Paul D. Miller on 13 Apr 2001 04:26:22 -0000

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<nettime> Is Mark Dery an Absolute Idiot? Read this and find out....

Hey folks, it's been a while. Things have been mega hectic in the 
world of
Me, Ashley Crawford and a host of other Digital Culture progressives 
are in the middle of reconstructing 21C, and there's a whole bunch of 
literary, digital arts/theory stuff on the horizon. Multi-Cultural 
multi- media folks.... anything is well.... boring. But anyway, 
enclosed is an interview I did with Roy Christopher, the fellow who 
edits an e-zine that focuses on "New Science 
and new Media." In the dialog I talk about stuff like William 
Gibson's loa computer loa programs versus John Shirley's "city 
avatars" (John Shirley wrote a classic cyberpunk novel called "City 
Comes a Walkin'" that influenced Gibson big time, and the different 
uses of digital media in the two novels speaks volumes about how 
people can perceive the uh... "Africa Within" of Mchluhan's Gutenberg 
Galaxy of text and electri-city) and alot more stuff. Check it out! 
More info? Check the website,

read on....
To: roy christopher <>
From: "Paul D. Miller" <>
Subject: Re: brief interview for frontwheeldrive slight edits...

Hey Roy! Okay,this is the "final" edited version. Please use it 
instead of the ones that I sent yesterday...

>>1) The worlds of academia and pop culture are oft found at odds with one
>>another, yet your work resides - and prospers - decidedly in the
>>crossfire between the two. From your unique vantagepoint, how do you
>>perceive the two worlds and their interaction?

1) Response:

Well... the basic idea for me is to somehow convey a sense of how 
conceptual art, language art, and an engagement with some kind of 
idealism can function in this day and age. Basically, as an artist, 
my work is an investigation into how culture gets made. I guess you 
could say its process oriented... That doesn't mean I'm going to sit 
down everyday and write "cultural crit" stuff. Folks who I like to 
call "low level cultural bureaucrats" do that... it's a false and 
ultimately sterile way to try to beat culture into some kind of 
formula that they then try to stamp their name on to make some kind 
of "career" and it's a modus operandi that disgusts me.... A weird 
hero on mine is a Victorian age biologist, Paul Kammerer, who in the 
late 19th century/early 20th century was the first person to really 
explore ideas of "synchronicity" - how things converge in patterns. 
He would walk around and collect examples of simultaneity - 
coincidences would be marked and registered with exact mathematical 
precision, and he searched long and hard for an equation that would 
describe how things manifested in urban reality. He'd call this kind 
of stuff "the law of sequences" or a "law of series" "Das gesetz der 
serie" in German (that's also parallel to how we name the elements of 
a music track these days - "a sequence"), and he was looking for 
algorhythms of everyday life - how patterns appear - stuff like what 
the biochemist Rupert Sheldrake would call "morphic fields" - i.e. 
how morphology of structure can affect all aspects of the creative 
act. In other words, patterns ain't just about bein' digital. They 
are global. They are universal. They are rhythms that hold everything 
we know and can understand together. But anyway, Kammerer's idea of 
sequential reality and process oriented events - it's one of the 
first systematic attempts at figuring out a rhythm of everyday life 
in an industrial context. It ended badly - he committed suicide. I'm 
more concerned with praxis - how to foster a milieu where dialog 
about culture becomes a way to move into the pictures we describe 
with words, text, sounds - you name it. I'm an archivist of sound. 
Like I always enjoy saying its a method that becomes "actionary" 
rather than "re-actionary" - you end up with a culture that is 
healthier and more dynamic. What Kammerer would call a series, 
someone like Henry Louis Gates would call "signifyin'" - it's all 
about how we play with perception of events, and this is the link 
that I make between dj culture, techno-science, and the art of 
everyday creativity in a digital environment. I'm not really 
concerned with the "academy" per se - it's one reflection of the 
illusions of class structure and hierarchy that have clouded any real 
progressive contexts of criticism and that I think have been an 
absolute bane to any kind of creativity in American culture for the 
last decade or so. When theory gets too in the way of culture, it's 
dead. Period. No comma, no colon, no semi-colon... it's the end of 
the sentence, and it's time for a new paragraph. Turn the page, close 
the book, check a different website, 'cause that's when things get 
really really boring. I think that youth culture reflexively 
understands this. Part of my goal was to bypass the notion of the 
"critic" as an "authority" who controls narrative, and to create a 
new role that's alot more concurrent with web culture: you become the 
cultural producer and content provider at the same time. It's a role 
consolidation. After all, American media is so utterly terrible that 
even lame critics like Mark Dery are still around. That's not just 
sad, it's something that is a tragedy. When you're in a situation 
where the pop culture mags are terrible and the art/theory stuff is 
so out of touch with what's going on... it's time for a new 
situation. End the mix tape, stop the CD player, press cancel on that 
file that was downloading... whatever... I started dj'ing as a 
conceptual art project that critiqued alot of the absolutely terrible 
things I see in American media, and the end result was to create my 
own platform - social sculpture - self as shareware or generative 
syntax for a new language of creativity, or something like that. As 
Heraclitus of Ephesus said way back in the day

