Paul D. Miller on Sat, 23 Nov 2002 20:12:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Paul D. Miller remixes Marcel Duchamp at L.A. MOCA

Hey you all - I'm going to be in L.A. on Saturday 'cause I have a show opening at L.A. MOCA. It's a remix I did of Marcel Duchamp's infamous "Errata Musical" and "Sculpture Musical" works - check it out! Think of it as downloadable mix sculpture based on sampling and sound. There'll be downloadable posters etc etc and screensavers starting next week. M.C. Duchamp as mixologist... as Dj... as starting point for some kind of new aesthetics of the found object as software/shareware.

There'll be "dub" and "hip-hop" versions of Duchamp's various spoken texts, each one mixable by the viewer.

Errata Erratum

is viewable and hearable at:


My discussion of the remix is on Sunday at the museum with Artforum critic Ralph Rugoff about the project. Essentially, it's based on Duchamp's music works from the period 1912-1915. I'll present "versions" and remixes of the project and, of course, it'll be downloadable...

The project was curated by Lisa Mark of the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art Digital Gallery.

also - don't forget we're in the middle of re-starting 21C Magazine:


for those of you who are into text - here's the liner notes for the project:

On The Record: Notes for the "Errata Erratum" Duchamp Remix Project at LA MOCA

By Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid
NYC 2002

"In the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal "art coefficient' contained in the work. In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentinally expressed..."
Marcel Duchamp, "The Creative Act" 1957

