Rhythm Science

Letter to Myself

I didn’t know what to do, so I just started writing like I’m DJ Spooky. Feel free to rate my forgery in class.


Dear Me,

Who is myself? Is it the convergence and culmination of a thousand brightly colored, pre-packaged mixed media vectors distilled in open-source sanitariums swirling through the digital soundscape and sneaking into my subconscious only to bubble up and boil over into my frontal lobes? What is the wetness of water? The aboutness of an object? Is my unconquerable soul brought to you by Xerox in 4 parts without commercial interruption?

These are the lyrics of a man you can’t merely understand, because a dream deferred solidifies in the hand of James Joyce as he hurls it at Proust’s looking glass, leaving as many shards as their are torrents on the Pirate Bay. Mental graffiti. Turntabling the shoulders of giants in a reaffirmation of the self using Ezra Pound as a color palette.

This is a letter from a Birmingham jail written by a free man in Pennsylvania. Rhythm science. Only the idiot stays tied in Plato’s cave assimilating binary code like a broken record set to record. Rhythm science is not a re-cord, but a re-write.

Every master is a remastering. A rematerializing along the imaginative plane manifest in the freestyle fencing matches of comment sections. Post and riposte. Rhythm Science the digital postmaster without being post modern, post menstrual, or post mortum. Remix is a fertile multi-celled organism constantly dividing, mutating, and risking absurdity in the mitosis of expression.

Torrent Science. Media vectors deferred assimilated into giant turntables. The lyrics of my frontal lobes distilled by a multi-celled looking glass. What is the aboutness of water? The wetness of my Xerox soul? 4 parts of commercial interruption swirling through the digital sanitarium converge and culminate in my brightly colored dream graffiti.


Archiving Of The DJ World

“The best DJs are griots, and whether their stores are conscious or unconscious narratives are implicit in the sampling idea.  Every story leads to another story to another story to another story.  But at the same time, they might be called “music before the impact of language,” or pre-linguistic stories.  Core myths from the binary opposition at the center of the human mind.  In the twenty-first century, stories disappear and evaporate as soon as they’re heard, a sonic and cultural entropy.  Mass counterbalances rhythm science’s entropic drift, though, as the physical density of information becomes a new field open for interpretation. “

After reading the next section in DJ Spooky’s text many different paragraphs caught my eye.  However, the one mentioned above really stood out to me for many different reasons.  From reading DJ Spooky’s work thus far, the main sections and paragraphs that I have really enjoyed are the ones that make me go back and re-read.  This paragraph was one of those.  Within this paragraph I believe he pulls out some of the biggest topics that we have been discussing in class.

To begin, the first sentence relates to our discussion on “citizen archives”.  In this sentence I immediately was confused with the word griot.  Is griot a popular word and I’m the only one that doesn’t know what it means?  Well anyways, I looked up that word first and foremost and found this definition: “a storytelling in western Africa who perpetuates the oral tradition and history of a village or family,” (Webster’s free dictionary).  What I took from our discussion yesterday in class—is that a “citizen archive” is an archive wrote by someone who is not trained or employed to do so.  Although we came up with many different definitions for this broad term—this seemed to be the one that I most agreed with.   This sentence relates to that idea because it is showing how DJ’s can be “storytellers” or “archivers” of their own lives; thus being the citizen archiver.

The next sentence in this paragraph also applies to that idea.  “Every story leads to another story to another story to another story.”  I believe that this is why archives are important.  They are a constant flow of stories that help us recount our personal lives as well as the lives of many others.  Therefore, each separate archive can lead to another story or another archive.   So maybe we can even say that a DJ’s song combining many different songs can be a set of archives?  They may be taking it too far, but it is defiantly something to keep in mind.

The next part of this paragraph that really intrigues me is the last sentence “Mass counterbalances…..”  What I take from his title “Rhythm Science” is that it is the creation of art from a flow of ideas and patterns.  Therefore, in this sentence I believe the flow of ideas, patterns, and creation of new ideas becomes a new subject open for interpretation from the society.

DJ Spooky’s novel as a whole is a very intriguing piece of work.  This paragraph stands out to me for a variety of different reasons—especially how it connects to our class discussion.

