Erik Davis on Wed, 26 Feb 2003 04:17:19 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Conversation with Paul Miller

Hey Kids!

I think you've already seen this, but the following is a conversation
I had with Paul Miller that will be appearing in an upcoming edittion
of Trip magazine ( ) . Paul tells me it was
accidently posted on the announcements list rather than the main
list, and for some reason I am needed to get it onto the proper list,
so here I am!

Remixing the Matrix:

An Interview with Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky
from the forthcoming issue of Trip magazine (

By Erik Davis

	I first met Paul Miller over a decade ago, when we both
scribbled for The Village Voice. At the time he was living in the Gas
Station, an avant-garde ruin in the East Village's Alphabet City that
was heavy on metal assemblages, rodents, and chaotic all-night
affairs. I recognized a voodoo symbol on one of the DJ Spooky that
Subliminal Kid stickers he had plastered around the office as a veve
belonging to the loa Legba. So we got into a heady conversation about
tricksters and messengers, LSD and Marshall McLuhan. Over the years
I've seen his own trickster messages reach a widening range of
audiences, from hip-hop kids to European media snobs to Afro-futurist
artistes. His latest music reflects this scramble: Optometry, a
jazzbo outing where Miller's turntables and sampled upright bass
round out the amazing sounds of Matthew Shipp and William Parker;
Modern Mantra, a scratchy-fuzzy-mystic-beat-void DJ mix; and Standard
Time, a limited edition video/music CD about time zones that came out
of an artistic collaboration between Miller and Julian LaVerdiere,
the one of the artists responsible for the World Trade Center
memorial sculpture.
   	Besides Miller's most visible (and lucrative) career as a
musician and DJ, he also wears the hats of a media theorist, painter,
sculptor, SF writer, and all-around everywhere man. In addition to
his current music projects, which include the score for an
independent film about Latino drag racing, Miller is looking forward
to two book releases: Sound Unbound, a collection of articles he
edited about music and media, as well as Rhythm Science, a book of
his own essays that will come out on MIT Press. The web component of
his recent Marcel Duchamp remixology project can be seen at  He also
shows up occasionally to present bits of a large work in progress: a
video and audio remix of D.W.Griffith's Birth of a Nation.
	Some might say that Miller stretches himself too thin, and
that his work can be more dabbling that definitive. But classic
definition is not what he's after. His is a genuinely multi-tasking
consciousness, and he does what he does in the spirit of the global
mix, of trying something new, of constantly rewiring our planet's mad
cultural networks. Like all tricksters, the dude cannot be boxed in,
and he's fast on his feet (though he always claims he wants to slow
down). I caught up with him in San Francisco, where he was in town to
DJ a gathering of Creative Commons, a group developing novel systems
of copyright that encourage collaboration rather than corporate
control. He had just flown in from Monaco, and radiated his usual
friendly energy and hectic enthusiasm.


TRIP: Tell me about what Creative Commons is about and why you got
hooked up with them.

PM: Creative Commons is a public domain archive basically.  It's
chaired by Lawrence Lessig, a cyberlawyer who argued the Eldred vs.
Ashcroft case in front of the Supreme Court [a failed attempt to
overturn the nefarious Sonny Bono act, which extends the rights of
big copyright holders like Disney]. There's a debate ranging on the
Internet and among people involved in sampling culture in general
over ownership issues. Today Mickey Mouse is being used to push this
whole notion of extended copyright to the point of drying up any
sense of collective use. That's not what creates new objects; that
just controls the idea of content and limits it.

I'm fascinated with pushing that envelope, with this idea of
collective memory.  Part of my whole vibe is creating a sense of
irreverence towards how memories are contained in objects, software,
and the net.

How do you approach this issue in your own work? How do you deal with
people who appropriate your own stuff?

There's a middle ground.  The term on the internet is "creative
co-authorship." So as long as it's interesting and done in an
intriguing way, and at the same time at least partly acknowledges the
music as the original vector for it=8A it's a transitional area.  So
part of me is like, yeah, probably get in touch, just drop me a quick
line. I don't go crazy over it.  It's just making sure things are
clear and cool.

Creative Commons isn't interested in a totally "free" environment,
but in coming up with ways to balance certain kinds of controlled
copyright with loose distribution and use.

