Paul D. Miller is a conceptual artist, writer, and musician working in NYC. Miller has recorded a huge volume of music as “Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid” and has collaborated with a wide variety of pre emininet musicians and composers such as Iannis Xenakis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Butch Morris, Kool Keith a.k.a. Doctor Octagon, Killa Priest from Wu-Tang Clan, Yoko Ono and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth amongst many others. Discover and savor the depths of an artistic intellectual heritage. Exploring contemporary African American intellectual culture and its relationship to electronic music within. An interview with dj Spooky: that subliminal kid.
What were your first emotions with electronic music?
The artist Piet Mondrian said back in 1943 when he was asked to describe the geometric patterns in his famous work Broadway Boogie-Woogie: “I view boogie-woogie as homogenous with my intention in painting-a destruction of melody equivalent to the destruction of natural appearances, and a construction by means of a continuum of pure means-dynamic rhythms.” Several decades later, the geometric abstractions painters like him, Cubist-phase Duchamp, Kandinsky, and a host of others almost seem to be a direct precursor to the digital graphics that pervade the world we inhabit. For me,
electronic music is simply holding a mirror up to the world and seeing what comes back through the framework of how we see things around us… beats are like pulses, thoughts, fragments…. always a refraction of the flow….
When I was growing up in D.C. for me, the whole wold came out of the radio… it was always mixed, and you could check out all sorts of stuff. Rock, Go-Go (Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, The Junk Yard Band) were D.C. bands that influenced alot of hip-hop at that time, but it was always a kind of sense of “what next?” This stuff was electronic in a way that alot of the Afrika Bambaata/Kraftwerk scene couldn’t simulate; so in a way you could say I grew up on “live” electronic music but combined with a kind of dub tradition too…
I like to think of mix culture as a dynamic palimspsest – call it the electromagnetic canvas of a generation raised on, and in, electricity. In this day and age where basic software modules for
America On-Line come with something like seven or eight pre-fabricated personas that you can use at will to construct an on-line identity, I felt like Dj culture had inherited what Dubois spoke of when he described African American identity as
“Double Consciousness” but added several layers of complexity: the “current” – all puns intended, alternating and direct – has been deleted. Any sound can be you. It’s an emotion of abstraction and attention deficit disorder: there’s so much
information about who you should be or what you should be that you’re not left with the option of trying to create your own “mix” of your self.
Where in the past blues musicians would “go to the cross-roads” to tell their stories, I look at the
internet as the new cross-roads, and mix culture, with it’s emphasis on exchange and nomadism as a precedent for the digital contexts that later arrived from the realms of the academy. Again, you have to think of how much narratives like D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” influenced America’s sense of narrative fracture – and again, that was a film based on race and paranoia. The “mix” absorbs almost anything it can engage – and alot of stuff that it can’t… emotion and catharsis, in the context of jazz and blues, become cybernetic aspects of coded structure. Have you ever seen a crowd say
the same words as the performer? Apply the same logic to karaoke or hip-hop and you’ll see what I mean.
Identification and cathexis: both become a kind of post Situationist critique of what Guy Debord called “psychogeographie”. And if you think
about the etymology of “phono-graph” you get a similar logic: sound writing, geo-graph – both are recursive aspects of a culture of information collage where everything from your identity to the codes you use to create your art or music. It’s that simple and it’s that complex….
What is your background-classical, self-taught, (conservatoire, gamelan class,trumpet_)
My whole thing growing up in D.C. was always to check out whatever was around, and I still do that. It’s mainly a matter of being open to whatever seems interesting, and that makes me listen to alot of different stuff. If I get more into something, I’ll just learn how to play it. I play alot of instruments on my albums, but then I sample them and combine ’em with scratchy record sounds and a couple of different sound filters to make ’em sound more old….you know how it goes… supersonic bionic, like Kool Keith says…
my work and my style is hypertextual, one instrument leads to another and basically the sampler can be any instrument so basically my whole vibe is basically open to whatever WORKS…. there are also alot of other literary/artistic precedents that mirror what I’m up to and in
a way, this is the American modus operandi… a place where sound becomes image becomes media scape and my interpretations of contemporary America’s fascination with what W.E.B. Dubois called
“Double Consciousness and multiple personality disorders that seem to be on the rise these days is basically a way of checking out the way different music instruments can summon different voices and make you feel certain ways.
For me it’s all about dealing with the world
as sound, so I guess you could say the entire planet is my mixing board. I just don’t have enough memory to hold it all in my brain so I have to flip into the sampler…. but yeah, I also play upright
bass, kalimba, some percussion…. it’s all a hobby, really.
