Paul D. Miller" (by way of Paul D.Miller) on Wed, 8 Mar 2000 17:19:47 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> TEXTUAL COMMINGLING

Tom - it's a pleasure to see you break things down like this. I was at a reception for etoy at a little while ago, and someone came up to me and said "oh, you're hear.... you're a newcomer to internet culture or something like that." It made me think alot about how people view communications systems and how we create culture in these days of what I like to call "prosthetic realism." It reminded me of the story about the war between the "Masters of Deception" and "Legion of Doom" hacker crews a while ago. John Lee was Black and the white hacker kids simply couldn't bring themselves to believe that he was talented and completely immersed in digital culture. Aside from the fact that the guy who came up with this statement was pretty much an asshole (trust me, if you're black dealing with white folks on a technology/arts angle, things can get really annoying... you have to have a relatively thick skin....), the statement struck a resonance with me. I'm posting an interview I did with a young South Asian American writer for a journal out of Harvard's Law School about the internet and music culture. I think you'd find it rather intriguing in light of your last post:
To: Arash Saedinia <>
From: "Paul D. Miller" <>
Subject: Here's the interview responses...

1. As a performer who relies on the complex recontextualization of sounds to create new compositions, what legal regime do you envision as pertains to intellectual property, and more specifically, the art of "sampling?"

Response: When you combine terms like "fact" and "fiction" you get a perfect example of the generation clash this kind of aesthetic war signifies. The equation "fact + fiction" equals a new form of information control - you get "faction." I think alot of the issues around sampling is a play on different perceptions of time, ya know? It's mainly about how people replay their own memories of sounds and situations they lived through. Who controls the environment you grew up in? Who controls the situation that you engage? .... At the end of the day, it's all about re-processing the world around you, and this will happen whether companies and older artists try to control the process and its cultural "entropic" "open system" implications. As with both jazz and the blues, where everyone had access to the same songs, but flipped things until they made their own statement (think of the classic blues motif of "going' to the cross-roads" or the jazz performance situation of "call-and-response")...

An Asymmetric Parable:
Jacob Lawrence paints a collage of jazz photos while Ornette Coleman sits down and has a conversation with Afrika Bambaata, who sends a transmission to Kraftwerk, who riff on Alan Turing's notion of the computer as "Universal Machine" and send the message to Hendrix who acts as a search engine for higher frequencies in the studio while he looks for reflections of Little Richard... meanwhile, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton etc etc get paid and chill out... it's a boring equation if the "appropriation" is "one way" and the sampler, reflecting an American tradition of cultural appropriation is merely a machinic engagement with the same logic of "cultural hybridity" (Turing, the fellow who came up with the computer as "universal machine" reflects off the surface of the sampler - it can approximate any sound, and becomes an instrument meant to be any instrument....).

.....It's really a generation gap, but at the same time, if things are "recognizeable" then, yeah, somebody should get some loot. Art and the everyday: the boundaries between the two are what the major cultural movements of the last century - Pop Art, Surrealism, Futurism, Jazz, Be-Bop, Blues, destroyed. At the same time, there's so many ways to alter the palette of "found sounds" you work with - in a world existing in a post-Duchamp, post-Warhol aesthetic/cultural landscape why bother to play something the exact same way as before? Even a slight flourish or frequency pitch shift changes the original elements you bounce off of, but it's all about reconfiguration and customization - this is why I always refer to sampling as "dematerialized sculpture." Intellectual property is a foundation for an information economy - but the sense of scarcity and the interplay of the complex variables of how people construct their identities. I think anyone in their 20's has a sense of growing up in a world of media saturation, and we're just the beginning. If I internalize the environment around me, who is going to control how the information eventually resurfaces? It's an uncanny situation - it almost makes the creative act become a kind of "dispersion of self." Like I always say, back in the day, people used to call it "alchemy," but in our modern hyper-fluid world of cybernetic culture, people simply call it "the mix." Sampling seen in this light? Personally, I like to call it "cybernetic jazz" - algorhythmic composition... playing with beats - it's all about patterns...