You have two extremes. One is copyright anarchy, where you just run
with whatever. The other extreme is you have lawyers looking to
control aspects of almost everything that could possibly be in a
song, like a breath of air, or a snare drum, or a high hat=8A If they
had their way, you'd be clearing every tiny discrete sound on a
track, which doesn't make any sense. It's an immense amount of

I'm dealing with this on the scale of an indie kind of scene.  But as
the scale gets bigger, like with Madonna sampling stuff, then you
need to be reasonable. If someone's going to make a fortune, maybe it
should be a percentage.  It's looking at the creative act as a
reasonable dialogue in pop culture instead of an irrational,
litigious kind of thing.

You just flew in from Monaco. Why were you there?

In Monaco, I did a collaboration with Gaetan Morletti, the Principal
Dancer of the Royal Ballet of Monaco.  They commissioned a work and
we did a live piece at the Royal Ballet Showcase.

How much do you prepare for something like that?

I send them elements in advance and say, basically you're going to
hear a remix of this. It's kind of the basic template, and then I put
it together live.

Are the things you sent them samples of other people, or your own stuff?

It's mostly my own stuff, 98%.  If there's other stuff, it's very
discrete=8A small sounds, nothing like a drum beat. These days everyone
and their mother is DJing, so you don't want to just send a basic
loop.  You've got to give people a sense of total context and
environment, and that means you've got to be a lot more creative, and
really open up some new space with your material. It's a lesson
learned, because it's part of the creative act to actually make new
stuff. The whole scene now is saturated.

Do you feel in some ways the saturation is forcing another kind of
creativity to emerge? You can't just keep using samples and remixing
found sounds. Even turntablism sometimes seems like a museum piece
now, a sort of fetish for an earlier gesture of recombination.

It's archive fever.  We're in a delirium of saturation.  We're never
going to remember anything exactly the way it happened.  It's all
subjective. Because of that, you're looking at an eruption of, for
lack of a better word, a dyslexic thinking process. Do you want to
have a bored delirium or a more exciting one?

In some ways, this oversaturated sampling process seems analogous to
the eruption of excess and delirium that psychedelics produce. In the
1960s, McLuhan talked about LSD as a preparation for the electronic
age.  Do you think there's some kind of connection there?

Yeah. Most drugs come out of either military or biological or
pharmaceutical research. They're like military applications to
condition troops for different environments. A lot of research into
painkillers was done in World War II -- imagine the kind of pain you
feel when there are bullets flying over your head and your leg gets
shattered. Or what kind of speed you need if you are in an airplane
and need to stay awake. Drugs are definitely looking at the idea of
man/machine interface and conditioning the meat to be able to deal
with the machines.

At the end of the day, it's all on the screen. Drugs are like a
graphical user interface. I can almost tell what substances people
are on depending on what mix they're doing. There's the herb mix,
there's the acid mix, there's the Ecstasy-style mix. Each of them
gives a certain kind of interface quality.  They summon up different
kinds of psychological projections when you hear them.  Depending on
what kind of substances you've done yourself, the sounds might evoke
those same memories. Or they might even be able to give a
foreground/background kind of thing, where you're looking at the
psychology of the listener being bounced back off the environment
that the creator has made.

You can think of it as a subtle psychology of industrial culture --
what I like to call the archaeology of the subconscious.  Somehow the
technology has conditioned the very way we communicate. It's like a
different kind of language.  A lot of times people use dead words, so
to speak, and that's when a mix doesn't work.  What you do as a DJ is
to breathe new life into it and see what happens, and that's what
sampling's about. It's speaking with the voices of the dead, playing
with that sense of presence and absence. If the mix doesn't evoke
something, it doesn't work.

Your music doesn't sound "trippy" the way a psychedelic band does,
but there is a sense of constantly flowing through different
structures without having a fixed sense of ground. Have your own
experiences with psychedelics helped you deal with all those multiple
levels happening at once?

I can't say there's one formula to the structure of my sound, but
there's definitely this sense of a syncopation of all these different
layers of culture that move at different rhythms and tempos:
African-American culture, academic culture, digital media.  I love
the word "syncopation." Syncope means a small gap in consciousness,
and when you play with those gaps and make a mesh out of those
presences and absences, that's a beat. Everything is about pulling
together these disparate fragments.  If there was one thing that
African-American experience is about, it's pulling together these
tasty fragments of the shattered culture.

