tobias c. van Veen reviews Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid’s MIT publication, Rhythm Science.
Rhythm Science, Part I
Rhythm Science, Part I
The role of the writer is precisely to complicate the notion of belonging: one has to belong and not belong…. Proust has all the identities in the world, and his identity is always polyphonous and extremely malleable, which is very different from saying that he has no identity. Proust enjoys a polyvalence of experiences that renders him polymorphic, even perverse, in the positive sense of the term. This experiential multiplicity is entirely different from the emptiness and destruction experienced in the loss of identity.
- Julia Kristeva, Revolt, She Said (131)
Sampling is the best way, and perhaps the only way, for art to come to terms with a world of brand names, corporate logos, and simulacra. Pure originality is a myth, in any case; art and culture can only be made from previously existing art and culture.
- Steven Shaviro, Connected (64)
It’s a carnivorous situation where any sound can be you…
- Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Sublimal Kid, Rhythm Science (008)
I. Spins on Rhythm Science
The work of Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid extends back to the early ’90s in time and across varied theoretical, artistic, and sonic networks in space. There are many Millers and the dissemination of Spooky into the realms of institutional art and knowledge correlates to a certain induction of techno theory into the academy. Miller’s trajectory touches upon all the maneuvers that led to the creation of EBR and that trace its history. Hypertext, net criticism, and sonic theory as well as an interest in cybernetics, technoscience and the articulation of technology guide Miller’s incarnations as they guide that of EBR. Given the autobiographical nature of his 2004 miniature book, Rhythm Science, it is necessary to frame the way in which its construction converges with a certain inscription of technology that is a general autobiography for the discipline. Miller is a symptom of the hybridization of technoscience discourses and also one of its catalysts; the sounds and words of Spooky grace the contours of a certain interpenetration of artistic and sonic operations with philosophical, critical, and literary discourses. This autobiographical movement culminates, for Spooky, in the publication of Rhythm Science as much as it converges with an autobiography which might be mapped onto each one of us identifying with the technoculture of the ’90s.
A reading of this slight but dense compendium of existing and new texts was induced by a long, schizophonic polylogue that played out in my head as I travelled across Europe in the summer of 2004. As a writer and techno-turntablist I’ve met the many Millers many times, on panels and in interviews, djing before and after Dj Spooky. His “multiplex consciousness,” as he puts it, encompasses many domains: as composer of illbient, post-dub, and eclectic jazz, all under the umbrella of an electronic music mutated with hip-hop; as turntablist and sonic theorist; as an AfroFuturist and as a conceptual artist; as ad infinitum… the continuum of the “and…and…and” never ceases to shiftchange. Like a yo-yo, trip on by, Miller is the global traveller par excellence, the fluid enigma that slips in-between diverse networks. This is also the way Miller styles his various selves, or, perhaps the way Dj Spooky styles Miller as the artisanal double of both Warhol and McLuhan (favourites in Spooky’s archive of citations). Invariably the two begin to tumble around in the mind, invoking W.E.B. du Bois and the new griots… Hence, the Miller-Spooky relationship is also a strategy, and as the moniker suggests, one that plays out on the edges of the subliminal. Digging a little more into this subliminal strata provided the impetus to a rather dizzying encounter with what is, on the final count, a text spinning in its vertigo, high on the drifting winds of its concepts as its spirits rip around the world, unveiling all the complexities and contradictions of a vast, oceanic network of the remix that composes the conditions from which Spooky and Miller speak. Hence, and in its own terms, its Hypnotext.
If this introduction has served to authenticate the approach, and to already suggest that what follows is autobiographical, then it has done so only from an axiomatic that insists on its deviation and dismantling. In a text of “surfaces,” as Spooky puts it, any point admits the reader. Best to remix. Its angle is born from the fabric of documenting electronic sound and culture, scribbled notes from the edge of the dancefloor, and the scrawls of gonzo theoretics, while it still seeks to encapsulate a flavour of critique that favours the academic approach. Such can be said for both of these texts but also for the moments in which EBR marks its techno-écriture. Neither confession nor meditation, Rhythm Science is in part a manual that serves the function of a certain movement of property and power, author and authority that dubs the “remix.” In its wildstyle dreams, Rhythm Science strategizes version 2.0 of The Prince and hyperaccelerates 1905’s The Souls of Black Folk. The remix is the stage of this encounter.