What brought you to the use of machines and why did you choose the G3 and Max for gigs?
For a while I’ve been wanting to get a more compact set-up. Carry mad amounts of records around and having to deal with customs and whatnot every time you get into a different country is mad boring, so the way I see it, eventually I’m going to be able to upload my sets onto something like MP3 and then remix it live at different locations… my G3 can
handle that kind of memory and programs like Max, Granular, C Sound, Recycle, and Metasynth let me flip things in “real time” and combine the flow from my laptop with my turntable set up… the basic idea is like some sort of digital mixing board situation like King Tubby and Scientist meet Napster and MP3…
In general, do you think that the evolution of technology has changed the processes of creation?
At this point, I can’t think of a sound I haven’t heard or that I couldn’t make. For me the strangest sounds I hear at this point in my life come from inside not outside. My dreams and basic nighttime thought process are where I find my most
creative sounds. Nothing else can come close to some of the sounds I’ve heard in my mind. The basic idea is to use digital stuff to try to make a bridge between the interior and exterior, and music like hip-hop and alot of the electronic stuff out
there is all about theater: how people live to the sounds.
For me, technology is a collective hallucination, and we are able to send our visions and ideas in ways our ancestors would have thouhgt were god-like. When I look out and see kids running around on roller blades listening to mini-discs and wearing bugged out sun glasses, I can only wonder what
someone like Andre Breton or Marcel Duchamp would think: the whole thing is so surreal…. it gets to the point where myth and code are just two sides of the same coin, and basically people are becoming more technological in a way that is at heart how we live and breathe and think in the everyday.
Human evolution and machine evolution are utterly combined and the best way to see it is as a kind of symbiotic situation where we have made certain mythic sacrifices to new stories. It’s all in codes at this point: wetware, shareware, software…. it all depends on what operating system you live in and
Describe one of your fantasy in terms of art project including different means of expression like sounds and images…
these days for me, it’s all about showing how much we’ve become involved with art and recontextualized it into a dynamic filter for “real” life – the contexts have changed and we now have a world of total media saturation at almost all levels of the post industrial world. We’re probably the first generation to grow up completely in an electronic environment.
I always think about the first time John cage went into an “anechoic chamber” – a place where there is literally “no sound” and he heard two weird rhythm patterns: one high frequency and one low frequency – the low frequency pattern was the sound of his blood circulating in his veins, and the high frequency was the sound of his nervous system. These days we’d be able to emulate and precisely take the sound of someone’s “operating system” – wetware and hardware – and simulate them from the ground up. Once you get their basic credit information and various electronic representations of that person, who
needs the real thing anymore? In the U.S. there’s a rising crime wave associated with this stuff and they call it “theft of identity” and it’s all about manipulation of the electronic representations of your “self” but when you think about it, what
does that do to your “real” self?
That’s what my art critiques: live and non-live – the two are utterly mutually conditioning, and in a way, the sense is that this cycle will intensify throughout the 21st century.
The Scanner project, how did it happen?
Robin (Scanner) is an old friend of mine, and we’ve talked about doing this project for a while. We both have a fascination with how intensely the “real” world is being displaced by our human interpretations of it… the natural is being displaced by the human version of it: form and function, fact and fiction these now are fringe aspects of the human condition; That’s what the “Quick and The Dead” was about….
Environnment and music, does that ring a bell?
The world is one big frequency at this point: I like to think of it as when the movie “2001: A Space Odessy” became inverted into the Matrix: inner and outer space…. transmit, decode: is this the remix of the American dream of continuous expansion?
Aesthetics and Ethics: you seem to definitely have a
situation where there are modes of behavior and ideas that are acceptable/unacceptable can be manipulated, like in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” but ours is a consumer world where we line up to receive what the system defines as being
desireable…. that’s what alot of my work critiques: a sense of trying to create your own narrative in a world where we’re forced to accept some Hollywood bullshit version of how we can live and think….
there was a musician named John Hassle back in the 70’s who viewed music as being a kind of “4th World” where somehow someway we could flip things
around and try to figure out a different situation. I look at my work as continuing that style of thought in a multi-cultural electronic music environment. We have created a sort of “poly-theist” impulse in consumer culture that reflects the loss of some sort of European fixed standards.
The question I ask is this: for you how does this affect the way we engage technology and the creation of new mythologies and art in the 21st century? Is the weight of the past so intense that we are locked into some sort of loop cycles with respect to how we can even view the liberating aspects of technology?