When I first started dj'ing it was meant to be a hobby. It was an experiment with rhythm and clues, rhythm and cues: drop the needle on the record and see what happens when this sound is applied to this context, or when that sound crashes into that recording... you get the idea. The first impulses I had about dj culture were taken from that basic idea - play and irreverence towards the found objects that we use as consumers and a sense that something new was right in front of our oh so jaded eyes as we watched the computer screens at the cusp of the 21st century's beginnings. I wanted to breathe a little life into the passive relationship we have with the objects around us and to bring a sense of permanent uncertainty about the role of art in our lives. For me, as an artist, writer, and musician, it seemed that turntables were somehow imbued with the art of being memory permutation machines - they changed how I remembered sounds, and always made me think of a different experience with each listening. The "phonograph" in my artwrok embodied what theorist Francis Yates would call "memory palaces" in contemporary context - trace the etymology of the word to "sound writing" a.k.a. "phono-graph" and think of the scenario as Walter Benjamin's "aura" become a sound wave of syncopated fragments dancing at memories edge, and you'll get the basic impression I want to convey here. Basically when I first started out I wanted to show complex stuff - how the "phonograph" was a mnemonic device translated into a kind of philosophical game of intentionality mixed with what John Cage would call "chance operations," or what Amiri Baraka would call "the changing same" - how the "turntable" had become a way of transforming culture into machinic improvisation... stuff like that. During the time that I spent researching for "Errata Erratum," I found so many examples of how dj culture intersected with some of the core tenets of the 20th century avant-garde, that it seems to have unconsciously absorbed them all. Composed in 1913, Duchamp's "Erratum Musical" is based on a whole schemata of mistakes, errors, and mis-steps in a family situation. And what therse days we'd simply call "glitches" in commmunication between programs, would be for him at that time a whole metaphysical critique of, as he put it so often, "how one can make a work of art that is not a work of art" - but back then at this point in his career it was simply a random card game between siblings.
The basic scenario for "Erratum Musical" was this: Duchamp wrote out a series of "instructions" about the interaction of 3 sets of 25 cards for his sisters, and when they took a card from a hat passed around the room at the conception of the piece, they would each sing random phrases based on a loosely defined interpretation of the patterns on the cards. Three voices in a trialog would be the basis of the piece, and essentially the cards were nothing more than cues for the unconscious impulses of a quick glance at something held briefly and then put down. That was it!
To get a better idea of what this must have been like, basically, you have to imagine a fun dinner party where people sing a Rorshach ink blotter tune, and you'd have a reasonable "picture" of what sounds the sisters came up with. It's not too Freudian of a leap to think of the abstract voices of familial roles played out in sound... but hey, that's kind of the point. When I think of dj'ing essentially you're dealing with extended kinship systems of rhythm - one beat matches or doesn't match a sound-flow, and it's the interpretation of the gestures that make up the mix that creates the atmosphere in a room. Think of my "Errata Erratum" remix as a 21st century update on the idea - but now, we move through dispersed networks of culture, and the cards we play are icons on a screen. A single note was assigned to each card - for the remix - you get sequences of sounds based on a different kind of card - a visual display of a roto-relief - an engraved card that Duchamp made throughout his career and gave away randomly to people. The song, as you can see, got alot more dispersed as Duchamp became a more well known artist, and by the end of his life, the card game became a signature that was profoundly paradoxcial. Like all of Duchamps work it was personal and impersonal - industrial culture's absorbtion of almost all "indviduality" into seamless expression of individual choice amongst the varied options left in a world of pre-fabricated identities and emotions. My "Errata Erratum" echoes documentation of four realizations of Duchamp's 1913 compositions that included "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors,even, 1.3 voices: Erratum Musical" and the 'instruction' piece "Musical Sculpture". The resulting musical interpretations of compostions intended for voice, player piano, alto flute, celeste, trombone and glockenspiel are of a strikingly spare, slow and soft character that brings to mind the sound compositions of Erik Satie or Morton Feldman - but for my remix they were based on the interaction of viewers relationships to the rotorelief pieces that Duchamp so famously handed out over the years. In short, it's art you can download. Think of it as "downloadable anti-sublime" or something like that.
I wanted to think of "Errata Erratum" as dj'ing "found objects" just like I would mix the records that normally comprise my sonic pallette. Essentially, "Errata..." is an experiment with sculpture and the interplay of memory as it is shaped by the technologies of communication that have come to form the core conditions of daily life in the industrialized world. In short, it was meant to be a fun thing, and in short order it became something alot more serious. Back the in the distant mid 90's dj'ing was still an underground phenomenon, and in a sense, today now that guitars are regularly outsold by turntables, the tables have literally turned - dj'ing is a mainstream phenomenon, and mixing beats and sounds is a commonplace thing on the internet for kids... "Errata Erratum" is a migration of those values into a playful critique of one of the first artists to engage that logic of irreverence towards the art object and to apply that logic to some of the works that he came up with to "flesh out" his ideas on the topic in "net culture." So when you see those circles moving, think of loops and repetition, cycles and flows, and think of how to translate one person's thoughts into anothers... and that's just the beginning. When the mix comes calling, you can't help but think of how many people are in it. This project is an attempt to bring together one of my favorite people in mix culture together with some variations on a certain theme - one that is as wide as the internet, and as wide as the people's thoughts moving through the fiber optic routing systems that hold our new version of the "digital sublime" together. Duchamp's piece "La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même Erratum Musical (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical)" follows the same logic and it leads us to the series of notes and projects that Duchamp started to collect in 1912 and which culminated in his infamoust "Large Glass" piece. It wasn't published or exhibited during Duchamp's life, but the implications are clear - he wanted to invoke a sense of convergence between art and the random processes, the "generative syntaxes," of the imagination as it speaks to a world made of industrial processes. "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical" manuscript was unfinished and leaves many questions unanswered - and it leads us to a precipice of our own making because, like my "Errata Erratum" remix, it works within a framework of chance operations, and that is it's unique signature in an arts context. It's a milieu where each "musical scultpure" is unique yet completely dependent on the system that created the context. It's that old Duchamp paradox come back to haunt us, uncannily, on the internet. Duchamp said in his famous "Creative Act" lecture of 1957 (the recording of which comprises the "dub version" hip-hop track for my "Errata Erratum" remix) "all in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by decipering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." Think of that as you hear Duchamp rhyming over a hip-hip dub rhythm I made specially for this project - I guess you could call him "M.C. Duchamp" because, by hip-hop standards, he has good "flow" - and at this point in the track, his voice is seperated from the recording to become part of the musical sculpture, and like the original "Erratum Musical" we're seeing someone's voice placed in a system of chance operations - rhythm becomes the context for the performance, and the artist becomes part of the sonic palette he describes.
There are two parts to the manuscript notes that Duchamp wrote to describe the "Erratum Musical" compositions. One part contains the piece for a "mechanical instrument." The piece is unfinished and is written using numbers instead of notes, but Duchamp explains the meaning of those numbers, which made it easy to transcribe them into music notes - I tried to balance that sense of uncertainty by assigning sounds to discs that can change speed and pitch - because turntables allow for that kind of variation. For "Errata Erratum" I wanted to streamline that process and give people a sense of improvisation - like Duchamp, the pieces also indicate the instruments on which it should be performed - but they are icons made of digital code. Where he would write "player piano, mechanical organs or other new instruments for which the virtuoso intermediary is suppressed" we can click on a screen. Anyway, you get the idea. The second part of his notes contained a description of the compositional system - the title for the "system" is: "An apparatus automatically recording fragmented musical periods."
Here, again, we're left with the ability to make our own interpretation of a given framework, and are invited to run with it as a kind of game "system." The "apparatus" that let''s you make the composition in his original notes is comprised of three parts: a funnel, several open-end cars, and a set of numbered balls. Think of all of them as being flattened out on your screen, and that's what the Errata Erratum remix is about. In the original piece each number on a ball represented a note (pitch) -- Duchamp suggested 85 notes according to the standard range of a piano of that time; today, almost all pianos have 88 notes, and most computers have about 77 keys if they're based on the classic "QWERTY" system. In short, you have some kind of device to interpret your finger movements, so I thought it'd be cool to have that aspect made into a function based on how you play with the rotation of the "roto-reliefs." In the original piece, the balls fall through the funnel into the cars passing underneath at various speeds. When the funnel was empty, a musical period was completed. When things get digital, we can assign all of those aspects to gestures made with a mouse or touch pad, and basically that's what makes this fun. Think of the screen as a blank canvas and that's just the beginning. It's generally noted that Duchamp went through a "musical phase" between 1912 and 1915 - "Errata Erratum" incorporates aspects of almost all of the pieces he wrote during that time, and makes them become digital vectors of the same intentions, but updated, 21st century style. One of the last pieces he wrote, "Sculpture Musicale (Musical Sculpture)," is notated on a small piece of paper, which Duchamp also included in his infamous "Green Box" piece. The "Musical Sculpture" piece is similar to the Fluxus pieces of the early 1960s, and even more so to the abstract software driven music of contemporary digital culture where fragments of sounds are constantly combined to make "tracks" in dj culture. Duchamps works combine objects with performance, audio with visual, known and unknown factors, and elements explained and unexplained. Of his three works of music, only two can be performed using manuscripts or some kind of system of "rules": the Erratum Musical for three voices and the Musical Sculpture. "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical" was incomplete. So to give context here is important: there were no "finished" pieces and everything in "Errata Erratum" is about that gap between execution and intent in a world of uncertainty. Whatever mix you make of it, it can only be a guess - you have to make your own version, and that's kind of the point. With that in mind, I ask that you think of this as a mix lab - an "open system" where any voice can be you. The only limits are the game you play and how you play it.

The Artist would like to thank the staff of Lisa Marks and the L.A. MOCA staff, Andrew Aenoch for his timeless patience with getting the website set up, Rachel Bowditch for being there, and his mother, Rosemary E. Reed Miller, for her patience as well.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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

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