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<nettime> Transforming the Tate Modern: Notes for a Multi-Media Interven
Paul D. Miller on Mon, 8 May 2006 09:55:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Transforming the Tate Modern: Notes for a Multi-Media Intervention

This brief essay is a blurb I wrote for my upcoming concert at The Tate Modern
Museum in London.

The concert will be on May 26th in London. There'll be lots of folks. More


Public Vs Private: Through a Scanner Darkly
By Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky

Prelude: the following essay is for a remix of a project around Walter Ruttmans
infamous "Symphony of a City" film that I will present with The Tate Modern Museum
in London, May 2006. The film will projected throughout the museum's "Turbine
Hall" as a large scale intervention. The idea is to use the museum as a projection

Here goes:

We live in the era of the world city. So much of what we see is about what we
project out into the world. Your eyes have a perceptual architecture. They break
light waves and particles into some kind of coherent meaning that the mind then
organizes, and makes into metaphors, thoughts, and of course, images. As an
artist, a lot of what I do is about getting people to look outside the frames of
reference that so many of us have been conditioned to accept. I live in NYC, and
you can pretty much expect that most people have a reference point that the city
provides: subways, poster placards, the sides of buses and lately, their cell
phone networks that send info on various developments - news, videos, art=8A you
name it, it's being broadcast. You walk down the street in NYC, and you see, in
one form or another, a world tapestry made from almost every media outlet
available to modern humanity.

	Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's the situation was different, but
you could see where it was going. Trains were being "bombed" daily because that
was the way kids felt they could bypass the authorities and get their message out
- the ideal of being "all city" was the driving force for so many artists - from
films like "Graffiti Rock" to "Wildstyle" to "Style Wars" you can see the same
dialectic at work - there was a deep tension between public space and private
expression. During the period of the late 1970's NYC spent over $100 million
dollars to combat the idea of private expression in public spaces, and from the
result, a new artform was born. The city didn't invest in training artists, or
developing young minds - it went to war with kids to keep public spaces blank.
Today, you can see who won the war: advertising adopted the same strategies as the
kids, and no modern bus or train would be complete without a bumper to bumper slew
of ads. What more can be done to saturate the landscape with a howling emptiness
of our dreams? What more can be done to actually give people some meaning, some
kind of connectedness to the way we actually live? The world is made of meanings -
values that are shared, values that connect us to one another in a way that
digital media is making clear. In a world where every move you make on-line leaves
a trace, whether it's the collaborative filtering process of last.fm, or the way
people post almost every moment of their lives on websites like youtube.com and
myspace.com, the end result is the same: you have profile of someone's values,
tastes, and the way they express almost all aspects of the their outward identity.
Graffiti was the underground response to the same issue: how do you as a young
person create a situation where you can express yourself through the media around

To me, the whole debate of ownership - intellectual property, digital rights
management, the whole scenario - it all needs to be updated. Think of the
situation as a kind of ecology: who owns the air? Who owns your DNA? Who owns your
memory? I think that we're so caught up with the issue of ownership, that we've
forgotten some of the fundamental issues that make up the fabric of a culture. If
you look back in time, other cultures dealt with intellectual property from the
vantage point of a world where digital media didn't exist, and people pretty much
had to make copies of the material - whatever it was, books, scrolls, whatever, by
hand. For us, the digital copy is a color on a painters palette - it's something
to be used, abused, and flipped.

Why should we watch a film like "Berlin: Symphony of a City," almost 80 years
after it was made? I like to think of it as a historical document made of
fragments, a touchstone for the multi-media world we inhabit today. Basically,
it's an insight into the patterns of life and living in a major metropolis -
Berlin in the late '20s - but it's also a testimony of how urban life ebbs and
flows in the patterns held together by cinema and editing techniques.

Walter Ruttmann made history with his 1927 masterwork "Opus: Berlin - Symphony of
A City" by creating a film that looked at the city from almost every angle the
camera could conceive. I tend to think that in our era of omnipresent media - of
surveillance, video podcasts, and on-line streaming media, we've finally caught up
to his vision. Basically "Symphony Of A City" is one of my favorite examples of
urban "realism" - it looks at the city of Berlin at the height of the Weimar
Republic, a golden era on the edge of a deep, dark time, and asks: is this the way
we live now? For my remix and rescore, I was inspired as much by the original film
as by current developments - from the ubiquitous placement of cameras that are
always on-line, showing us cities from around the world, to the way people
document their personal creativity through digital media's inheritance from the
worlds of cinema and theater. Antonin Artaud famously wrote that the theater would
be a kind of "double" of the world, a place where reality has been subsumed by the
projections of itself. Ruttmann made that become reality. Ruttmann originally
studied Architecture and Painting, and even worked as a graphic designer - you see
that in the way he searches for form as he juxtaposes the scenes from the everyday
world in a collage that is meant to be a portrait of a city from dawn to midnight.
At heart, "Berlin" is a film that feels like a 24 hour vision of a metropolis that
is uneasy with its first portrait.