1. the tactile book: hole me, feel me, touch me…
To begin with an overview and a review of Rhythm Science is to trip through Miller’s arsenal: W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Cage, Friedrich Nietzsche, Miles Davis, Marshall McLuhan, Thomas Edison, Gilles Deleuze, Duke Ellington, Saul Williams, John Coltrane, Adrianne Piper, and Marcel Duchamp - to name only a few that span fields of jazz, philosophy, science, turntablism, Afro-American writers and artists, breakbeats, and political theory. Rhythm Science is more than just the sum of its samples. Its rhythm is seductive, and the pace of its text, the time spent on the thematic of the word in rhyme, is emphasized in the enhanced pleasure of reading itself. The tactility of its pages (its design will be broached shortly) and the eloquent articulation of its flow deploy Rhythm Science in the realm of seduction and of “surfaces.” Paul D. Miller lets loose a multidimensional and multisensorial barrage of language, deploying homophony, alliteration, metaphor, rhyme, and meaning in unconventional and arresting ways that are nonetheless delicate and sensitive.
Rhythm Science, as a publication of the MIT Mediaworks series,The same series as N. Katherine Hayles’ Writing Machines, the latter designed by Anne Burdick, web designer of EBR. bequeaths a beautiful object, surpasses usual efforts and approaches an “artist’s book.” A textured cover designed for affective fingers rotates around a hole drilled through the middle and completes the record its vinyl sleeve connotes. The design is by COMA, whose primary objects are Spooky’s familiar promotional images, here drained of their colour into green and brown wireframe renditions. Photographs of Miller in his Spooky persona take on the meaning of his namesake: an apparition of his self in the nebula of the amorphous conceptual performance; the exhaustion, in their final, print archivization, of his graffiti tags and iconographic logos. The book becomes a preserve and a coffin for its contents, capturing the mobile elements that make up “Spooky:” sounds and words, mixes and images, transported and etched into print and CD. There is a feel for finality in the text, too: “All of the cultural struggles of the nineties that motivated me for so long seemed to have been absorbed by the very cultural machinery I had critiqued” (045). Rhythm Science seems to tell us: time to memorialize & entomb - the Nineties are over.
“Rhythm science” opens a practice of sonic rhythmedia, visual resampling, and logographic wordplay. Intended in this gesture is a demand for an ambiguity and an excess that overwhelms the semiotics of switching symbols. While admittedly a “play of surfaces,” in no way are the gestures of Rhythm Science or its effects superficial - or ineffectual. Its play of forces is rendered into two further realms: subjectivity and manifest data. Dj Spooky a.k.a. Paul D. Miller performs the interlace of personas that constitute the fabric of these reflections on sonic culture, turntablism, and conceptual art, reflections that tend more and more, as the book progresses, toward personal historiography in the form of a confession or justification for practice that refracts its “reflection.” The tail of the text, in so many words, rewinds its beginnings and devours its hydra-headed origins. By celebrating its apparent excess it risks devouring itself. The words must be stopped by sound. Hence the manifest data that bookends the text in the shape of a CD. Here, the ephemerality of Spooky and his sonic wordplay is materialized in a sonic format of the mix. The CD stands in for the vinyl record which is otherwise absent (and obsolete outside of the dj’s decks). Such absent vinyl, so integral to its sonic theoretics and language (rewind, fastforward, Press Play), is transposed to the vinyl texture of the book itself with its spindled hole. The mergence of words and wax - the “manifest data” - occurs by substitution and delay only, much like the hydralogical apparitions of Spooky to Miller and vice-versa.