Question:  Are the ways that DJ combine songs copying other music or archiving it and producing a new story?  Could we consider DJs archivers of the music world?

Social Stratification in the Nations Capitol

“African-American culture in D.C.  was and remains highly segregated. Class and social hierarchies are etched on the whole zone, the city rid and the monuments themselves. Seeing African-American kids drumming on plastic buckets in front of the Whit eHouse defines the District for me. D.C. was a mix culture as dynamic palimpsest- the electromagnetic canvas of a generation raised on an in electricity. That multiplicity really prepared me for the present moment, when even basic software modules for America On-Line come with seven or eight prefabricated personae to use at will to construct on-line identity.”

This particular passage spoke to me on several levels. It may not be the deepest paragraph, or even relate strongly to the archive. It struck me on an emotional level because I spent the summer living in Washington D.C. and while I loved the experience, but noticed how segregated the city really was. I lived right on the border of the N.E. and N.W. in the city in the Georgetown Law Building (pictured below). The campus was small and beautiful, but it was located in a relatively run down neighborhood. Right next door was shelter and with a disproportionate amount of African-America homeless. This poverty was a stark contrast to the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is primarily white with  very high income residents.

Despite the racial segregation, external and cross-cultural influences were apparent in the music and culture of the District. Miller talks about how “an African-American kid drumming in front of the White house defined the District.” This sentence reflects many aspects of D.C. beyond just the racial contrast. The White House symbolizes power, institution, and constraints, whereas the kid playing the plastic buckets shows a citizen using improvisation, using whatever he can to get the sounds he wants. Improvisation was present in many different musical and culture experiences in D.C., whether it was musicians on U Street, or freestyles unleashed at slams at Bus Boys and Poets.  Everything was very in the moment, letting inspiration flow. Miller embraces this same style, and says D.C. helped prepare him for “the present moment.”  All of the improvisation I experienced in the District had some structure, and was clearly influenced by other forms of music, poetry or culture. This, on the most basic level relates to citizens utilizing different cultural archives to create something new.


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?

To the stars

This imaginative conversation between Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) and Judith “Jack” Halberstam would be interesting based on the sole fact that the two authors have created alternate personas for themselves. Paul Miller has, at least for the sake of Rhythm Science, formed two alternate personalities in Ad Astra and DJ Spooky. Ad Astra is only mentioned in passing, but DJ Spooky is the true author of the book, and everything in Rhythm Science comes from this perspective. Judith, on the other hand, is not using her alias or alternate persona in the interview. She is answering the questions from her perspective as an educated, female, feminist. How different would the answers be if she answered from her drag king persona “Jack”? In order for this imaginary conversation to work, we need to make a key assumption as to who the two participants will actually be. Paul Miller may pull information and opinions from a different archive than DJ Spooky, and Judith may interact completely different if she projects masculinity through her Jack persona.

To simplify things, I will work under the assumption that the DJ Spooky persona and Judith Halberstam will be interacting based solely off of the text that I have just read. The beginning of this conversation would probably be a little awkward, because in a way, DJ Spooky seems to be a product of the trend of “re-masculinization.” Rhythm Science has a combative tone, and DJ Spooky speaks with absolute authority. He doesn’t pose questions or use passive phrases like “I think”, “I believe” or “it seems.” Rather, everything he states, he wants taken as truth.  Additionally, DJ Spooky only seems to draw from masculine sources such as William S. Burroughs, Paul Kammerer, and The Wu-Tang Clan. It should be noted that all three of these influences represent male violence on some level. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter, Kammerer killed himself, and C.R.E.A.M. depicts the way Wu-Tang members would pull guns to take and steal from others (admittedly there is much more to these influences than just violence).

This tone could lead to a rift between Judith Halberstam and DJ Spooky, especially when discussing “idiocy” and “stupidity.” Rhythm Science takes an aggressive stance towards idiocy, saying “the idiot is a zombie, a character straight out of Thriller…The person without qualities who cannot say ‘I.’ The person whom others speak through. Who has no central identity save what he or she knows. And what they know is that they know there is nothing else…” While Halberstam is also aggressive in describing stupidity (she directly calls Bush a stupid brat) she also admits that she believes “’stupidity does not stand in the way of wisdom, it is actually another form of it.’” This means that “idiots” may not be zombies (beings with no brain activity or drive other than feeding on active brains) but rather people who feel alienated from intellectual culture.

