As a world-renowned DJ, hip-hop savant, media artist, writer, and cultural critic, the work of Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, is a process of discovery as much as it is an explosion of new forms of personal expression, celebration, and thought. In his highly acclaimed past performance work Rebirth of a Nation, Miller delved into the politics of perception and appropriation, and the elusive nature of a cohesive narrative and singular truth. An ever-evolving artist, Miller’s newest performance work is entitled Terra Nova: Sinfonica Antarctica. Speaking over the phone last week from Austin, Texas where he was preparing to present Sinfonica Antarctica at the University of Texas, Miller took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Matthew Aaron Goodman You move from your past performance work, Rebirth of a Nation, a film project based on a remix of D.W. Griffith’s infamous 1915 film Birth of a Nation, a hate-filled film with with themes of subjugation, supremacism, and insidious stereotypes, to a landscape that is unposessed and uninhabited. What was that leap like? And what do you see as the relationship between the works? Or, if there is no connection, was that disjunction a conscious decision?
DJ Spooky In both I’m looking at themes through compositions. I don’t believe in walls, in the separations in the world of art. I don’t buy into compartmentalization. I think there’s a way to get at emotional tensions such as racial politics through cinema. Film is a mythic storytelling process. The next step for me was to look at propaganda consumer information and the different perspectives on climate change and the politics of perception. With Sinfonica Antarctica I’m looking at themes of the environment through composition. The 21st century is all about fragmented information and the politics of perception. I’m trying to frame our perspective on the environment and climate change and establish a vocabulary for us to deal with propaganda consumer information.”
MAGSinfonica Antarctica includes the audio recordings and films of glaciers and melting ice that you made while in Antarctica. How has your time in Antarctica informed or altered your thinking about where you reside?
DJ Spooky Well, I live in New York City, and cities are totally disconnected from nature. They’re hyper-artificial. But I like to think of things in terms of how the city has changed human life. What a city was in ancient Roman and ancient China is very different from what we know as a city. We live in the realm of the global city, and America has become this culture of a logic of the grid. Anti-nature. Our cities are these artificial, bizarre paradoxical places. They’re creations of cultural vacuums.
MAG With Sinfonica Antarctica you use your own footage and recordings. Could you talk a little bit about the process of being—for lack of better description—the initial creator of the information, an ethnographer of the living environment of Antarctica? How did you come to that idea?
DJ Spooky I’ve deejayed in some thirty to forty countries, so I like to think I am a sort of an amateur anthropologist. I think of sound as a universal language with grammar and syntax and a vocabulary. I wanted to think about the politics of climate change on the right wing and reframe them. I wanted to look at different perspectives. We’ve sort of run out of control as a planet. I’m really into the idea of agency, of empowerment. I think music is a platform to engage all people.
*Terra Nova: Sinfonica Antarctica plays at the Brooklyn Academy of Music December 4th and 5th.
Matthew Aaron Goodman is a writer/author living in Brooklyn. His most recent novel, Hold Love Strong, was published by Simon and Schuster. His website is holdlovestrong.com.