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DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) is a composer, author, producer, and electronic and experimental hip-hop musician. His stage name, "That Subliminal Kid," is borrowed from the character The Subliminal Kid[…]

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

Question:  What are the origins of "Terra Nova," your rnAntarctic symphony?
 
DJ Spooky: rnWhat I wanted to try and figure out was, okay, in contemporary 21strncentury life the alienation between the self and the land around you orrnthe self and even the urban landscape.  You name it.  Most people walkrnaround with headphones on.  They’re barely encountering or dealing withrntheir fellow person, or if they’re in a car they’re in this kind ofrncocoon, stuck in suburban rush hour traffic or something.  Thernlandscape of their current experience is just really compartmentalized. rnAnd what I wanted to do with Antarctica was say let’s hit thernreset button on that and see what happens to your creative process. rnLet’s go to the most remote place that you can imagine, set up a studiornand see what music comes out of it. So I took a studio down to severalrnof the main ice fields, and the basic idea was to give myself four weeksrnin these ice fields to create a new work and see what happens. And, yournknow, it was really important to me to kind of think about the urbanrnlandscape on one hand versus this hyper-abstract ice landscapernon the other. 
 
Antarctica, one of the things that was sornremarkable about it was that the ice itself is a kind of pure geometry,rnso say, for example, if I was facing someone wearing I don’t know, a JoyrnDivision t-shirt with the mountains on it or something like that... rnSeeing that as a computer abstraction versus actually going to theserncontinents and seeing a 40 mile chunk of ice break off that is the sizernof mountains the sense of scale was just awe-inspiring.  I mean just… rnI remember one time it took us several hours to walk out into a majorrnglacier field off the Weddell Ice Sea Shelf, all right, so this isrnAntarctic summer, if you fall in the water you die in about twornminutes, so you’re walking, the ice is creaking, the landscape is likernsubtly you know shifting and if anyone out there has ever been in anrnearthquake this is like kind of a slow motion earthquake, but the landrnis shifting and groaning and creaking and you know if you ever walkedrnon ice and you’re like whoa, you could fall through.  It really yournknow puts you in that for lack of better word, very cautiousrnmentality. So the physicality of that and the just the sheer lack ofrnurban noise and machinery—just the wind, the water and your breath,rnyou know that kind of thing—it was pure poetry and you know Irntreasure that.  It was just…  I can only wonder what astronauts mustrnfeel like or something like that when you’re really in the space ofrnsilence and you are feeling and breathing in a way that you’re reallyrnaware of your muscle and bone and the breath and the body and thernmovement and all of those things that just you take for granted in thernurban landscape. 
 
I felt like on onernhand the clarity of thought was amazing, but on the other we wentrnduring Antarctic summer, so the sun didn’t set the whole time we werernthere.  It was permanent afternoon. And when I say permanent afternoon,rnyou know, I’m talking like crystal clear, crispy blue sky.  All thernsudden you didn’t need to sleep as much because it just was difficult. rnAnd how that translated into my creative process I still am not quiternsure, but it made my relationship to sleep a kind of abstract you knowrnbizarre…  I can't put my finger on it, but I ended uprndreaming very intense dreams because I only needed about four hours ofrnsleep.  Meanwhile, we’d take you know four to eight hours hikes way outrninto these you know kind of glaciers and so on you know all day and yourncome back and you’d be tired and you still couldn’t sleep because thernsun was up and it felt like you know it’s like two in the afternoon orrnsomething, even if it was midnight. So, yeah, quirky.  Sleep is crucialrnand I tend to find when the sun is shining I find it much morerndifficult to get that sense of sleep. 

Question: Is rnthe  piece classical?

DJ Spooky: rnWhat I’m going for with the string arrangements for my Antarcticrnsymphony is a pun here.  On one hand you have a string quartet, whichrnis not a symphony.  On the other hand is you have me sampling them andrnmaking it sound like there is many more people playing, so the wholernnotion of, kind of, sampling applied to classical music is veryrnintriguing to me because composers throughout history have borrowedrnmotifs and quotes from one another. So Bach, Beethoven, Duke Ellington,rnThelonius Monk, these are all people who would sort of rearrange orrntake riffs from people. Same thing with rock, if you look at thernRolling Stones doing a cover of Otis Redding or you know if you look atrnliterature James Joyce is pulling fragments of text from other people. rnSo the Antarctic symphony has a geometric relationship to thernlandscape.  It’s saying that this landscape and the minimal kind of, yournknow I’m talking like seeing ice, is visually kind of eerily minimal. rnBut there is a complexity and layering that goes on with this kind ofrnthing, so the music is slightly repetitive and when I say repetitivernit’s in the same tradition as people like Steve Reich or Erik Satie orrneven WC. So what I wanted to do is kind of invoke that and then diverninto that kind of repetition as a DJ thing because DJing yournhear beats, like "boom, boom, boom, bap, bap."  You know hip hop, house,rntechno.  So how do you translate between those electronic motifs andrnthe motifs of the landscape itself?  That is what I wanted to go for.
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Question: What do you want people to get out of it?
 rn
DJ Spooky: rnAntarctica is one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.  Irndon’t think that everyone should go there.  I also think that we needrnto respect it as a kind of a national park for the planet.  Itrnshould be you know put in parentheses.  You know, in the sentence ofrnhumanity this place needs to be a parentheses. And when I sayrnparentheses I mean I’m talking like you go around it.  Leave it alone.  rnLet it exist.  And what I want people to see with thisrnfilm is not only a respect for this place from the bottom of my heart. rnI’m talking like just the beauty, but at the same time to get people tornrealize that we should treasure it.  Maybe visualize it, but leave itrnalone. And it’s… there is a sense of awe with these huge landscapes andrnopen spaces.  Maybe someone living out in the American deep Midwestrndesert can imagine the same thing, or somebody living in Namibia or thernArctic is very different... but yeah, just awe of the landscape.  I knowrnthat sounds like nerdy and corny and stuff like that, but you know letrnit be nerdy and corny.  It’s a beautiful place.  I could just sit on anrnice glacier and just watch the land for like days, months, years.

Recorded on April 8, 2010
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