Frank Hartmann on Wed, 6 May 1998 01:35:43 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> It's all jazz. Interview with DjSpooky

DjSpooky: It's all Jazz. An Interview on Sound and Media Literacy 

by Frank Hartmann and Richard Pettauer

"Boom, there it is. Sound and signification. Sound as social
text. Sound as bearer of social memory. Who's there?"
(DJ Spooky: Dark Carnival)

The lecure series "Intertwinedness"
(, organized by Margarete Jahrmann
and Christa Schneebauer at the AEC, Ars Electronica Center in
Linz/Austria, is dedicated to the contemporary discourse of net-
culture. The orgnizers showed persistence by including DJ-culture
(with its proceedings in sampling, non-copyright and raising
experience in audiac), for these are the creative approaches in a
transdisciplinary interpretation of medial realities of life. One
of the most radical examples of frontier crossing between art,
media theory and urban DJ youth culture is Paul D. Miller from
New York, a.k.a. DJ Spooky 'that Subliminal Kid'. In the first
place, Spooky is seen as one of the world's most famous DJs; he
also is a writer and acts as a performance-artist. This interview
took place after his performance at the AEC (April 21st).

Q: You demonstrated that different albums from different decades
use the same drumbeat, and to you, DJ-ing is some kind of a
recognition and recombination of patterns. On the other hand, you
also say that  you use every possible musical style and mix it up
in a wild and chaotic manner. Do you intend to show a certain
development in music or are you creating something totally new?

Spooky: My style is that of migration between different
influences. What comes out, is this strange, chaotic sound that I
love. Most DJs work very clean, I mean that's okay, but that's
not what I'm doing. With my kind of DJing, which consists mainly
of wild cut-ups and scratches, I try to overcome cultural
barriers. In the USA, for example, racial barriers are still very
present, in Europe, I guess, too. The easiest way to establish a
dialogical way of give-and-take is mixing.
The generation of Afro-Americans, to which I belong, slowly
starts to overcome these barriers of frustration. Take Puff
Daddy, for example, whose music I appreciate very much: There is
no more integrative figure than him, because he uses so many
different styles. He is sampling Led Zeppelin, Reggae, whatever.
As well in the economic as in the psycho-social field a new sense
of equality, meaning coexistence, is established. Some decades
ago, Elvis would visit a blues-pub, listen to that sound, steal
it and then sell it as his own work - the present development
counterfeits that.

Q: Your book (Flood My Blood the DJ Said) deals with intellectual
property and copyright, which is definitely a hot topic in the
era of digital media. How do you as a DJ cope with that?

Spooky: There is a difference between appropriation and
quotation. To quote means to say: "I like this piece of music
from this musician, and that's why I'm using it." This is a
hommage. Appropriation means eradication of the names of others.
I don't want to do this.
Pop culture as a whole has become very multicultural. Puff Daddy
is a perfect example of this evolution of different subcultures:
His albums sell in the US as well as in Europe and Japan ...
I intentionally use quotations for my samples, and I try to
rearrange them and build something new. On the other hand I must
say, that everybody can use my songs for his or her own samples -
of course I won't sue anybody! Music is always metaphor, and I'm
trying to recontextualize these metaphors. This is the science-
fiction-aspect of my work.

A consitant narration no longer possible, there is but
performance, the constant play of 'binary dissonance' between
original and copy, between author/artist and audience. The artist
hereby becomes a magician of sorts, who with magic tricks puts a
spell on his audience. But this DJ also is a storyteller, like an
african griot, who adresses his or her audience not by the master
discourse but by traditional structures which nonetheless carry
meanings of the present. DJSpooky works with soundpatterns as
well as visual sampling (there is a movie screen), so during his
performance the audience makes telekinetic contact with the
recent media history, with the memory or the visual clichees and
media stereotypes of the twentieth century.
One World, Global Village, etc. - these concepts might
dissappoint, while media evolution shows a definite drift towards
the unification of lifestyles. "Sound" becomes a transcendental
category, which defines our human existence not less than our
commonly shared logical categories - without being noticed by the
philosophers at large.


Q: The idea of an underlying mathematical, or  at least  of
returning structures in all music has been fascinating you for
quite a while. Are you still searching for such a universal
musical code?