2. In your address to the participants at the conference, you spoke of urban youth culture as a template for internet culture. Could you elaborate?
Response: yeah, there's the whole issue of identity. African American, Irish, Jewish, Hispanic: anyone in America's surface level homogeneity and deep ethnic schizophrenia is going to face an identity clash if they bounce of off the "received culture" of commercialized information. Identity - the way I see it - is all about creating an environment where you can make the world act as your own reflection. I look at contemporary electronic culture as a situation where Dubois's concept of "Double Consciousness" has become multiplex: African American culture went through a cycle of extreme flux during the slave period to create a milieu where everything, down even to the words you spoke, were the equivalent of a "found object" it's an environment that mirrors on-line culture in the sense that people have to make things up as they go, textual poaching with no coaching... it's a rhyme of how the "urban crucible" shapes our environment. Next corner, next intersection, switch....Generation X becomes Generation Y in this context: the slave experience of cultural erasure, the immigrants experience of identity reconstruction: the city moves away from the melting pot model, and becomes a frequency centrifuge... cultures in conflict, messages etched and pasted on every street corner, images raining down... thoughts like rain... yeah, the city fragments and coalesces... Freud used to call the situation "unheimlich" or "uncanny" but the sense of alienation and familiarity - it all reminds me of the Situationist critique of the urban landscape. They simply called it "psychogeographic" - the layers of the city unfold in the mind of the person who moves through the landscape. What could be a better parallel to "systems culture" where everyone is an element of what theorist Mikhail Bakhtin would have called "dialogic" narrative: whether its Linux or mix tape culture.... I can only think of the city as a dispersed situation. Like Mcluhan said back in the day in a section of his 1967 essay "Verbi-Voco-Visual Explanations," called "The Alchemy of Social Change,"
"the city no longer exists, except as a cultural ghost for tourists..." Sounds like hip-hop to me...
o longer exists, except as a cultural ghost for tourists..."
3. Does "illbient" fit what you're doing in 2000? Played out, useful, what's your take on the term today?


ILLbient started out as a critique of alot of the conservatism in the NYC music scene. Everyone is all about "orthodoxy": keeping the boundaries between music styles in a world of total flux seems crazy to me, and I wanted to figure out a way to flip things so that people could check the vibe. I started a series of events with a woman named Karen Levitt that was meant to be a kind of inheritance of the "Happenings" tradition of the 60's scene around John Cage/Nam Jun Paik/Joseph Beuys/Allan Kaprow artist scene based on "indeterminancy." Needless to say, alot of people don't read about that stuff, and in a sense, they shouldn't have to, so illbient became regarded as being super artsy and most people get turned off by that. I'm still into alot of the ideas: digital media, multi-culturalism (I have to admit I'm a fanatic when it comes to making absolutely sure that things are DIVERSE) - at the end of the day, you realize that alot of the ideas we've formed of the notion of the "avant garde" are obsolete - people these days simply want to get paid, figure out different ways to create a forum for their zone to flow, and then leave it at that. Illbient was kind of flying in the face of this kind of social logic, and yeah, it's something I still do. But what's in a name? Alot of the situation I was working on took up so much time, and I had to deal with people in an annoying way (people tend to get really stupid when it comes to music.... I could tell ya some stories....), so I remixed into a more convetional art-historic "tableau vivant" type situation: i.e. a little more dry, a little more academic, where the situation could be taken as a kind of conceptual art project. On one hand, it opened up several other zones for me, and on the other, it allowed me to create "Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid" as a "living" engagement with an ultra media saturated youth culture environment. In essence, it let me create a narrative on several fronts at the same time... Persona as shareware... or something like that.

4. What's the trouble with the avant-garde? That is, how does work that at some level aspires to be radically democratic, reach and engage collectivities outside the rarified "art world" and its privileged constituencies? It seems to me that music, particularly hip-hop (read expansively) can and often does transcend long standing boundaries. It also seems as though "Riddim Warfare"was/is, on some level, addressing this issue in attempting to reach a broader audience.
Response: It's incredibly important to flip things and be open, and that's one thing the conventional art world is completely ignorant off. For the artworld and alot of the academic world, they use the rhetoric of the "Left" and then are ultra obsessed with class, race, and hierarchy divisions. It's an appalling state to see... but at the same time, that's the way it's always been in most cultures. What makes digital media so intriguing is that it simply becomes a kind of meritocracy: you either have the information or you don't, but we all breathe the air, eh? Splice and dice, flipmode, opensource.... Riddim Warfare for me was a critique of alot of the hypocrisy and sheer conservatism that drives alot of the culture scenes - hip-hop, dancehall reggae, academia, you name it... people are so programmed to accept a media construct that if something isn't affirmed by their peers and or media, then it might as well not exist. It's a hyper consumerist mentality, and sometimes my generation's approach to the whole situation is utterly passive... which is frightening. Music is a universal language. So is mathematics. So is the basic sense of trying to foster a real sense of plurality... and that's what Riddim Warfare was about. I felt like I was at war with what I like to call a "one track mind" mentality of my generation. Flip the script, delete the crypt... mind and rhyme... it's all about time...

