Sampling Digital Music and Culture
The role of sound and digital media in an information-based society: artists—from Steve Reich and Pierre Boulez to Chuck D and Moby—describe their work.
If Rhythm Science was about the flow of things, Sound Unbound is about the remix—how music, art, and literature have blurred the lines between what an artist can do and what a composer can create. In Sound Unbound, Rhythm Science author Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid asks artists to describe their work and compositional strategies in their own words. These are reports from the front lines on the role of sound and digital media in an information-based society. The topics are as diverse as the contributors: composer Steve Reich offers a memoir of his life with technology, from tape loops to video opera; Miller himself considers sampling and civilization; novelist Jonathan Lethem writes about appropriation and plagiarism; science fiction writer Bruce Sterling looks at dead media; Ron Eglash examines racial signifiers in electrical engineering; media activist Naeem Mohaiemen explores the influence of Islam on hip hop; rapper Chuck D contributes “Three Pieces”; musician Brian Eno explores the sound and history of bells; Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno interview composer-conductor Pierre Boulez; and much more. “Press 'play,'” Miller writes, “and this anthology says 'here goes.'”
The groundbreaking music that accompanies the book features Nam Jun Paik, the Dada Movement, John Cage, Sonic Youth, and many other examples of avant-garde music. Most of this content comes from the archives of Sub Rosa, a legendary record label that has been the benchmark for archival sounds since the beginnings of electronic music. To receive these free music files, readers may send an email to the address listed in the book.
David Allenby, Pierre Boulez, Catherine Corman, Chuck D, Erik Davis, Scott De Lahunta, Manuel DeLanda, Cory Doctorow, Eveline Domnitch, Frances Dyson, Ron Eglash, Brian Eno, Dmitry Gelfand, Dick Hebdige, Lee Hirsch, Vijay Iyer, Ken Jordan, Douglas Kahn, Daphne Keller, Beryl Korot, Jaron Lanier, Joseph Lanza, Jonathan Lethem, Carlo McCormick, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, Moby, Naeem Mohaiemen, Alondra Nelson, Keith and Mendi Obadike, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pauline Oliveros, Philippe Parreno, Ibrahim Quaraishi, Steve Reich, Simon Reynolds, Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud, Nadine Robinson, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Alex Steinweiss, Bruce Sterling, Lucy Walker, Saul Williams, Jeff E. Winner
What a marvelous collection! This provocative and wide ranging book is packed with a vast number of facts and theories: the sound of creation in the Vedas, the Muslim influence on early hip hop, mathematical permutations of bell patterns (Eno), the term 'Emptyv' (Chuck D). The essays criss cross over many aspects of sound—cosmic, chemical, political, economic. It sparks questions (Can sound be translated into light?) and presents bits of information like the name for Jamaican sound systems ('Houses of Joy'). Plus you get to meet fascinating characters like Alex Steinweiss (album cover artist), Motown's Berry Gordon and synthesizer pioneer Raymond Scott. And you get to consider how Bach's style might have been influenced by his job copying Vivaldi scores. Reading Sound Unbound also invites you to reconsider techno hype, as when Bruce Sterling describes laptops as 'colorful, buzzing cuddly things with the lifespan of hamsters.' I love this book!
For the maverick rhythm scientist Paul D. Miller, sound is liquid; it spills over and slips under categories, firewalls, case law, and legal codes to find us and move us. In the same way, his important collection of sound thinkers and sound ideas calls us to remove the fake 'security' imposed on us by capital and state, and, more crucially, to reimagine freedom and reclaim our creativity.
Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
Everything must be about one thing first, then it can be about many things. Paul Miller's collection of texts is about one thing: the use of scanning in music and more generally the world around us. He gives us a single structure to put very different experiences and theoretical constructs into an overarching context. The result is always interesting and often illuminating. These essays by thinkers and practitioners range widely and produce their own static and interferences, but they fall into one perceptible rhythm. A good staging of an opera uses what you see on stage to make you hear better. Similarly, these reflections make it easier to tune in to the sometimes confusing soundscape of our dislocated, interrelated, networked times.
It's a lovely eclectic collection that is a nice antidote to the usual way music and the history of music is often categorized into high/low, pop/classical, or black/white. I like Sterling's analogy between our beloved high tech media and inscrutable indecipherable archaic media like Incanquipus. From Raymond Scott to the hidden racism in digital circuitry to ahistory of easy listening there is enough inspiring weirdness here to fuel some musical fires for a good while.
Paul Miller has grabbed disparate philosophies and references from the past five hundred years and tied them into a neat and interesting narrative on music, sound, and current thought in our time. Sound Unbound is an excellent reference on art in the popular context in the twenty-first century.
Paul Miller is one of the best cultural radars in the world today. He always picks out the most relevant people working today and reveals previously unseen connections. If you want situational awareness about the world of sound, music, performance, computers, and ideas, read this book.
Lev Manovich, Visual Arts Department, University of California, San Diego
...this is a provocative and intriguing text, of interest to anyone working in or studying contemporary experimental music.