Peace Symphony World Premiere: Q & A with DJ Spooky

by Jill Kimball


Many musicians are eager to separate their art from current events, whether it’s from a desire not to get entangled or a wish to seem timeless. But Paul D. Miller, better known as DJ Spooky, is eager to do the complete opposite. This year, Miller has chosen to ruminate on some of the most wrenching moments in U.S. history, from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

The composer, multimedia artist, and trip-hop DJ’s latest project takes on an even more controversial topic: the U.S. government’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, a move that killed 120,000 people and effectively ended World War II. Miller’s work, Peace Symphony, weaves together evocative music, historic recordings, and present-day interviews with eight survivors from that day 70 years ago.

Miller’s piece gets its world premiere at Cornish Playhouse this Friday, December 4, at 8pm, where he’ll be joined by musicians from the Nouveau Classical Project. You can buy tickets here for only $20 when you use discount code CORNISH.

This week, the music chair of Cornish College of the Arts caught up with DJ Spooky and asked him a few questions about Peace Symphony. You can read the Q & A below.

Tom Baker: First of all, how in the world do you find the time for all that you do as a creative artist? And secondly, do you find the time to notice the rhythm of the space between things with what must be an incredibly busy life?

​Paul D. Miller: I would say everyone is feeling that they never have enough time in the 21st century. For me, music, art, and literature are all simply reflections of the same creative impulse. It’s a core issue in the 21st Century. Capitalism forces our attention span to be framed by the huge array of commercial advertising that inundate us. I guess you could say that I use my art and compositions to create more time and space to think about all the issues facing us, and distill it all in one form. Music is the language we all speak.

​TB: This new piece, Peace Symphony, draws on a dramatic and profoundly disturbing time in world history. I know that you were artist-in-residence for Peace Boat (an international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment). Was that experience an inspiration for this piece?

​PDM: Japan and Germany took radically different routes after World War 2. Japan has an amazing group of peace activists and so does Germany, but Japan has a very different relationship to its collective memory of the war. I wanted to talk about memory with the survivors to see what could be done with their story. It’s a story we Americans never get a chance to actually hear. That’s what this project bears witness to: it has to be about purple to people shared experiences. Anything else is government propaganda. I try make this as much about humanity as possible.

​TB: Your work encompasses so many disparate pathways, though there always seems to be singular vision at play, even in the midst of intertwined collaboration. How do you reconcile these diverse adventures and creative work into an aesthetic focus?

​PDM: Inter-disciplinary art is the legacy of some of my favorite composers – from John Cage on one hand and Nam June Paik on the other. Aesthetics in the 21st century is one of the most complex forces because it encompasses everything about what it means to be a creative person in this Era. DJ culture is a kind of template because it’s always about searching for new ways to reconsider history. That’s what a good mix does. It gives you a good idea of what is possible.

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