Not so subliminal.
I did this interview for Radio-V almost ten years ago. DJ Spooky (Virgo) “That Subliminal Kid” aka Paul Miller was raised in Washington D.C., site of the largest event gathering in the history of The US on Tuesday. Just like Obama crashed the political party, Spooky crashed the electronic music scene, a space that had been mostly reserved for white egg heads.
I used the Mayan calendar count for the day I interviewed him on (Seven Men, or Seven Eagle) and ensuing code to trigger responses in him. He’s “Seven Chuen” aka “Seven Monkey” a trickster, channeling immense curiousity. While I think he was mildly amused, I don’t think he was ready to jump head first into the mythology, but he was a good sport and uncoiled his considerable intellect.
I caught up with him at a Vietnamese restaurant in The Tenderloin where he ate “Fish Balls” and noodles. In an interesting and somewhat synchronistic development, we actually talked briefly about Arthur Koestler, whom I covered a mere two days ago. So in honor of the big dance in DC, here’s an interview with one of it’s brightest and illest sons.
Paul D. Miller, refracted holographic, spectral projection from another dimension, shapeshifting Hannuman, Seven Chuen, Elegba, Loki, Heyokehya, inspiring illusion, channeling magic. Vectors open wide, no influence discrimination, the only limits are the body and time. The records are all there, akashically speaking, cylinders of prehistory, elements of chants, Harry Smith’s Folkways originals, down to deep DC Trouble Funk. Watch him drop ill-science, watch him bust a little Deleuze. Voodoo meets Heisenberg and the body is only held together by sympathetic vibration.
DJ Spooky, part of a pre-selected set, a series of samplers, curators assembling and dispersing the dream of history at the end of time. All the influences merge, converge and then reassemble. Exorcising the demons of complacency and commercialism via covert art terrorism–colliding as the steel wheels spin and the magnetic plates dance between flux and mutability. The sly grin of the griot gone to Sirius between lifetimes shines through. Despite all the hypercritical discourse, despite all the hype, Spooky’s having a blast. He’s tricking us into meaning and pulling the rug out from under us at the same time. A nod, wink and a power fade to a culture that can’t contain the labelisms any longer–the trickster is always the most subversive element in any culture–he leads us to our demise while inducing us to laugh, dance and die along the way.
That Subliminal Kid, mining meaning from a Necropolis in steady decay, entropic agent of cybernetic sleight of hand–now you see him, now you don’t. The city becomes the grid of human interaction, desire and ideas meet aspiration. Ascension is the pyramids of commerce, descent the bodies that populate the littered remains of their peripheries. The Subliminal Kid is charmed by the smile of a woman pasted on a passing street car. Uncovering the motivation of need, advertising becomes his language for communicating with the populace. Not turned off by it’s implications, he writes for Samsung, performs for Armani, creates for Absolut. The labels dissolve in an ether of canny dispersion.
The mythologies push and pull. The dreads fall away to reveal a cranial genesis. He employs Kool Keith and pans for Xenakis. He is dueling Tricky in a transatlantic struggle between sleeping sangomas–straight outta Dr. Strange. He is a galactic activation portal–enter him.
RP: So, do you know much about the Mayan calendar?
DS: What-based on Popul Vuh? No. I’ve read some stuff, I couldn’t say it’s more than just an excursion. There is a book of the Popul Vuh that was translated a little while ago. It’s funny that you bring that up–I just started reading it about two weeks ago. I’m just on page one-hundred maybe.
RP: The basic premise of the Mayan calendar is thirteen months and twenty days within each month; its a lunar cycle–the Mayan calendar-is-260 days. Do you know Jose Arguelles?
RP: He’s done a lot of work with the Mayan calendar–end of time–2012. He’s taken each day and broken it into a series of numbers and glyphs that resonate with each one of the twenty cycles of the month. Today is number 215 of the 260 day lunar calendar. Today’s symbol is Seven Men, which is Seven Eagle. So it’s a Seven Eagle day. There is a short poem that goes along with each day based on the vibratory elements of that particular day. So, I looked up what the day is on the Mayan calendar today and I thought it was kind of interesting in conjunction to you and how I feel you express through your music. I want to basically read you this piece of the Mayan calendar and then have you respond to it, perhaps line by line.
