From July 1st to July 3rd the heart of Brianza opened its doors to the Kernel Festival (http://www.kernelfestival.net/), a new event in Italy, conceived by taking inspiration from monumental examples like Ars Electronica Festival (Linz) and Sonar (Barcelona), and aiming to establish a promotional and experimental platform for new artistic languages deriving from new advanced technologies.
The first edition of the festival has been hosted by the town of Desio, in the eighteen-century architectural complex of Villa Tittoni Traversi. Thanks to a broad schedule (divided into the fields of Interactive & Digital Art, Audiovisual Mapping, Electronic Sound & Music, Temporary Architecture) Desio is going to become the new Mecca for electronic art enthusiasts.
The festival’s main feature is a line-up with names from the most significant fringe of internationally renowned digital manipulators and new generations of artists – selected by a commission of experts through open calls among more than 360 proposals from 39 different countries – which gave the event the right dose of creative restlessness, typical of the contemporary sensitivity.
Among the most important artists of this first edition of Kernel Festival is worth to mention DjSpooky that Subliminal Kid, aka Paul D. Miller. Born in 1970, he holds two degrees, one in French Literature and one in Philosophy. Through his eclecticism he testified the versatility of a field in constant evolution.
As a gifted artist with eclectic sensitivity, expressed through a corpus of works ranging from different media, Dj Spooky combines his concept of creativity with absolute absence of limitations and attempts to categorization. His dogma is the rhizomatic thought and his music and art’s motive is a metaphor for nets that connect his work to other ones. Techniques such as remix, collage and cut-up, typical of the American artists’ modus operandi, are his weapons of “mass stimulation”. According to him music, before being art, is information, thought and idea.
It is really difficult, if not uncomfortable, to write a brief biography of such artist, but we’ll give it a try. He collaborated with a wide range of musicians and composers like Iannis Xenakis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Butch Morris, Kool Keith aka Doctor Octagon, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Yoko Ono and Thurston Moore (musician of Sonic Youth). His works have been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial (New York), at the Biennial of Architecture and Art (Venice), at the Andy Warhol Museum, (Pittsburgh), at the Vienna Kunsthalle, and at the Ludwig Museum (Koln).
Some of his essays have appeared in “Ctheory”, “The Source”, “Artforum” and in “The Village Voice”. His books Rhythm Science (2004, in which he theorizes the possible implications of mixing, djing and sampling, typical aspects of the hip-hop culture, and the complexity of modern society and its dynamic flows of sounds that artists can use as source of information) and Sound Unbound (2008, collection of essays by music and modern society’s researchers such as Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Cory Doctorow, Pierre Boulez, Hans Obrist, Jaron Lanier, and Moby among others) have been published by the famous publishing house Mit Press.
Spooky performed at the Kernel Festival the first evening, drawing public attention with a lively dj set made by sixty minutes of rhythmic hits and psychedelic screenings. On Saturday July 2nd he participated to the SYNC Interaction between Music and Video, a forum of discussion where the Spanish Telenoika and Marco Mancuso (Digicult’s director) were also present, the latter as moderator of the event.
Such roundtable was a perfect occasion to take stock of the situation about one of the hottest topics carried out by improved technology and the arrival of the digital era: the relation between image and sound. This debate produced a scenario in which the nuances of opinions all agreed that such relation could never be subject to subordinate relationships, but it is rather characterized by a continuous “ping pong process”.
In this scenario, Dj Spooky talked about his last projects, from the most downloaded applications for I-Phone to The Book of Ice, which will be published on July 13, 2011(http://www.amazon.com/Book-Ice-Paul-D-Miller/dp/1935613146). The book introduces a new caption under the entry “collaborations”, and represents an interesting project to which important ecologists and scientists also collaborated.
This new work is a step forward of Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, a huge project developed in long time, which saw the artist living in the Antarctic region with the aim to capture the acoustic variations produced by the melting of ice. At the end of these variations a multimedia performance on global scale takes place, representing an acoustic portrait of a panorama in constant changing that features spectators as direct users able to enjoy the Antarctic region through digital images and sound reconstruction. The whole work is meant to bring Antarctica back to the modern imaginary as an example of free land. The area between the 90°W and 150°W latitude is in fact the only piece of land on earth not owned by any country.
This new project (and its three sections: history, science and fantasy) is therefore a concrete example of an artist bent to recycling, reusing and reconstructing pre-existing materials, and shows, through an iconographic route made of photos, videos, digital manipulations and archive material, how Antarctica could be a completely different and free land, apart from the rest of the World.
Despite his full agenda, Dj Spooky found the time to answer some of my questions while enjoying an Italian dinner with good wine.
Alessandra Coretti: I would like to start this interview by talking about the roundtable topic. What do you think about the interactions between sound and video in multimedia performances? Can they be considered as a unique flow of information? What is the principle around which these elements meet each other in your works?
