Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blog #8

Paul D. Miller's "Rhythm Science"

Rhythmic Cinema

Miller, being almost meta-referential and in good academic practice, "samples" heavily from the writings of the people who came before who have dedicated thought as to how humans communicate cultural ideals, ideas and emotions.

(quoting Goethe) "Our country, our customs, laws, our ambitions, and our notions of fit and fair - all these we never made, we found them ready made; we but quote them." & "...Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand things: wise and foolish have brought me, without suspecting it, the offering of their thoughts, faculties and experience. My work is an aggregation of beings taken from the whole of nature. It bears the name of Goethe."
He references this to show that culture and creativity are known to be acquisitive and are never fully novel - always built on ideas bigger and larger than (and partially informing) the idea of the individual culture itself. No written or composed work is any more novel than a well-put together mixed work - they all build on tradition and musical, lyrical and literal foundations.

"We live in a time where the human body is circumscribed by a dense locale of technological sophistry: a place where the line dividing the organic and inorganic elements that form the core essence of human life is blurring."

The media we absorb becomes a part of our identity - our idea of self is informed by the cultural ideals infused in us by the process of enculturation, and now our culture is transmitted worldwide through the technology with which we surround ourselves. No longer are we limited to identity through proximity - the reach of our personal identity is no longer at the town scale, no longer at the state scale, no longer even fully at the national scale. Modern culture absorbs all things. I made a connection between one of his observations and another of my own from some time ago. Miller notes, "The post World War I world, like ours, was one that was becoming increasingly interconnected and filled with stories of distant lands, times, and places." The two World Wars, like the Crusades, spread cultural ideas far and wide. Though destructive and wasteful, both sets of conflicts served as vital a purpose in the development of modern culture as the spread of the Roman Empire, the Tokugawa period of Japan and the Three Kingdoms period of China: they spread ideas between isolated cultures. Men returned from the wars with the ideals, attitudes, linguistic changes, songs, stories, jokes and superstitions of their fellow soldiers, regardless of place of origin. Culture cross-pollinated through its soldier. Today our soldiers are packets of information distributed through the Internet - videos on YouTube. War continues, but it has less of a pronounced cultural effect inside of the connected world. The connected world cross-pollinates daily, something unprecedented in human history and likely is the signature characteristic of the 21st century. As any of the Himalayan peaks would be notable in the middle of Kansas, but hardly stands out amongst all the other giants, we notice cultural change by its prominence - the larger and more stark the change, the bigger its influence. While an American soldier with his iPad, high tech weaponry, and his vast music collection in downtown Detroit would scarcely make waves, the same soldier in rural Afghanistan is a revelation - a view of a world almost beyond the reckoning of the locals. Why? Connectivity - the same reason that WWI and WWII had such a profound effect on American culture.

Rhythmic Space

This brings us to another point Miller makes:

"...twenty-first-century [sic] aesthetics needs to focus on how to cope with the immersion we experience on a daily level."
Miller describes a total immersion in data previously unseen in human culture. The picture he paints of the airport and the immense volume of information incoming is intended to be a stark picture of how much information we must absorb to participate in modern culture, however, the scene he describes is less information-dense than the rainforest or the watering hole on the Serengeti; the difference is perceptual. He notices the difference because he remembers a time when there were human-produced data coming at him - less informational noise. Because of this new weight of human-produced data, he puts forth, "Nothing is out of the ordinary. Nothing... Cultural relativism - actually dealing with all the diversity out there ... let it be like a record spinning." He argues that the best way to produce that relevance is to embrace the information - let it flow.

Errata Erratum
"The click of a mouse, the roll of a pair of dice - they both have a kind of intentionality behind them. One is directly relational, the other is lightly random. The art of DJ-ing rests somewhere in between those poles of chance."
"...the original Erratum Musical, we're seeing someone's voice placed in a system of chance operations. Rhythm becomes the context for the performance and the artist becomes a part of the sonic palette he describes."
"DJ-ing deals with extended kinship systems of rhythm - one beat matches or doesn't match a sound-flow, and it's the interpretation of the gestures that make up the mix..."

Miller is comparing and contrasting avant-garde with the art of DJing, and the parallels are clearly apparent; the art of "found art" as with the simple act of painting what one sees are both deliberate acts of creation with the intent of communicating a message, "how one can make a work of art that is not a work of art" is as much of a problem as how one can take disparate noises and tunes with different rhythms, tempos and temporal signatures and make them fit together into something cohesive.

The Future is Here

In this section, Miller is talking about convergence between media and cultures and how the agglutinative nature of hip-hop and his notion of "rhythm science" is trans-cultural - at least among the connected societies. As he quotes Gibson, "The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed." He build using observational anecdotes from a variety of scenes built on his quote from Kittler, "Aesthetics begins as 'pattern recognition,'" creating a description of a number of trans-cultural scenes in which people are brought together to exchange very different ideas by the medium of music. "It's almost exactly a social approximation of the way web culture collapses distinctions between geography and expression, and it's almost as if the main issues of the day are all about how people are adjusting to the peculiarity of being in a simultaneous yet unevenly distributed world."

The Prostitute

Miller is describing the demands of his medium from the perspective of a club DJ - you serve the audience like a memetic prostitute. He describes it in terms of selling a service which is defined by both party's willingness to participate in an unequal exchange in the same activity - prostitution. He talks of his music as if he's lost in the media which creates it and he talks as if he is mastered by the act of mastering it: "that sense of wandering through an indeterminate maze of intentionality is what makes up the creative act.... The music and art I create is an end result of a life lived in an environment where almost all aspects of urban life were circumscribed by the coded terrains of a planet put in parentheses by satellites in the sky beaming back everything long ago... Pay the piper, and call the tune..." "The prostitute in the conveyer belt... It's not about a person, but the locus of intent and the negative dialectics of a role-playing game where your demands of a person are based just as much on their willingness to play a role as on the basic fact that the money being handed over is an emblem of your time and energy. It's a dance contest between master and slave... You pay the price and expect to receive satisfaction."

In the end, to play the role that your audience requires of you, in Miller's world view, you need to surrender yourself to what works is what he seems to be saying. This sounds less like a "rhythm science" and more like "rhythm shamanism."


  1. What you’re saying about the Crusades and WWI/II and “cultural cross-pollination” is really interesting. It’s a little odd to envision these wars as a (fairly brutal) exchange of ideas and culture, though it would be nice to think that something good or useful came out of them (aside from new and interesting ways to kill each other). I am reminded that Japan really threw itself into the Industrial Revolution after American warships showed up in their harbor. It’s funny /that it is strange/ to think of a time when major exchanges of information came from big groups of people traveling the world to smack other big groups of people around. Unlike now when cultural exchange is (at least in developed areas) available at the click of a mouse. Now if only we can replace real wars with flame wars…

  2. you did a very good job describing each section, very thorough and organized! I specifically liked the prostitution section and the final sentence you used to sum up the whole book.

  3. While reading over your post I really enjoyed the quote, "The click of a mouse, the roll of a pair of dice - they both have a kind of intentionality behind them. One is directly relational, the other is lightly random. The art of DJ-ing rests somewhere in between those poles of chance." that you picked from Errata Erratum. The pair of dice can only get you so far, but when you take that randomization and utilize it as a navigational tool for the Web, it can take you anywhere. The vast knowledge on the Internet is similar to our brains. We wont ever know everything, but we will know a lot.