RP: So today is Seven-Men, Seven Eagle and it goes like this: I channel in order to create/ Inspiring mind, I seal the output of vision/ With a resonant tone of attunement/ I am guided by the power of accomplishment.
DS: That’s an interesting one.
RP: So what I basically wanted to do was to break down each line and see how you feel about that, and go from there.
DS: Let’s do it.
RP: The first line: “I channel in order to create”.
DS: I guess it’s dealing with pre-or-post radio spectrum, ya’know, transmission or something. On another level, the notion of channeling stuff–to me DJing–a lot of what goes on with sampling to me is about collective memory, the DJ becomes an archivist or a filter. To me a lot of what I do is acting like a refraction point of my record collection. I collect all sorts of stuff: everything from Franz Boas-he was an American anthropologist, he made trips to Siberia and recorded all these Siberian shamans in 1898–and I got access to these cylinder rolls a while ago, ya’know Thomas Edison custom made these special cylinders. Then there’s the Harry Smith archives-do you know Harry Smith’s stuff?
DS: He’s a very important American folk art guy who collected a lot of early folk and blues music and put it on. . .what do they call it? The Smithsonian archives!
RP: Smithsonian, sure.
DS: I really find like to me DJing itself these days is like an inheritance of these two guys or like John Cage’s notion of what he called the “imaginary landscape”. It’s where he recorded frequencies of an urban situation and put it to vinyl–back in 1939. That’s probably one of the first turntable channelings, if you want it to go like that. Back in 1939 that was conceptually pretty sharp, to take the abstract frequencies of the urban landscape and put it to vinyl for playback. Here we are late 1998 and the last time I was in San Francisco, I did a gig with Scanner, who samples cellular telephone stuff. I guess the phrase strikes a bit of a resonance with me on one level, but I have to admit that mythologies from Mayan civilizations are far from my urban New York or Washington DC upbringing. So the metaphor’s cool but the actual source material. . . but then again its a post-modern situation–cut and paste as we go.
RP: It doesn’t have to fall into the Diaspora that you’re downloading.
DS: I’m totally into that. So whether it’s Mayan or Tiamat, early Babylonian, Russian mythologies or Mongolian–I’m open. I just wish I had more access to these randomly–in a way they become random associations by choice, these mythologies. I think we are probably one of the first cultures outside of our own who has had access to such a wide range of mythologies at our fingertips. If you look at Alexandria, Egypt, they had all these different cults going on and all this wild stuff. And Rome: choose your God of the week kind of thing. In the US, I’m finding more and more of our polyglot referencing of different religions as almost fashion statements. It’s becoming pretty intense. That’s enough–that’s another interview.
RP: When you’re in the mix, can you describe the resonance, the free-floating feel moving through your fingertips at any given moment?
DS: A lot of it really does have to do with this notion of refraction. This is where I think DJing becomes like a sonic hypertext. It’s where one sound leads to many other sounds and there is always this instance of continual negotiations between the memory of how things are and how you externalize it. It’s a totally pre-linguistic space. When I look at my creative records before I even get a cogent thought–say for example one creative record has these 75/100 mega-records crammed into it. Each of those records has the actions, gestures, words–you name it–frozen moments of different peoples lives throughout the entire recorded spectrum of the century. I’m like hyperediting these different kinds of records–to me records are cybernetic eternal, ya’know; externalization of my memory.
RP: Akashic records?