Fritz Lang, whose film "Metropolis" set the tone for our vision of the future -
sleek, gleaming skyscrapers, Americanized urban landscapes where everything and
everyone worked efficiently - is the counterpoint for this song of a city.
Ruttman's film came out in 1927 as well, and it created a different vision of a
present-tense metropolis, the "Symphony=8A" rides a different rhythm than the
"Metropolis" - one is "fact" the other, is "fiction." But they both presented
conflicting visions of the present and the future of German cinema, and
anticipated later experimental films like "Koyaanisqatsi" or Orson Welles "F for
Fake." The blur between what's presented and what's collaged, is what makes the
film so appealing.

Ruttmann's film career began in the early 1920s with the production of his hand
colored first abstract short films, Opus I (1921) and Opus II (1923). Both films
anticipate the idea of cinematic collage, and how we can think of the urban
landscape as a dense, highly contested realm of public and private visions of what
it means to live in a city. My remix looks at these issues from the view point of
a contemporary digital media landscape where software has blurred the distinctions
between art, life, and the everyday realm of living in a media saturated
landscape. Where Ruttmann made his film as a response to cinema, digital media
guides the same impulse today. Most major cities have cameras of famous
intersections that are permanently on-line, and of course Google maps, updates the
same kind of vision - but on a global scale. Ruttman's films were experiments with
new forms of film expression, and the remix I'm presenting is a project that pays
homage to how dj culture - urban music - evolved as the soundtrack to a new way of
looking at the city. Today, as I write, there's an image of Kingston on the top
left hand corner of my laptop - it's an image from Jamaica's "Daily Gleaner" - a
camera on the top of the newspaper's building documents the daily life of
Kingston, and everyonce in a while, just for kicks, I update the page to see what
people are doing out in the street. It's just a flourish, but it's also one of
those things that reminds me of the world we live in today. Links are what makes
this act possible - it's a meditation on a simple fact of daily.

The dialog between film and music for Ruttmann - and first and foremost "Symphony
of a City" - was a synthesis. It was essentially, a "visual" orchestral work in
five movements celebrating the Berlin of 1927: the people, the place, the everyday
details of life on the streets. Ruttmann's style of cinema is similar to his
Russian contemporary, Dziga Vertov. By mixing documentary, abstract, and
expressionist modes for a non-narrative style that captured the life of his fellow
citizens, he wanted to capture all aspects of a city at the beginning of the age
of cinema. But where Vertov mixed his observations with examples of the communist
dream in action, Ruttman re-creates documentary as, in his own words, "a melody of

"Symphony of a City" starts with an uneasy tension between context and content:
the film's framework is governed by time: it portrays the life of the metropolis
from morning until midnight. In the beginning, you feel the atmosphere of the city
in the form of it's slow pace as dawn transforms darkness into light; a
long-distance rush hour train moves through the suburbs, its path making you aware
of the proximity of the city as it moves rapidly towards its destination. The
camera shots of the journey, motion filmed with what was at the time, an amazing
array of intuitive technical skills, symbolizes urban density without getting
caught up with the obvious issues rushing towards the metropolis. The final
station, the dawn of light at the terminal: Berlin! The camera's progress
continues and gradually the city awakens.

The camera, for Ruttman, is a kind of notepad. He wanted to make a landscape of
poetry derived from the way the camera broke the landscape's continuity into a
thousand shards of memory. The film progresses, evolves, and transcends time -
dawn to dusk, in "Symphony..." we're presented with an eternal present, where time
passes as a camera's clockwork mechanism. The sequence:


A sparse population of workers haunts the streets morning lit storefront facsades
as the camera's motion creates an uneasy tension between work, and rest. Motion
builds until the film crescendoes with the rise of the working class and fragments
into many other people's daily movements in the rapidly filling public spaces. The
camera untangles the action of a dense landscape of movement and continuous
multiple scenarios, its lens falls on the centers of morning life, on stations,
factories, road junctions. And like an accompanying musical suite, you are given
characters like musical motifs: they are faint impressions of a song of a city
long gone. The camera presents slices of life like a dj's cut and paste sample
mix: it cross-sections from the private lives of big-city people, houses waking
up, apartments coming to life, all flow across the screen. Noon arrives, evening
arrives, and again and again the objective fits to situations flowing with life.
The camera penetrates all aspects of the city - its jump-cuts take you from poor
to rich to the in between, from human to machine and back again, from the luminous
grandeur of the city-scene to the sewers beneath, and always movement, movement in
every way that can be found in the eye of the machine capturing it all. You see
all areas, all districts, all social classes: you see the dynamism of a city in
perpetual motion. Night falls, and the camera dissects sections of the dark
existence of Berlin - you are presented with stark flashes of light over the
darkest portions of a city as a projection surface. The film goes on until the
night covers this incomparably seething life with its fading shot as the camera
lens fades to black.


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