Paul Miller, better known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, is the man the Sunday Star Times calls “Einstein with a better haircut, a streetwise black Tolstoy, sharp as Zorro’s sword, funny as Falstaff.”
He made his name on the international art scene juggling multiple roles as a composer, multimedia artist, writer and DJ. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, The Source, the Guggenheim Museum and at the Whitney Biennial. He’s produced, collaborated with and remixed many celebrated artists including Yoko Ono, Lee Scratch Perry, Chuck D and the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Root recently caught up with DJ Spooky on the tele while he was in the studio mixing. Representing his skills as a master DJ, Paul flexed in and out of our convo numerous times (speaking off interview to his engineer) and never missed a beat.
Paul Miller: Well, I went down to Antarctica to shoot a film about the sound of ice. It’s basically a film about looking at the environment as a kind of sonic landscape instead of just something that’s static and removed from us. I brought a studio down there and went to some of the main ice fields.
The whole idea was to look at it in hip-hop and electronic music from the prism of the environment. If you think about black culture, everybody’s calling themselves Ice Cube, Ice-T … Everybody is about “ice” in black culture; for some reason—ice in hip-hop is about “bling”—you know, diamonds and whatnot.
It’s fascinating for me to get people to realize that the metaphors are connected. So I thought it would be an ironic turn of things to actually go to the ice and look at it for inspiration.
The planet itself is part of my art palette, you know? It’s saying hip-hop is not just about the city or the street. My mom encouraged a reading process as a basic way of thinking about not only black culture, but just what it means to be human. I tend to think on one level or another, information just makes life more rich.
TR: Do you believe your work has been political, psychological, archetypal, metaphorical or something else?
PM: Everything is political, everything. Tying your shoes is political. It’s really about existing in the everyday world and being aware that the economics of this financial crisis, for example, can affect what you put on your plate. Or for that matter, the price of gas is part of the index of commodities that goes into everything from the vinyl that I use in my record sets or the books I’m writing. They’re all based on petroleum.
TR: Well, do you believe your work informs the social conversation?
PM: Yeah, absolutely! It’s about that. That’s what I’d say the core of my thing is about. I want people to ask questions. I really think asking questions is the core of modern life. You really have to think about it as the unexamined life, as Socrates said. There is a great book that just recently came out by Cornel West talking about the examined life. I loved seeing Cornel West take on that. I’m here to ask questions.