Friday, October 28, 2011

DJ Spooky

DJ as an interpreter of cultural memory resonated with me. Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (2011) explains that sounds are tied to collective memory. What exactly does Miller mean by collective memory? No, this is not simply the top 100 songs that characterized a certain period of time, although that is certainly included. Rather, Miller is trying to ascertain the ubiquitous sounds that characterize the everyday. These include everything from the scratches, pops, hisses, and cracks of the city to the beeps, vibrations, and noises of our personal electronics. Each of these different sounds resonates (anamnesis). Sounds evoke different memories for different people. Take for example the Mario theme song. Listening to it, whether tied into a rap song, or randomly in the background of a space, I am immediately transported to elementary school sleep overs, staying up all night eating Pizza Hut and drinking diet coke. For others, this song may elicit other memories, such as being snowed in and playing video games. Hence, the sound, although collective, triggers individual responses. So, while we may all react to the same sounds, Brian Massumi (2005) explains, we all react differently. He writes, “jacked into the same modulation of feeling, bodies reacted in unison without necessarily acting alike.”(p. 32). The DJ, then, is able to take these little fragments of memory and remix them, putting them in conversations with other memories. This mixing and recoding of collective memory undermines the rudimentary categories of the subject. The DJ produces an experience that plays with time (exciting past memories), place (altering the space associated with that memory), culture (by placing different cultural referents next to one another), and identity (transforming the meaning of a sound). Miller explains that “any sound can be you. It is through the mix and all that it entails—the re-configuration of ethnic, national, and sexual identity—that humanity will hopefully, move into another era of social evolution”(p.354). In other words, the DJ’s goal is to interpret culture in such a way, as to invoke powerful memories and enable novel forms of subjectivity. Or, to put it in Deleuzian terms, he is concerned with shaping subjectivity trajectories.

In Pandemonium, Miller demonstrates a lot of these concepts, by taking and manipulating ordinary sounds to create a sonic experience. He is, in a sense, updating John Cage’s work. Instead of playing with just a radio landscape, Miller investigates the sounds that characterize the totality of our media environment. Within his short bricologue, Miller cites loops, video game noises, backward tape, songs from the radio, sounds from the telephone, sirens, as well as his DJ equipment. He then takes these noises and places them together in novel ways. For example he distorts the tempo and speed of a voice and then fades it on top of sharp laser sounds. Each of these different effects is meant to evoke different memories. The sounds of dialing a telephone, for example, may excite a number of memories, but how are we to make sense of that memory when it is juxtaposed with loud sirens? What about when chimes are entered into the equation? All of these different experiences produce an altered sense of subjectivity. Miller takes different memories and smacks them together, producing new ways of thinking about the world. Speaking strictly in the “untimely space” or the space of potential, this mix is able to create the potential for new lines of flight. If memory, as Massumi explains, is the medium of habit, remixing the way we understand the self creates the potential for novel forms of subjectivity. That is, if memories determine how we comport ourselves in the world, creating unique permutations of them opens the potentials for new ways of being in the world.

Massumi, B. (2005). Fear (the spectrum said), Positions 13, 31-48.

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