Interview: DJ Spooky speaks today on Creative Matters

Creative Matters Lecture Series: DJ Spooky

Art Building West — Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 5:30 p.m.

Paul D. Miller has been doing this for years: Visiting campuses, educating, instructing, discussing the creative process and providing an experience are all a little day-in-the-life for Miller, who has recently entered into a year-long creative relationship with the University of Iowa.

Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky -- photo by Tobin Poppinberg
Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky — photo by Tobin Poppinberg

Miller (aka DJ Spooky) — a composer, multimedia artist, executive editor of ORIGIN. magazine, creator of the DJ Mixer iPad app, author of The Imaginary App and all-around good time — will be presenting a lecture/demonstration as part of the University of Iowa’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development’s (OVPR&ED) Creative Matters Lecture Series at 5:30 p.m. today, Wednesday, Oct. 12 in room 240, Art Building West (141 North Riverside Dr.).

Miller’s first contact from the University of Iowa came from Thomas Keegan, head of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio within the UI Libraries (full disclosure: I work in this department), in the form of a commission for an original work. The work will incorporate newly restored and digitized audio and visual materials from the library’s archival collection of instrumentation data from the historic 1958 satellite mission by the late UI physicist James Van Allen that led to the discovery of the earth’s radiation belts, and will premiere in spring 2017. Says Keegan, “We admired his previous collaborations with other institutions and share his interest in weaving together science and art.”

'The Imaginary App' (MIT Press, 2014)
‘The Imaginary App’ (MIT Press, 2014)
Wednesday’s lecture/demonstration, loosely based on the ideas laid forth in The Imaginary App, will address how technology has shaped creativity throughout history and continues to guide how we actualize the future. The Imaginary App project is, says Miller, “founded in a relationship with STEAM. Because Van Allen was at the University of Iowa, I thought it would be a good point of interest.” Further, says Miller, he’d like to highlight “the role of the arts and sciences in helping create a better frame of reference for how people think, and … the way science can help enable a better view of what’s going on around us. “The funny thing is,” says Miller, “that a lot of scientists don’t know about art and a lot of artists don’t know about science. So this project is enabling a conversation between the sciences and the arts.”

Professor David Gier, head of the School of Music, Administrative Faculty Fellow in the OVPR&ED and co-organizer of the Creative Matters Lecture Series, whose original vision for the Series was to “catalyze a cross-campus conversation about creativity and the creative process,” feels that Paul’s work and Wednesday’s event will allow for yet another perspective on the creative process. “His work exists at the intersection of art, technology and popular culture. He is a dynamic, eclectic, multi-talented artist, and I am sure that his talk will push our conversation in new and unexpected directions.”

Miller requested graduate music student involvement in his lecture/demonstration on Wednesday; a violinist and a cellist, both from the University’s School of Music, will be participating. Gier’s co-organizer Leslie Weatherhead, manager of campus communications for the OVPR&ED, elaborated further on his engagement with the campus community: “I’m looking forward to Paul’s performance with violinist Snow Zhang and cellist Matt Laughlin, graduate students in the School of Music. Any time that we’re able to engage the Creative Matters artists with students while they are on campus, it’s a huge opportunity.”

Miller, himself hugely interested in what he calls “building bridges” on campuses, indicated that “the beauty of the 21st century university is we have more access to information than ever before,” but noted that people remain siloed, using one medium or engaged solely in one profession. Says Miller, “I enjoy creating discussions.”

“I grew up in a household where both parents were involved in education,” Miller continues. “My father was the dean of Howard University’s Law School, and a firm believer in education as a tool for creating a better world. Universities are places of experimentation and gaining a better awareness of the world around you.”

Miller has been the artist-in-residence at Bayreuth Academy of Advanced Studies, the University of New South Wales Institute of Experimental Arts, Seoul Institute of the Arts and Maryland Institute of Art, and was the first artist-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has also recently been announced as the Brown Distinguished Media Innovator for 2017 at Stanford University. Miller himself holds two degrees, one in Philosophy and one in French Literature.

One of the more striking elements of Miller’s work and creative approach is that he truly practices what he preaches. He’s completely untethered in terms of his medium; he remains, decidedly, unsiloed. Gier agrees, “We tend to categorize creative activity by discipline and genre. Paul’s work seems so unfettered. I think our students will relate to his fresh, relevant sound, and his energy and curiosity.” Typically identified as a musician, Miller indicates that music is, in fact, something he tackles with a “light touch.” Says Miller, “I prefer to keep it fun and experimental.”

In looking forward to Wednesday’s event and further interaction with the University community, both Gier and Miller are excited about the prospect of the Q&A session following the lecture. Gier is “eager to hear what kind of questions will arise from the audience — that has consistently been one of the most exciting parts of our Creative Matters events, and I’m sure this will be the same.” Similarly, Miller feels like feedback, specifically questions, are very healthy. They “help us reframe and think about” our work and creative processes, he says. Drawing on his roots in philosophy, Miller elaborates, “In philosophy, you’re supposed to ask questions. That’s what makes us create a robust kind of engagement with the world around us.”

Paul Miller (AKA DJ Spooky) will present as part of the University of Iowa’s Creative Matters Lecture Series on Wednesday, October 12 at 5:30 pm in Art Building West, room 240.

His album Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica is available in full online.

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