The soul is undiscovered,
though explored forever
to a depth beyond report

(Fragment 73)

The critics that I respect in an arts/culture/theory kind of context 
- Erik Davis, Simon Reynolds, Beth Coleman, Alondra Nelson, Kodwo 
Eshun, Margo Jefferson, Ron Eglash, Manuel Delanda, N. Katherine 
Hayles, Neil Strauss,  Peter Leunenfeld, Douglas Kahn, Friedrich 
Kittler, and a host of others... these are progressive voices in the 
world of cultural criticism, and I think that they'd be interesting 
people whether they were writing or doing music or art or whatever. 
Life is interesting. The writing that gives meaning and some kind of 
hope to life in this world should be interesting as well. The dj 
"mix" is another form of text and its involutions, elliptical 
recursive qualities and repetitions are helping transform an "analog" 
literature that is increasingly becoming digitized. The "mix" mirrors 
that kind of web of text that you can find anywhere from hypertext 
missives from to the cesium clocks at the Naval Observatory 
in Washington D.C. that keep the time for the whole country. I guess 
I sit at that cross roads like the old blues singers, thinking of 
better ways to make rhythms of information. Only there's no devil to 
sell my soul to (hah hah), - I have a different muse.... kind of like 
Giambattista Vico's book from way back in the day "The New Science."

>>2) Realizing that the aforementioned juxtaposition of mental territory
>>could be the least of your obstacles or concerns, what do you find most
>>challenging in your various areas of work?

2) Response:
>what I find challenging is the basic sense of mental inertia that 
>carries our culture along. People really don't think about the 
>absolute wonders that surround us and make this life liveable and 
>our way of thinking sustainable. Dj'ing for me, like science 
>fiction, points us to a place where everything doesn't have to be 
>the same. The same track? The same beat? Day after day, night after 
>night... it would be like some kind of living death if that were to 
>happen in dj culture - and, yeah, that's how alot of the culture 
>works. There's an old phrase from Olaf Stapledon's classic old 
>school science fiction (where a being frm the edge of the universe 
>comes into contact with humanity through mental waves - kind of 
>reminds me of Vodoo....): "First he conceived from the depth of his 
>being a something, neither mind nor matter, but rich in 
>potentiality... it was a medium in which the one and the many 
>demanded to be more subtly dependent upon one another; in which all 
>parts and all other parts and all characters must pervade and be 
>pervaded by all other parts and all other characters; in which each 
>thing must seemingly be but an influence in all other things; and 
>yet the whole must be no other than the sum of its parts, and each 
>part an all pervading determination of the whole. It was a cosmical 
>substance in which any individual spirit must be, mysteriously, at 
>once an absolute self and a mere figment of the whole...." But in 
>another realm, in another zone, I wonder what he would have said of 
>something like New York's Soundlab, a digital art happening where 
>all elements of the mix are shared by everyone who participates in 
>the event. Soundlab is cool, and I like stuff like that where the 
>formalized considerations of art and digital media are live and 
>direct - living breathing material to play with as the rhythms speak 
>their codes to all present at the event. I like the Jamaican and 
>Silicon Valley approach to what Amiri Baraka called "the changing 
>same:" versions and versions of everything, all change all the 
>time... but the main essence of the cultures most progressive stuff 
>is unconscious... and that might be the most healthy thing going on. 
>Anyway, that's just my basic response. Inertia - it's not just 
>boring, it's against the basic principles of physics! I wake up 
>almost every day with this on my mind: if everybody knows things are 
>completely fucked up and bound to get worse, do they just want to 
>forget about things? The answer is pretty much a resounding "yes!" 
>And as with "1984" or "Brave New World" and most of the fictions 
>that make up the fabric of everyday life today, the game is - how do 
>you remember? How can we make sense of the loops if there is no 
>space outside them? This is the most interesting thing I try to 
>convey in my art projects - life at the edge of language, my mixes 
>are a kind of post-literary "aphasia" - but still within the loops 
>that hold reality together these days. I want to break those chains 
>and see what else there is... It's like hearing a time stretched 
>sound at the end of a loop cycle on an Akai S-3000 sampler and 
>knowing where the closure points are, but some how it always just 
>sounds write to close the loop, repeat the phrase ad infinitum.... 
>The Situationists had their concept of the "derive" or 
>"psychogeographie" but these days that kind of sense of wandering 
>through an indeterminate maze of intentionality is what makes up the 
>creative act - selection and detection, morphology of structure... 
>those are what make the new kind of art go round... my challenge to 
>myself is to always try to create new worlds, new scenarios at 
>almost every moment of thought. It makes me feel like floating in an 
>ocean of possibility. The challenge is to narrow the focus to convey 
>that state of mind - there's alot of translation issues involved, 
>but anyway... that's how I see it. There's an intense moment in 
>Andre Breton's "Second Manifesto of Surrealism" where he writes "the 
>simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, 
>pistol in hand, and firing blindly as fast as you can, as fast as 
>you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who at least once 
>in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty 
>system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined 
>place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level..." Your average 
>kid in high school can relate to that at this point.... for me the 
>idea is to show where art can take new directions and become a total 
>form to inhabit.

