The recent Mercury All-Hiphop issue made it clear that if you're going to look for "issues" in popular music today, look to hiphop. In what other popular art forms are such issues as morality, violence, spiritualism, race, history, sex, economics, society, identity politics, artistic politics etc., discussed so vigorously? (Not that hiphop has all the answers--many times it is the problem itself--but the topics are always on the table when examining the art.) In this framework, DJ Spooky is a hiphop intellectual; he creates hiphop music in response to his ideas. He has been published in numerous periodicals, and while his website,
www. djspooky.com, has links to the usual fare of "sounds" and "photos," along with them is a link to articles that he has written. In fact, recently I have been reading DJ Spooky more than listening to him. His byline is always "Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky" in these articles, and his writings demonstrate how complex and far-reaching his ideas about music are.
In an article published last month on the culture and technology website ctheory.com, DJ Spooky contributed an essay about film. In discussing the effect of editing on one's sense of time, he wrote: "Any shift in the traffic of information--even the slightest rerouting--can create not only new thoughts, but new ways of thinking Back in the early portion of the 20th century this kind of emotive fragmentation implied a crisis of representation, and it was filmmakers, not DJs, who were on the cutting edge of how to create a kind of subjective intercutting of narratives and times."
The Quick and the Dead, the '99 collaboration between Spooky and British electronic experimentalist Scanner, was a marvelous plunge into the possibilities of sound transmission. What I love about this album is that it casually oscillates between strong beats and just letting sounds create a space. I'll be nodding my head to the infectious beat and suddenly I'll slip into feeling the larger, almost unconscious sense of the Spooky/Scanner "atmosphere" that I am in. It's like driving in a car and having an awareness of the vehicle's grumble, or being in an office building and noting the air conditioning.
In "Web Notes for The Quick and the Dead," found on his website, Spooky writes about this "space" as like being in the city. "What goes through your mind as you move through the geometric fray of the contemporary hypermediated life's frequency drenched landscape? floating above the city: waves, frequency bursts, packets of distilled information distributed throughout the spectrum of all communications devices. What sounds to make? What voices to hear?"
In concert, DJ Spooky is not flashy, and although he is a handsome man, he doesn't make himself sexy to watch. He will make your head bob and your hips shift to satisfy the pleasure element in the concert ritual, but you will be more intellectually enriched than anything. And despite all this intellectual jive, DJ Spooky does not just make arty head music. While the greatest pleasure of his music does come from contemplating it, it is apparent that he is deeply personal in his work. Consider a passage from "Yet Do I Wonder," an essay he wrote for Dark Matter, an African American Science Fiction anthology published this year:
"When I think of the idea of family and history, my mind draws a blank etched with question marks, blood, and music Images of my family (a product of an economy of identity rooted in a post-industrial structure based on two, maybe three things--time, sexuality, and memory) move quietly toward me. Arms open the silence to embrace me. They gesture and move away in graceful dance of recognition. I follow their patterns."