Posted by Annie Robb 9-9-05
As we filed into the W+K atrium, the music was bumping but at 11 am I noticed only about a half dozen heads among many perched on the bleachers nodding to Brothers Gonna Work it Out mixed in to the multi-layered beats and samples playing from DJ Spooky’s powerbook. He seems a mellow character, with a quick wit and notably long, elegant fingers working the turntables.
Paul Miller’s discussion didn’t feel like a formal lecture, but rather a basic introduction to a way of thinking about DJ and hip-hop culture in the context of our media and pop-culture savvy world, as well as within our current political climate. He attempted to “unpack DJing” with its layers of allegory and allusion, shared memory, and its presence as an art form. That Subliminal Kid touched on many interrelated issues and implications of the art and referred to it many times as a sculptural form employing a collage technique (of sampling). He placed the artistic use of electronic means to alter pre-existing/found material in an historical and political context. He touched on the presence of hip-hop as a postmodern art form accessible to people in a much different context (the club) from most other contemporary arts forms, though they have much else in common such as re-appropriation, reuse, multi-media and electronic tools and modes.
He discussed briefly the role of DJ as collector-editor-creator, context versus content, our “information ecology” and more (and more).
As an artist, Paul Miller goes beyond sound into a multi-media event, fully marrying the visual with the aural. He showed a smart, politically conscious video with an emcee (Distorted Mindz?) rhyming to beats while images rapidly emerged from his lips along with his words to play with meaning and metaphor.


His talk of enjoying the DJ’s art for its layers of remembered beats, rhymes, and melodies along with the new and unfamiliar hit home as a Razzell beat box sprung to life and he worked it live on his tables. Razzell, he pointed out, is amazing. And he can imitate any record. So in effect, we experienced a live performance by DJ Spooky using a recording of a performance (by Razzell) which mimics a record being scratched by a DJ. It was real cool.
Paul covered a lot of ground, and used a lot of elegant terms and truly clever buzzwords. He also made us cackle with glee at a piece of creative editing he did of a Bush address. While people tittered and laughed, I suddenly felt sobered by the fright of it all.
He introduced the concept of the film piece he’s created using D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as his “found object” to express his social and racial commentary on the U.S.
Yes, his subject matter is broad, far-reaching and complex. But I felt several times throughout the talk that he didn’t feel that we, as an audience, were picking up on what he was saying, whether we understood the basic assumptions he was building on. I got a sinking feeling he was addressing his lecture to the lowest common denominator. Well, I felt we were with him and I for one want to be taken to the next level. It was all interesting, but I think we’re ready to take on more of an intellectual and creative challenge. Maybe I need to read his book Rhythm Science published by MIT Press (an impressive and slightly intimidating publisher), but I’m hoping that’s what I’ll find at his performance.
Note:
A special thank-you to Mr. Miller’s generous surprise contribution towards developing a “gift economy.” He used the distribution of free CDs of his work to illustrate a good point about production and distribution as well as our individual experiences of art. My house is full of his awesome sounds as I write this evening.