DS: Records–if you look at the record craze, then you can see the condensation of thousands of people condensed into a small area, whether its a milk crate or a DJ bag or my backpack. One thing that I find that’s pretty intense, is this notion of memory condensation or refraction. A lot of cultures would have done it by the notion of a storyteller–the tradition of the griot for instance. The US is the refraction point of the whole planet. I live in Chinatown; you turn a left and the streets are in Chinese; you turn left again and they’re in Spanish; you go back in a different direction and they’re in Hebrew; you go around another corner and they’re in English. Here we are eating Vietnamese food. Which if this was the sixties, it would probably be a wild situation because of the war.
RP: America–the cultural enzyme. . .
DS: Exactly. On the other hand, We’re looking at these creative records here, in this hypothetical crate of records. You ever read Umberto Ecco or–what’s the writer from South America? Borges! Most of their narrative structures are again hypertext–where the surface narrative is a shimmering kind of mirage and you fall into it. Sound is like that. I was trying to deal with that with my sound.
Most of the vocalists on the album (Riddim Warfare) are from an urban youth culture context. In terms of hip hop, or dance hall, or reggae, or like ambient-techno-jungle–the narrative that most people are dealing with is simultaneity. This whole McCluhan thing of like being able to live many times all at once is about simultaneity–whether you want to call living in it the “global village” or “global barrio”, or whatever. We’re about to go to the next level. Here we are with cybernetic memory moving into to MP3 files–a radical transformation of even how music is transferred across cultural lines. So whenever I spin, it’s weird, I really think of the Buddhist kind of notion of ceasing to exist by repetition–you know the mantra. People chant mantras to really clarify their minds. Being a DJ is like being a digital exorcist–it’s getting all this weird energy and probably a lot of psychological shit out of my system.
RP: How does that reflect in your style?
DS: My style in spinning is kind of chaotic–people tell me when they hear it–small snippets of sound are coming at you. I do violent panning from left to right , up and down the mix, the mix goes into bass frequencies and slowly falls away. Djing is always like conflicting impulses of what culture you’re moving through, what record is representing whatever your mind state is. There’s Science Fiction writers who deal with that kind of conflict–there’s Olaf Stapleton, he’s a really important writer from the turn of the century. Then there’s Philip K. Dick who is a classic example, ya’know “Radio Free Albion”? You know what I’m talking about?
DS: It’s one of his classic novels where the main characters encode these alien messages in vinyl and send it out because the police state of the country is too intense. Magnetic tape and all that stuff is basically all physics. You can use mathematical equations to describe exactly whatever you’re doing. Like decomposing Iannis Xenakis or the physicist Illya Prigogine. So here we are with this youth culture and new mythology that’s taking precedence–not science. People aren’t going to say what I’m playing is a frequency or a sine wave. but it’s the actual spectrum I’m dealing with. Most people will say, “that’s a Kool Keith vocal over a Wu-Tang sample with a lot of bass”. I find myself at a crossroads of dealing with these different cultures, whether it’s African-American, American, Cyber. . .whatever. I would like to be called “tribe nomadic”. In the western tradition, the nearest philosophers that I could relate to were Deleuze and RD Lang?
RP: Fascinating guy.
DS: He wrote this book–”Knots”. It’s about loops. Sorry to answer in such a long way.
RP: I guess what I’m getting at is the whole concept of being a channeler or conduit, or being a cultural-nomadic, to be able to contain and transmit a whole series of ideas for cultural expression or archaeologies and mythologies in a 2 to 3 hour stretch via this technology we’ve assembled for people like us at this time. I think it’s a unique experience and I think you have such a wide array of information at your fingertips. To me, that first line, “I channel in order to create” Is really an essential element in what you do.
DS: You want to do the second one.
RP: Inspiring mind.
DS: My Internet handle is a West-African trickster character, who wears a mask and is able to transform itself on many levels. It has a kind of free floating presence. There is also the American myth of the coyote. I’m really into tricksters and the Loki, is this Nordic version. . .but Mayan is such an interesting situation. I think when people say “Mayan” they speak in the plural because there is so many levels of consciousness. There are certain studies like Oliver Sachs’–where one of his consistent themes that he noted with mental disorders is “plurality”. It was true of Lang too. Like Kool Keith, he always rhymes in a different persona. Urban youth culture and computer cultures are all about the creation of these new personas. Basic street level people are always picking up new nicknames for different aspects of who they are. Sorry if I rambling…… I only got two hours of sleep last night.
