February 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

DJ Spooky on Apps, WiFi Music Parties, and the ‘Post-Playlist Era’

paul miller dj spooky

Paul Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky (photo: Mike Figgis)

Paul Miller, records and tours under the moniker DJ Spooky. He also writes books, makes art, writes articles, and releases his music in an interactive, remixable music format: DJ Spooky and The Secret Song 2.

These apps not only let you remix his songs so they can sound different every time you play them, but you can upgrade for the ability to record sets and WiFi Party Mode, which lets you mix and play your MP3s — and your friends’ MP3s via WiFi — on a sound system.

Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: When we appeared at that WNYC event, you mentioned some crazy number of times that your DJ Spooky app has been downloaded.

What’s the latest, can you share that with us?

The DJ Spooky App

Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ SpookyMusicsoft Arts has had about 10 million downloads. Apple has had about 25 billion apps downloaded. I want to point out that, yes, while we’ve had a very solid response to my app, it’s built on the template of the DJ Mixer, but customized for DJ Pros.

Evolver.fm: What has having an artist-branded app done for you, and what about this particular approach have you appreciated?

Miller: In the last couple of months, I’ve basically been doing my sets from my iPad for my Antarctica project, The Book of Ice. What I do is basically run the elements that I’ve written for the graphic design scores from the book. So I want to think about graphic design and its relationship to DJing, but through the tools of sampling.

A lot of my work is about exploring memory’s relationship to sound – landscapes, “soundscapes” – and I’m inspired by App designers like Scott Snibbe, who did Bjork’s app for Biophilia. I took a studio to Antarctica and made compositions about it. The rest is sampling.

(interview continues after the video)

Evolver.fm: Which do you use, the “two turntables” layout, or the digital one? Or are they each good in different scenarios?

Miller: The two turntables is an intuitive interface that maps old tools onto new interfaces. It’s a bit old school, but that’s why nostalgia is a big market. Memory is a place of permutation. I just wanted to update the idea through the turntable aesthetic. That’s why it worked – so many apps that came after mine did a similar thing, so I must have been on a good path.

The “digital” version is essentially: You are lining up the waveform of a song. That’s why editing is important, but not essential – you would want to be able to load songs and play them back at edits. It’s very intuitive in a way that turntables aren’t.

Evolver.fm: Users can only import your two songs and four of their own before paying $15 for the ability to add more of their own. A couple of commenters seemed not to appreciate that too much. What’s your take on that situation?

paul miller dj spooky

Photo: Richard Avedon

Miller: Yeah, that was a team decision with Musicsoft Arts advocating for that price point. I would prefer a free open scenario, and for the most part, the locked features are really dynamic: being able to record a mix while you are making it, and have everyone in the room be able to download your set immediately is kind of cool, plus the video mixing option as well.

They all are unique variations on how people interact with music, plus the WiFi Party mode that allows people to use the app like Sonos to control remote soundsystems – it’s all worth the amount of money, depending on how you react to the features.

Evolver.fm: I’m by myself right now. Can you explain the WiFi party mode a bit? From what you know of, is that a popular feature?

Miller: Basically, the WiFi party lets people play material from your Apple devices on the iPad remotely. You can take over soundsystems and use material from any WiFi-enabled device. I’m quite interested in technology that allows your crowd to relate to the archive you have on your phone or iPad or whatever.

We live in the post-playlist era. The WiFi party is just a real-time reflection of what’s up.

You can see a live version on Engadget for example… an entire string ensemble scenario spliced and diced on my iPad software:

Evolver.fm: I read that you use your own app to DJ live, which is neat. I believe Google calls that “dogfooding,” although I hate that expression. Anyway, do you have any pro tips for how people can take their usage of the app to the proverbial next level? I know, there’s a tutorial included, but I thought I’d try to hear if you have any personal tips for getting the most out of it.

Book of Ice

Miller: Yeah, I use it all the time now. Once you get into it, it’s really, really addictive. Like all good technologies, it’s a way to transform how you think into how you hear and take action. The rest is editing.

Evolver.fm: Anything else you want to tell us?

Miller: I’ve been doing book launch events for my new book about Antarctica [Book of Ice, pictured left], and that has been my passion for the last couple of months.

I’m working on my next album and a film project, and I just produced Meredith Monk‘s new album with folks like Björk, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nico Muhly, Caetano Veloso, Gabriel Prokofiev, Anti-Pop Consortium, and many others.

Check ‘em out – needless to say, I had the launch party for the album sampled, spliced, and diced through my iPad app.

Download the DJ Spooky app.