Composer, writer, turntablist and conceptual artist Paul D. Miller, otherwise known as DJ Spooky, traveled to Antarctica with a studio in tow. There he visited barren ice fields in an attempt to explore the hidden connections between sound and the environment. From this frosty experiment, a large-scale multimedia performance piece called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica was born. The visual and sonic portrait of that continent includes video projections, turntables and a DJ Spooky-composed score performed by local chamber musicians. He brings the performance to the KiMo Theatre this week as part of the LAND/ART project. In preparation for Miller's New Mexico visit, we conducted the following e-mail communiqué.
Why did you go to Antarctica?
A lot of the issues that drive the environmental movement are connected to the city, and I think of music from "the city" as a kind of global situation at this point. The problem is standardization of beats, of rhymes, of almost all aspects of experience, and I'm trying as much as possible to break out of that and try different things. So many albums sound the same these days. I guess you could say I wanted to go to Antarctica to hit the reset button on how I could think about music—through getting away from the city. What happens when you take urban music away from the urban context?
What was your impression of Antarctica, and what about it inspired you?
It was the most eerily remote place I've ever been to. I've checked out a lot of spots, but the basic fabric of "society"—streets, people, electricity—is gone from Antarctica. I'm an artist first and foremost, and I wanted to figure out some way to relate to the environment as an active process of sound. Noise in the city, versus the sound of melting ice? Wind storms off the Weddell Ice Shelf versus blasting sound systems? I always link things, and the research that went into this project is no different.
“Noise in the city, versus the sound of melting ice? Wind storms off the Weddell Ice Shelf versus blasting sound systems?”
In talking about this piece on your website, you note a 1939 turntable piece by avant-garde American composer John Cage. Can you talk more about that?
The basic idea for John Cage was to open himself up to all the sounds around him and think of the world as a composition. I try to look at that as a way of "sampling the world." His piece "Imaginary Landscape" is one of my all-time favorite pieces dealing with found sound, art and with installations. The whole process that drove his ideas is exactly where we are today in the era of information overload. I just riff on that concept in my work.
You mention economics and the invisible hand of the market in much of your work. Why is this such a concern of yours?
Ideas are the rarest and most elusive currency of the 21st century. I think of my work as a collision between philosophy and music and art, just like a mix. The whole "invisible hand" concept is something that really struck me about modern art and culture; everything is so abstract—huge amounts of money flying around, the financial meltdown, the credit market and so on. But our modern life depends on it in a way that was unthinkable a short while ago. Your credit rating can determine whether you get treatment or not, or whether you get fair treatment for your house's mortgage. It's that complex and interlinked.
“Whether it's Muzak at a mall, or a beautiful jazz composition ... you still respond to it unconsciously. That's what I call information.”
How does music function as a form of information?
I guess I've always felt that music is information—it just depends on how you relate to it. Instrumental music is a kind of abstract space—you feel the narrative. It's not really a structured story in the same way as a singer would relate to, but it's something that goes a long way into getting people to relate to the world around them. Whether it's Muzak at a mall, or a beautiful jazz composition ... you still respond to it unconsciously. That's what I call information.
What can an audience expect to experience at this performance?
I want people to feel how rapidly everything is changing and to think of the composition as a wake-up call to climate change. They can expect something beautiful and eerie.