>>3) What's your take on why the Hip-hop world, once open to so many new
>>forms and variations, now has such high barriers to entry for new and
>>innovative sounds?

3) Response: I think that hip-hop has really given us such a powerful 
tool to create some kind of cross cultural dialog, and its given a 
whole generation of African Americans a sense of self that's profound 
while at the same time, it's been a window into America at large for 
most of the rest of the world. Paradoxically, it's re-enforced so 
many cliches about what "Blackness" can be, and that's an intense 
paradox in a world that is truly hybrid (far more so than anyone 
wants to admit). There's a great scene in Samuel Delaney's "Dhalgren" 
where the main character "The Kid" focuses on the ruins of the city 
that the story takes place in and it reflects his own sense of 
psychological dispersion. I feel like that sometimes. Samuel Delaney 
is such a powerful voice in describing these kinds of issues and so 
is Ishmael Reed, but again they are a different generation, and I can 
only imagine what it was like to be African American and creative and 
have to deal with all the total bullshit that critics, artworld 
people, and the assorted people who make up the "cultural discourse" 
of each time period create. It took someone like August Wilson 
something like 30 years to "break through" the "pink ceiling" (it's 
not transparent, and it's certainly not not glass - race in 
cyberspace can play all sorts of tricks on your mind....), and it's 
definitely a racially coded world in terms of cultural discourse. 
Again, the idea is how to, like Napster, create milieu where people 
can can exchange culture and information at will and create new 
forms, new styles, new ways of thinking.  Think of my style of dj'ing 
as a kind of memetic contagion, a thought storm brought about by my 
annoyance and frustration with almost all the conventional forms of 
race, culture, and class hierarchies. Hip-hop is a vehicle for that, 
and so are almost all forms of electronic music. Again - it's all 
about morpholgy of structure - how things can from one medium to 
another. Culture in this milieu acts kind of like what Derrida 
describes in his infamous essay "Plato's Pharmacy:" "science and 
magic, the passage between life and death, the supplement to evil and 
to lack... the difference between signifier and signified is no doubt 
the govenrning pattern.... in being inaugurated in this manner, 
philosophy and dialectics are determined in the act of determining 
their OTHER..."  Dialectical triangulation - language become its own 
form of digital code... check the theater of the rhyme as it unfolds 
in time. I can only wonder what James Baldwin would have said if he 
had been at the Detroit Electronic Music festival last year (I was 
one of the headliners). There were over 1.5 million people at that 
festival - it was bigger than Woodstock (where I also played in 1994 
- the 1st one). No fights, no weird sense of alienation, just folks 
from almost every race, color, and creed hanging out. It was the 
first 21st Century carnival of the North. Hip-hop is always 
innovative and it can absorb almost anything. The music itself is far 
more dynamic than many of the people who make it. There's so much 
more to be done. We're just beginning - and even after 20 years of 
hip-hop, I think that the amount of permutations it can handle has 
just scratched the surface. Stuff like Q*Bert's "Wave Twisters," 
artists like Daze, DZINE, Soundlab, Saul Williams, Anti-Pop 
Consortium, Talvin Singh, Kodwo Eshun - all are pushing the envelope 
and making more room for new sounds and thoughts. The amount of new 
stuff happening is almost giddy in sheer volume. I think I'd have to 
disagree with the statement that there are boundaries about how new 
sounds can be spread. When people are faced with conditions where 
"conservatives" control the zone, they have to innovate to get their 
message out.... innovation leads to constant elevation. And that's 
not "Social Darwinism" it's more like a cooperative model of how 
information spreads in the hothouse environment of net-culture where 
"newness" is celebrated with how many people check in on the 
information. And if stuff like "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" or 
the "I love You" virus are any indication, this kind of "social 
engineering" as hackers call it can happen with an ease far and above 
almost any "word of mouth" situation in human history. I just happy 
to be around to see if it can change even more.

