by Paul D. Miller
MIT Press, 2004
Spooky's Lost Rhythm
review byLatif Zaman
Early in Rhythm Science Paul D. Miller, better known as D.J. Spooky, brazenly claims his new book "is a theater of networks, of correspondences that turn in on themselves and drift into the ether like smoke-rings blown in an airless club. This is a theater of the one and the many, of texts that flow with the intensity of bullets"(8). The boast rings true in the sense that intensity is never the problem. Miller possesses a breathless non-sequitor style of writing that evokes the cluttered, "ultra media-saturated youth culture"(12) he often speaks of. However, like the culture he decries, his prose is a study in "sound and fury" saying very little or nothing.
Miller defines rhythm science as "a forensic investigation of sound as a vector of coded language that goes from the physical to the informational and back again." Like much of his book he releases himself from the burden of communication, instead mixing a series of cute phrases. Rummaging through Miller's over literate waste, strands of coherence can be deciphered. However, the simplicity of these arguments is surprising. We live in a technological age, therefore electronic music is good. Sampling is an art-form because uses other peoples expressions in new ways. Miller never gets around to making an explicit comparison between traditional music and electronic, D.J. music. In fact D.J. Spooky is the only rhythm scientist discussed. Miller verbosely describes his intentions with music but we never get a sense of the music itself, of the logic behind the assembly of his found cultural pieces. We never understand the significance of the pieces used and why they are representative of this moment in time.
At one point Miller states "DJing is writing," that to be literate is to be able put texts in a conceptual framework. This is obviously the first step before recontextualizing them. He then discusses Emerson's points on artistic originality. Miller implicitly understands the canon as an edifice of art that is built on the past and carries on to the future. He says "DJ-ing lets you take the best of what's out there and give your own take on it" (27). Mixing simply makes the process of allusiveness more concrete. But taking pieces of work and piling them in whatever order like building blocks does not make art. Any art, including non-electronic music, builds upon the past and attempts to mold it into something that stands separate from the previous genre. In yet another hyperbolic flourish, Miller extols Rhythm science as " a mirror held up to a culture that has learned to fly again, that has released itself from the constraints of the ground of the ground to drift through database ... "(5). However with a truer understanding of artistic intentions and the canon, the reader discovers that there is nothing new to this recontextualizing of culture. As always the brilliance of the pieces used and the originality of their assembly count, not the fact that they are assembled electronically.
Rhythm Science throbs with the repetitive fury of masturbation, Paul D. Miller getting off on his overripe literacy. Unfortunately there is no climax for the reader sifting through the verbiage and pretensions, to find a vaguely defined nothing at this books core. MIT Press accompanies Rhythm Science with a C.D. of Spooky's music. Ironically the mostly wordless songs communicate more than his extravagant prose. In print Miller fails to make any trenchant points supporting his chosen musical medium, and himself as a serious writer of any merit.