System Error: Al-Yamamah Mix (Podcast Aesthetics)

Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid
Listen to the Podcast



Artists Statement

“A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.”
Alexander Solzhennitsyn

A couple of years ago, a Saudi oil minister made what has become one of the more prophetic statements to come out of the Middle East in a long time: “The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” It was a lament, an acknowledgement that a day of reckoning was coming that would change the global balance of wealth and power. The mix I created for the “System Error” show is a reflection of a series of geographic interventions that looks at that statement from the viewpoint of sound – it envisages an audio theater in the tradition of John Cage, with his 1939 composition “Imaginary Landscape,” that was the first work written for turntables, or composers like Duke Ellington with his “Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” symphony that quoted music from around the world. Essentially, this is a work that represents a practice of diaspora based on the hidden linkages in sound from a world that responds to the politics of perception. From the production processes of the information age’s collision with the values of the 20th century – mass media, mass production - to the digital ethos of the 21st century – rip, mix, burn, mass customization – the basic fact that music is a de-materialized experience for most of us that runs through everything from the Ipod playlist to the networks that people send mp3’s, videos on Youtube, or life on Flickr, brings us full circle into a world where you are what you consume. I like to think of this mix as a mirror I’ve held up to society: it’s a reflection of the way we live now. Perhaps, just perhaps, that Saudi oil minister was right.

In the 21st century, parables of warfare information control systems like George Orwell's hyper-revisionist “1984,” have now become commonplace. In the 21st century we’re faced with a world where “newspeak” refracts what we thought about as even the origins of the Iraq conflict blur beyond any sustainable logic – weapons of mass destruction have become weapons of mass distraction in the U.S. media. Who are we at war with? Oceania or Eurasia? The Axis of Evil? Hugo Chavez? War is diplomacy by other means. It’s been said that “architecture is nothing but frozen music.” I want to reverse engineer that phrase and unpack some of the sonic issues that collage brings to the global stage – what happens when music becomes liquid architecture? Apply that scenario to info war and music, and you arrive at “System Error.” The “For Promotional Use Only (Al-Yamamah)” project that accompanies this catalog is a social sculpture of radically disparate voices: it exists in the tradition of Grandmaster Flash’s “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel” or Afrika Bambaata’s “Death Mix” – classic hip hop that completely destroyed what people thought “mix culture” was about. “System Error (For Promotional Use Only)” isn’t about simply re-ordering facts and numbers - it shuffles the contemporary imagination like a deck of cards and, in the process, subverts the “rational arrangement” of systems of media. The project explodes linear narrative so that some other meanings can manifest. In the realm of “fair use” that dj culture comes out of, the “System Error” mix synthesizes a fictional realm where people like Turkey’s Mercan Dede, London’s Roots Manuva, Brooklyn’s Matisyahu, Israel’s “Subliminal and the Shadow,” Jamaica’s Mutabaruka, Iran’s Sussan Deyhim, Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Lebanon’s Clotaire K, California’s Zack De La Rocha, the minimalism of Irannian composer David Abir, or the jazz of Evan Parker’s saxophone, or the people of the hip hop diaspora like Saul Williams, DJ Shadow, Rob Swift, Asian Dub Foundation, or scribes like Arundhati Roy can coexist as data points in a constellation of digital information. All these figures inhabit a place where sound functions as a palette for creative endeavor.

How do you use the media to tell a story? At heart, “System Error” paints a tale of the last several years – of media disinformation, for example - highlighting Bush’s statements as found sound, or sampling various “maqam” songs from Iraq mixed with hip hop, which show a simple connection between how music reflects the data-aesthetics of information networks. It presents rumors of war: I like to think of it as data-bootlegs, the currency of a world economy of sound filtered through regional concerns. Think of it as contemporary art that brings you the world from fragments of sound. It’s a tableau made of soundbites collaged, dispersed and condensed into material that reflects a realm of infinite possibility. Marcel Duchamp, James Rosenquist, Jeff Koons, David Hammons, Joseph Kosuth… the list of visual artists with a relationship to “appropriation” art is almost a catalog of the major art movements of the 20th century that the 21st century has inherited. I just wanted to look at the issue from the viewpoint of acoustic space. What happens when this type of collage is applied to sound? Maybe that’s a question that Nam Jun Paik was striving to answer with his “Global Groove” mixes 30 years ago.