I call it the Milton Friedman versus Fernand Braudel issue: central narratives and markets versus distributed networks of ideas always lose. But will the loser try to take the winners down with them? The American Dream would seem to point to another
option…. but then again, this could always be a multiple choice question, eh?
Mention some of your favourite creators , writers, poets, performers, film directors, photographs, cartoonists_
It’s a huge list… I don’t know where to start, but mainly I’m into people who flip things around and try to create and foster new kinds of thought, Marcel Duchamp, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, James Brown, Butch Morris, Charles Ives, Basquiat, Ornette Coleman, Amiri Baraka, Charlie Parker, Mallarme, Iannis Xenakis, Abbey Lincoln, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, John
Cage, Afrika Bambaata, Miles Davis, Grand Master Flash, Sun Ra, Raymond Scott… all of these people are heroes for me precisely because they didn’t just sit around and accept what was around… they created new situations for people to look at the world around them…
Let’s call this the Sally Jesse Hemmings issue:
post-modernism meets the lies of the American past: DNA and science versus some of the core America’s oringal myths: Thomas Jefferson,
“reconstructed” identity in light of new information…. information should be improvisational and if you can deal with that, then you can see why I’m into it.
The Global nomad concept, is that something you feel close to, in what way…
you can flip it like some old Jean Cocteau
type film or even think of stuff like what happened in the past – the troubadour, the bard – the blues concept of “going to the cross roads” – where everyone could play the same song but flipped it every which way until it became “their own
sound” – or even the jazz concept of “call and repsonse.”
But the basic idea for me is simply a kind of mixing board metaphor for how we live and think in this day and age of information. The internet is our metaphor for the way we think and it’s a living network made up of the “threads” of all the information moving through it at any given moment, just like the railroad used to be, or the idea of being a travelling “beatnik” back in the 1960’s used to be…
the idea is that information and beats and rhythms never stay in one place. It’s all about algorhythms: code is beats is rhythm is algorhythm is digital… I like to think of the French idea of the “Roman mallaparte” or even the “Oulippo” scene that
created weird text games based on math… but the historic kinds of precedents for thinking about dj culture are out there, all you have to do is be open to different interepretations of how we should look at art.
It’s been a real uphill struggle to deal with different peoples perceptions of what can be art, and people tend to be mad conservative when it comes to
looking at things in a different light. At the end of the day, the music speaks louder than any individual voice, and basically the music is saying: the old boundaries are no longer existent. The present moment has been deleted. Any sound
can be you…. that’s my nomad idea. Sound and signification: this is the electromagnetic situation…
The party aspect, what would be your contribution to a club concept for 2001?
Everything at this point is one big mixing board. Elements. You have to think of everything as elements that can be mixed.
I’m really into the “dj tools” concept – stuff that people are meant to mix, and that leave enough room for people to check out in their own way. Each and every dj is a walking radio station transmitting their own style. You just have to be open to different frequencies. That’s what makes a good party; when there’s different shit going on, not just the same music all night… it’s the year 2001. Things should be really wild. Anything else is boring.
Your position in aesthetics (Dostoievski’s sentence ” Tout est permis “, everything can be shown, proferred, played, performed_ ; the fact that there aren’t anymore boundaries in our so-called post-modern civilization, you mentioned the word decadency, everybody talks about progress and evolution, how do you feel about all these things?
Dostoievski is cool, but I like to think of this kind of thought pattern from where I come from. In the U.S. African American’s were the first “generation X.” We had everything taken away, and the old forms of culture had to be reconstructed. That’s where
you get the first idea of “found objects”, and the whole post-modern situation, to me at least, is a reflection of when you feel your identity being dispossesed/dispersed…. everyone in the post-industrial world has a kind of feeling of floating
these days… it all seems so unreal. Progress is an illusion. It’s all about how much we can reconfigure our ways of thinking about how we fit into nature and the world around us.
I think sometimes we’re killing the planet, and there’s so much bullshit and petty shit, no one can even think that the atmosphere is being destroyed or that 50% of the world’s population has never even made a phone call…. everyone wants to think that they’re “on some future shit” but the shit is
now, and if things keep going the way they are the future is going to be a pretty grim seperation between those who have information and those who don’t.
Europe’s myths of freedom were an illusion for the rest of the world, and the post-colonial situation will be more bullshit if people can’t simply respect the people around them…. music is a universal
language. So is mathematics. To me, that’s what electronic music is pointing out: that humans can fucking relate to one another and build bridges over the historic bullshit… maybe.