Back to the book. Every second page, COMA’s designs interject an interruption of the reading process, extending the book twice as long as its words. Graphic gaps in the flow of reading profoundly alter the text. Or the flipside: the design is interrupted, rhythmically, by writing in its narrow sense. In fact, COMA’s designs take up as much space as Miller’s words and cohese the object as a whole into its conceptual double, the vinyl record. If this book was taken as a record, a re-mix in the sense of artisanal resampling, then the cuts - the tracks - alternating page by page as a complementary rhythm would be granted equivalent title status to the authorial text. In a world where significations of different registers would be equal, that is, would be valued equally, the rhythm of the object as a whole would be one of alternation, space, and flow with no primary author but rather a collective attribution. A mix of COMA and Spooky. Yet, here, and perhaps tellingly, the registers are kept distinct, and the graphic design is subordinated to the word by the sustaining authorial attributes to the book: Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. Dj Spooky That Subliminal Kid. Is this too - the retention of authorial structure - an aspect of rhythm science? Contrary to expectations of a horizontal, flat milieu, of a utopian remixability wherein cultural authorship would be equally granted, the patterning of the mix levels out the collage of other kinds of information only by assigning a single term of author/ity.
In the book’s authorial remnants it betrays, to a slight degree, its aspirations. In the written text, at least, the play of design to language is recognized as fundamental to the operation of rhythm science, although it does not play out in the actual construction of the book. The author/ity of this book, its byline, could judiciously read: “Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid and COMA.” Or, given that COMA designed the materiality of the book itself, and its cover, perhaps the inverse. But these are also problematics of authorship in the organisation of twentieth-century conceptual art and the production, djing and remixing of music. Ultimately, these are problematics of the remix and author/ity as it grapples with copyright law under global capitalism.
Rhythm science, of “the physical to the informational and back again” (005), has not yet broken from a certain tradition of the author. That is, something of the written text sustains an element of the artist’s statement, of the primacy of primary information. The intent of the science, and its programme, is not entirely clear in the book’s composition. The words cohese the material collation while the design is seconded. Through this displacement of material authority, the function of authority lies in the traditional production of meaning in the narrow form of writing. Yet, as Miller makes clear, rhythm science is not, or should not be, this transparent: “Rhythm science is not about ‘transparency’ of intent. Rhythm science is a forensic investigation of sound as a vector of coded language that goes from the physical to the informational and back again” (004-005). Which is to say, the structures of authority in this text sustain a narrow sense of writing, as the encoded sonic, as a name, to which design is subservient, and to which returns the authorial problematic. Feedback loop to the author function. This loop permits us to further scratch into this text.
Rhythm science isn’t just about sound, of course. Imagery, whether presented on canvas or seen as a series of repeated photographic, cinematic televisual, or digitized stills has a way of evoking ‘kinedramatic’ imaginal response. (028)
The book, as a concept-art-object materialized (secondary information) as well as the explication of concept (primary information - to continue the discourse of cybernetics), is caught in the refusal of carrying out its programme of rhythm science at the same moment of its articulation. It is this refusal which characterizes the transcendent function of the proper name against the backdrop of the “same moment,” that ’90s dreamtime that is the networked plane of immanence, deferred through material relays of the proper name. The proper name and its dissemination marks the concept of the “network” and the networking of the concept of which Rhythm Science memorializes as the esprit of the ’90s. Yet it transcends the pluralizing, heterogenuous plane of equal value immanence at the same moment in which its inscription becomes manifest data. Its transcendence and the force of the proper name, the return of its essence, articulates its ascension in the moment that the proper name is enforced at the level of materiality and thus in the moment in which authorship takes on all of its pivotal, singular effects (of spectacle, recognition, control, dominion, etc.). The networks of rhythm science appear to gesture otherwise. In the articulation of rhythm science against its manifestation (or realization) in the world there subsists, as its condition of possibility (and impossibility), at least this contamination or tension of author to the network: of the one to the many. Although rhythm science can be reduced to the “properly” philosophical problematic of the one to the many in the lens of the author to the text, it is the relation of the dj to the remix that rewires its thinking through the essential domain of technology. The remix now has the power of authorship once attributed the origin. This “now” has always been timeless (which is to say, everytime and in all times), but now this now of the remix has been privileged as the dominant stage in which all derivations of the network follow. The remix claims its authorship, moreover, as original. This would be the flipside of an inversion rather than its deconstruction. The subsequent inversion of authori/ity (the “death of the author”) has led, in the narrower realms of the remix (sound recording, music, conceptual art, etc.), to the re-establishment of authorial strictures and structures, yet in a modality which offers different possibilities for exceeding, inverting, and displacing its limit. The remixer/dj can neither be taken as a metaphor for “the author.” The inversion of the property of the author to the network’s properties is also its transformation into a complex patterning in which the focal point of the proper is determined everywhere and nowhere by the remix/er. The ephemerality and networked persona of DJ Spooky a.k.a. Paul D. Miller that Subliminal Kid is such an apparition that travels these lines of force. Any investigation of a rhythm science must trace these returns.
