DJ Spooky: An Antarctic Expedition In Sound DJ culture has always been fascinated with the concept of cool. But musician and artist Paul Miller — aka DJ Spooky — decided to get to the core of the phenomenon. His new multimedia project is structured around his sound recordings from the icy continent.

DJ Spooky: An Antarctic Expedition In Sound

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So for all you safe Thanksgiving drivers out there on the road, perhaps it may feel like you've been on the road too long, but consider the travels of my next guest. Musician Paul Miller performs under the name DJ Spooky. And he recently fled New York City to one of the most remote places on Earth, Antarctica.

DJ: Ice Cube, Ice-T.

DJ SPOOKY: Or if you look at "Soul on Ice" by Eldridge Cleaver or Iceberg Slim, who's one of the first hip-hop MCs in the '60s, black culture loves this idea of the coolness of a situation, keeping things calm while being under immense pressure and then trying to figure out metaphors about it.

SMITH: DJ Spooky decided to get to the core of the ice phenomenon by recording the sounds of the Antarctic landscape. He used those experiences in a new composition, something pretty far from the dance music he's known for.


SMITH: This is a piece from "Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica." It gets its New York debut this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I asked DJ Spooky, what exactly does Antarctica sound like?

SPOOKY: So I made recordings down there, and I made the composition down there as well. It's inspired by the geography. It's inspired by the actual structure of ice. And above all, it's, you know, metaphors.

SMITH: Now, you live in New York City. You're used to this noisy environment. So describe to me what it's like. You arrive in Antarctica. Does it change the way you listen?

SPOOKY: Antarctica changes the way you think about everything. First, it's existential because there's very few people, if not no people. You go over a ridge, you get away from the rest of the crew. You see probably a million penguins or something, usually Adelie or Emperor penguins. Their sound actually is very loud and they also smell terrible. Everyone thinks penguins are polite and pleasant, but they are just as noisy as being in the middle of a huge crowd.

SMITH: They're like New Yorkers.



SPOOKY: So then getting away from that, yeah, the rest is wind, the occasional snap storm that would pop up, just incredible, open expanses.

SMITH: Well, we don't think too much about the sound of ice except, you know, maybe cubes in a cocktail glass. You brought in your laptop. Why don't you play some of the sounds that you heard in Antarctica?

SPOOKY: Okay. This is a glacier. It's not the most exciting sound because you have to imagine its time frame is about a couple million years.

SMITH: But you're not looking for excitement. You're looking for sort of raw material.

SPOOKY: Yeah, raw material. So let me just play you a sound of a glacier, and I'm going to skip into it a little bit.


SPOOKY: So those small, incidental sounds are the glacier kind of buckling and heaving but very subtly. And if you stand still, you can hear the ice sort of slowly buckling, which means you could easily fall through it...


SPOOKY: ...and you don't necessarily want to be in a situation like that. So it's always just give it a little bit of respect and a little bit of space and continue to try and figure out where the actual solid land is that you're walking on.

SMITH: Well, you're a DJ and composer. So as you're listening in Antarctica, are you writing in your head? Are you hearing the high notes, the low notes?

SPOOKY: Yeah, all of the above. You know, it's funny because there's a relationship to minimalism with this kind of thing because if you really look at, say for example, water currents, there's kinds of patterns that go on here, and I think that my role as a composer, when I was down there, was to kind of interpret it, figure it out and try and make a lyrical statement about it. So this is the sound of water coming off the Weddell Ice Shelf, and then I ended up treating it and making a sort of electronic music out of it. Here you go.


SPOOKY: And, you know, and already, you can hear a pattern with that, right?


SPOOKY: Let's - I'll play you a quick clip that was inspired by the sort of playfulness of water that's more of a classical music interpretation of the same thing.


SMITH: In your piece "Terra Nova," it's you on turntables and computers, two violins, cello and a piano.

SPOOKY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

SMITH: When we hear that piece, are we actually hearing sounds of Antarctica in it, or is it just inspired by?

SPOOKY: A little bit of both. The string piece is a component. Those are going to be subsections within "Terra Nova." By the way, those were string ensemble players I had play like (unintelligible) record. So I'm sampling them in the same way that I was sampling the water and other things.


SPOOKY: Some people, when they hear about the product being about the sound of ice, they assume that it's going to be the most obvious thing, which is, like, you know, a microphone next to, like, an ice cube or something, I don't know.


SPOOKY: So one was an electronic version, and the other was a string ensemble I had play my interpretation. So do you see what I'm saying? One is literally dealing with physical document of water, and the other is an interpretation of the same thing.

SMITH: I guess when people hear you went to Antarctica, they kind of want to hear...

SPOOKY: The most obvious thing.


SMITH: They want to hear it because otherwise, they're like, why didn't you just stay in New York and imagine what it was like?

SPOOKY: You know, it's like if you're telling Monet, okay, why don't you just paint the pond, you know?


SPOOKY: Or if you're Picasso, you know, some people will say, well, you saw those women, right? Why don't you just make them with one face, you know? It's like - and I think that's the artist's role. You know, it's not just to do the most obvious thing.


SMITH: Thanks so much for coming in.

SPOOKY: Thanks. It was a real pleasure and conversation.

SMITH: You can hear a few clips of Spooky's music, both from his Antarctic recordings and his adaptation for strings, at our Web site,

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