectic Method are doing with video collage. That's definitely on the next wave of what's up. I plan on shooting my first film early next year, and I want as much as possible to use these kinds of tools to make the film. Hand held, high def. Imagine the film as a mixer app for video, but with a story. Working on it now... So I'm not really sure which direction it would go. He'll, Francis Ford Coppola's next film "Twixt" is all controllable from his iPad so that everyone in the theater can see a different film simultaneously... I like stuff like that.

"The Book of Ice" Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica

Q4. Please tell me a little about 'The Book Of Ice', your multimedia study of Antarctica. How did that project come together?

PM: Yeah, I went to Antarctica to shoot a film about the sound of ice. Not a normal film but a film that would incorporate what I like to think of as info-aesthetics in the same tradition as Edward Tufte, but updated through Nam Jun Paik and Godfrey Reggio's film "Koyaanisqatsi"
or something to make Maya Deren's choreography become like ice. In black culture the sociology of "cool" is a reflection of so many things i wouldn't know where to start: Duke Ellington's "A Tone Poem to Harlem?" Iceberg Slim? Ice-T, Ice Cube. Vanilla Ice? Mile Davis's "Birth of the Cool" etc but when you look at the molecular structure of ice, there is a hexagonal logic - ditto for snowflakes, they are patterns, but every one is unique. I wanted to flip that into compositions, and I made a symphony about it thats still touring. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the South Pole. I'm hoping to get back down there for some more projects. I guess you could say that my Book of Ice/Terra Nova project is all about "acoustic portraits."

Q5. A few years ago you created “Rebirth of a Nation” - remix of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation”. “Rebirth of a Nation” is an amazing piece of work that Margo Jefferson of New York Times noted as "the sounds of history and racial complexity that Griffith tried to suppress." If you were able to 'remix' any contemporary movie, what would you choose and why?

PM: President Woodrow Wilson was raised by KKK sympathizers yet tried to start the League of Nations. Teddy Roosevelt, who presided over the massive creation of public parks throughout the US, is carried by a black slave and a conquered Indian Chief in front of the American National Museum. Bush... Well, don't even get me started about Bush. All I can say is that the echoes of the past are samples from the vast palette I think of as my archive. As much as any one issue facing humanity over the next 15 years, I think that finding quality information in the middle of this info over load will be one of the ways people make sense out if the distinction between truth and fiction, fact and form, function and faction. Let's call it a "politics of perception" for the attention deficit disorder generation. "Birth of a Nation" was the first film to really tap the emotional logic behind how people perceive "the other." Wi the rise of "black face" and the minstrel show, we saw a century rise of the entertainment-military-industrial complex. These are industries that, like "soma" in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" or George Schyuler's "Black Empire" or his novel "Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free A.D. 1933-1940" you can see an "anti-dialectic" at work. I look at modern pop and collage music (basically everything made in a computer) as the inheritor of the same science-faction update: and yes, that's science-faction instead of fiction. Pick a "point of view" and wrap yourself in it. Ask any Republican, and they can tell you the same thing. The problem with our post-Obama election wasn't that he was an African American, but that he actually believed that the power structure could accommodate a certain kind of realism. Instead, we saw the Birth of a Nation as a catalyst for the right wing, just as if there was no intervening time. That's why I wanted to do the film.
If I could remix a more current film, I'd probably say Avatar or Transformers would the one, with Captain America left as a runner up. At lesser points of an already low expectation of cinema, they still try to be honest...

....and you can download the iPad/iPhone app here (Over 6.5 million app downloads with Music Soft Arts) - He samples the string quartet that plays the compositions using his software - it's free and open.

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