Originality is a thing of the past

"The concept of originality is out of date"

DJ Spooky is a DJ, composer and artist. In his essay collection “The Imaginary App”, the 44-year-old African American deals with the cultural shifts that go hand in hand with the apps.

Apps have long been part of everyday life like MP3 players and electronic parking aids. Why do you see the little icons on smartphones as a quantum leap in civilization?

Just look at the numbers: Apple and Google's Android Play Store have recorded over 95 billion app downloads in just a few years. That is more than the number of words humanity has produced in all of its history. If an extraterrestrial saw us humans today, he could come to the conclusion that smartphones and tablets are part of our organic framework. We are constantly connected to them. But we have barely grasped what this paradigm shift means for our “global village”.

Isn't Marshall McLuhan's metaphor of the “global village” outdated? Haven't the apps meanwhile compressed the world to the size of the palm of your hand, so to speak?

In the 1960s, McLuhan was actually still thinking of a room full of computer cabinets that networked everyone with everyone. Today the world is in your pocket and accessible at any time at the touch of a finger. Apps promise us direct and immediate access to everything we need: Do you have a problem? Find the right app!

You designed an app called “DJ Mixer” yourself, which generated 12 million downloads in just one year.

"DJ Mixer" makes it possible to improvise something new from archives with millions of songs and sounds - and everyone in the room can mix in thanks to Bluetooth technology. There are endless possibilities in the mix. DJs were the avant-garde of this cultural technique, the new combination of information components compressed into sounds created the basis for our digital everyday revolutions.

They claim that the new technologies are throwing all previous categories of thinking about music and information into a crisis, and at the same time they rave about the new freedom of the «archive fever». Can you explain that?

Our society resembles a huge heap of rubbish: a dump full of physical, acoustic, literary, scientific legacies that can only be filtered and reassembled in the here and now. I am passionate about digging through the archives of the past - to recycle old things. Why not recycle words, ideas and feelings and let them circulate under new auspices? The idea of ​​uniqueness belongs in the 20th century. A blues song once had this claim. Today the same song can be generated online by twenty different authors.

What copyright and the associated idea of ​​authorship still mean is currently being hotly debated again. Jay-Z, for example, had to cede 50 percent of his tantièmen from the song “Versus” to the Swiss composer Bruno Spoerri after a year and a half's legal dispute because he had used parts of his instrumental piece “On the Way” without permission. And Pharrell Williams was sentenced to pay $ 7.4 million to the descendants of Marvin Gaye.

Because his hit "Blurred Lines", composed for Robin Thicke, allegedly resembled the arrangement of Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" too much. A joke! This idea of ​​authorship seems antiquated to me. Whether literature, art or compositional ventures: the concept of originality is out of date.

You have to explain that in more detail!

Today I no longer see a unique self, a unique identity and a unique sound, only fragments. Everything is put together. Refers to the past. And we need to define our relationship with these collage elements. The laws that were written before the digital era no longer reflect our reality. They seem about as relevant to me as when the American Constitution talks about how many slaves we can own.

How do you feel about your own musical productions, can everyone simply fall back on them to process them further?

I don't mind if others sample my music - at least nobody has to fear legal action from me. Because I never see music as a closed object, but rather as a process. A metaphor that can always be recontextualized.

You call your artistic concept of a permanent remix «Afro-futuristic». Many think of Sun Ra's theatrical robes and the invocation of distant planets.

Unfortunately, there are many misunderstandings around the term “Afrofuturism”: Even the hairstyle of pop singers like Janelle Monae is enough to throw them into this pot today. This is nonsense, of course. Sun Ra sought to overcome clichés in the extraterrestrial. I see it similarly: Afrofuturism or African culture - whether it is created in Africa or by black people of the diaspora - has always been open to new influences. This culture overcomes essentialisms and opens the door to a hyper-multicultural future, a revision of all the national borders we have drawn in the sand over the past few centuries. Because here lies the origin of all conflicts today - be it in Palestine, Syria or Iraq.

Do you consider the poetic concept of Afrofuturism to be the basis of digital world culture?

The African idea of ​​an open source culture was the model for I-Tunes and Google as well as for the whole rhizomatic way of storytelling on the Internet. Marshall McLuhan spoke of a "New Africa" ​​as early as the 1960s. He meant a culture of shared knowledge, of constant exchange and modification. Hip-Hop grew out of this spirit forty years ago, and today it inspires app designers.

After all, it was Europeans like Alan Turing who invented the computer.

That's right, and they developed it during World War II as an instrument of information warfare. But then African Americans came along and completely turned the way we think about computers upside down. They have misappropriated the technology, used it disrespectfully for their collages. African Americans have known a culture of fragmentation, play, and code rewriting for centuries. Mobility is also a fundamental experience of the African diaspora. With the prefix “afro-” computers became play equipment, something with which culture can be produced.

So the remix technique of early hip-hop DJs ultimately changed our entire perception of culture and society?

Exactly! There is no longer a completed work - just constant updates and rescripts. This idea is one of the most revolutionary driving forces of the 21st century. Even if I reject the commercialization of hip-hop, I tend to refer to myself as a post-hip-hop representative. Anyone who calls up an app today benefits from the achievements of black DJ culture.