Ancient civilization, folklore and traditional forms of music, explain your interests if any_
at this point, it’s all about collage. Everything we see is made up of fragments of other stuff. The past is a game of poker… pick a card, any card…
Do you think we’re going toward a ” brand society ” in that vast accumulation of datas?
logo… it’s all about the logo. Call it “generation attention deficit disorder” but the idea of growing up in a society based on t.v. and continuous rapid
exchange cut-ups and advertisements has created a kind of mass amnesia in electronic youth culture. I think of it as a visual soundbite: there’s so much information out there the only way you can deal with it all, is to filter it, and that’s what dj’s do:
the music is our way to condensing and reflecting a world made of bits and bytes back to some sort of individual meaning.
Sometimes I look at my records (I have something between 20-30,000 records and have been collecting since my father died when I was three years old, I have a wall of records at home that I use, and the rest I keep in storage), I get dizzy with all the voices and potential mixes that I could make. It’s infinite, and it’s heady… there’s no sound that I can’t think
of, and in a sense all the technology that I use to make my art is corporate. We’re so involved with technology (software, hardware etc etc) that the old notions of left-wing, right wing, need to be remade, because in an information economy it’s
all about how information creates identity as a scarce resource:
my mom used to say – who speaks through you? I can only wonder what the next generation will think of how we used technology… like I always say, technology is like a card game, and on that issue I’ll have to sit back and poker faced, say “pick a card any card….” things just can never be made simple,
and the complexity of it all is what makes life exciting for me. The illusion of a static and linear universe that we’ve been so acclimatized to seeing/existing in is becoming so utterly boring that even movies like the Matrix or Being John
Malkovitch can become populated with the kind of narratives that normally would be associated with psychosis or madness on one hand, or dj mix culture on the other.
Forced memory and hyper saturation – these are the issues that we’re facing these days, and the interaction between stimulus and and imagination no longer works in blocks and chunks like a bad tv
channnel playing for the evening family hour or something. Instead through the kind of mix that I’ve been talking about, people experience more stimuli with a lower definition – more dispersion, more fragmentation equals information as a
kind of particle physics of communication, and like Paul Virilio said a long while ago, communication takes on a rapturous quality, like a frequency operating on a really short wavelength.
The American Melting pot as the World Microwave? What’s it like to live on a planet put in parenthese by satellites in the sky? Ask any kid and they’ll tell you, or maybe they’re all too busy listening to Eminem (that’s meant to be humorous by the way….).
Anyway, one of my favorite physicists, Richard P. Feynman said when he was discussing the way our civilization is changing – it’s like the classic
situation where a professor walks into class at the beginning of a new semester and writes a statement for a quizzical class on the previously blank blackboard: “why?” and then walks out. The class assumes that this is a statement about some
philosophical issue and almost no one responds. The professor returns and says this is a test. What answers do you have, you have 5 minutes to respond?” No one replies and the class is given a surprise pop quiz response: the professor returns
and on the opposite blackboard the answer to this strange question is written: “why not? Needless to say, the entire class failed the exam.
– A Brief Bio –
Paul D. Miller is a conceptual artist, writer, and musician working in NYC. His written work has appeared in The Village Voice, The Source, Artforum, Raygun, Rap Pages, Paper Magazine, and a host of other periodicals. He is a co-Publisher along with the legendary African American downtown poet Steve Canon of the magazine “A Gathering of the Tribes” – a periodical dedicated to new works by writers from a multi-cultural context, and he was the first Editor-At-Large of Artbyte: the Magazine of Digital Culture. Currently, he is in the middle of starting another magazine with many of the more progressive aspects of the Artbyte project. The new magazine is 21C – stay tuned for further developments.
His work as an artist has appeared in a wide variety of contexts such as the Whitney Biennial, The Venice Biennial for Architecture (year 2000), the prestigious Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany; Kunsthalle, Vienna; The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and many other museums and galleries.
Miller is most well known under the moniker of his “constructed persona” as “Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid,” a character from his upcoming novel “Flow My Blood the Dj Said” that uses a wide variety of digitally created music as a form of post-modern sculpture. Miller has recorded a huge volume of music as “Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid” and has collaborated a wide variety of pre emininet musicians and composers such as Iannis Xenakis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Butch Morris, Kool Keith a.k.a. Doctor Octagon, Killa Priest from Wu-Tang Clan, Yoko Ono and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth amongst many others. He also did the music score for the Cannes and Sundance award winning film “Slam” starring critically acclaimed poet Saul Williams.
Author: dj Spooky
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