I feel like psychedelic culture flows through white America and black
American culture along different vectors. I'm a product of Washington
D.C., and African-American culture in D.C. is highly segregated. When
I did my first series of psychedelic interventions, I was a teenager,
college age. Some of my weirder experiences were staying up all night
and just walking around Washington, D.C., and seeing all the weird
monuments. Class and social hierarchy issues are just etched like a
rubber stamp on the whole zone.  Seeing African-American kids playing
plastic buckets in front of the White House, weird shit like that,
that's what D.C. is about. There's more Haitians and vodoun kind of
scenes in D.C. than in the South.

What kind of area did you grow up in?  Was it predominantly black or
was it more of a mix?

It was more like an academic community, and also sort of a cultural
scene.  My Mom had a store called Toast and Strawberries right off of
Dupont Circle. Also a lot of the punk rock scene was going on, a lot
of the conceptual political art scene. Fugazi was coming out, Minor
Threat, Bad Brains. A lot of experimental culture in general, but at
the same time, in the black culture scene, a lot of poetry was going

To me it was much easier to jump between zones and scenes.
It's amazing, to this day, if somebody gets into a beat, there's a
whole structure that goes into that rhythm to the point where you can
actually see exactly what people's tastes are, what weird niche they
inhabit.Your taste and preferences become mapped onto the specific
structure of the rhythm.  So hip hop is a lifestyle, like a clothing
or a line of cars.  J.Lo just did a song about the Cadillac Escalade,
so all of a sudden they're saying, "As in the J.Lo song=8A" People will
rhyme about being in their Lexus going to go buy some M=F6et and have a
good time. It's an entire lifestyle.  But that's the end result of
advertising as the American dream.

Beats form certain mnemonics, like sonic logos that carry whole
lifestyle connotations.  But remix culture gestures towards the
possibility of not getting stuck in any one groove. DJ Spooky is
certainly a brand, but at the same time you're this curious
multi-tasking guy, grabbing from lots of things and just going
forward and making it work without being too focussed or careerist.
Some people accuse you of being a dabbler, but you are connecting
between lots of different spaces.

I've never felt like I should be a careerist. It's like the summer I
first did this liquid acid, walking through D.C. A good friend of
mine committed suicide that summer and put me into this weird
depression thing. I was actually studying to be a diplomat. That's
when I said: Do I want to do this? Seeing these weird monuments, and
people rushing around, going through the office doors like in
Koyaanisqatsi or Metropolis=8A It gave me this weird sinking feeling, a
haunted feeling. I can't deal with that.

We're living in a world of absolute standards of identity, time,
regulation. It's a highly regimented culture, but it's so subtle that
it's almost totalitarian, far more than anything the Soviets could
have ever achieved.

Where is the real heart of the control, of the regimentation?

Personally I think it's about living in a culture of highly
structured time -- seconds, minutes, days. You have to fit all
aspects of life into that interface, the same as you would a
graphical user interface like Pro Tools, putting all of your
expression into these different tracks and layers and making a mesh
of it so it's synchronized and syncopated.

It's like the way people fill out their datebooks, with those little slots.

In the '60s, with psychedelic culture, you saw this first burst of
trying to break out of that.  The drugs shattered people. They took
acid and said, Holy shit! Psychedelic culture disrupted all the
regimentation and let all this new energy out.  Now you have
multiculturalism, you have respect for diversity of sexual
orientation, of women's rights, all these things. After the '60s,
mainstream America viewed that as a problem or a mistake, whereas
it's just about being human instead of being some weird, programmed

When you look at Ginsberg and all those 1960s and 1950s guys, they
were like neo-Romantics.  But in literary or musical circles these
days, there's just a deep confusion about how to break out of the
system and really be outside of it.  The Matrix - that's one of my
favorite parables around. It's the whole Plato's cave thing, where
you see the shadow of the projection of reality and you take that as
the basic rhythm of what's going on.

Do you think there are ways in which drugs can help illuminate that
trap or are they just another dimension of it? In The Matrix, Neo
takes the red pill.  Is there still something in psychedelic
consciousness that enables people to break out?

With drugs, there is no one answer. It's all dualities, paradoxes,
twisted involutions. In a way, it's healthy, but as human beings we
also seek standardization. It's like a hive thing. We're more insects
than the insects perhaps.  I remember reading the other day that they
found a huge ant colony that stretched for like 3000 miles. You could
say the same thing of the East Coast megalopolis - stretching from
Boston down to Atlanta... We're the same thing.