Dj Spooky: I conceive sound as something completely open, without limits, unless you decide to apply some to it. If we think of sound as a pattern, then there is no need to ask me what I could add or deduct from it. I consider the conception of image and sound as two separate entities as something completely obsolete. Image and sound are two sides of the same coin, and the link between them is fluid. Editing is the key of all my works; it is in there that you can find true art.
Alessandra Coretti: I was fascinated by both your Antarctica project and The book of Ice. Where did these ambitious works and your interest for Antarctica come from?
Dj Spooky: Antarctica project is meant to bring the Antarctic region back to modern imaginary, by reconstructing it through digital and musical composition technology, which is the result of analysis of the noises produced by the melting of ice. In order to do this I spent some weeks in the Antarctic continent, where I gathered sounds and images of enormous lands of ice through the use of a portable recording study and high definition cameras. Then I researched archive videos, historic maps and logs from different countries such as Germany, England, Russia and Norway.
Each country presented a different strategy for graphic projects aimed to explore the continent, and I decided to record part of that old and new material. Thanks to this project I discovered a land in constant change. The Book of Ice constitutes the Antarctica project on a different format, representing a way to think about ways of composition and how they influence our lives.
What I try to investigate is the relation between man and nature. I have been helped by Brian Greene from Columbia University and Ross A. Virginia, director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth University, one of the best connoisseur of the Antarctic region. The reason I chose Antarctica is because the area between the 90°W and 150°W latitude is the only piece of land on the planet that is not owned or governed by any state or country. That is what I call freedom.
Alessandra Coretti: Could you please tell me something about your artistic “invasion” of fields, which somehow is far from your background education? I was thinking about Antarctica, where art mixes with science, or about your theatre experience in collaboration with Robert Wilson
Dj Spooky: In the digital world the net showed us that everything is connected. The connection of wires and optical fibers is the paradigm of my creativity, the dj is a metaphor that serves to think about collage and the remix is a point of view, a perspective. I take my inspiration from Shep Fairey, Peter Greeaway and Francis Ford Coppola, and their idea of djing. Science, theatre, film, archive material: all this is part of the same whole.
Alessandra Coretti: Could you please tell me more about the Antarctica project? How could you work under those difficult conditions? What kind of technologies did you use? What was your artistic goal?
Dj Spooky: For Antarctica I developed a portable studio which allowed me to move in the Antarctic region, study its climatic changes, and watch human impact on the territory. After taking pictures of the landscape I used the images as “lab material” in studio, analyzed the ice inner structure and its way to change when subject to different temperatures. Thanks to the help of my friends scientists, I got the mathematical formula that gave birth to the musical composition of my work. My goal was to have an accurate statistic analysis in relation to the melting of ice and a mathematical formula, to then translate those information into music. I believe music and mathematics share a deep relation. Mathematics could be in fact the best instrument to describe acoustic phenomena.
Alessandra Coretti: You are a dj/musician/writer who explores art under different perspectives. What does being an artist mean for you today?
Dj Spooky: To be an artist means to trace visions of the world by drawing material from my background. We are living archives, for everything we experience leaves a mark. We work as input and output circuits, like a sort of “cloud computing”.
Alessandra Coretti: What is the aim of your present experiments? Are you also working on new projects?
Dj Spooky: My new work is entitled Vanuatu, from the name of the Pacific Ocean archipelago where I was invited to start a collaboration with local artists. This year the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation began the construction of the Tanna Center for the Arts, a place where artists collectives are a way to support culture. The goal of the centre and the digital labs is to educate local people.
During the Kernel Festival roundtable, Marco Mancuso had the time to ask Paul some questions concerning the topics of his performance and some important elements of his audiovisual research, especially his idea of music as information, the link (and its implications) with mathematics and science and the newly discovered potentialities of new interfaces for smart devices.
Marco Mancuso: During your presentation you made many references to mathematics and its deep relation with music. Considering mathematics on a software and programming level, how do you think it could influence the way artists work today? How much this relation could be relevant for artists in future?
Dj Spooky: This is a difficult question. The aesthetic of information and our perception of it shape our reality. As an artist, every aspect is important: graphics, design and music. What fascinates me at the moment is the effect of imagination; I think about Kandinsky and his way to mathematically decipher the perception of colors. In my live performances there are sounds and videos, but nothing is never static or clearly defined. Everything is dynamic, opened. Everything can be perceptively remodeled to become something else.
However, the perceptive relation that the work establishes with its audience can be empirically calculated. I believe that for the future artists will be fundamental to have instruments at their disposal that stimulates their creativity. This is why it is important to consider how far technology penetrated our culture and the fact that its access should be more democratic and less expensive.
Marco Mancuso: What are the consequences of the use of touch and smart device technologies (Ipad and Iphone first) in terms of creation, composition and management of music tracks?
Dj Spooky: In the beginning, Dj’s work was not considered music, neither art. Musicians with classical education did not believe that music could be created from software and that everything could be made more accessible to everybody. The skepticism was wide and global. Truth be told, it’s just a matter of methods. Advanced technology allows to change the logic of composition processes and to broaden the ways of composing.