This is where common ground between the two conversation participants can emerge. Both DJ Spooky and Judith Halberstam are likely to agree that 1.) Stupidity is a form of power and 2.) The only way to break down stupidity is for people to access different archives and think differently. Rhythm Science addresses this in terms of music by explaining how the DJ creates new and creative material because “perhaps they have access to so many different cultural products as raw material…” The general public does not know how to get these “raw materials” such as isolated instruments and all of the other mixing tracks that goes into making a single song. If the masses had access to this archive of “raw materials” maybe more people would act as DJ’s. This thought extends to Halberstam’s notion of Feminine Masculinity, and breaking down traditional gender roles. She believes that giving young girls access to the same gender norms as young boys. Instead of focusing on “make-up, hair, dolls [and] high-heels” girls should be encouraged to be assertive, playing sports, or “fixing things.” Exposure to these elements would create a different archive of knowledge for women to be empowered and operate outside of patriarchy.

Question posed for class discussion:

Since Derrida claims that the archive is institutional by nature, does having access to different archives really break down the power of stupidity? Would an “idiot” know what to do with access to other archives to learn and grown?

A Mock Conversation with Halberstam and Miller




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Interviewer: The idea of anti-intellectualism plays a role not only in what both of you talk and write about, but also the manner in which you talk and write. Can elaborate on the ways anti-intellectualism has affected your work? 

Halberstam: Yes, in my previous interview I talked about the “neo-macho-man” and the present culture with its focus on a detrimental form of masculinity that has given rise to groups of men with a sense of entitlement ultimately expressed in violence. This machismo exemplifies the sense of anti-intellectualism that became apparent in the Bush years particularly after 9/11. I think if any thought provoking look at queer theory or feminist theory is to be successful, then academics can not have the disdain for people that stereotypically marks academic papers. “So for me, I then go to a popular archive and say, well, what are these mass-cultural texts that actually do appeal, do circulate, and do have sort of complex forms, and do contain different kind messages?” (Danbolt 3). It seems that some of the biggest break throughs in queer theory or feminist theory will come from someone capable of bringing mass appeal to complex ideas.

Miller: Halberstam makes some interesting points, but the DJ culture never had a place above popular culture, rather it flowed directly from it. “Sign and symbol, word and meaning all drift into the sonic maelstrom” (Miller 5). Every word and every sound from the dominant, mainstream culture was at our disposal from the beginning, so our work as DJs came directly from the “popular archive” as Halberstam would say. And while DJ-ing does flow from the “popular archive” and can be anti-establishment, that does not necessitate anti-intellectualism as the work of DJs can manifest as thought provoking critiques of society. 

Interviewer: Ideas of culture figure prominently in each of your works. How does your work feature within or outside of culture?

Halberstam: Well, first of all, I do not think you can be outside of culture. Much like gendering we are all in and surrounded by culture and even if we could stop it – which we can not – I think it would be senseless to do so. The importance lies in changing the culture at large by finding different archives and different concepts that will allow us to look at our culture and make necessary changes. 

Miller: I agree with Halberstam in many ways. When you look at all of the music that exists and all of the new music that is created every single day you quickly realize that you can never hear all of it. On top of that is all of the other art, such as books or movies, also being created that you will never read or watch. But within all of that, you can find new things and take what exists and sample, remix, and repackage it so as to express yourself. The result is not only the creation of something new from the existing culture, but a clearer expression of the person who created it. This holds true for mine, but really anyone’s work as a DJ.

Interviewer: Do you have any final questions that you would like to pose to the audience? 

Halberstam: I briefly mentioned the idea of finding a new archive. How could someone actually go about finding a new archive? What could a new archive be or look like?

Miller: I write about ideas taking shape and having a certain magnitude, but without being tied to a place. Can an archive ever leave its geographical constraints behind and exist without a fixed position?