Aaron Swartz Day 2018: The Inside Story – Part 1: DJ Spooky At The Creative Commons Launch (2002)

See DJ Spooky, along with Barrett Brown, Cindy Cohn, Brewster Kahle and others, at this year’s San Francisco Hackathon and Evening Event at the Internet Archive. (TICKETS)

Saturday Schedule & Evening Event Projects To Hack On

Regular Tickets Here

DJ Spooky walks across the stage before his performance. Artwork up on the screen by Ryan Junell.

By Lisa Rein, Co-Founder, Aaron Swartz Day.

RU Sirius asked me to elaborate in detail about the history behind this year’s Aaron Swartz Day International Hackathon and Evening Event.

To do this, we’ll need to go back to the launch of Creative Commons, in December of 2002. This is where Aaron presented our metadata vision to the world, and DJ Spooky presented and showed a trailer for what would become his classic “Rebirth of a Nation” masterpiece.

DJ Spooky spoke and performed at the Creative Commons Launch in December of 2002.

Video of DJ Spooky’s talk (includes trailer).

Watch the Trailer for “Rebirth of a Nation”  (Talk not included).

“How many of you have heard of a magazine called Adbusters? (Audience cheers.) As a kind of a sense of humor about that, they made this new flag. (He holds it up.) As a way to think about copyright culture in our era.” – DJ Spooky, CC Launch, 2002.

DJ Spooky, December 16, 2002

Transcription:

Hello everyone. How are you doing?

Some of you might know me as “Paul Miller.” Some of you might know me as “DJ Spooky.”

The fun part about DJ Spooky is that it’s a fiction. It was meant to be a character in a novel I’m working on. It started as sort of an art project. I was living in a place called “The Gas Station” in New York. It was next to a junkyard on 2nd street. It’s been razed over and is now a condominium.

Being in New York at a certain point in the mid 90s. It ws right on the cusp of when Digital Culture was slowly migrating out of the academiess, and really began to spread throughout the entire culture as we know it.

So, for me, music was always a hobby. Most of my other work – and many of my peers and fellow DJs – were always kind of archivists. We’re collectors – I like to say “philanderers of the subconcious.” People who like to look for rare nuggets of sound. Rare records. Rare grooves. Rare beats. And make new mixes out of it.

When I was first starting out, I would always make these CDs and little mixes that would say “Who is DJ Spooky?” There was a sense of humor about sort of audio theater.

To make a long story short, when they asked me to do a piece for this, I was thinking about it. I am in the middle of about three different projects. One of them is “Birth of a Nation” I am remixing that. It’s an early D.W. Griffith film. And many copyrighted works that are pre-1920 are still accessible. The film makes kind of a statement about the ownership of culture, and of course, about ownership of memory. Collective memory.

So that’s the project that’s going to be associated with Creative Commons. What I’d like to do is show a snippet of it. I presented an early work in progress of it at the Castro Theater.

Essentially whenever you hear something and the idea is made, it’s always a sense of playing with memory. What I’m fascinated with in the Eldred case, is the idea of who controls memory. How can you recall an image or a sound that’s essentially part of a collective unconscious. How we think of things that just go through your mind every day and how you externalize that. That’s what DJing is about. It’s playfulness. It’s reverence for controlled memory. Reverence for the found object.

So essentially, that’s what DJing has become. It’s almost a basic fabric; part of the the fabric of contemporary culture. So, there’s that kind of thing, which to me it becomes kind of what I like to call 21st century – a new form of folk music or folk culture. Some of you guys might have heard of the Joe Wecker case? A guy who sang lyrics about how to decode DVDs. Anybody? It was a very funny case where a kid basically sang the lyrics of how to decode DeCSS DVD control systems, and then made an MP3 out of it, and had various people show up at his door. So, it was a little bit of a hectic scene.

Kids being who they are, they printed the lyrics to the song (on how to decode DVDs) on a T-shirt.

(Someone hollers “woo!” from the audience.)

And so, again these issues, always migrate. You control one thing, the net will thread its way around it. And so on and so on.

That sense of control, one of the terms Larry always uses a lot, in his great book “The Future of Ideas” – if you haven’t read it yet; you should – is the idea of “creative co-authorship.” Being able to actually reach into a text and reconfigure it. And if there’s something we’ve seen throughout the 21st century, whether you are looking at the outside of things, or the underground or overground, it’s that sense of; whether you are looking at William S. Burroughs or the Jack Kerouac and the beats in the 50s, or the Dada scene in the 20s, or the early cinema people working with that, is that America has always been the place of “the mix.” But somehow, I think in the 19th century we were a net importer of intellectual property, whereas after a certain point we became a net exporter, and that’s when all these kinds of control issues come up.

So, how many of you have heard of a magazine called Adbusters? (Audience cheers.) As a kind of a sense of humor about that, they made this new flag. (He holds it up.) As a way to think about copyright culture in our era.

There’s that famous scene in Bladerunner: The main character goes into a DNA lab, where “they” own your eyes. Or they own your DNA. So, if you’re Monsanto, or one of these other companies, you can reach out and copyright, an indian in Brazil’s DNA, for example. But if you’re a DJ, and you download an MP3, all of a sudden the FBI shows up at your door. So these kinds of imbalances are very intrinsic to how we think of them.

So, anyway, to make a long story short. What I’m going to be doing is presenting a short trailer, so to speak, of the remix of “Birth of a Nation.” In it, you’re going to hear a different soundtrack and different kind of clips of the film remixed against itself. The idea is “cinema as memory.”

With that said and done, I just wanted to thank the Creative Commons folks, and I’m going to show you guys some of the software I used to undergo the material. Most of the film is edited using software called “MAX/Msp” – actually David Zicarelli is based out here. They essentially released the core basic aspects of the code, and you can download it and you pay a certain licensing fee, and then you make your own versions of it. So, the software itself has become part of the basic folk culture exchange kind of modum.

I don’t want to talk to long, but I just wanted to let you guys know, that’s what it’s about. And I’ll play some examples, and I will slowly remix the film, as it’s played. But this is gonna be short. The film is normally about 3 hours long; you’re seeing about five minutes.

[Note from Lisa Rein: There were technical difficulties, for a while, so I stopped the camera. Then DJ Spooky came back on stage, and I missed his first sentence.]

So! Again, this is a trailer. And I’m going to improvise a little bit here, because I’m kind of going away from turntables since there was a cable problem.

But you’ll be hearing, underneath what you’re seeing here. (He starts the music and we see a computer configuration screen that he clicks through, and a countdown starts on the screen.)

Watch the Trailer on archive.org

[DJ Spooky comes back onstage.]

So, the basic idea here is “cinema as found culture.” Remixing is a kind of collective engagement. What we call “creative co-authorship.”

So now you can download this from Creative Commons and also from my site. Again, you gotta think of it as a trailer and the longer piece is going to have a lot more a lot more live stuff. But what I’m working on now is detailing the body language of the characters interacting with one another.

The piece your hearing before, is funny is from Alan Lomax Archive of southern gospel and blues, and Moby sampled it as well. So, again, who owns these memories?

I just want to say, it’s a pleasure to see these issues being raised, and that’s what the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case is all about. If you think of HTML as a dialogue between these links and servers, you gotta think about how people remember things, because you hear a sound, you get one memory, you hear another sound, you get another memory. And you’re always jumping between memories.

From “Rebirth of a Nation” – a remix of D.W. Griffith’s “Lost Cause” Narrative, “Birth of a Nation.”

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