I heard an excellent lecture/demonstration tonight by Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky. It was a heady evening of intellectual, visual and sonic montage. There was text from Miller’s book Rhythm Science and citations of postmodern thinkers and writers from Derrida to William Gibson, together with sound collages combining everything from Public Enemy to Miles Davis to Pierre Boulez, and video clips ranging from 1950s TV ads that featured electronic music to excerpts from Miller’s multimedia remix/deconstruction of Birth of a Nation.
Miller/Spooky is an important artist, both because of the sheer vitality of his sampled/remixed sounds, and because he so thoroughly registers and reflects upon what it means to live in our 21st century network culture. Miller speaks to and for a world in which everything is hybrid, everything is continually being transformed and “remediated” — but also everything is instantly commodified and branded, reduced to an identifiable and marketable tag. He reminds us that we are constantly being bathed — literally as well as metaphorically — in sound waves and electromagnetic waves of all conceivable frequencies, carrying messages intentional or not, and whether we are aware of all these messages or not. Miller plays with all these messages, both ironically and seriously, and encourages us to play with them in turn.
Everything is a sample, everything is waiting to be sampled; and everything is renewed when it is sampled, broken down, reconstructed and recontextualized. If architecture is, as they say, frozen music, then — Miller says — music is liquid architecture. Music fills and reconfigures space, puts it into motion. All that is solid melts into software — actually, into free software or shareware. I found Paul Miller’s lecture exhilarating, as it envisioned — but also pragmatically demonstrated, in brief — the utopian potentialities of postmodern culture. Remix/Remodel. Deform in order to Transform.