You may not recognize the name or even the face of Paul D. Miller, an accomplished composer, multimedia artist, editor and author whose career continues to soar with meteoric proportions.
But once you’ve witnessed this D.C. native employ his provocative imagination and extensive knowledge of music, cast through the lens of his unique art of remixing, you’ll never forget the sound of his alter ego, DJ Spooky.
And as part of the Kennedy Center’s JFK Centennial Week, DJ Spooky, along with a string quartet from the District-based music ensemble Sound Impact, will present “Rebirth of a Nation,” conceived as a reimaging of director D.W. Griffith’s infamous racist silent film, “The Birth of a Nation,” first shown in 1915.
The culturally significant project, debuting on Tuesday, May 23 in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, will showcase the deejay as “artist” accompanied by two violins, a viola and a cello, along with three screen video projections controlled live on stage by DJ Spooky.
In describing his work and the influences that led him to consider tackling the images and ideology that serves as the basis of Griffith’s controversial film, he says he wanted to examine how “exploitation and political still haunt the world to this day.”
We asked him to tell us more about his project, a commissioned piece by the Lincoln Center Festival in 2004 and has been performed in venues around the world from the Sydney Festival to the Herod Atticus Amphitheater.
Washington Informer: Given the controversy that has long surrounded “The Birth of a Nation,” what prompted you to use this as the foundation of your project?
DJ Spooky: I’ve been a firm believer that history is increasingly important. The problem of our time is that people too easily forget how the gains we’ve made in human rights, civil rights, women’s rights — you name it, all come into being because people were unwilling to accept the world as it was and they wanted to change it. I’ve wanted to look at cinema as a reflection of the possibilities that we have at our disposal. It’s so important to remember — the past is never the past. It lingers in the present at every level.
WI: What are your goals for the audience as they experience this multi-faceted presentation?
DJ Spooky: I want people to walk out of the Kennedy Center feeling like they saw history as a cinematic remix and realize that the world is what we make it. Let’s face it — “Birth of a Nation” is a propaganda film. This is anti-propaganda propaganda.
WI: How did you first get interested in working as a DJ? What prompted you to develop your music in ways that are so different from others — so out of the box?
DJ Spooky: I’m from Washington, D.C., and grew up in a household that valued information. My father was Dean of Howard University Law School and my mother owned a store called Toast and Strawberries at DuPont Circle. I grew up listening to music that came from Washington — Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds, Trouble Funk, Minir Threat, Bad Brains and later Thievery Corporation and beyond. I never planned on being a DJ. I was planning on being a diplomat. So, I guess this is just an extension of that process of thinking about international D.C. culture.
WI: Do you believe that entertainers have a responsibility to address societal ills, problems and challenges? problems/challenges?
DJ Spooky: Absolutely.
WI: In your recent travels abroad, what was the focus of your music and how were you received?
DJ Spooky: One of my favorite projects is where I took a studio to Antarctica and wrote a symphony about the sound of ice. To me, environmental issues are more than ever at the core of what Americans can do to help the world. We need to understand that human rights, civil rights and environmental justice are all tied together. “Rebirth of a Nation” is a kind of call to people to realize — we are all in this together.
About D. Kevin McNeir – Washington Informer Editor 147 Articles
Award-winning journalist, book editor, voice-over specialist and author with 17 years in the industry. Currently an education and religion beat reporter for The Washington Informer. But I also tackle local (D.C. and Maryland) politics, entertainment, business and health articles to maintain my edge.
Born and raised in Motown and a staunch Wolverine – that is a graduate of the University of Michigan, I left corporate America (IBM) to pursue my passion for writing, accepting a beat reporter’s gig under the tutelage of the late Sam Logan, founding publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. I continued to hone my craft at N’DIGO Magapaper, Windy City Times and The Wednesday Journal, all in Chicagoland; the Atlanta Voice and The Miami Times. I’ve been fortunate to be chosen twice as the Feature Writer of the Year by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists. Later, as the senior editor of one of the country’s oldest Black-owned newspapers, The Miami Times, I helped my staff bring home the NNPA’s highest honor – Publication of the Year, 2001. That same year I picked up first and second place awards for news and feature writing, respectively, also from the NNPA.
Today I’m based in the nation’s capital where I’m honored to serve as the editor for The Washington Informer. Recognizing the importance of education, I’ve earned two master’s degrees from Emory University, Summa Cum Laude and Princeton Theological Seminary, majoring in theology and philosophy.
If I can slow down, I may actually complete and publish a collection of essays I’ve been working on for many years, “Growing up Motown,” sharing childhood memories of experiences with musical legends like Marvin Gaye, Kim Weston, the Four Tops, the Miracles, Gladys Knight and Take Six. My favorite foods: spinach, lasagna, pancakes and Oysters Rockefeller. My mom, 86, always my “best friend” and “cheerleader,” now lives with me and she brings me great joy. I’m a fiercely protective yet encouraging father and grandfather always down for traveling, shopping or celebrating the natural beauty of God’s world. I live by the following words: “Less is more” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
You can reach me on Twitter (@dkevinmcneir), Facebook (Kevin McNeir) or via e-mail, email@example.com