If one can imagine kinedramatics as Miller writes, then Rhythm Science stages its acts as kinaesthetic theatre. The book plays out a structural paradox of remix culture: where all is a remix, the structures of writing, in the narrow sense (and perhaps for reasons which are unavailable or that bridge the necessity of difference), embodied in the physical, non-digital object of the book, and even within the book, differentiating and elevating words above design, maintain the architectonics of author/ity. The same rift is to be found in music: the functionary of the remix attributes the mix to h/er authorship while (often but not always - its structure is porous) displacing the author/ity, in the fullest extent of the sampled concept, of the samples. Rarely is the circle of authorship and author/ity itself contested (examples being that of Negativland, Illegal Art, etc.). And especially so in the realms of art where the artist maintains control of predictable aspects for predictable reasons.
In all appearance, in the play of surfaces, the author returns itself to itself, the remix acting only as a detour in its self-enclosing circuit. A feedback loop. One can see that remix culture doesn’t necessitate the abandoning of the author, be it a wordsmith, musician, DJ, or sampler. In fact, remix culture often reinforces these structures while articulating their supercession. The structural position remains, and it does so, perhaps, to differentiate, despite its reversals and inversions navigated here, between advertising and the book, between art and propaganda. Yet these boundaries are often collapsed and “remixed” in the articulation of supercession to which rhythm science aspires. At once preserved and alive, a memorial and a manifesto, Rhythm Science as a book yet not a book, a CD trying to be a record and a book trying to become vinyl, a writer a dj and a designer a concept artist, a conceptual artist and a ghost - Rhythm Science touches upon all the specters that Dj Spooky embodies.
2. the music mix: a review; the book: a comparison
Given the low reading rate of sustained works online, and given that this is this work’s format, for better or for worse, at this point we would like to side-step the current discourse and where it is wildly gesturing with both hands and present a somewhat critical review of the CD and a comparative study of the book. This critique will be helpful to those readers who wish to fastforward the broader discussion and who simply desire what EBR is supposed to grant: is Rhythm Science worth reading, and in this case, worth listening to ?
The CD - Via rhythm and sound, signification itself is transformed. In the end, the register of the book becomes discrete particles of a digital CD. It includes its own soundtrack, theme music, memory refrain. Moreover, and unlike other books with similar strategies, the CD is not compiled (nor by another curator), but rather assembled and remixed, DJ’ed, by “the author.” The tracks are harvested from the Sub Rosa label back catalogue, a contemporary archive of experimental and electronic-oriented electronic music of the twentieth century, including spoken works of theory (Duchamp, Deleuze, etc.). In this case Spooky’s selection is constrained to the releases of a single record label and is uncannily reminiscent of patronage. Yet the restriction has produced some of Spooky’s most brilliant mixwork. Spooky is, as a “postmodern” Dj in this scenario, a classical figure, like Leonardo or Michaelangelo or any Renaissance or Medieval artist, constrained by the context of his benefactor: the releases of Sub Rosa. Granted, Sub Rosa is an experimental electronic label with a wide breadth and range of obscure and fascinating releases that span genres from contemporary musique concrète to downtempo breakbeats, glitch experimentalism (Oval), dub production (Bill Laswell), noise (Merzbow), post-rock electronic bands (Mouse on Mars), new music (Debussy, but also writer David Toop), microsound (Kim Cascone, Scanner), fragments of readings - James Joyce and Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp, Brion Gysin, Gilles Deleuze, Konstantin Raudive…. And Spooky’s assemblage is an intricate machine, deftly mixed with the slight-of-hand and the digital computer-edit. Yet, this is a system of patronage, and here, Dj Spooky is reconstructed by his surroundings, by what has been given to him. Through this context, the delimitation of the archive, he asserts his intent, his Dj “idea.” Technically:
yeah, I basically put the thing together with Pioneer CDJ’s and edited it in Digital Performer/Sound Designer. There was no vinyl involved, although the CD(J)’s let CD’s sound like the kind of sound that turntables flip. So yeah, it was all digital. Sub Rosa doesn’t do vinyl (as far as I know…).From an email to this author.