5. Flipping the script, what do you make of today's rap, the glamourization of thug life? Misogyny/homophobia/crass capitalism dominates the culture of rap. Arguably, rap can't be ignored as a force by anyone interested in culture (much less headz). Take "Bling Bling" by B.G. or "Fuck You" by Dre, two undeniably compelling songs, rooted in the digital "now" --- how do you engage these tracks as a dj?
Response: Dj'ing let's you take the best of what's out there and make your own take on it, so.... Yeah, I might not really be that into the "knucklehead" stuff, but at the same time, if the beats are fresh and people recognize the track, I might flip a different vocal on it, or cut and scratch the vocals to highlight more interesting parts of what's going on... or I might not play the material at all. I'm mad picky about this
kind of thing, and I think more people should be, but you know what? Sometimes hearing some crazy ill phrase come blasting out your loud speaker has a cathartic effect that's paradoxical - you know the words and the sequence of effects the words entail, but if you repress the idea around the language, then the idea becomes all the more powerful... which reinforces the situation.I call dealing with that kind of stuff a kind of "digital exorcism." I have to admit though: I'm mad bored with alot of conventional hip-hop these days. I think the drum n bass stuff, or Jamaican dancehall or even weird "trip-hop" stuff is alot more interesting compositionally. People seem to be going backwards, and the music really isn't that complex any more. I'm really into the production period of the late '80's: Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, The Native Tongues Scene, etc etc all of that was alot more creative and intriguing than alot of what you hear now... but then again, I don't want to come off as a cranky old timer.... I'm not.

6. Speaking of crass, what do you make of the colonization of hip-hop by the Korn/Limp Bizkit set? How do you react to Q-Tip, Method Man and Run D.M.C. collaborating with these groups?

Response: Materialism is a kind of hybrid virus in the hip-hop scene at this point, and basically, yeah, people want to let everyone know they got some cash of off rhyming on a track. I respect Q-Tip, Method Man, Run D.M.C. et al - why not have some hybird culture out there that isn't the same old same old.... Ever since Norman Mailer's classic essay "The White Negro" or the composer Charles Ives "American Hymns" we've seen a culture where people are always internalizing African American modes of thought.... but what makes this new stuff interesting is that it's not some "behind the back" type stuff... it's straight up obvious and that helps clear away even a small amount of the hypocrisy... It's time to write some new histories... there's room for everything. Personally, I'd like to see more dancehall reggae hip-hop situations (I do like Korn and Rage Against the Machine though... Limp Bizkit isn't in my taste zone though....) 'cause the rock equation is pretty played out at this point. I gotta admit though... one of my favorite bands of ALL TIME, Bad Brains, will always have a special place in my mix sets.

7. In terms of your own collaborations, how has working with Robin/Scanner differed with say, Kool Keith in terms of process and vision. Reflexively, how have they converged?
Response:All of these projects were about the notion of found sound and memory. I've worked with people as radically diverse as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Iannis Xenakis, Butch Morris (an amazing Jazz composer whose work- in terms of African American experimental composers, the man is the The Man), Matthew Shipp (a major figure on the NYC underground jazz circuit) and not to mention turntablists like Afriak Bambaata and Grandmaster Flash, but the Scanner Project that we worked on involved me going through fragments of my recordings of environments and Scanner going through his recordings of all of the different frequencies that make up the urban landscape. Call it "critique of the invisible" or something like that, but the point was that records operate on the level of frequencies as well - transmission mode "open" - and the sense was one of a kind of dematerialized sculpture with "the city" as your source material. Hip-hop made from the "streets" of the frequencies that are coming to mean more than the physical world they inhabit and describe.... human culture as Freidrich Kittler likes to describe is "as a system being consumed by our communications technologies." So yeah, "The Quick and The Dead" was all about flow. I like working with people and seeing what each zone/scene will come up with. It's not exactly MTV, but keeps life interesting, and makes me want to get out of bed in the mornings... you know "like what frequency will I inhabit today?" or something funny like that.