RP: Sleep deprivation can be a wonderful thing sometimes.
DS: Yeah there’s the whole isolation chamber kind of vibe but I’m actually into sleep. I like dreaming and kind of relaxing. It disturbs me when reality becomes this kind of living dream, when you’re awake and so tired–its frightening.
RP: I’ve had a few of those.
DS: It just seems like fuck, it’s all a dream anyway.
RP: Like Jacob’s Ladder.
DS: Right. I think I’d like to keep my mind sane for the next year or so–so much reality, density and of course frequency. When you get to this entire Arthur Koestler ghost and the machine kind of vibe it gets a little freaky. There’s a great movie that came out–a couple years ago–called, “Ghost in the Snow”.
RP: It’s a Japanese film?
DS: It’s brilliant, brilliant. It’s dealing with this notion of personality as code and that’s one myth of the late twentieth century that I’m into. There’s this woman named Kathleen Goonan, she writes about nanotech sci-fi, its really amazing–she has a great book called “Queen City Jazz”–it’s all based on nanotech. But on a basic level with Hip Hop, if you ever listen to a lot of vocals by like the Wu-Tang crew, they have this thing about their group mind. They say, “we form like Voltron”, which is great. And when they come together as a crew, the Wu coming through, they have their own situation. It’s parallel, like with King Tubby and of course Lee Perry. He’d always talk about his mind and Satan ….he felt like the studio was a channeling space, the mixing board and all this kind of stuff and a lot of the kind of artwork on his albums is hilarious, but the actual artistic concept of what he was doing came through. I mean you have these different zones whether its Neil Stevenson or Lee Perry, these are people who are dealing with technology as–I really think, as sublimation zones. It’s like if you’re going to create, it requires a consistent reparation of other impulses, ya’know? You have to focus and that requires cutting off other shit. So imagine that writing code is like sitting in a room dealing with whatever c++ whatever. It’s the same with music, you’re sitting someplace, working on shit and it’s like the sublimations are pretty intense. To me the inspiration is the way you filter the environment through and back out . That’s what I mean the studio, a DJ making a track is digital exorcism. So the environment is the inspiration and a reflection. Hopefully that deals with that line of the poem.
RP: How does that relate to Allegba in the concept of the trickster?
DS: Again man most of what goes on in Voodoo has to deal with like channeling and again that’s a pre-linguistic area of consciousness. This is what people like Jung, Joseph Campbell or Maya Derren were trying to deal with when they were looking at this kind of stuff. When we have many personalities, I think Voodoo channels some of the really basic core personas. That’s the whole Voodoo thing in general.
RP: So in relation to Digital exorcism , I’ve always been impressed by the non-judgmental nature of the rites of Umbanda, Candomble and Yoruba–where the spirits are allowed to come through without any judgment.
DS: Djing is a cybernetic extension of a similar system of values. Each record has its own spirit and it possesses you. The new mythologies are scientific on one level, the basic physics of magnetic tape, the recording process, the frequencies coming out of the speakers–possess you–ya’know? Whenever I see people dancing to beats and stuff I always think of this notion of telekinesis, move dot movement. Think in dots and through distance make people respond to things.
RP: So Djing is an extension of telekinesis?
DS: On the one hand yeah. On the other hand it’s mainly psychological. Telekinesis is para-physical. When you actually look at the socialization process of dance culture, whether it’s now or when people were doing the jitterbug in the twenties, what makes people dance, that’s always a cool, fascinating psychological thing. It’s about participating in a social ritual. Music is sort of a core thing with Voodoo as well. So they have drum patterns and rhythms–there’s a certain area where they will just break it down–that’s when the spirits come. It’s usually called the “case” or the “break”. We have a whole culture based on break beats. A lot of people have this thing about the DJ as shaman. I think its post-shaman. The narrative becomes so refracted and diffused that each person in the room becomes their own guiding point. That’s why people say when they go to large parties they feel entropic–like they’re floating. They can move around, back and forth, there is no central narrative–unlike a rock band on a stage. When you go to some of these large events with the music and electronic culture as a focus, you get that feeling of immediacy–like you’re kind of present–you can move around. It’s bubbling, you don’t have to stay in one place, you can move back and forth. That’s what I think the rock band is still kind of in shaman mode. They become the focus. Whereas the electro scene is more post-shaman, or post-Mayan.