Here, the CDJ - a turntable-like device for “spinning CDs” - takes the place of venerable vinyl and Technics 1200s, allowing a new mix of digital audio (much of it salvaged from ancient analogue tapes and records themselves). The displacement of vinyl occurs once again, from its apparent use in the mix to its covering of the book itself. Old analogue techniques, new digital formats, continuous substitution of the old guarantor of wax’s authentic analog sound.
Philosophy often attributes a propertylessness to music. Its rhythm is often cited as the exemplary nonsuch or nonplace that nonetheless marks temporal movement. In this sense, the sonic mix of Rhythm Science allows the hands to speak in a way that exceeds that authorial bleed - the printed stasis - of the word. Yet, the assumption that sound is the ideal fluidic form perpetuates its own myths against the supposed truth of the word. Rhythm science demands an investigation into how the reconstruction of “property” (as authority) takes precedence and how sonics and signs intermingle.
In the essay “Rekonstruction,” Spooky speaks about “expanding” the model or the paradigm of the Dj as “speaking with his hands.” How does this expansion operate ? If not speech, if not hands as lips, mouth, then is it in the Rhythm Science mix that this expansion can be heard? From hands to what element? What Spooky appears to suggest is an expansion beyond the body of the self. If the Dj speaks with his or her hands, then the apparatus of the body that speaks has to be expanded to cover an entire field of sonic production. The remix is extended to all aspects of the network. In turn, the self stretches thin to encapsulate personas that arrive to encounter the difference of each scenario. Rhythm Science the mix cd lives up to the ghostly aspect required of such a spectral dj: to layer and recompose the decomposing archive of decades of material into a mix that affectively disorients the self into the gothic lounge-dub that marks “illbient.” The self is doubled, twisted, and doubled again in listening to rhythm science unwind its mortal coils.
At the same time, a mix constrained to Sub Rosa is a possible mix: the target is set and only variations upon a set can be performed. A potential mix would incorporate access beyond a limited set that would strike the accidental, the random, the unexpected. It may be that a pure potential mix is impossible (and ideal), for it would call for limitless access to all archives, without restraint, without limit, a perfect library not unlike that of Borges, replete with the same impossibility of ever completing its pages (such as “The Library of Babel”). And is not Borge’s library, the infinite spirals of books that make up every possibly permutation of meaning, nothing less than the construction of the theater of networks, the “play of surfaces”? “I suspect that the human species - the unique species - is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret” (Borges).
Such a mix beyond the hands, beyond the one hand and the other of the double gesture, is the ideal and the potential of Spooky’s call to expand. It is this ideal which appears, somewhat perversely, in a mix radically constrained.