>>4) Brian Eno has said that music was the center of our lives for such a
>>long time because it was a way of allowing Africa in. He even went on to
>>say, 'A nerd is a human being without enough Africa in him or her.' Do
>>you feel that the current American musical milieu is lacking in

4) Response:
I think that the whole Brain Eno thing about black culture and Africa 
is just simply a mis-categorization. I respect and enjoy Eno's work, 
but the whole "Africa" is not computer oriented thing just doesn't 
fly. Yes, there is a "digital divide" - but if you look at the 
precedents - cultural and metaphysical - the systems Africa developed 
have influenced net culture at a deep structural level. Word of mouth 
culture, rhythm structure, the routing of information in a networked 
environment - all of these have African and world precedents, and to 
ignore that is to be almost solipsistic. The current American music 
milieu is totally African! From Britney Spears (yes!) on over to 
David Bowie and U2 and of course hip-hop like Emmenim and dj culture 
at large - techno, rock, hip-hop, jazz - you name it, it's almost all 
part of an African re-contextualization. What Paul Gilroy called the 
"Black Atlantic" is just a small pond in the world that I portray 
here. You have to think of all the issues involved with aliases, 
multiple narrative threading, social engineering environments, 
identity as a social cipher... all of these are tropes brought to the 
forefront of immigrant culture in America. Afro- Diasporic culture 
was the first generation X, and the current multi-valent entity we 
call the U.S. is enthralled with the unconscious implications of 
Africa in the new world. It's just that it's beneath the radar 
screen. William Gibson took the "loa" concept of his book 
"Neuromancer" as a sampled fragment from John Shirley's "City Come a 
Walkin's" "city avatars" and if that isn't a kind of transmigration 
of context and form, I don't know what is... the best thing that 
happened in the 1990's was the explosion in youth culture's 
engagement with electronic media. The best is yet to come. Close the 
circuit, flip the switch, upload the file... it's time to beta test 
the new wetware... or something like that... anyway, it's more 
exciting than going to the mall maybe. Africa beats that any day of 
the week. Hands down. Eno was wrong. Mchluhan was right: he said a 
long time ago that the forces of language in an electronic context 
would release the "Africa Within." Maybe Eno doesn't use computers 
enough (just joking.... ha ha).

>>5) Do you have any upcoming projects of which you'd like to apprise our

yeah, I'm in the middle of setting up a new magazine called "21C" 
that's a re-invention of the "21C" of the mid 1990's - only alot more 
multi-cultural oriented and without a lunatic like Mark Dery. Also, 
I'm almost finished with my book projects, and there's a whole bunch 
of art projects and installations - I have some work in "Bitstreams" 
at the Whitney Museum, a piece in the show at the Museum of 
Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, and an installation at an 
alternative arts space in Houston, Texas, called "Project Rowhouses." 
It's a very busy time. The easiest way to check out that stuff is my 

it has funky beats....
but anyway, yeah, the whole literary/arts angle in America is so 
fucked up and conflicted, the only way to maintain a "stay of 
execution" on your artwork and cultural production if you are a 
progressive African American in this day and age is to constantly 
innovate and change your mode of production. If you don't it's kind 
of like that "unique circumstance" in Philip K Dick's classic short 
story "The Minority Report" - a story where people are put in jail or 
sent into exile because of crimes they might commit. - stuff that 
would make th e"normal critics" scream with joy in my case... 
Psychological involution becomes psychological profiling (kind of 
like driving down New Jersey drive if you're black) - racial 
profiling becomes emblematic of the way people can even think about 
literature, art and culture...
"better keep your eyes open" the main character says to someone 
asking for advice on how to avoid the thought police. "It might 
happen to you at any time...."

>>Anything you'd like to add that I didn't bring up?

>>Mad thanks,
>>New Science and New Media:

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