DJ Spooky Spins Asia After Dark: Asian Soundscape

Asia After Dark Teaser

Baby, it’s finally cool outside. And just in time for the return of Smithsonian’s hip Asia After Dark series at the Sackler Gallery and Haupt Garden from 7 to 11 P.M. this Friday night, September 28.

Take a curator-led tour of the gallery, or learn to make your own renewable-frame drum and play a few beats on it. Of course, some of us may need a little help finding a groove. Luckily, Chinatown’s Ping Pong Dim Sum will be there providing specialty cocktails to release your inhibitions. And DJ Spooky will be spinning a plethora of musical genres with a live string accompaniment against the backdrop of the black and white films of 1940s movie star Anna May Wong.

Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, is not afraid of words. Very much the Renaissance man, this DC native brings a literary bent to his sound, and has expanded his horizons beyond the turntable, into writing, lecturing and teaching. He shared his thoughts with me via email below:

As a child you were struck by the fact that the Public Enemy/Anthrax collaboration “Bring The Noise” “blew holes in the neat categories that kept this genre separate from that one.” Now you’re extremely liberal in your sampling of genres–do you look at this as a way to educate the listener, or are you simply pulling what sounds the best?

Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky
Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky Photo by Tobin Poppenberg

We live in a non-linear world. News of an event gets remixed (edited clips of Romney—see what a remix can do to a campaign?!) collaged, and taken out of context, and the material from any part of the digital media landscape can be edited, transformed, spliced and diced. But that’s the point–that’s the way we live now. I loved the way that the last couple of years have made everything from footage from the Iraq War (remember those weapons of mass destruction?) on over to the way right wing types refuse to believe in climate change–everyone has their arsenal of facts and fictions. Let’s play! Museums are usually places that people go to get away and see art in an isolated context–I want to change that, and make the museum a place of irreverence towards the fact that the objects can now be copied. I’m first and foremost an artist, and I play off the idea of the way music is about impermanence and sampling, and collage play with memory. But first and foremost, it should all be about having a good experience. That’s what I go for when I sample material–visual or audio. Sample away!

You often cite literary influences on your work, like William S. Burroughs and Zora Neale Hurston. Are you trying to evoke more of an intellectual reaction, as opposed to a visceral one, from your listeners?

Yeah, so many musicians think it’s all just about being cool, hanging out, etc. I grew up in DC and both my parents were professors. My dad was Dean of Howard University Law School, and my mother is a historian of design–she writes about the history of African American women designers. So I was always kind of into literature. I grew up near Dupont Circle, and went to bookstores like Kramer Books, and P Street Books, and now I love places like Busboys and Poets. So yeah, Dj’ing a good situation is like creating an essay of sounds.

So what are your guilty pop pleasures, then?

I really like the “Gangnam Style” video by PSY. Super cool!

You keep a very busy schedule, complete with DJ’ing, teaching, photography, lecturing and book projects—so what’s the next on your artistic horizon?

This year, I’m the first artist-in-residence at The Met museum. The basic idea is to remix The Met and give a different emphasis on how performance and art are in dialog. I love doing projects like that! I’ll be artist in residence for a year, doing everything from remixing the collection to setting up art/music happenings.

As a DC native, what kind of place does Smithsonian hold in your heart?

Recently I took a studio to Antarctica to do a project about the sound of ice (global warming is a really, really, really loud sound). I made a book out of it, and called it The Book of Ice. But the first glimpses I had of these kinds of places was in museums like the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. That kind of place expanded my horizons and made me think about so many of the places that kids from places like DC never get a chance to check out. That plus watching the space shuttle launches on huge screens at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum was super cool!!!

What can we expect to hear from you during your set this Friday night?

It’ll be a situation where I have a wonderful Korean ensemble (Danielle Cho and Jennifer Kim). It’s gonna be a wild scenario of the history of one of my favorite Asian-American film actresses, Anna May Wong, with hip hop, techno, dubstep, disco, and everything in between–all remixed, live with her films. She was super cool! We look at the history of Asian-American cinema, and build bridges between the different communities. It’ll be a fun, big blow out!

Asia After Dark: Asian Soundscape will take place this Friday, September 28 at the Sackler Gallery and Haupt Garden at 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Tickets are $25 in advance (online) or $30 at the door and include one free drink.

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