Thursday, August 14, 2008

My GO! Magazine story on DJ Spooky

Here's my story on DJ Spooky. I conducted this interview by e-mail, which always sucks. Although I hardly prefer phone conversations because of their informality, at least you can gauge a person's tone and manner while talking with them. Through e-mail, unless they use really creative punctuation, there's no gauge whatsoever. For all I know, his assistant or manager could have written these up.

But judging from the responses, Spooky is one gifted, intelligent man, with a lot of good work under his belt. He's playing at the Henry Miller Library on Saturday. He'll go on about the same time I'll be watching A Tribe Called Quest some 100 miles north in Mountain View. Just thought I'd mention that.

The redwoods of Big Sur might seem an odd venue for any DJ other than DJ Spooky.
This is a guy who set out to Antarctica in hopes of making an electronic music recording sampling the sounds of ice.
A conceptual artist, DJ, turntablist and all-around digital music maven, DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid (real name Paul Miller), will perform a live show Friday to benefit the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. This will not be an ordinary DJ set, where the crowd watches a selector spin wax. His set will be a "live multimedia sound, music and visual collage, remixing cultural personae incorporating recently discovered Allen Ginsberg 1950s recordings, as well as audio of Henry Miller tuned specifically for the redwood forest's acoustics."
Fresh off a trip to Tel Aviv, Miller answered questions via e-mail for The Herald in anticipation of his Friday performance. He talked about his upcoming show, his "mixtape book" titled "Sound Unbound" and the "Terra Nova Project" that took him in search him to Anarctica in search of the perfect beat. Here is the e-mail transcript:
Q: Have you been to the Henry Miller Library/Big Sur before? Impressions?
A: Well, everybody knows of Henry Miller's literary work, but not a lot of people know about his watercolors. I always get a laugh out of the fact that me and him have the same last name (slavery did all sorts of funny things, eh!). My gallery in NY is Robert Miller gallery, too ... guess it's a Miller thing ... Anyway it's funny — no relation though. I imagine that the library would look like a scene in one of his watercolor paintings. You know ... the bright colors and mischief ...
smiles and laughter and all that. I mean hey ... the climate alone would be amazing and inspirational. Anyway, nah, I haven't been to the Henry Miller Library before.
Q: Your show will feature recently discovered Ginsberg '50s recordings. How will you blend those in with your work?
A: Well — there are so many divisions between the different eras — sampling breaks all of that down. My new book "Sound Unbound" looks at this kind of situation: and asks a simple "What if?"
It's a book that has essays from people as diverse as Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Chuck D, Moby, Pierre Boulez, Saul Williams, Bruce Sterling, Jonathan Lethem, etc.. The audio companion has rare material from Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Liam Gillick, Trilok Gurtu, Sun Ra, George E. Lewis, Aphex Twin, Sonic Youth, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop etc — how would anyone take these voices and sounds and make a mix? I guess the "impetus" is about saying anything goes — why not mix these people and see what happens? Ginsberg is an inspiration on a lot of levels — he basically broke all the rules — and — had a good time. Jazz? Check. Literature? Check. Art? Check? I like people who say to hell with the rules — sampling does the same thing. We move from The Beats of the 20th century to the "beats" of the era of hip-hop, techno, etc.
Burning Man has more in common with people like Ginsberg or Amiri Baraka than half of the museum and gallery shows commemorating these cultural movements. I could go on, but anyway, yeah, the evening will have some really rare Ginsberg recordings and video material. It's the era of the remix!
Q: How was the Miller audio tuned specifically for the redwood forest's acoustics? Will the average listener be able to distinguish it that quality? How so?
A: Electronic music fits into so many categories — outdoors, no problem. From forest to city to glacier — I'm inspired by it all. For example, I went to Antarctica and shot a film that let me think about applying DJ technique to the environment. I know it sounds quirky, but that's kind of the point. When I was thinking about Terra Nova, I wanted to figure out a way to make music out of the sound of ice. The amount of ice down there is kinnd of geological clock: Why do we look at almost everything around us and take it for granted that this will all be around for the next couple of centuries? Environmental change has always been here. Think of the dinosaurs, think of all the different extinct species. Extinct is forever ... i.e. unless somebody out there picks up the pieces of your ashes and puts you back together, then we've done our thing, and our time on this planet is over. I wanted to go to Antarctica to look at the ice and think about it all - and make music from the ice.
What happens when you apply DJ technique to ice? Anyway, the redwood forest is still standing! I thank whatever divinities there may be for the fact that the library was saved and that we can come together to support the library as a cultural center. We need more, a lot more of these kinds of places in America.
Q: Your new book features interviews and essays with a wide range of talent. Was there any one thread that connected them in the book?
A: "Sound Unbound" is a "mix-tape" of a book. It has a lot of different voices — I really like to think of it as a kind of polyphony. Books usually are about one topic or one theme etc., etc. My stuff is about a certain kind of fragmentation. Sampling and literature go hand and hand. If you look at the 20th century, I think that the way people put together everything from factory production lines to poetry — think The Model T Ford Car, or William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, jazz soloists like Charlie Parker, composers like Ornette Coleman...and of course, all of hip-hop etc. — it's all about the fragment, the motif. That's probably what connected all the different people in the book. I'm a fan of doing the non-obvious.
Q: The art of DJing itself has changed dramatically since the beginning of the decade, due to technological advances and changes in industry standard (i.e. records crates have been replaced by laptops/DJ software). Is DJing now about keeping in tune with the technology as opposed to plying the craft?
A: Software, software, software! Everything that can be digital will be digital. Your phone, your record player, your computer — it's all about convergence. I'll be lecturing at Google's corporate headquarters the next day after I leave the Henry Miller Library! In "Sound Unbound" I had Daphne Keller, the "Senior Legal Counsel" for Google do an essay about sampling and intellectual property and she set up a lecture at Google. I guess it'll be about "DJ as search engine." But yeah, technology has changed the game. I really think that video, and other kinds of visual stuff — YouTube, blogosphere, laptop critics, wildstyle digital graffiti, you name it... it is just starting. Everybody is DJ'ing 'cause it's all about selection, and that means everything from Web browsing to 3G phones will be musical. Feel the funk baby!
Q: How did the "Terra Nova" project take shape? What challenges did you face during your trips to Antarctica?
A: I wanted to figure out a way to get out of cities. All of the shows I do, usually, almost every where all the time, are in cities. I'm writing to you just as I transfer on a flight from Sri Lanka, to Delhi (India's Delhi airport is wild!). But imagine how much most music styles — country, hip hop, dub reggae, whatever...are about the way we live, and the stories we tell. I wanted to figure out how do we make songs out of the planet itself? How do we as human beings realize how much we're messing up the earth? I want people to realize that we can do other things, and check out other ways of being. Anyway, the trailer is at terra_nova.php
You gotta decide for yourself!

Marc Cabrera can be reached at mcabrera@monterey GO!


• What: DJ Spooky aka That Subliminal Kid performs live in concert
• Where: Henry Miller Library, Highway 1, Big Sur
• When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15
• Tickets: $25, available at or 667-2574
• Information:, or 667-2574

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