I don't think the drugs clarify anything.  I think they just diffuse
the interface a little bit and allow you to see the cracks in the
system. But unless you can walk through those cracks, or think out of
the cracks, you don't know if it's just another illusion.

Do you think there's any way out of that loop?

You'd have to make some sort of intense cognitive break with the
psychological/perceptual architecture of what makes you a normal
human.  In the Robert Heinlein book Stranger in a Strange Land, the
kid's raised by aliens, and his whole perceptual architecture is
conditioned differently by them. Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delaney, all
these science fiction writers were engaging with standardization,
with trying to figure out how to think outside the box. The tragedy
is that there is no outside the box.  You're just in another box, in
another box, like a Russian matroyshka doll.

Have you ever felt close to some kind of radical cognitive break like that?

You just never know. It's a hall of mirrors.  Unless there's some
scientific way to get proof.  It's like the H.P. Lovecraft story
["From Beyond"] where this guy can see in different dimensions and
then he gets hunted by this one creature who notices him. We do live
in many dimensions. That's actually the physics, the scientific

Speaking of multiple dimensions, do you have a very rich dream life?

I dream all the time. Around March or April this year, I was in some
kind of weird mood or humor, and my dreams went geometric. Lines and
points and structures. All kind of vectors. Nowadays my dreams are
more narrative. I've done a lot of exercises to try to remember
dreams. Dreaming is reflective. You are taking a step back and
looking at your own trajectory.

How do you condition yourself to deal with things through your dreams
and aspirations and ideas of how you can be? There's an old KRS rhyme
where he's like, "You want to be rich? Picture wealth and put
yourself in the picture. Health is your mental wealth." I like the
idea of mental wealth. It's not about having a big car. It's the idea
that you are your currency. If you hold yourself high, you will be
able to attract all sorts of different exchange rates. Lots of
people's imaginations are so conditioned by the consumer thing,
that's their dream. That's the picture they want to put themselves
in. Pretty standard and boring picture. That's what I like about
Burning Man. It's a different dream.

You first attended Burning Man in 1995. What do you think about the festival=

I consider Burning Man to be the near future, like you're living six
months to two years into the future. There will be what I call
Burning Man moments where you are walking down a street in New York
and there's an accident, or a car flies by, or there's an awkward
intervention of something into the fabric of normal urbanism, like
when a homeless guy walks by mumbling to himself wearing a fedora.
That's a Burning Man moment.

I look at Burning Man as a postmodern carnival. I'm one of these
kinds of guys who likes breaking down words, and carnival means
-"carni-vale" - throwing the flesh, you know, being able to wear all
these different masks and being able to switch identities.
Afro-Caribbean culture and a lot of southern European culture is
fascinated with carnival, with the festival of the saints. These are
all neo-pagan eruptions that Christianity somehow absorbed.  But when
you apply that Dionysian  search for some eruption of irrationality
into a very regimented world=8A it's madness by normal standards.

How does Burning Man compare to raves?

To me, raves are trying to balance some kind of madness with
standardization, which is the beats. The people dancing and hanging
out, and the Ecstasy and acid and all that, is just a psychological
buffer between seeing the shadow on the wall and realizing you can't
get around it.  There's an existential quality when you go to really
big events. I've seen a whole arena chanting "Who Let The Dogs Out"
in unison. It's like Albert Speer, like Hitler using TV to get
propaganda messages out during WWII - "Triumph of the Will." Etc etc.
The whole thing is intense psychological compartmentalization, and
when you look at that gestalt mentality, yeah, DJing is part of the
science of regimentation.  Is it an avant-garde thing?  No, it's just
part of the fabric=8A

What's your personal attitude towards psychedelics now?

I've kind of distanced myself from the psychology of psychedelic
culture. I DJ'd at Burning Man last year and took some DMT. I felt
much more disassociated than before.  At the end of the day, that's
what it's all about: the logic of things, you do A thus B happens or
C happens.  But psychedelic culture breaks those associative chains,
and makes you feel like everything's without cause and just floating.
When I did that heavy psychedelic at Burning Man, I actually felt
like my brain had gone past the point of no return. I mean,
everything's already fragmented, but it feels like if I touch this
stuff ever again, my brain will just fly to pieces.

