By M. Solis
Paul D. Miller is one well-rounded b-boy. As DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, he coined the term "illbient," and released a slew of albums that stretched the boundaries of some of his beloved genres, including techno, futurejazz, spacedub, and hip-hop. His conceptual-art pieces have appeared in museums including the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennial for Architecture, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Spooky has even taught theory alongside cats like Jean Baudrillard and Slavoj Zizek.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Miller's love affair with music began with his parents' eclectic record collection. After his father passed away and left Miller his records, listening evolved into action and by age 17 he was spinning vinyl at parties. Along the way, he adopted the alias DJ Spooky, and after reading William S. Burroughs' Nova Express, he was motivated to add "That Subliminal Kid."
Miller's latest endeavor, Rhythm Science is a 128-page blueprint for a 21st century sound metropolis. With hints of McLuhan, Fiore, and Kodwo Eshun, Spooky has drafted a manifesto for global post-hip-hop heads. Thanks to the efforts of San Anto's Diggin Deep Quartet, the Davenport, and the Contemporary Art Month folks, Spooky will perform here on Saturday, July 31. His free lecture at Artpace earlier that day promises to be equally edifying.
Current: How did Rhythm Science come about?
Spooky: Basically, I've been working on it as a kind of notes-in-hand project for a while and I really wanted to show a different side of what I do. I'm a writer, I'm an artist, I'm a musician. Each of those is interrelated and I really tend to think of everything as writing. The fun part about that is I do it in a way that's just a hobby gone wild, so that allows me more freedom and flexibility. On the end of the spectrum, the music speaks to a broader audience than writing so I have the pressure of two situations.
Current: Can you elaborate on the concepts of Rhythm Cinema and Rhythm Space?
Spooky: To me, every time you even look at a building or see roads of a city from above, those are different kinds of visual patterns and rhythms. What I'm doing as a DJ, writer, and artist is thinking about life in our era as kind of exploring all the interrelated patterns that hold the fabric of the everyday world together. A building is a pattern. You can look at the points of structure, like a window, a corridor, a chamber; those are done with certain patterns. If you look at a skyscraper, if you look at a church, all of these are structures, but to me they are also beats. They're rhythms that are holding together a structure.
A DJ set of rhythms and patterns is the same thing as a building. It really doesn't have that much of a difference except for the material. Music is invisible. It's made of software, code. It's made of people playing in a unit. Buildings are made of steel and concrete. I just draw a bridge between the two. It's an urban funk culture.
That's why I feel like the era of the 21st century is all about information overload. That's where I get this idea of Rhythm Cinema because if you're doing multimedia from every direction and how the mind makes sense of that, it's putting it in patterns, putting it in structure.
Current: What is the link between someone producing music and making beats on an underground level, and the type of work you're doing within these larger institutions?
That's the only way I can say to anybody who's coming up in the scene: just think about your own limitations. Do you want to only just DJ hip-hop? Do you only want to DJ dancehall? No. Most people like a lot of different music. That will show up in your set, that'll show in your style. What will make your style richer and deeper is if you know about music from not just whatever is the last 12-inch record from a major label, but the underground, overseas. The whole issue of music from around the world, that's what will make your set a lot stronger and your music a lot stronger.
Current: How do you incorporate the theories you are exploring with your work as a musician?
Spooky: I speak with my hands. The turntable is just my writing path. Like for the mix CD that went with Rhythm Science, I got rare spoken word from James Joyce, Gertrude Stein. At the same time, I balance it out with hip-hop rhythms where it shows that rhyming can come from a lot of different angles. Who's to separate Walt Whitman from Biggie Smalls or KRS-ONE from early Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones? Nobody. In fact, there's really distinct continuity. •
By M. Solis