RP: Are you a curator of culture?
DS: I suppose.
RP: Next line; “I seal the output of vision”.
DS: Seal as in closure? Because there is also seal as stamp.
RP: You can go either way with it.
DS: I like the phrase. It speaks for itself in a way. The music becomes a place of imagery. A lot of people when they listen to mixes and stuff they get ideas–they think. I have friends who are more into the hippie kind of things that say “oh yea man when I hear mixes I start having visions or whatever”. Or my friends who are Hip Hop they listen to the images in the words, rather than the instrumental images of techno or dub. If you listen to more instrumental music it can sum it up over different landscapes, you know what I call “aural metonymy”. Like in poetry, metonymy is the sense of assigning a value, a linguistic value to a certain word–once again like hyper-text. With Hip Hop they assign that task to the actual rhymes. It becomes theater of the rhyme. Whereas techno becomes theater of the samples and beats. So yeah, the closures still there, that’s what I mean by the John Cage refrain…the whole imaginary landscape. Its right there. So yeah I think that answers the phrase.
RP: I also get a sense when you are sampling other peoples material, you are sealing the output of their vision–there is a sense of completion or you’ve extracted something from what they’ve done. You put your own seal on it or you’ve actually sealed it–in that moment in time. But it’s interactive with their original vision or their intent as well.
DS: Sampling at all levels is a homage.
RP: The next line I think goes together: “With the resonant tone of attunement/I am guided by the power of accomplishment”. Even though the line goes together you could break it down with the “resonant tone of attunement” and then “guided by the power of accomplishment”.
DS: The only thing that matters about the whole fucking universe is the frequency, the resonance–down at the atomic level holding our flesh together. They (science) have found the frequency of the atoms vibration, everything is a constant vibration. Sometimes I walk down the street, and think,”fuck the only thing holding our bodies together is the valence of the different chemicals of the different atoms in our body”. Ya’know valence, attraction. I’m like fuck man–if somebody found a quick frequency disrupter, that’s like the best weapon right there. Did you ever read a book by Vonnegut, it’s called “Cat’s Cradle”?
DS: Ice-nine! Everything is frequency to me. That has always been a wild thing–it’s what actually holds us together kind of fuck man, its like — have you ever seen really close up pictures of skin? There’s these huge gaps and holes, we’re just giant pores. And so with that resonant frequency, it’s like a physics of the body itself or the physics of the mind. I really think that one day evolution will give the mind access to a real hard-core psychological frequency. It’ll be like being able to have your brain able to deal with your environment in a certain level, but in an absolutely new way. Now accomplishment is something that’s attainable if you can have your chakras in balance–if you want to use that word (chakra). You know when someone says it’s an off day, they feel off or like there are others days when people feel like everything’s working together. That’s balance, which lends itself to getting things done. So to me that motto is whether or not you can be a creative entity, it’s if you can align. That’s what I hear with that placement. It’s about the frequencies of your life and how to have a fucking fresh day.
RP: Do you think people consider you ambitious?
DS: I hope so. I hope I’m very ambitious.
RP: Where do ambitions and accomplishment meet and diverge?
DS: In an efficiency getting things done way. You can be ambitious but if you’re not getting anything done, you have only yourself to blame. But on a another level, there are variables in your life that are placed in there by you and that can become it’s own self-defeating frequency. I am definitely ambitious.
RP: Can you tell me about this Absolut DJ thing you’re involved with? How it effects you? What you’re role is?