In general, I haven't done anything over the last year or so - I've
had some coffee, some wine. The more I've actually pulled back from
stuff, the more it feels like the entire planet is psychedelic --
like the geometry of a city seen from above, or seeing ocean waves
just near the Mediterranean.  Monaco looked like a Walt Disney
recreation, but then you realize that Disney is just recreating that
weird palace vibe. We live in a culture of relentless quotation.  You
see something, you absorb it, and it pops up unconsciously in your
next thing. After the last time I did DMT at Burning Man, I felt like
my brain became Time Square, a kind of boring, rushing collage of
conflicting images and ideas, each one demanding its own time and
space in my brain.

I think a lot of this stuff is psychologically corrosive. To get any
work done, you can't think like that, because you're just outside of
any notion of normal language and being able to communicate and deal
with things.  It takes a lot of psychological integrity to be able to
balance between psychedelic culture and being able to maintain and
build a normal world and still have that sense of overview. When you
talk to some executive guy, they've got just a one-track mentality,
because that's what allows them to do their thing.  Anybody who wants
to do something has to compress.

Once you've done X amount of some substance it actually remodels your
perceptions, the architecture of how you experience stuff. You do the
drugs and then the drugs do you.  When you look at a computer screen,
synaesthesia is just there on the surface, like when you touch it and
you see little waves bubble away.  There are special effects at every
level and from every angle.

As an artist, I'm at a paradox, because part of me has that urge to
trip. But there's always the sense that once you go past that point
of no return, you're in a universe of one, because you're your own
language structure, your own mentality.  At the peak of any trip you
sometimes feel this inability to have any sense of real language.
That's what Burning Man felt like: that sense of linguistic loss, of
not being able to enunciate normal words or the flows of how you
would normally put sentences together.  It's post-linguistic or

You've mentioned how psychedelics in white culture and black culture
are really different.  In general, you don't see too much evidence of
black psychedelia, but then you have something like
Parliament/Funkadelic, which is like the most insanely flipped out
thing that happened in the mid-'70s.  What's going on there?

I think white American culture is kind of fragmented in a way that
black American culture isn't. In black America, the pressure to
conform is really intense. All the kids will all of a sudden start
wearing new Fila gear or the new Nike. In white American culture, the
point is to actually to stand out, to be able to cut against the
grain of things.

In terms of lifestyle issues, it's fascinating when people start
rhyming stuff. That means it's truly attained. When you hear Missy
Elliott rhyme about taking Ecstasy and drinking M=F6et, you know.  Or
like, "Yo, I'm the dealer man, pusher man, herb guy." Whatever. They
always externalize it in a way that leaves you with these paradoxes,
because to rhyme about the experience kind of takes away any sense of
the magic of individualism .  So you are left with this sense of a
pre-conditioned emotion.

That's been a real intense trope in black culture for a long time,
because you have this sense that, if you leave the crowd, then that
means you've left the sense of struggle, and you're supposed to
always be in tune with the sense of dynamic struggle and change.  I
think that makes Afro-American culture an inherently revolutionary
culture, but at the same time, it leaves you in stasis, because no
one goes outside of it.

Have you felt kind of torn between the pressure of this group
identity and your own desire to discover your own unusual way of
dealing with all these different cultures and scenes?

Yeah, I get it all the time, and I'm pretty mellow. I can only
imagine what somebody like Hendrix must have felt.  George Clinton
was able to be both psychedelic and still in the normal fold.  But
when you hear Snoop Dogg talking about psychedelic culture -- he's
always talking about being a freak and freak out -- that almost feels
very conservative to me.  Dr. Dre always talks about Mary Jane,
cheeba, but I don't think they engage this kind of psychedelic
culture or pot culture that tries to break free of things.

In my music, it's much more about paradox. I mean when you look at
the Platonic myth of the shadow on the cave, it could just as easily
be perceptual breakdown or something. There's the uncertainty of the
box within the box, the Cartesian demon of doubt. To really face that
is to say, "Look, we live in a world where you just don't fucking
know, and there is no certainty, and so you just make it up as you go
and see what happens." But we're not conditioned to want that sense
of "the certainty of uncertainty."  That's what I try to evoke with
my stuff.

