by Jacob Novak
Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, performed his “Peace Symphony,” featuring the Nouveau Classical Project, about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II at Juniata on March 18.
The performance began with the Nouveau Classical Project performing three works by various composers. The first included a mix of electronic music, piano, flute, violin and cello. The next two works were duets with piano and cello and then piano and violin.
Following this section of the performance, Miller took the stage to join them. He introduced his composition and explained its meaning. “The composition is inspired by the stories of the Hibakusha, and I will be editing and creating several versions of the project over the next several months,” said Miller. “Everything is connected—stories inspire sounds which inspire art.”
The performance of the piece featured the combination of electronic music with the classical instruments from Nouveau Classical Project. Miller also created a visual presentation that carried the audience through the narrative and message of weapons of mass destruction.
The visual presentation also showed eight of the remaining survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Miller conducted interviews with them to gather more insight on the project and add to the video component. “I’ve been doing a series of projects about what I call ‘sound portraits’ and how they evolve with music and video. The main issue for me is how to present everything with DJ culture and digital media,” said Miller. “Sampling and collage mean that you can tell stories with fragments of media—that’s what hip hop is all about!”
Nouveau Classical Project is a contemporary classical group, founded by Sugar Vendil, who also serves as the Artistic Director and pianist for the group. “Whether through fashion, visual art or even mixology, we encourage more diverse audiences to experience and enjoy contemporary classical music,” said Vendil.
The group started performing with Miller for works such as ‘Peace Symphony’ in 2015 and continued into this season. According to Vendil, they met through a mutual friend who would turn out to be Miller’s manager.
Miller discussed the importance of learning why this subject matter is important. “Last year marked the 70th Anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the eerie thing about it was that there is almost no awareness of how the bombings affected the evolution of nuclear energy,” said Miller. “Meanwhile we have countries like North Korea and Iran attempting to join the nuclear power group of nations. Basically there is very little awareness of how devastating nuclear energy can be for humanity. I wanted to draw attention to this situation with music and art.”
Jack Barlow, professor of politics, also weighed in on the issue and its history. “So these (bombings) were 70 years ago, it would be like teaching someone in the 1940s about Indian massacres in the 1870’s,” said Barlow. “It’s a bit of history, but it’s a bit of history that you need to know in order to be an intelligent and informed citizen nowadays.”
Miller also discussed the importance of learning about the issue of nuclear weapons as well. “Music and the arts can catalyze so many different emotions. It’s so important to use the arts to respond to the current situation. We can say over and over that climate change is one of the most important issues facing humanity,” said Miller. “So is the problem of what to do with nuclear waste. It just doesn’t have the same media intensity as climate change or other major problems.”
According to Barlow, being able to understand these events is an important part of being a citizen. “We live in a world where Iran is looking for nuclear weapons, North Korea has nuclear weapons and we have a presidential candidate who, judging from his rhetoric, is very casual about using weapons of mass destruction,” said Barlow. “I think people need to understand that this is really serious, it’s not something to joke around with.”
Miller also went into how his compositions are formed and how his messages are woven in. “I always do research and try to figure out different sound portraits to maximize the way we can think of these issues. Hip hop and electronic music are my foundation. Everything else comes from the impulse to make it all more dynamic,” said Miller.
Following the performance, some students were pleasantly surprised. “Seeing as he is a DJ, I expected hip hop or dubstep,” said senior Ramsey Amad. “I loved the historical elements, I loved the scientific elements and the classical and the modern elements were all there, which was really cool.”
Freshman Joseph Maskell was also pleased with the mix between styles. “I can go see the Juniata Concert Bands to see the classical stuff, but the electronic music and the classical music together with the digital media telling a story was really interesting,” said Maskell.
Amad also thought that the subject of the performance was a worthy choice. “It’s a very emotionally ambitious topic to tackle because you have to live up to the expectations of the actual event,” said Amad.
Barlow also urged the importance of college students going to events such as these. “You are going to be the opinion leaders in your communities when you get out. Even if you’re pre-med, you may wind up on a council, on a school board, in a positon of leadership in the community,” said Barlow. “Being able to articulate a position, being able to understand the variety of positions that are out there, being able to understand the issues present in the world is something you need to start practicing now. There’s no easy way and no responsible way to duck politics as an American. You’re a citizen, you’re a voter, you’re present for the activity, and you need to know what you’re doing.”
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 8 News