Amidst the marathon of programming that was deFINE ART 2011 at the Savannah College of Art and Design, the work of Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, stood out as a uniquely fresh blend of sound, image, and idea. Miller’s demeanor exudes the laid-back chill you might expect from a man who’s traveled the world, delivered lectures at the European Graduate School, and has written on topics as diverse and visionary as the postmodern city, creativity in cyberspace, and “multiplex consciousness.” He has performed at venues from Paris, France, to Sydney, Australia, and arts event such as the Whitney Biennial and The Venice Biennial for Architecture, and he is establishing a visual arts center in Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific. Miller spared a moment to share a few words before Wednesday’s performance of Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica at Center Stage.
Jeremy Abernathy: You wrote in your book, Rhythm Science, that your persona as DJ Spooky began as a conceptual art project for Annina Nosei Gallery in New York. What were some of the artistic aspects of the show, and how did the visual parts intersect with the music?
Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky: I started as an artist who was a hobbyist. I didn’t take it very seriously, and I just was having fun after university. I had moved to Paris for a couple of years and was just exploring things that interested me without any specific agenda. The whole idea is that art has always been an open place to me. DJ culture was a place where things like the mixtape (a lot of different artists mixed together) were the norm, but the art world was very resistant to this kind of thing. It’s not a very market-oriented way of making art, and it ruffles the art world a bit to have everything mixed together.
The Annina Nosei show was called Death in Light of the Phonograph — it was a sound maze made of different kinds of reverberations. If you go in a church and hear your footsteps, or if you walk down an empty corridor, you hear the same thing. I just made an invisible system of corridors and chambers, and in the middle of the gallery space with looped records playing every aspect of the different rooms. It’s was very abstract ….
How did it make sense to become DJ Spooky after coming from a background in philosophy and European literature? You also are a professor at the European Graduate School, and critical theory is important in your writings. How does your academic life overlap with your artistic/musical life?
DJ’ing was always meant to be a hobby. I majored in philosophy (continental issues around the idea of “post-rational aesthetics”). The professor scenario at the European Graduate School is based loosely on the idea of the Black Mountain College of the 1950s. My “academic” life is basically just an extension of what I do in real life. I think that ideas are the most scarce resource of the 21st century. I try to foster environments — from sound, to installations, to actual portraits of remote places that tell people that they can see things in a different way. I guess it’s that simple, and that complex. I guess I have a really open format for the way I think about modern 21st century life.
Who are some DJs that you admire? Do you have thoughts on, say … Amon Tobin, Daedelus, Dan Nakamura, or Danger Mouse?
I’m a big fan of Danger Mouse and the way he’s built a relationship between rock, hip hop, and electronic music. Ditto for Amon Tobin, Sage Francis, Anti-Pop Consortium, Gang Gang Dance, DJ Rekha, Vijay Iyer, etc.
I listen to many different styles of music and my ears are open. I always like to think that the way we establish balance is through the ears — the basic way humans establish themselves in the world is from that kind of bio-physiological scenario. I admire sound artists like Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Jason Moran, David Byrne, Anthony Braxton, Brian Eno, Sanford Biggers, Terry Riley, George E. Lewis, etc.
I’m also checking out painters like Wangechi Mutu, Dave Muller, Julie Mehretu, or conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth or Joan Jonas. It’s gotta have ideas!!!
Who are some classical composers you admire? Do you have thoughts on Beethoven or Mozart? How about John Cage? In what way is genre important to you, and in what way is it superficial?
If I needed to say that that my favorite composers of the 20th versus 21st century are people like Helmut Lachenman, Luigi Russolo, Sun Ra, Sonic Youth, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cecil Taylor, and, of course, above all, John Cage and Grand Master Flash.
Again, music isn’t music to me: It’s information. My most recent book, Sound Unbound, focuses on this kind of hybrid approach — it’s 36 essays about sound art and digital media with essays by people as diverse as Daphne Keller (senior legal counsel to Google), Moby, Chuck D, Saul Williams, Jaron Lanier, etc.
I just made an iPhone app last year with Music Soft Arts that has had over 3.5 million downloads — it let’s you DJ from your phone. I like stuff like that. It democratized the whole issue of how we play with media sounds. John Cage’s revolution in sound.
What about coming to Atlanta excites you the most? Where’s your next stop?
Atlanta is a whole universe unto itself. I’m always learning about what is possible here. I’m a big fan of Arrested Develoment for example — they’re old friends of mine from the “scene.” There’s a kind of practical idealism of the new South here in Atlanta — it really feels like anything is possible, there’s so many different directions things can go. It definitely ain’t Antarctica!
I just got here from New York via New Orleans and Senegal. Next stop, strangely enough, is Ithaca for a mix down session of my iPhone app!