In terms of black culture, again, you can't think of things in terms
of monolithic styles. It's far more nuanced and bizarre than that.
These days the drug of choice for a lot of MCs -- at least that you
hear rhyming about -- is Ecstasy.  And if you listen to Timbaland's
beats and styles, there was a sharp change about four years ago, when
he all of a sudden starting doing what they call the acid sound. One
time Donatella Versace threw this after-New Years party and she had
me fly out to DJ. Missy Elliott was backstage hanging and they were
just chilling but it didn't feel psychedelic.  There's times when
you're backstage and everything is completely out of whack and you
get that feeling, yo, anything could go off.  In the last couple
years, I've just felt a sense of calmness.

You've encountered a lot of weird places and situations across the
planet.  What's the weirdest scene you've been in?

One of the more intriguing parties I've been to was in Iceland. Bj=F6rk
was having this New Year's Eve party, and all these Icelandic people
were just rocking out.  That was a couple of years ago, outside of
Reykjavik. People were on these glaciers=8A

The party was on the ice?


Wasn't it terribly cold?

Yeah, but they get used to it, man.

People were outside?

Yeah, the sound system and stuff was outside, on the ice fields. It
was dark, this kind of surreal, gray, dawn aura kind of thing, and
that was weird.  They like hard techno and trance. They have all
these mixtures of culture, Inuit and European, and they are also just
a really open and friendly people, a fishing culture, a small island.
When I got back from that party, I cut all my hair off.

Another bizarre scene was when I was living at the Gas Station on
Avenue B. I used to throw these after hours parties, and we'd just
leave the door open, and homeless people, crazy people would come
through. For one party we put up these TVs, and every TV had static,
and they were hanging from these industrial chains on the ceiling.
People were coming in off the street, I had no idea who the fuck they
were, but they would jump onto the TVs and swing around. The
televisions were the only light in the room, and there was crazy
music, and then you'd look out and see all this melted metal and
burned up sculpture and stuff. Those were weird parties.  But that
was a different time.

You live a life that would run most people ragged: you sleep five
hours a night, you travel all the time, you're always working on a
gazillion projects and collaborations. You don't seem based in any
particular spacetime because you're moving around, dealing with
different layers of society, all the time. What drives you?

It's just fun.  The world is such a fucking weird place.  It's an
exquisitely bizarre thing.  I'm just happy to be alive in this era.
It's truly exciting to travel around just checking out how strange it
all is. I'd say this is going to be a century of hyper-acceleration,
and I just get a kick out of seeing it. One of my favorite phrases
from William Gibson is: "The future is already here, it's just
unevenly distributed."

That hyper-acceleration can be tough to take. When you start to get
the feeling that there's too much stuff going on, how do you get

You don't.  There's always something popping up, something that needs
to get done on the phone or email.  It's 24/7. But when I really want
to chill out, I just take a long bath and put some music on and just
sit in the hot water.  Actually my plan next year is to decelerate a
little bit and take some time off  [note to reader: Miller has been
saying this as long as I have known him]. I'd like to do more
soundtrack work, so I don't do have my economics derived so much from
DJing and traveling.  Plus I've got a house up in the countryside, so
I can just come to New York strictly when necessary. I really want to
finish my fiction by early summer, because I've been working on that
book forever.

What's it called?

It's called Flow My Blood The DJ Said. It's this whole involution of
what I call control themes, and science fiction, and music and sound.

How experimental is the writing?

It started out very experimental, and then I realized, wait a second
here, I've got to fine-tune it. Then I brought it back to more of a
narrative thing.  There's chapters where it's just these rushes of
phrases from advertising, weird advertising lingo. I'm fascinated
with this catchphrase thing. You see enough of certain phrases, and
then the city itself spells a big sentence.  Times Square is like
that. If you selectively edit between all the information flowing
through your mind, the sentence built is like some kind of Finnegans
Wake James Joyce-type stuff, but it still has some resonance for me.
My fiction's like stream of consciousness mixed with media streaming.

At this point in your career, do you mostly DJ because it's a nice
cash flow, or do you still have an investment in being a pop culture
figure who throws good parties?

Well, that depends.  My parties and my music are really outside of
normal DJ currents.  I don't spin at the same rave as a Paul
Oakenfold.  But at the same time, I love DJing as a hobby.  It was
never really meant to be my main thing. DJing was meant to be an art
project. Imagine having one project take over like that!

