This is the seventh in a series of posts about my new book, Designing Media

DJ Spooky, AKA Paul D. Miller, October 2009

Paul Miller may seem a less interesting name than DJ Spooky: That Subliminal Kid, but he makes up for it with his erudite conversation, informed by his background in philosophy and French literature and his experience in art and music. He is a composer, multimedia artist, and writer who travels extensively to perform and give presentations. I met him at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where we were both presenting. At that time I thought of him as a DJ but discovered from browsing his Web site that he has a fluent command of media, with music, video, speech, social media, and online representation all contributing to the communication of his ideas. I interviewed him in New York.

“Good” water

Paul takes a piece of digital music and cuts, splices, and dices it to avoid the emotional connections of ownership, as music will be shared and re-purposed whether or not the originator gives permission. He compares music to water: The shareware model assigns value to . . . things that you have access to all the time, like water in an urban economy. Water is part of the commons, but if you want “good” water, you’re going to pay a certain amount of money for it. You’ll pay extra for bottled water, but if you want part of the commons you’re just going to turn on the tap, and that’s it. The easiest thing to do with music is just rip it, mix it, burn it, and that’s it: no one gets paid. You just do it for free, and you give it to your friends for free in an “informal economy.” Paul feels more emotionally attached to traditional media, like vinyl records. The re-purposing of a medium that seems to be vanishing may keep it alive, but radical redesign will be needed. Scratching on turntables has different performance qualities than ripping digital files, but they both have value and are different from the purpose foreseen by the originators. The skill of designing a musical experience remains securely human, with no likelihood of the DJ being replaced by an algorithm or robot. The DJ is here to stay, continuously mastering the manipulation of new media.


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