A mixed bag

Forgive him – he just flew in from Moscow.

Paul D. Miller, AKA DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, presented an
eclectic performance/lecture loosely connected to the work of Romare Bearden,
whose work and process are currently exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of

Friday evening’s lecture was disjointed, jumping from topic to
topic, making narrative leaps from jazz to civil rights history to Miller’s
journey in Antarctica to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The performance, a mélange of pre-recorded tracks, live mixing, and live acoustic material (provided by the UMKC Conservatory Graduate string quartet), was a little messy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Miller said at one point “you get to look inside my hard drive” as he searched for the
appropriate file. … I felt like we got a look inside the artist’s process. Not
so in typically polished performances.

Miller, as an internationally reknowned hip-hop DJ/artist/author, is an educated, well-spoken commentator of culture. Though the lecture was conceived as an “Acoustic
Portrait,” an exploration of Bearden’s work through the examination of sampling, Miller went from the jumping off point of collage. Collage, as well as African-American culture, was a main focus of Bearden’s work.

The presentation began with a demonstration of what sampling is, choosing two standard jazz pieces and mixing them using an iPad application Miller had developed. This showcased both the elements of improvisation and collage, as subsequent work were built of this process.

Rather than focus on Bearden’s work, though, Miller worked with a multitude of other influences, most often referring to his own work in Antarctica and consequent book, “The Book of Ice.” The musical constructions were illustrated by images and videos, notably a hilarious Fats Waller “The Joint is Jumpin,” a work commissioned by the NAACP, and some mesmerizing graphic montages of staves, circles, and imploding patterns.

He also included, for reasons not entirely clear, an image of Klan members posed on a Ferris wheel.

The end result was like a fractured prism, bits and pieces of music and image that formed kaleidoscopic memories.


Topher Levin wrote a review for KCMetropolis.org. Right on the money.

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