Last Thursday I went to the Museum of Science to see DJ Spooky premier his newest piece called The Hidden Code (henceforth just Code). The piece is a multimedia experience of music (both recorded and played live), spoken word, imagery, and light designed specifically for planetariums. It grew out of a collaboration between Miller (Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) and a group of scientists from Dartmouth. These scientists ranged from theoretical physicists to cognitive scientists and linguists. The piece draws its imagery from a large collection of scientific visuals at Dartmouth including NASA images, deep-space telescope images, and experimental images such as colloidal suspensions and crystal-growth films.
The premise of the piece is that music is a kind of hidden code behind much of what we think of as "pure" scientific work and that the split between "arts" and "sciences" isn't reflective of reality. Notions such as "the music of the spheres" have existed for centuries and music also seems to play a large part in our cognitive life, reaching across cultural/linguistic boundaries and appealing to people (e.g. babies, injured folk, elderly) who are cut off from so-called rational communications channels.
Miller brings an interesting blend of skills. He's steeped in New York hip-hop culture and political awareness, techno, EDM but also has spent time with and studied classical and jazz art forms. He's also been scientifically minded for many years. Recently he took his "backpack studio" as he calls it to Antarctica and produced a piece that won a National Geographic award. He has a popular app that DJs and producers use and wrote a book about that (and about how the app infrastructure in general is changing things). I've been following his work for years but this was my first time seeing him live.
Code involved a lot of pre-programmed things but since this was the premiere he also brought along two of the professors from Dartmouth, one of whom read a poem about the Big Bang. This professor's voice is the only spoken part of Code. And there was another professor who plays jazz saxophone in Code and who did his part live at the MoS. Yes, a hard-rocking particle physicist.
Code is about 50 minutes long, which seemed like just about the right length. It's continuous, but clearly divided into sections, each with different themes and feels. The whole is intended to be woven together as a visual and musical journey or tone poem - a form I confess I'm not all that familiar with.
In the end I can say, yes I thought it was good. It was great to see DJ Spooky live and hear the Q&A after Code. If you get a chance, see it - Code will be touring planetariums at some point but I haven't seen a tour schedule published yet.