Let us consider the sounds themselves in the manner of writing on the body of downtempo, experimentalist and head-trip electronic music. Such a writing is somewhere in-between phenomenology and hallucination. Here - hear - the sounds cut themselves open, stitching the flesh interface of bit and byte to fingertip. Spooky adroitly performs at his craft, and in the ear’s imaginary, captures elements of his past freeform radio shows. For the past haunts this mix, a melancholic ode of the digital to bygone days & halcyon nights (real or fictive, the ’90s or the collective memories of Burroughs, Joyce, Tzara…). For all of these unreasonable reasons, Spooky is in his elemental disparate rootlessness, as the dead dreamer reborn and incarnate (critically, in greyscale contrast to his last, rather lacklustre mix CD project, Under the Influence).
The mix itself and its unconscious selves. Dj Spooky matching tempos and styles, often dropping three or four cuts into the milieu at once, in an aural hallucination, a collective journey through recorded media of the broadest definition of the electronic era. Spooky’s mix is a time machine, exemplifying, with the skill of a conductor, an electro-acoustic channel selector, a skilled archivist, filter, cut chemist, sonic traveller, harnessing the ability to shift as a memory selector, a radical librarian of the 21C. Cut-ups and blends: the techniques of Brion Gysin himself are reapplied to the manufacture and aesthetic of the mix, the “voices of the dead” heard by Raudive in his blank tape recordings, drifting through the recordings themselves, as Joyce’s warbly readings meander overtop ambient soundscapes of bleeps and non-representational carrions of the sonic signal. The CD, Rhythm Science, is a significant achievement in experimental mixology, an attempt in mixillogicalI sample the term from Kodwo Eshun in More Brilliant than the Sun (London: Quartet, 1998). realms worthy of Dj Shadow’s crate-digging in hip-hop. While not as detailed as Shadow’s The Private Press, or as techno equivalent, Richie Hawtin’s Closer to the Edit, Spooky’s journey surrepticiously infects the listener with a fantasmagoria of sound. Tracks overlay and relay like words in play. And with a dreamlike rigour, like the powerful experience of hallucination itself, a convincing experiential event takes place when amplified at volume that overwhelms senses, the status quo of rationality and reason. Which isn’t to say that it all becomes lost, that no critical elements can be discerned, and that speech itself, and writing in the narrow sense, doesn’t remix the non-representational, for throughout the mix, the narratives of writers and poets act as signposts in alien sonographies.Another electronic writer’s term meaning, in short, “sonic topographies.” I have developed the term through writing in e/i magazine and elsewhere. Some might say the voice merely guarantees a structure of authenticity, but in fact the opposite is true: with the prevalence of electronic genres and sound, the use of modernism’s poets and writers acts as a marker of prescient crate-digging, of combing history for elements beyond the break and the beat that have defined the multitude of electronic genres. Rather than authentic (though recognising their voices alone bespeaks a certain educated elitism, undoubtedly), these estranged voices strike as disembodied haikus that belong to no particular place nor time.
Rhythm Science hears out the travels between club and lecture circuit, the avant-garde and the electronic, modernism and post-modernism, original and remix, and all other polarities that ensure their constituents of meaning. Rhythm Science (CD) is an alloy in which Rhythm Science (text) floats like words on water - both of which are in the book, and in the broadest sense, of the text: the textural and the linkage, from one to the other and back again, is the science of rhythm science. Put this CD on, read the book, and drift back through the language of sonophonics -
Making a mix CD is a paradox: it’s personal and impersonal, kind of like watching TV using time-shifting software to determine which commercials to cut and which to leave, or like assessing what chess moves to make when you’re playing solitaire. (029)
The calculation of the surreal: chess moves on solitaire (think: the Situationist technique of using a London map to walk Paris). Or, Duchamp playing chess with Cage, atop of the arch in New York. But also, and again, the “commercial.” Which commercials to cut? Why are there commercials at all? “Which to leave?” The CD as commercial mix does not escape the critique against, or the seduction of, the image of arch-capitalism. Confronted with the critique, the commercial is equivocated to chess - a move possible only within the game of the data network where functions as disparate as chess and a commercial become exchangeable, interchangeable, “malleable.”
