Creating Melodic Landscapes in Antarctica

Question:  What are the origins of "Terra Nova," your \r\nAntarctic symphony?
DJ Spooky: \r\nWhat I wanted to try and figure out was, okay, in contemporary 21st\r\ncentury life the alienation between the self and the land around you or\r\nthe self and even the urban landscape.  You name it.  Most people walk\r\naround with headphones on.  They’re barely encountering or dealing with\r\ntheir fellow person, or if they’re in a car they’re in this kind of\r\ncocoon, stuck in suburban rush hour traffic or something.  The\r\nlandscape of their current experience is just really compartmentalized. \r\nAnd what I wanted to do with Antarctica was say let’s hit the\r\nreset button on that and see what happens to your creative process. \r\nLet’s go to the most remote place that you can imagine, set up a studio\r\nand see what music comes out of it. So I took a studio down to several\r\nof the main ice fields, and the basic idea was to give myself four weeks\r\nin these ice fields to create a new work and see what happens. And, you\r\nknow, it was really important to me to kind of think about the urban\r\nlandscape on one hand versus this hyper-abstract ice landscape\r\non the other. 
Antarctica, one of the things that was so\r\nremarkable about it was that the ice itself is a kind of pure geometry,\r\nso say, for example, if I was facing someone wearing I don’t know, a Joy\r\nDivision t-shirt with the mountains on it or something like that... \r\nSeeing that as a computer abstraction versus actually going to these\r\ncontinents and seeing a 40 mile chunk of ice break off that is the size\r\nof mountains the sense of scale was just awe-inspiring.  I mean just… \r\nI remember one time it took us several hours to walk out into a major\r\nglacier field off the Weddell Ice Sea Shelf, all right, so this is\r\nAntarctic summer, if you fall in the water you die in about two\r\nminutes, so you’re walking, the ice is creaking, the landscape is like\r\nsubtly you know shifting and if anyone out there has ever been in an\r\nearthquake this is like kind of a slow motion earthquake, but the land\r\nis shifting and groaning and creaking and you know if you ever walked\r\non ice and you’re like whoa, you could fall through.  It really you\r\nknow puts you in that for lack of better word, very cautious\r\nmentality. So the physicality of that and the just the sheer lack of\r\nurban noise and machinery—just the wind, the water and your breath,\r\nyou know that kind of thing—it was pure poetry and you know I\r\ntreasure that.  It was just…  I can only wonder what astronauts must\r\nfeel like or something like that when you’re really in the space of\r\nsilence and you are feeling and breathing in a way that you’re really\r\naware of your muscle and bone and the breath and the body and the\r\nmovement and all of those things that just you take for granted in the\r\nurban landscape. 
I felt like on one\r\nhand the clarity of thought was amazing, but on the other we went\r\nduring Antarctic summer, so the sun didn’t set the whole time we were\r\nthere.  It was permanent afternoon. And when I say permanent afternoon,\r\nyou know, I’m talking like crystal clear, crispy blue sky.  All the\r\nsudden you didn’t need to sleep as much because it just was difficult. \r\nAnd how that translated into my creative process I still am not quite\r\nsure, but it made my relationship to sleep a kind of abstract you know\r\nbizarre…  I can't put my finger on it, but I ended up\r\ndreaming very intense dreams because I only needed about four hours of\r\nsleep.  Meanwhile, we’d take you know four to eight hours hikes way out\r\ninto these you know kind of glaciers and so on you know all day and you\r\ncome back and you’d be tired and you still couldn’t sleep because the\r\nsun was up and it felt like you know it’s like two in the afternoon or\r\nsomething, even if it was midnight. So, yeah, quirky.  Sleep is crucial\r\nand I tend to find when the sun is shining I find it much more\r\ndifficult to get that sense of sleep. 

Question: Is \r\nthe  piece classical?

DJ Spooky: \r\nWhat I’m going for with the string arrangements for my Antarctic\r\nsymphony is a pun here.  On one hand you have a string quartet, which\r\nis not a symphony.  On the other hand is you have me sampling them and\r\nmaking it sound like there is many more people playing, so the whole\r\nnotion of, kind of, sampling applied to classical music is very\r\nintriguing to me because composers throughout history have borrowed\r\nmotifs and quotes from one another. So Bach, Beethoven, Duke Ellington,\r\nThelonius Monk, these are all people who would sort of rearrange or\r\ntake riffs from people. Same thing with rock, if you look at the\r\nRolling Stones doing a cover of Otis Redding or you know if you look at\r\nliterature James Joyce is pulling fragments of text from other people. \r\nSo the Antarctic symphony has a geometric relationship to the\r\nlandscape.  It’s saying that this landscape and the minimal kind of, you\r\nknow I’m talking like seeing ice, is visually kind of eerily minimal. \r\nBut there is a complexity and layering that goes on with this kind of\r\nthing, so the music is slightly repetitive and when I say repetitive\r\nit’s in the same tradition as people like Steve Reich or Erik Satie or\r\neven WC. So what I wanted to do is kind of invoke that and then dive\r\ninto that kind of repetition as a DJ thing because DJing you\r\nhear beats, like "boom, boom, boom, bap, bap."  You know hip hop, house,\r\ntechno.  So how do you translate between those electronic motifs and\r\nthe motifs of the landscape itself?  That is what I wanted to go for.
Question: What do you want people to get out of it?
DJ Spooky: \r\nAntarctica is one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.  I\r\ndon’t think that everyone should go there.  I also think that we need\r\nto respect it as a kind of a national park for the planet.  It\r\nshould be you know put in parentheses.  You know, in the sentence of\r\nhumanity this place needs to be a parentheses. And when I say\r\nparentheses I mean I’m talking like you go around it.  Leave it alone.  \r\nLet it exist.  And what I want people to see with this\r\nfilm is not only a respect for this place from the bottom of my heart. \r\nI’m talking like just the beauty, but at the same time to get people to\r\nrealize that we should treasure it.  Maybe visualize it, but leave it\r\nalone. And it’s… there is a sense of awe with these huge landscapes and\r\nopen spaces.  Maybe someone living out in the American deep Midwest\r\ndesert can imagine the same thing, or somebody living in Namibia or the\r\nArctic is very different... but yeah, just awe of the landscape.  I know\r\nthat sounds like nerdy and corny and stuff like that, but you know let\r\nit be nerdy and corny.  It’s a beautiful place.  I could just sit on an\r\nice glacier and just watch the land for like days, months, years.

Recorded on April 8, 2010

"Go to the most remote place that you can imagine, set up a studio and see what music comes out of it."

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