6. The underground hip-hop community seems to have connected with its forward thinking forbears as of late, from Steve Reich to Fela Kuti, figures who fused traditions. Who, in this sense of "fusion," inspires you?
Response: The hip-hop zone is founded on ancestor worship. I think that these days people are simply expanding the pantheon. I'm mad into Fela. I'm mad into Steve Reich and Phillip Glass - all that NYC minimalism tradition. hell, if you think about it, even someone like Walt Whitman lived in the same burrough as Biggie Smalls, ya know - remember that famous line "so what if I contradict my self - I am large, I contain multitudes..." who do you think wrote that? It could just as easily have been Biggie, but it was Whitman. The idea here is that there has always been an American hybrid multi-cultural scene, and the music was always a reflection of that. It's simply now migrating more over to the visual, and artistic realms. In that sense, music was out of sync with the rest of the sound and image tracks of the American dream. It's still ahead of the ballgame though.... 'cause people simply do not know how to check out different zones and "parlay" as Grand Puba used to say. The music speaks louder than any individual voice - I think that that's what dj culture is telling us. Fusion, the mix: cultural alchemy, as they say in the events like Soundlab (a moving NYC multi-media conceptual art event - check their website: and stuff like Mongrel in London... it's all about the mix. Anything else is, well, boring. Like I always enjoy saying... "opposites extract."

7. A voice on the track Synchronism 2 (from the collaboration with Scanner) informs us that "electric circuitry... the flowing" is taking us on an "inner trip.. which involve us in depth in things that had formerly been merely superficial, visual, external and detached from our own beings." Arguably, the opposite has been true of our relationship to technology in the late stages of capital accumulation: specialization, fragmentation/routinization of work/space/life, shortened attention spans, virtuality, channel surfing (adrift), an aptitude for surfaces and surfaces alone. Are these readings incommensurable?
Response: Yeah, that fragment was from a super rare Marshall Mcluhan record version of his infamous book "The Medium is The Massage": Mcluhan recorded himself making mixes, and then read passages from the "Medium is the Massage" over the fragments. I think Mcluhan was truly a genius. And I don't say that very often. I don't think the opposite has occurred; think about how people like Rahzel from the Roots or Swiz Beats flip styles and samples without using the original material.... they've internalized the sounds of the records we all use - right down to the kind of scratches the Rahzel does so well to the fax signals you'll hear coming out of Swiz Beats tracks.... Yeah, it's all about attention deficit disorder, but writ large: we have been surfing on fragmented culture for so long that we've lost any other sense of how to live and think, so it's definitely become the paradigmatic shift of an entire generation of people. I can only wonder what people will come up with next.... the other voice on that record, by the way, was one of Edison's original recordings of himself singing "Mary Had A Little Lamb." I wonder what he thought people would do with turntables back in the 1800's.... One of my favorite artists, Adrian Piper, came up with a term that I think reflects this kind of life-code: she called it the "indexical present" and yeah, in this world of frequencies and fiber optic cables that is held together by the myths of freedom Europe created during it's Industrial Revolution, and which have now come to be called "liberal capitalism" by the likes of economists like Fernand Braudel and Francis Fukuyama... I guess we've all inherited Newton's sense of the "clockwork world" but I like to think that some people, somewhere, step to a different drummer... ya know?

8. When can we expect the collaboration with Sir Menelik to drop? Other present/upcoming projects?
Response: Not for a while. Maybe a remix or something. I like Menelik's work - and I consider him and Kool Keith to be lyricist craftsmen of exquisite rhyme play. There's only 24 hours in the day.. but it's about 5 a.m. here in Lyon, France, and I'll be travelling for the next several months... you know how it goes... it goes on and on with the kick drum... this ain't no re-run....

ILLogical Progression:
Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid's Playlist for the meta-mixdown zone.
Discs in serious rotation for the boogie-down break-beat zone March/April 2000:
1. Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris with the ORT-Orchestra della Toscana, "Holy Sea" Conductions 57,58,59, Splac(H) records
2) Compilation, The Temple of Hip-Hop Kulture, "Criminal Justice: From Darkness to Light," Reprise Records
3) Best of the Moog, Electronic Pop Hits from the '60's and 70's, Disinformation/Razorfish/Loud Records
4) Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg, Still D.R.E., Aftermath/Universal Records
5. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid Versus Scanner, "The Quick and The Dead," Sulphur Records
6. Compilation, "Stand Up and Be Counted: Soul, Funk, and Jazz from a Revolutionary Era," Harmless Recordings
7. Ghost Face Killah, "Supreme Clientele," Epic/Razor Sharp
8. Wendy Carlos, "Switched-On Boxed Set" East Side Digital
9. Compilation, "Clicks and Cuts" Mille Plateaux
10. The Scientist, "Dub: Scientist Kils The Millenium Bug," Black Solidarity Records
Bonus Beatz:
11. Kid Koala, "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," Ninja Tune

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

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