There are a couple of issues driving this scenario – theater, memory games, and the early Surrealist game of the “cadavre exquis.” I like to think of it as additive synthesis in a digital media context: it’s art culled from the viewpoint of collective memory. First, let’s begin with a sense of humor. This project comes out of a discussion I had with the artist/curator Naeem Mohaimen about why South Asian music blends so well with contemporary hiphop. I simply explained that the Caribbean is the central point of diaspora with this situation - its rhythms have reached back to every region of the world – from the from the Rai music of Algeria, to Bhangra and Qawwali of South Asia, from the Afro-beat of Nigeria, to the Kwaito of South Africa, to the dubstep of London, the echo of the Jamaican soundsystem ethos of tape collage and bass minimalism defines most of what we think of as “modern music” in today’s digital culture. I guess you could say that Jamaica is the “loudest island in the world” and the British Commonwealth is an echo chamber of the elements I chose to mix for this particular project. But there are other elements like, for example, the West Point Drum Corps (they don’t exactly jam with Sufi mystics like Mercan Dede everyday!). Second there’s the irreverence that children of the digital age show for historical boundaries – why not go to the Souk in Tunis and hear young kids rhyming in Arabic over Rai music remixes of Dr. Dre beats, or for that matter, listen to groups like Cold Cut sample Yemenite-Israeli singer Ofra Haza for their classic remix of Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full?”

I want to nudge people to think about art not just as objects, but as a collective endeavor where memory is translated through the filter of sound. This kind of collage looks at the words of the singers, the sounds that I scratched into the rhythms, the beats and elements that I put in collision with one another, as a simulation of history: it’s all a soundtrack to the end of the Oil age. Loop, repeat, refract: its just modern storytelling by other means. By the way, Al-Yamamah means “the dove” in Arabic, it’s the name of the project at the heart of a recent series of scandals in the U.K. involving slush funds, oil sheiks, Swiss banks, kickbacks, blackmail, bagmen, arms deals, war plans, climbdowns, big lies, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair - it's a scandal that has it all, corruption and cowardice at the highest levels, a festering canker at the very heart of world politics, where the War on Terror meets the slaughter in Iraq. Yet chances are you've never heard about it - even though it happened just a few days ago. The fog of war profiteering, it seems, is just as thick as the fog of war. This is a soundtrack that maybe, just maybe, might get you to think that another world is possible. For me, music isn’t music – it’s information: that’s what art is about - this is just a start. As information, it fits into a complex niche in today’s modern digital economy, a place where data is the most pervasive and intangible feature of the everyday world we inhabit. War is, regretfully, a system made of information control systems, and this mix is an essay on the topic of how music filters through the networks of modern info culture – it charts a cartography made of invisible flow charts, graphs, and statistical data bases (after all, sampling is a mathematical model for analyzing large amounts of information like population growth for the census, etc etc). Remember – the “System Error” mix is strictly “for promotional use only.” Think of this mix as a memetic virus, and spread the word!

For Promotional Use Only: Podcast Aesthetics
Listen to the Podcast

System Error (Al-Yamanah mix)
by Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

Ghost in the Shell excerpt
Intro - Mercan Dede "Sahname"
Afro-futurism intro
Arundhati Roy - "Suspicion of Nationalism" mixed with Clotaire K "Maqam"
Asian Dub Foundation - "Rivers of Dub/Strong Culture"
Meat Beat Manifesto "Basic Beat/Timebomb"
Clotaire K "Lubnan"
Evan Parker "Gees Bend" mixed with the West Point Drum Corps "Field Flourish"
MC W vs Guvnah Arnold
Rob Swift "Mad Bombers/Terror Wrist"
Dj Shadow "Drums of Death" /mixed with GW Bush press conference
DJ Shadow w/Zack de la Rocha "March of Death"
Matisyahu "Beat Box"
The Clash "Guns of Brixton/Return to Brixton"
Bob Marley "Soul Rebel" (Dj Spooky remix)
Badawi "Jihad" (Dj Spooky remix)
Nightmares on Wax "Summer Love"
Azeem "Bush is a Gangsta"
Evolution Control Committee "Rocked By Rape"
Dj Siraki "Azaadi"
Asian Dub Foundation "Culture Move"
Asphalt Jungle "Sensation"
Ges-E & Visionary Underground "Extaa"
Oum Kalthoum "Hob Eih" mixed with Dj Spooky "Break Beat"
Saul Williams "Not in Our Name" mixed with Tectonic "Heat Sensor"
Black Star Liner "Yemen Cutta Connection Dub"
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan "Tracery" mixed with hip-hop break beat by The Molemen
Lofti Double Kanon - "Kleb"
Navdeep "My Technique"
Subliminal & The Shadow "Divide and Conquer/Hefred U'mshol"
Coldcut featuring Roots Manuva "True Skool"
Tino Corporation "Magic Dub" mixed w/Mutabaruka "Dis Poem"
Sussan Deyhim "Meykhaneh (Wine Cave")
Cheb i Sabbah "Violin Solo"
David Abir "Lesson 1 Movement A (Study1) excerpt"
Arundhati Roy "The World in Other Terms"
Vijay Iyer "Postlude Prayer" mixed with Susie Ibarra "Solar Drums"
Ghost In The Shell excerpt