l'art d'être · laureen andalib

On Paul Miller’s (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid) “Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture”


“In an era of intensely networked systems, when you create, it’s not just how you create, but the context of the activity that makes the product.”

“Optometry becomes a conceptual art project about how the “hypertextual imagination” holds us all together. Seamless, invisible, hyperutilitarian… those are some of the words that describe the composition process of Optometry.”

In his explorative hip hop manifesto, DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) re-visits the originating tension of defining hip hop, in the context of a highly networked, collective system that boils from a socio-politically derived genre (in this case experimental), originally stemmed from the 1970s, and depicts that “Hip Hop”– rather than extrinsically dispersing empathy through the explicit identity of the author, is actually, the origination of an ultimate experience: a distribution of experiences, and a rapture of context, versus content– in the new era of the digital milieu. That of which, is full of unpredictably, translation, perversion, and confusing authorship. A digital realm, perhaps liberated in this very sense, because of no boundaries.

The artist– once tranquilized by experience, subdues their very own prescence in the performative space, and “virtual reality theatre” by isolating the performative identity, a phenomenon that perhaps can be challenged by, the way Miller states how sound, is now, “put through places that are not spaces, but code” (103).

In his first predicament, Miller introduces the origination of Optometry as the “science of sound as applied to vision”– where he later describes that once sound leaves the body, everything exclusively becomes rendered as an infinity field of file-codes. Because of this synesthesia— or sweeping between both analog and digital realms, it becomes unclear if production, amidst the hip hop artist who translates and deciphers experience through sound (perhaps, namely, in “cracking the code”), is even original in the first place when implied through the escapades of fleeting, networked, and vaporized aura of digital “noise.”

In reference to the Jazz era, Miller openly describes his fascination with Henry Ellison’s critique, where he reveres “the sound unbound” as Imaginary Landscape— “Negro voices,” amplified in echoes and shrills, become “wide spaces in which eyes could wander…, ” an “invocation of an imaginary landscape made of hyperreal experiences of living in a world made of fragments” (101).

Despite this engagement with a perhaps escapist, ethnically focal, ethereal world, Miller does not forget to assert the network itself as the perpetrator, in convulting both the notions of technical origin and physical authorship, i.e., computer’s language existing because of sound, grounded in a translation through the very network.

In Miller’s essay, I was more particularily interested by theories he referred to by Tomlinson, of signaled data as a linguistic placeholder. In its own humility, the @symbol, in the nuance of our own generation, has become reverent to being an indexical reference in totaling all particapators who label an idea: the @symbol which (inescapably) categorizes all contributors within a network as authors of a highly evolving, time-dependent concept, where anyone can essentially be an author– and freeze a point in time in which they once referenced the same “data concept,” conglomerated by the mechanisms of the social media platform itself. Specifically, Miller references Tomilson, “…By using the @symbol, he restated what modernist artists and composers had been pointing out for over a century: when information becomes total media in the Wagnerian and Nietzschean sense, we arrive at the Gesamkunstwerk, “the total artwork,” while  “situationists refer to this as “psycho-geography’”– which shockingly re-asserts the technical emblem to which social media, and the constant sharing of sound, exists today.

In a highly digital, globalized age, psycho-geography is only elevated now, and ironically, as all-encapsulating in generating the network based on literal, georgephical references, and the psycho-social in re-tracing the author who visualizes sound as the experience, sometimes devoid of identity through anonymity or crowd-sourcing. Thus, as Miller states that the connection between sound and networked computing is not only of technical relevance, I wonder if the participant who “stalks” the origin of a sound, and then disseminates it as re-purpose, can be considered an author, a creativist, a musician, all, or one without the other.

If Hip Hop, in this sense, as networked sound is a “visual articulation of the digital age,” where does the creation of “true” music commence, or exist therein? If information is constantly traced from a so-called parent, and births children through a skewed elongations (dismissing the relationship between the material and immaterial)– where does the intrusion of the artist occur?

Even in online collaborations– this very intrusion is highly-temporal and cause-effect (what Miller refers to as “bootleg, remixes, and mashups”), the viral quality of Soundcloud, in our generation for example, and once appreciated as a platform of elevating “true” authorship (by allowing any musician, or described as “ordinary” to be appreciated) still becomes a question of where the music genre, idea, injection, and dissemination of sound is borrowed, or rather, voided. These type of platforms create a true inner conflict within the hip hop artist, who now must decide which is more valuable: performing over the virtual, or conglomerating the “same” experience by performing in the same room, though site, as dismissed by Miller becomes nonsensical, if sound will always exists as a code that can be spoken anywhere in any moment through the network of noise, as music, and in recollecting an experience that is never original because of subjectivity and déjà vu– dematerializing the musical instrument into a weapon.


Related Links: Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky; Artist, Writer, Musician; 2014 Emerging Explorer, National Geographic





On Paul Miller’s (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid) “Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture”

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