Spooky: Yes, of course. Music itself is a universal cultural
language, presenting great possibilities to the musicians. Music
never stands alone. Every single song contains so many different
influences, forming a collection of quotations. Nothing happens
in a vacuum: This fact is expressed and externalized through
DJing. Making music, you're never located in a vacuum, but you
are part of an intertwinedness of influences.

Q: You say that firstly, you are a writer and secondly a DJ.
Where the differences lie between the two professions?

Spooky: Nowhere, there are none. DJing is writing, writing is
DJing. The only difference may be found in the historical
approach: Reading requires far more effort, you must be able to
read, choose a book, think about it - actually it's the same, but
the approach is different. We do have many cultural techniques
coexisting, reading, music, got to switch,
instead of limiting yourself to one of them.
That sounds quite idealistic. I deal with pop culture a lot, and
I've found a phenomenon which I call "cultural inertion": People
are caught in their usual media-habits, so that renewals take a
long time to succeed.
Concerning the philosophical or theoretical component in my
music, I do know that the average kid from the street probably is
not interested in Derrida's idea of deconstruction while he
operates his turntables - but the approach is obviously there,
using musical techniques.


What this DJ releases on audio CD sounds live and raw.
Controversial. Ambient Sound conceives new levels of meaning,
forming the acoustic sculpture of the century ending. The
contradiction he no longer calls 'ambient' but 'illbient' - still
calm, still considerate as in the prefix "am", and yet "madly cut
up" - the "ill" tends to enhance the idea, not pervert it. Many
followers adopted this style.
When DJSpooky acts live, as he did in the Intertwinedness
lecture/performance, then the groove rolls over the mood of the
audience like a freight train, while the 'speech act' of the
performative soundmix transforms the limits of an intellectual
credibility he certainly claim for within his written texts.
He calls it jazz, when reflecting social evolution, cultural
recombinations and repetition by way of creative images (he calls
them 'objectiles') and the texts of 'found sounds'. Jazz not
being the musical form of an era, but an attitude towards
cultural tradtion and  access to it as well. Quoting Haydn,
Schubert or Beethoven, Spooky thematizes cultural creativity at
large, the collective out of which any music gets inspirations.
He works with classical material as well as with Afro-American
avantgarde. One get to listen to soundbites of Hitchcock,
McLuhan, and samples of various media productions, which became a
must in the DJ-culture within the last decade.


Q: You're trying to combine different flavours and styles. Youth-
or subculture has gone through some process of diversification in
the last decades. Do you spot a creative and innovative potential
in this variety?

Spooky: This is incredibly important, because it enables
different "psychologies". If you stay at the same point of view
all the time, in the same subculture, you will stick to the same
state of mind all the time. I really think that a big part of
music in the 20ies, 30ies was absolutely crazy, wild, chaotic and
experimental. But if you take a person out of these decades to a
club of the 90ies, he or she would probably not consider the
sound he or she hears music, but total chaos - that's how music
taste and listening habits change.
The generation that has grown up with television, or nowadays
internet, are in a better precondition than any other generation
before, because they have a wider view. But on the other hand
there is this thing called "company culture": Everywhere in the
world kids who wear Nikes or Reeboks have more in common than
those listening to the same kind of music - this is a totally
crazy form of globalization. I have an idealistic viewpoint, so I
would like kids to listen to different music and develop a common
sense this way.

Q: Your main interests are in philosophy and in music. How do you
see these two related?

Spooky: Music is theory, theory is music. Being a good writer,
you become musician. Writing is music, I cannot explain this any
other way. Take Nietzsche, for instance: He was such a brilliant
author that his texts have become music almost. You feel the
music inside great poets' texts. Music is not a non-narrative
technique, but it works totally different.

Q: In your music you use lots of quotations. Is there a chance to
understand your music without knowing all the reference albums?

Spooky: Saying that someone is literate means, that he or she has
read a lot of books, is able to reference them, to put them in a
conceptual framework. It means having an overview. You have a
kind of "literacy" in the musical area, too: The more you have
heard, the easier it is to find links and to recognize
quotations. To specialize in either music or literature you need
months, years of reading or listening to music. But the
difference is, that people find a much more emotional approach
towards music. If you don't like a book, you put it aside after
the first few pages.
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