The Alchemy of Rhythm Science

“If I internalize the environment around me, who is going to control how the information eventually resurfaces? It’s an uncanny situation; the creative act becomes a dispersion of self. Back in the day, it was called alchemy, but in the hyperfluid environment of information culture, we simply call it the mix. Sampling seen in this light? I like to call it cybernetic jazz.”

            This paragraph from Miller begins with two sentences that raise interesting ideas about the rhythm science he espouses. In one sense he writes that the “creative act” or process of re-purposing the information around us is an act ultimately of self-expression as we reveal ourselves through our interactions with surrounding media. Interestingly, one can also argue that through the creation of something new a person disperses someone else’s “self,” because that information is now a part of another person’s identity. Miller goes on to write that this process was once called “alchemy;” a statement more metaphoric than historical. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary alchemy had three main focuses: turning baser metals into gold; finding a universal solvent; and finding an elixir of life. With the first goal as a metaphor the baser metals appear to be the various forms of media that surround everyone, while the gold is one’s creations that ultimately stand as an expression of self. The second goal reminds one that this process begins with an act of destruction: the individual being the solvent that corrodes the various media into fragments before generating a new work. Finally, there is the idea of the elixir of life. At first this image seems incongruous with rhythm science. No piece of information should go unchanged, unremixed, or unsampled and so there is no place for everlasting life. Rhythm science, however, sacrifices eternal life for a life in the present. The process of sampling and remixing allows the individual to express himself or herself, thus granting one a life in the present – a life that he or she would ultimately be deprived of if the works were granted unchanging, everlasting life. Miller ends the piece by labeling this form of sampling as “cybernetic jazz.” The word cybernetic is noteworthy here, because cybernetics focuses on replacing human functions with mechanical and electronic systems. In some ways it seems like electronic systems are replacing human individuality, but there is a more liberating way to view technology. For example, if a DJ like Miller wanted audio of a C chord for a project, then this DJ could easily find that sample online on almost every instrument ever made. Whereas in the past one would have to know how to produce those notes with an instrument, those barriers have been removed. Electronics replaced human functions and the result was a more liberating, democratizing means of expression for those humans. The second term “jazz” stands as a metonymy for increasing complexity, and improvisational freedom both of which play large roles in Miller’s rhythm science.

            Essentially, this paragraph draws me in by touching on most of the main ideas of rhythm science. It showcases Miller’s belief that the individual is a creative force converting the archive’s information about the past to create the future and an expression of themselves in the present. All of which is in a constant state of change. Likewise, his use of language makes me reexamine the past and definitions I thought I was familiar with to force me to think about how I create meaning in my life.

Question:  Miller uses the phrase “hyperfluid environment of the information culture.” Or there ever times when you see this hyperfluidity as being a detriment? Does a constant stream of information necessarily make an archive better?


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