DJ Spooky on Remix Literacy

After some nudges from a professor, I’ve finally picked up two of DJ Spooky’s books: Rhythm Science and his edited collection Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Both are fun, beautiful books with accompanying CDs that I haven’t listened to yet.

Rhythm Science is especially interesting to look at: it’s published almost like a book of avant-garde poetry, with words and images sprinkled around the pages, framing the “main text” in a visual collage. (It’s all in two obnoxious colors of green and brown that start becoming unobnoxious once mashed together with each other.) Even better, the whole book has a circular hole through the middle, cutting back to where the CD rests in the back on a flimsy sticky pad that has already come undone–perhaps adding glue and scratches to the CD, leading to new, unintended sonic directions. Fun!

It smells funny, too.

Here’s a quote:

Saying that people are literate means that they have read widely enough to reference texts, to put them in a conceptual framework. They are capable of creating an overview. This kind of literacy exists in the musical arena, too. The more you have heard, the easier it is to find links and to recognize quotations. To specialize in either music or literature you need months, years of reading or listening to music. But the difference is that people have a more emotional approach toward music. If you don’t like a book, you put it aside after the first few pages. As for the philosophical or theoretical component in my music, I do know that average kids from the street are probably not aware of the connections between Derrida’s deconstructions and turntablism’s mixes, but it’s there if they ever come looking, and my own writings are a place to start.

That settles it: I’ll one day have to name an article / write a song / make a t-shirt with the phrase “It’s there if they ever come looking.”



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2 responses to “DJ Spooky on Remix Literacy

  1. Musical Milliner

    It’s interesting- this idea of literacy as applied to knowledge outside the thin definition of “literate” or “literal.” I think this is a concept which cuts a broad swath and can be applied to emotions, social information, et al.
    Musical literacy gets compartmentalized a lot. I went to a conservatory, a place where there is only one *Real* form of music- it’s absurd. Because I love so many kinds of music, I do tend to carry the habit of deconstructing which I learned in school. But because of that I can have a conversation with you about what distinguishes Delta from Chicago Blues, and how Eric Clapton’s technique is different than whomever. It’s what makes music fun. And it’s literacy.
    Keep up the great blog, man.

  2. kstedman

    Thanks for the comment!

    I was a music minor, and my wife works for a primarily classical music arts orginazation, which makes me feel musically schizophrenic sometimes: when hanging out with “serious” musicians I’m the weird one who likes videogame music and electronica and stuff. But lately I’ve been talking to some folks who live and breathe videogame music, remixing it to amazing effect, and to them I feel like the stuffy guy who (gasp!) likes Bach and Beethoven and Brahms.

    You’re right: it’s definitely literacy. But as we know, different communities define what THEY think is literacy, and then they stop talking to other communities. Oh well…

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