Over the next year or so I'm going to be doing a series of conceptual
art projects, and migrating out of DJing. I used to pass out stickers
saying, "Who is DJ Spooky?" and cassettes that had stories on them.
I'm still doing that. But these days it's much more informal and just
kind of fun.  So DJ Spooky was a project, and now Paul D. Miller is a
project of DJ Spooky, and I'm slowly remixing out of that.

On your new record Optometry, you play some acoustic bass. What's up with th=

I started studying bass in college.  For my senior year recital, I
had to do this kind of waltz, and I completely flubbed it.  Now when
I play stuff , I just sample it.  Optometry is all samples.  I wasn't
in the same room as anyone; everyone just gave me elements.  Being
able to synchronize and put that meshwork together was a really fun
kind of thing, but it sounds live. I've got to figure this out,
though, because next year I'm going to do more stuff with a band.
We're going to take Optometry on the road live.

Bass playing is one of those calm kinds of things I do to try and
stop thinking.  You just play, you hear the sound, and that's it.
Everybody has their little gestures that they tune in to and repeat.
Like some people have prayer beads. For a couple years playing bass
was my mellow activity, usually playing alone.

I've always loved jazz too, so Optometry is the jazz record I've
wanted to make for a while.  A lot of people say it sounds happier
than the rest of my music.  If you actually heard the original stuff,
it was chaos -- you just had someone squawking their horn for like
five minutes, like really aggro free jazz, while someone else's
playing crazy drums. The sense of finessing that, of being able to
figure out even what tempos or what arrangements to make things
around, was fascinating.  Free jazz is totally out of the normal DJ
beat, pulse, range, style.  Optometry was a good exercise in
structural silence. Most free jazz bands are maximalists, they go and
bombard you with all of these heavy sounds. So pulling silence out of
that was a really interesting exercise.

One of the things you've been doing lately is taking the DJ
performance and putting it into places where you don't usually see DJ
decks, like in art galleries. Do people get what you're trying to do?

Well, some people love it, some people hate it.  I've gotten vicious,
bitter reviews by critics.  But that's all just fluff.  As an artist
and writer, I do what I enjoy.  If I didn't like it, I wouldn't do
it. I think if you follow through with whatever you're into, you can
do it. It doesn't matter if it's not consistent, there's a market or
niche for every possible endeavor under the sun at this point.

I'm actually at a crossroads myself in terms of trying to figure out
the writing stuff, especially this idea of writing as total text.

What do you mean by total text?

I'm in the process of editing my first two nonfiction anthologies,
Sound Unbound and Rhythm Science. I'm going to have multimedia, I'm
going to have web, I'm going to do a limited edition CD, I might want
to do some performances around them. That's what Wagner was trying to
do with the whole idea of the Gesamptkunstwerk ["total artwork"]. But
that approach is actually more of an African kind of thing in
general. In Europe, because of the specialization trip, you had to
specialize and just do one thing. But why? I guess I'm just
deprogramming out of the specialization thing.  Why not have a book
that can be HTML code, or a building that's a symphony, or whatever?

You first got on the map doing music and DJing. You've done sound
art, installation, sculpture, painting. You've been working lately
with video remixing and getting into the mixology of images.  But in
many ways you still define yourself primarily as a writer.  Why is it
important for you to stay tied to the world of writing?

At the end of the day, you still want to communicate with your fellow
human beings.  Otherwise it becomes a subjective implosion.

Yeah, but some people would say that images are now a better form of
communication, that text isn't a very good form anymore. It's too
slow, for one thing.

It is, it's all that. In fact it's kind of retro. But that's cool,
too.  That's why people wear bell bottom jeans.  You can always
squeeze something out of the past and make it become new.

But for you, it is about communication.

It's a puzzle you set for yourself.  Being at a crossroads like this,
and being uncertain which direction to move, is actually a good
thing, because it makes me question everything a lot more.  Why do I
want to write, why do I want to make a track, why do I want to do
this installation?  They're all hobbies, which keeps the fun.  If I
were a dead serious artist guy, who wanted to just strictly be in all
the right collections, and network the gallery scene, that's easily
done.  Same with the DJ circuit.  But by being a hobbyist, a kind of
flaneur or somebody who jumps around, it keeps things fresh and new.
I can only imagine what kind of mentality most people must  have
doing one thing all their lives.  But I guess because I grew up with
books, I've always wanted to write one, to add my own book to the
bookshelf in my mind or something.

