Somnambule - Writing About Music

DJ Spooky ~ Rhythm Science

Do you fancy listening to e e cummings declaim against a backdrop of beats mixed down alongside Gertrude Stein set to DJ Wally? Are you waiting to hear Gilles Deleuze ruminating over Brion Gysin’s violin laid over Nicholas James Bullen’s doomy bass-scapes or Kurt Schwitters mingled with Bill Laswell and Scanner? Then grab your hat and wait no longer because DJ Spooky’s been given the keys to the Sub Rosa vaults and here he is with Rhythm Science, Excerpts and Allegories From The Sub Rosa Audio Archive. Do you experience a shiver of pleasure at the prospect of negotiating such peaks and troughs of high and low culture? Are you recoiling in horror at the sacrilege of such a conceit? Is the result respectful or insulting, ridiculous or sublime? Well, maybe it’s a mix of all those and a manifesto worth assimilating. This musical and sonic mix raises a lot of questions – and for once that’s no oxymoron.

Rhythm Science weaves cultural and temporal streams together to create a vivid, shifting tapestry of flow. In so doing he stakes a powerful claim to the democratising powers of the mix. For Spooky the mix form is “... a temporary autonomous zone where any sound can be you. The mix is all encompassing...” Over the course of thirty three tracks and seventy eight minutes he undertakes an exposition of ebb and flow and surrounds the listener with an ever-circling, ever-mutating procession of character, shapes and rhythms. The range of voices alone make for fascinating listening: Gertrude Stein’s ‘If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait Of Picasso’ is a live looping, self-sampling wonder, Apollinaire is almost lost in static and William Burroughs is his irrascible, sage, ever-recognisable self. Some of the cultivated accents heard through the crackle of time convey notes of pathos, others weariness, vitality and so on. Such wonderful voice speak through the medium (sic) of electricity and the DJ.

An oft-levelled criticism aimed at much of DJ Spooky’s output is that his rhetoric has too often outweighed the substance of his musical output and this is an argument that it is disappointingly difficult to refute. However with Optometry and now Rhythm Science his work has grown to become challenging and engaging. Coincidence or not, the copious liner notes on this release are remarkably readable, witness: “Stories have always fascinated us, and I guess that’s why we use music to communicate so many of the things that we can’t seem to get out in other ways...” Rhythm Science begins and ends with Sussan Deyhim, underlining the circularity of the project. Consider placing this mix alongside Coldcut’s seminal Journeys By DJ on your cd shelf.
Colin Buttimer
February 2004
Published by the BBC