ALL EARS For many, the Internet has come to seem ominous in recent years: It now represents, among other things, gentrification, invasion, surveillance, weird SpongeBob memes that make you feel ancient…. Certainly a far cry from those innocent days when you were stoked to find an entire affinity community obsessed with the same 1960s Japanese pop singer. But hey, you can order a lot of stuff now—and it might even arrive! </crankyoldman>  

So one of the delightful things about upcoming world premiere multimedia performance “Quantopia: The Evolution of the Internet” (YBCA, January 25, 7:30pm) is its potential to restore some wonder and artfulness in this pervasive technology, through music, visuals, collaboration, and a bit of fascinating history. DJ Spooky, aka Paul D. Miller, has been at the forefront of thoughtful electronic music since 1996, when his releases, drenched in philosophical overtones and bristling with provocative ideas, became must-haves for any intellectual listener. If anyone can examine the impact of the Internet on our lives in a dynamic musical setting, it’s the DJ/producer nicknamed “That Subliminal Kid.”

“Quantopia,” a collaboration between Spooky and data artist Greg Niemeyer of Berkeley’s Digital Media Labs,  is certainly ambitious, promising “a multi-sensory journey illuminating ever-present issues of inclusion and exclusion, echo chambers and small-world phenomena”—and includes musicians from Classical Revolution and the San Francisco Girls Chorus, “enveloped by data visualization and interactive video design.” In it, Spooky breaks down foundational Internet algorithms into components for musicians to play, and references such texts as the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The hour-long, three-movement piece is commissioned by the Internet Archive—itself a ray of hope in our eternal-present, memory-hole times—via the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission, and takes as its starting point the 50th anniversary of the first sound transmission on the Internet, when “two young programmers working together by phone attempted to ‘LOGIN’ from the UCLA computer lab to a Stanford Research Institute computer. The system crashed, but with those two momentous keystrokes, ‘L-O,’ the world would never be the same.”

World premiere | QUANTOPIA | Jan 25 San Francisco

Tickets available NOW for QUANTOPIA: THE EVOLUTION OF THE INTERNETA Multimedia Hip Hop Concert Experience About the History and Exponential Growth of the Internet, Commissioned by Internet Archive QUANTOPIA World PremiereJanuary 25, 2019 at 7:30pmYerba Buena Center for the ArtsTICKETS: www.quantopia.infoComposed and performed by Paul D. Miller aka DJ SpookyVisual design by Greg Otto Niemeyer Additional visual design by MEDIUM Labs and Roger Antonsen Featuring Classical Revolution and San Francisco Girls Chorus, conducted by Valerie Sainte Agathe –QUANTOPIA, defined as the utopia of quantification —the dream that we can count, measure, and weigh everything and reach a perfect understanding of the world despite its paradoxes— brings new, fresh perspectives on the 50-year evolution of information technology. Philosopher Marshall McLuhan said that the new media “works us over completely. It is so pervasive in its personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that it leaves no part of us untouched, unaffected, un-altered.” Teaming up with The Internet Archive and data artist Greg Niemeyer, composer and multimedia artist Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky created QUANTOPIA, an hour-long multi-sensory journey illuminating ever-present issues of inclusion and exclusion, echo chambers and small-world phenomena. A celebration of the history of the Internet, QUANTOPIA is a tribute to the depth and high stakes of free speech and creative expression involved in our daily use of media.The Internet Archive commissioned work by DJ Spooky is among the first 10 recipients of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, an $8 million commissioning initiative that is the largest of its kind in the United States. Presented in association with YBCA, and produced by Sozo Artists with additional support from Sozo Impact.

Posted by DJ Spooky on Wednesday, December 19, 2018

In anticipation of Quantopia’s dawn, I spoke with Spooky via email about how the piece was composed, what influences he drew from, American amnesia about technology, and how on earth he would compress the evolution of the Internet into an hour. 

48 HILLS The Evolution of the Internet is, obviously, a huge subject to take on. How did you first approach the topic in terms of compressing Internet history into an evening, and what was your general process working with Greg?  

DJ SPOOKY I’ve been thinking about “what is an instrument?” for a while. How people think of tuning systems is pretty wild—but what if we expanded the definition of an instrument? When you boil it all down, it’s just patterns. So is the Internet. So you take it from there and think about patterns in everything.

America has always had a weird thing about amnesia: If you asked your average person about how long they think the Internet has been around, you’d probably get some wildly different responses. I wanted to use the idea of the “archive” as a record collection (after all, that’s all a record collection is), but so is Internet Archive—it’s a record collection of every website ever made. A great way to start the project. 

Greg is an artist and so am I, so I look at the whole scenario as a conversation between creatives and we batted ideas back and forth while independently generating materials. It’s a conversation of different styles and approaches to how to visualize the massive impact of the Internet on all of us.

48H I love that Quantopia celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first sound transmission on the Internet. You’re one of our most astute readers and researchers into the cultural impacts of electronic sound. What were you thinking of particularly—influences, writers, theory, other sound artists—when you made this piece? 

SPOOKY I’ve written books for MIT Press for a while and have always thought of DJing as a form of information, not just music. I’m a huge fan of people like Nicholas Carr whose book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains influenced a lot of my thinking on this project, and James Gleick’s The Information. Or science fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson etc etc there are so many influences. Like the Internet itself, you can’t really appreciate how vast that archive of influences is until you actually try to quantify it. 

48 HILLS I’m struck by the theme of the first movement, “Information is a human right.” Can you elaborate on that theme in the context of the piece—and the wider context of where we’re at in the evolution of a medium that seems more and more to be controlled by a few people with immense wealth and power?   

DJ SPOOKY It’s been 50 years since the first two hubs of the Internet were made between Stanford and UCLA. During that time, we’ve had so many evolutionary developments in digital media and culture. We’ve made more data in the last couple of years than all of human history—hundreds of thousands of years in the blink of an eye. How would you turn that into a composition?

The other day I read an article saying over 40% of all activity on the Internet is “fake” and most of the traffic is bots, automated messages and non-human traffic. That affects how you think of all patterns coming out of that abstract machinery? Some of my favorite things right now are stuff like Black Mirror’s new Bandersnatch episode where you can remix the film or stuff like what’s been going on with “mixed reality” projects like Team Lab or the artist Ryoji Ikeda’s Installations. Love it!

48H It seems at this point we’re grappling with the more nefarious side of the Age of Information—over-information, misinformation, social media manipulation, privacy issues…. 

DJ SPOOKY It’s a dark time. I’m just trying to shine some light on the beauty of this wild and crazy thing we call the Internet.

QUANTOPIA: THE EVOLUTION OF THE INTERNET
January 25, 7:30pm, $29.50
YBCA Theater, SF.
Tickets and more info here.