Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid performed his “Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica,” a multimedia musical composition, as the finale for the 2011 deFINE ART program at the Trustees Theater Feb. 26. It seems appropriate to end deFINE ART with DJ Spooky because his work not only defines the extent of new media packages today, but goes on to redefine the portrait.
People may recognize DJ Spooky as an artist heavily played on the RJD2 and similar Pandora playlists, but he is more than a recording artist. He is a published author, graphic designer, photographer, activist and educator. It seems his network is limitless, too, having worked with Shepard Fairey, Yoko Ono and even SCAD’s Executive Director of Exhibitions, Laurie Ann Farrell.
Before his performance, Miller acknowledged that his art is “layered.” Though his performance was musical, he didn’t refer to it as a concert, but instead an “art installation” where we “take home a piece of the landscape.”
That landscape is Antarctica, where Miller traveled and set up a studio. Miller said his piece was a portrait.
“I think art can tell people another world is possible,” he said.
The piece began when Miller unveiled dry ice in front of the curtain. He stood alone on stage and gently dragged chimes across the ice to the tune of something similar to Daft Punk’s “Tron” soundtrack.
After this first movement, the lights cut out, stagehands moved the ice and the curtain pulled back, revealing the strings, pianist, two large mirroring projector screens and Miller in the middle behind an iPad.
The lights from the projector screens, showing clips of aged video, photographs and scientific charts about Antarctica, were so bright that when the curtains initially drew back, someone in the audience shouted, “Oh, s***.”
The white brightness, like the vast icy landscape of Antarctica, is overwhelming. And this was established immediately.
Each movement really moved—fast. And the audience was never notified if these transitions were movements. No conductor baton lifted. Miller, like a maestro, stood behind his iPad, this new age podium, and though he never lifted his arms higher than his iPad, he would occasionally look at the pianist, nod or grasp a side of his white headphone speakers. These movements were carried along more like a swift transition at an RPM show.
In today’s culture, “paint a picture” or “illustrate an idea,” is not literal. Paint and illustrate are broad verbs now. And Miller’s creation demonstrates that perfectly. What is traditionally thought of as a portrait is shattered by this piece. A portrait is not a moment in time anymore. Miller’s portrait is a credo. It’s a life. It’s a lifetime. It shows the good, the bad and the ugly devastation of global warming.
One of the most successful shots presented in sync with the composition was a picture of an old map against a harsh moment of dominant violins. This moment was interrupted by the harsh mechanical screech of Miller’s programming. And visuals weren’t needed for this moment. That unpleasant screech was the sound of technology or expansion and the rise of climate.
Another gritty moment presented in this portrait was the barren tundra. The strings became shrill against images of barrels on fire in the ice. It was terrifying.
But what wasn’t terrifying or gritty were some of the computer graphics used in the accompanying video. Some of the renderings look dated, like the coordinates that scrolled across the screen against the bar-code-esc stripes, pulled the audience out of the piece. Infographics, circa 1994, spin and flip and at every twist the Ken Burns effect is expected.
Thank God it never happened. But as soon as these graphics annoy, the video cut to a beautiful photograph of Antarctica—icebergs melting into the turquoise water. And the audience is back in.
Sometimes it’s not photographs, but words. This portrait has evocative words. After another terrible rendering, words scrolled across the screen: “Ice is a geological clock.” This portrait has poetry.
“The end” comes across the screen like a film noir, but “Terra Nova” is not a movie. It’s a concert, too. And it’s also a reading of educational and political text.
No longer are we listeners or readers or viewers. We’re just audience members now. And Miller isn’t a photographer, a musician or an author. He’s an artist. If anything can be taken away from “Terra Nova,” it’s that gone are the days of hyper-specializing in one media.
And gone are the days of multimedia being a novelty. It’s just expected now. “Terra Nova” proves it.Contact Deanne Revel.