All Articles
All Articles

DJ Spooky: Seoul Counterpoint


DJ Spooky: Seoul Counterpoint

The musician spins a live internet tale of two cities at NYC's La MaMa this weekend

by Nara Shin
on 10 April 2014

When we last checked in with Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, he was finishing up his year-long residency at NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seems like he hasn't taken a break since: Miller was then the 2014 artist-in-residence at Seoul Institute of the Arts, an experience which bloomed into an exploration of electronic music, DJ culture and history of other cultures.

Seoul Institute of the Arts has been partnering with NYC's La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club for over 30 years. In 2009, the two organizations together founded CultureHub, an offshoot art and technology center at La MaMa. One of the center's first endeavors was to build mirror studios in Seoul and NYC, where artists in both cities could perform together through internet-based teleconferencing. DJ Spooky demonstrates the potential of such cultural exchange in the culminating event of his residency—"Seoul Counterpoint." We dropped in on a rehearsal at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre in the East Village for a behind-the-scenes look.


Miller will be DJing from his eponymous app—a version of Musicsoft Arts' DJ Mixer—on three different iPads while sharing the stage with musicians (who are playing violin, Korean percussion, and the traditional 12-stringed gayageum) and La MaMa dancer Miriam Parker. They won't be alone, however—making use of CultureHub’s telepresence technology, they'll be doing a real-time collaborative performance with a chorus, as well as modern masked dancers, almost 7,000 miles away in Seoul. During the rehearsal, we heard powerful pansori-style vocals, snippets of the sorrowful haegeum and more that Miller had recorded in Korea, being processed and juxtaposed against tight snare hits and deep kick drums in his signature beats. Instead of feeling like a remix or mash-up, or even crossover music, the performance is unlike any other; the two histories, landscapes and cultures are truly performing as a duet, sonically and visually.

The first iteration of "Seoul Counterpoint" was performed two weeks ago in front of an audience at Namsan Arts Center in Seoul, and it will now be presented to the NYC audience in what Miller describes as a more "sit down, atmospheric" format. Miller worked with musicians, artists and composers, writing an hour's worth of notated music, with special focus on counterpoint technique—hence the name. "When you have counterpoint in musical theory, you have different motifs overlapping in different ways, so it's call and response," he says. "Having all of these different motifs and elements going simultaneously—that's the way we live now." (Miller adds that Steve Reich's early minimalism classic "New York Counterpoint" was another source of inspiration.)

Sampling has opened up a whole global dialogue with what it means to make an authentic statement, from whatever culture you're coming from.

"The whole initiative of the project was to show there was more of a connection between different points of view," says Miller. "And what happens with electronic music and DJ culture is cosmopolitan. People move between scenes, they move between styles; and that's to be celebrated. Sampling has opened up a whole global dialogue with what it means to make an authentic statement, from whatever culture you're coming from. So if I'm an African-American sampling a Brazilian record and remixing it with Egyptian music—like, who knows? Like what Eric B. & Rakim did with Paid In Full, where they sampled a woman who's an Egyptian singer and mixed it over a hip-hop beat with James Brown funk; it's problematic about authenticity. But the good news is that kids will press play and hear the mix. In the 21st century, all of these cultures are mixing and transforming—DJ culture is where all of that is happening."


Providing the backdrop to Miller's music is the technological "set" created by CultureHub. When they first started building codecs for telepresence, the hardware cost around $30,000; today, that price is around $5,000—although there's still lots of room for glitches and malfunctions, which is why more people haven't adopted the internet-based technology. "We live in a constant state of [nervousness]; I consider it like the Wild West," says CultureHub's Artistic Director, Billy Clark. "We had a workshop with England and the whole internet grid in southern Manhattan just went out; it's not going happen. It's very risky but we have enough experience now—[but] you never know. We try to structure it in a way where if it can't happen, we can work around it and keep going and we just keep our fingers crossed, because we think there's value and people need to be working in this space. Eventually, it's going to become super commonplace; we're just at the fringe of it."


Using hacked Kinects as depth-sensing cameras set up around the stage, CultureHub's technical director Jesse Ricke has created interactive visuals for the show; they're real-time 3D avatars in 3D space of the dancers, musicians, even Miller himself, that can be affected by the audio, and manipulated in different ways—blurring the line further between the physical and the digital realms. And the images in the far background, though abstract, are actually derived out of imagery from Seoul and New York; on occasion, you'll be able to spot the landscapes "breathe through" and be able to recognize familiar scenery.

Three performance of "Seoul Counterpoint" will take place this weekend, 11-13 April 2014, at 7:30PM in La MaMA’s Ellen Stewart Theatre; tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors) and can be purchased online or by calling 212-475-7710. From 12-4PM on Saturday, "Heavenly Code," an interactive installation designed by CultureHub, will be on view—it's free and open to the public. For those not in NYC, the Sunday performance will be live streamed at the CultureHub website.

Thumb image courtesy of Theo Cote, all others by Nara Shin

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community
Loading More...