There’s no easy way to describe Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky. A Renaissance man for the digital age, Spooky is a musician, a DJ, an author, an artist, and more recently, a global adventurer concerned with the consequences of climate change.
On Saturday, he stops in Savannah to be part of SCAD’s deFine Art series, during which he’ll perform Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, a multi–media composition he created during a stay on the frozen continent.
While he wasn’t the first artist to step foot in Antarctica, he was likely the first DJ, and he spent his time pondering the expanse of ice in transition due to the effects of climate change.
Since completing Terra Nova, Spooky’s newest endeavor is a carbon–negative artist retreat on the South Pacific of Tanna (can’t blame a guy for wanting to warm up after a stay on the South Pole) in conjunction with the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation.
We caught up with Spooky by email as he was en route from Asia to New Orleans last week.
Looking back on more than a decade of work, is there something specific to which you attribute your longevity and success in the fickle realms of art and music?
DJ Spooky: My music is all about ideas. I really never planned on doing “normal” music — I always viewed my work as a contemporary art initiative, so it was independent of the currents of the normal music scene. That’s just the way things have flowed. The way the economy is going, all musicians will really have to think not just about how their music is consumed, but the tools that they use to really get their ideas and concepts out into the world.
With all of the different projects you’ve worked on recently, do you still have time to get down with a pair of turntables? Is ‘DJ’ really just a title that reflects your origins in the craft? Or have you become a different sort of DJ, selecting not just music, but from a broader scope of culture/society?
DJ Spooky: I took a studio to Antarctica as an art project. How do you DJ the environment? How do you get people to really start thinking about climate change? It’s all connected. We just have to look for the patterns that overlap and see where the rhythms match. I look to connect the dots on this kind of stuff because it is a core “sample” for me — I guess you could say something like that is my original groove. What’s the “craft” in that? I guess you could call it the art of memory.
Looking at the scope of your output, from “Rebirth of a Nation” to “Terra Nova” and back to “Riddim Warfare,” there’s clearly no single form that defines your work. Was that a conscious effort on your part, or was it a mix of opportunity and fortune that’s allowed you to take on such diverse projects?
DJ Spooky: Ideas never lead to one thing – they’re hybrid. One of my favorite film directors is Christopher Nolan – I love what he did with Memento and Inception – web mixes, iPhone apps, satellite radio playlists, you name it: it’s all about navigating density.
My Antarctica symphony looks at these issues from the viewpoint of composing music that’s a mirror of climate change. That gives me a lot of room to think about how to present the work.
Your start as a DJ and a musician came long before the new generation of technologies like Serato, Ableton, social media and smart phones, etc. Has emerging technology changed your creative methodology/output?
DJ Spooky: Nah, it’s still just mixing. The best way to think about it is that the tools change, but ideas are still what drives it all.
Are you the first DJ to ever set foot in Antarctica? How did the journey match up to your expectations?
DJ Spooky: I do believe I’m the first DJ to go to Antarctica. But not the first artist. I love the idea of sampling the ice. It’s just applying the same techniques I would to a record, but the record is the planet.
You do a lot of travelling. What is it about Antarctica, as opposed to other places you’ve visited, that inspired these compositions? Why Antarctica and not Detroit, or Texas or the South Pacific?
DJ Spooky: Remoteness and slowness. It definitely ain’t downtown New York!
What’s left that you really want to do? Do you wait and see what opportunities present themselves or do you shape your own destiny? Is there anything you haven’t gotten to do musically/artistically/personally that you really want to try?
DJ Spooky: Over the next couple of years I will be doing alot of projects that explore different themes. The thing that links them all is just getting ideas to be front and center.
For me, it’s never “just music.” I just finished my next book and it was a collaboration with the quantum physics theoretician Brian Greene. String theory is fun!
I will probably explore quantum physics and remote South Pacific islands? Not sure just yet... working on it all.
DJ Spooky performs Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica
When: Saturday, February 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: Free and open to the public