DS: Well when they first came to me with the idea I thought, “hah hah that’s hilarious, what a chuckle”. I’m quite into advertising. I thinks it’s like the most fascist, most fucking ill weird part of the urban landscape. It deals with abstract desire. You know, you’re walking down the street and you see a girl smile on the side of a bus and you go, “wow”! Or you’re at the airport and you see some bizarre image with a funny phrase. Absolut has always had a tradition of using visual artists and weird shit. I have always been a fan of their ads actually. There is one that’s great: its got a whole group of taxi cabs in the shape of a bottle during a traffic jam. Have you seen that one?
DS: They have another one: “Absolut Subliminal” , which is funny. I thought Absolut DJ would be just a project thing where I could make up some images and phrases to go along with it. Conceptually, I kind of see myself as an inheritor of the Warhol sort of post-pop thing. I am really quite into Warhol–on certain levels. I don’t think we would’ve gotten along if we would have met in real life though. There is another artist named Joseph Beuys, he’s a really important artist from the seventies and he had an idea of what he called “social-sculpture”. He would do events where at the end of the night the actual thing that people would go home with would be the transitory image of the actual love of human beings in a space.
So if you abstract from that to this point of urban culture in general-ya’know we all live in a social sculpture. The city itself is like a crucible, filing and channeling everyone’s energy during the day on the street, down the street. Ads are a way of kind of playing games with the social sculptures . That’s kind of what the Absolut thing was about and I got complete creative control. There was no extra baggage or weird stuff.
RP: They just said go with it–run with it?
RP: Do you know Kodwo (pronounced kojo) Eshun? He just recently wrote this book called “More Brilliant Than The Sun”. It’s an incredible piece. I was just scanning the internet last night and I saw a piece by Eric Davis called “Figments”.
DS: Both of them are friends of mine.
RP: The whole notion in both of their works, is really very fascinating. It cuts against the grain of the white pre-dominant cultural placement of the African American artistic experience. Their interpretation is vertical–not horizontal–ascension through the music.
DS: That’s been going on since before Sun Ra.
RP: Well that’s the point Kodwo makes as Sun Ra climbs to the top of the pyramid, he reclaims the eye(dentity) of a deposed hierarchy. I wanted to get your take on that–especially on your place from that lineage or mythology.
DS: I think its a good interpretation of both Eric and Kodwos work. I respect them. I like their opinions. No argument from me on those guys. The whole thing of cosmic, I think people have a tendency to let the mythologies take precedence. I am really fascinated more with the mythology of science–what people think is scientific and what people think is even provable, hypothetical. I mean the DJ is like the nearest equivalent of a magical culture we have left in our sort of post-industrial, technologically accelerated culture. But on the other hand, I really respect what makes up the turntables and what equipment I’m dealing with. I kind of have a weird abstraction in that area because I call it, “the mystical bip”. Ya’know man it’s so deep, I’m like “get the fuck out”. I like verification. Like Voodoo is a sign–I think it’s really verifiable–you can go there.
There is still the science of consciousness, it’s really hard-core. A lot of the stuff I have seen with the DJ culture and it’s interpretations take on this gushing mystical stuff. I’ve never been that deep. So when people talk about African-American, African, you have to watch out for this notion of re-essentializing what is an essence of Diaspora mentality. Judaic culture for example has a central text that they refer to. African-American has a central text as well, but it’s on a pre-linguistic level–it’s the cultures of the Caribbean and South American. These were cultures of resistance that became the new text. Me as Paul Miller, as DJ Spooky, as the African-American Bandit, I look back at history. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past we tend to repeat them–that’s just the way it goes–and so I go. What are we talking about here? It’s so much deeper than any particular ethnic group to take on, that you can only say, “you get psychological empowerment as an individual human being and build that into a group experience”. I guess I am looking at this aesthetics as post-human–but I still feel a part of this historic continuum. No one owns the cosmos–no one owns the eye. We are all filters or interpreters.