The book - How does Rhythm Science fare alongside its contemporaries? A few other texts, mainly published in the ’90s, touch on similar themes, notably Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London: Quartet, 1998). At the time, Eshun eloquently and rigorously amplified an entirely new elaboration of sonic writing, a phonic language chipped from the very stuff of a record’s wax: the embodied materiality, in conceptual format, yet also in presentation, style, and argument, of album titles, liner notes, and musings that pushed the interstellar and cosmic elements of electronic’s development as a global, Afro-diaspora art to its limits. As Eshun coins: the futurhythmachine of writing to combat journalism’s future shockabsorber. Eshun focuses on non-representational forms of electrified sound - specific moments in hip-hop, jungle, breakbeat, Chicago house, Detroit techno and their genetic offspring. He fuses a honed reading of jazz and science fiction to an historical depth of the avant-garde. At the same time, he critiques these traditions and above all, “cultstud.” All of which speaks without speaking of Eshun himself. Unlike Spooky, Eshun is not the characterization of the multiple persona man: he requires no further names or titles nor does he encrypt the text as autobiographical. He calls himself a Concept Engineer. His writing performs the operation, vivisecting identity alive and wiring new life until the whole book trembles with its sheer atomic blast. If anyone has expanded beyond the hands in the sonic registers, if anyone has worked out the many variants of “Writing is Dj-ing/Dj-ing is Writing,” it is Eshun.
Eshun was also, with Miller, one of the moderators of the AfroFuturism discussion list. Eshun’s text has had several renaissances. Originally and often quite summarily dismissed by academia and Dj culture alike for its neologistic decadence and wordplay, its ripples have fluxed into cult status. Moreover, More Brilliant…, with each passing eon from the heyday of the ’90s, emerges as a prolonged and dizzying meditation, an inversion of the manifesto, a detailed derailing of the concept and delivery of the book itself via sound. It remains a challenge to philosophy, history, cultural studies, political theory, the social sciences, and the arts in general via the domain of sound in writing and an exacting, thought-provoking reread that continually yields to the attentive reader who slips into the sonic of the signifier, its homophonies, plays, and perversions.
Spooky’s text is not the first to embrace tactility and radical design combinated with wordplay: Eshun’s book too is textured (although not made of vinyl) and laid out in the fashion of record labels ( a more complex take to Miller’s “a-side / b-side” conventions). While Spooky MCs - like the toasts of his own DJ sets - Eshun crafts the conceptechnics that unleash the rhythm: more than an idiot of the idiomSpooky will call for an “idiot” in his text., Eshun’s ambition is the concept itself. And while Miller’s Rhythm Science will undoubtedly be treasured as an artifact, its value will always gesture to that of Miller’s persona, his status as a conceptual artist - a 20th Century category - and, in the final event, Miller’s own construction of his author/ity. Rhythm Science as autobiography also marks rhythm science in the autobiographical and all the gestures of the auto- unless expanded to its limit. Part of such an expansion may call for revisiting Eshun’s prior moves. Yet, part of this autobiographical gestures seems to be themeatic and rooted in the publisher. As part of the MIT MediaWorks series, it follows in publishing sequence N. Katherine Hayles’ Writing Machines. Hayles created an alternate persona - Kate - to sample her own history, leading to startling and subtle points concerning the materiality of the digital medium, while tracing the path taken in her remix of science and the arts via digital culture and hypertext through the pursuit of her academic career. Miller’s tactic is the opposite: retreating from Dj Spooky and retracting Spooky as a “character,” yet, writing “in his name,” that is Spooky writing in Miller’s name, he attempts to reveal the “real” Miller. Thus, he creates himself, Paul D. Miller, as the author of his many creations only after being authored by their otherness. He attempts to retrieve all the radical gestures under one name while he retains at least one a.k.a. in his author-ship. It is to Miller that we turn to authenticate his work, to the body that must anchor the ephemeral Spooky - unlike the way in which we turn away from Eshun, to his language and musical references, or to the way that we envision “Kate” as a modest explorer inducing fictive moments of conceptual rigor while rethinking her academic choices.
Tune in at some point in the newly updated future for part II of this ongoing consideration of Rhythm Science, text, CD, book, concept and autobiography of a technoculture.