Even while he was growing up in D.C. — splitting time between Dupont Circle, where his mom owned a boutique, and Shepherd Park — Paul D. Miller had a feeling he’d wind up traveling all over the world.
“I was always into international culture,” says Miller, who’s better known by his stage name, DJ Spooky. “I even thought about being a diplomat.”
Instead, he became a musician (as well as an artist and writer), but the world still beckoned.
A few years ago, Miller went to Antarctica to record the sounds of ice melting, which he then sampled, remixed and layered to use in a new composition that drew attention to climate change.
Last year, while in Korea on an artist residency at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, he composed “Seoul Counterpoint,” a piece inspired by the history and culture of the city that juxtaposes Seoul with New York, where Miller now lives.
Miller says he’s fascinated with both Seoul’s and New York’s “eerie sense of hybrid density,” how the U.S. helped shape Seoul in the Cold War and how capitalism has shaped both cities.
This weekend, as part of the Korean Film Festival at the Freer Gallery, Miller will perform selections from “Seoul Counterpoint,” as well as one of his other compositions, “Electric Imaginary,” a “virtual cello quartet and installation” featuring two turntables and two string players that was commissioned by New York’s Asia Society in 2014.
“Electric Imaginary” was inspired by the collaborations between Korean-American visual artist Nam June Paik and cellist Charlotte Moorman in the 1960s and ’70s. For one project, Moorman played cello while wearing a Paik-designed bra made out of two strategically placed mini TVs.
For another, Moorman played a cello-shaped stack of TVs programmed by Paik. In this living art piece, Moorman moved her bow back and forth to create a drone that sounded like TV static. It wasn’t exactly what most people would call music.
“A lot of her stuff is even silent,” Miller says of Moorman’s work.
Miller calls this weekend’s performance “sampling history.” For the show, Miller will play his compositions on an iPad (using an app of his own design called DJ Spooky, which is available for free on iTunes).
He’ll be joined by a smattering of string and Korean instruments — played both traditionally (by cellist Danielle Cho and Korean singer-composer Rami Seo) and looped, layered and sampled through Miller’s iPad. In the background, a video will play a montage of historical footage.
“There’s a real dialogue between the turntables and the traditional instruments,” Miller says.
He describes “Electric Imaginary” as an homage to Paik and Moorman’s creative partnership and the way they tested the limits of music and technology — boundaries Miller continues to push today.
Freer Gallery of Art, Jefferson Drive and 12th Street SW; Sun., 5 p.m., free.
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