How do you feel about writing?  You've written almost two books=8A

It keeps me sane. I like dabbling in multimedia or doing performance,
and I like speaking before audiences a lot.  But there's something
about the labor or writing and the sense of being part of the
continuum of writing that goes back thousands of years. It is a retro
form, and in some ways it doesn't quite fit what's happening. The
challenge then is to describe or characterize what it feels like to
be alive now in the midst of it, but using this other kind of form.
My consciousness is still partly in the Gutenberg world.  I know
people who are totally electronic and it's fascinating to see them,
but in some ways their consciousness works differently.  There's a
reflexivity that comes with having to compose and letting language
come through you.  It's a different speed, there's a slowness there.
And the way language is infectious, the way you pick up language from
other writers. It's kind of my home base.

Writing becomes your own temple and you just move in and make sure
everything flows and the right divinities are in effect.

Nowadays writing just looks like one more technology, with its pluses
and minuses. What have you been thinking about lately in terms of the

These days I've been thinking a lot about universal computing, and
how that's going to affect us. It's going to just be psychological
after a certain point.  Your mind will be the software or whatever.
Once you have that density of information in terabytes, and
everything's just kind of in the air, what happens after that?
That's just around the corner.

Last night, Larry Lessig and I were talking about this idea of
artificial scarcity. If you're in a digital world, where anyone can
make a copy of anything, what you then need to do is to pull stuff
out of the loop and make it become more scarce.  That's one of the
new economies of scale that he thinks will be going on.  It's already
started and will slowly evolve.

Give me an example.

There are some artists who will only make five copies of a DVD.  If
they're in the conventional art world, they'll be able to sell them
for like $75,000 each.  They're still dealing with the digital
medium, but it works: people with the collecting mentality will pick
up on that. Another example of artificial scarcity is where Bill
Gates is buying up all these images and charging people X amount just
to use the images. He set up a bunker and put millions of images in
this one place.

Oh, you mean the paintings, the photographs, the actual physical objects?

Yeah - the original photos of the objects. It's this bunker in
Pennsylvania, buried underground, in this secure
thermostatically-controlled, humidity-controlled environment. It has
guards and stuff like that.  So a bunker of images.  That's
artificial scarcity.

You have to imagine a world where, on the one hand, basic resources
like water and oil are becoming more scarce. That's a real scarcity.
Digital culture's blossoming like an artificial desert being made
over again, because people are actually making more copies of
everything. There's more cities in Sim City than have ever existed in
human history.

But you can't eat that.  You can't flush it and you can't drink it,
so it's an artificial thing. It's this weird kind of information
environment. But how do you sustain the architecture in your own
mind?  I'm fascinated with the idea of being able to be in a world
where it's not how much information that bombards you, but how little
you have. That's going to be your wealth. Less is more.

What's scares you the most about our moment now?

Well, I think if we don't play our cards right in this century, we'll
be extinct. I think we'll just play our deck, have a wild party and
just wrap up and make room for the next species.  There's too much
pollution, too much tinkering with DNA, weird biotech weapons,
control systems, computer stuff=8A I don't think there's any real sense
of responsible growth or engagement. We're already messing up the
oceans, we're already killing off the dolphins and all these
different species. Statistically speaking I think we're just around
the corner from some mass, twisted thing. Somebody will just get in
their airplane with some new biotech weapon and spread it around, or
somebody's going to splash a whole city full of some virus. Today
huge devastation can be brought about just by a couple of bugged-out
people. And there are a lot of bugged-out people.

You're in the special position of going around the world and meeting
lots of interesting and very different people. Despite cultural
diversity, are you getting the feeling that everyone is starting to
feel the same way about the state of things?

Yeah, I definitely think that anyone who's watching the world knows
that, yo, shit is mega fucked up.  You can't walk down the street
without feeling this sense of empathy or pain for some crazy person.
You catch their eye, and you realize this is a shattered psychology,
somebody who just got fucked by the zone they grew up in.  I think
humans are building systems that are psychologically devastating to
ourselves, far more pervasively than at any other time in history.
And that's just our own psychology. Forget about the environment or
the air we breathe or the ocean we're swimming in.  I think that most
people who are even vaguely aware feel this giddy sense that
something's wrong and things are really fucked up. It's pretty hard
to miss the signs. Unless you're Bush.

Erik Davis is a contributing editor to Trip.

"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

Office Mailing Address:

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New York, NY 10011

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