Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) operas and conceptual writings remain some of the most influential works of the last two centuries. With their complexity, abstract harmonies and deeply elaborate use of leitmotifs, Wagner set the tone for how we think about composition and multiple interpretations of set design, architecture, and the complete use of music to create a virtual tableau for 21st century digital media. It’s been argued that he is essentially the first multimedia composer.
Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, the innovative research structure at the University of Bayreuth, have invited Paul D. Miller to explore some of the deep structural relationships between Wagner’s concepts and the tensions between his work as a composer and theoretician and the long standing controversy surrounding his career.
From 2015-2016, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky is Composer in Residence at Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies in the heart of Bayreuth where Wagner oversaw his crowning achievement – the legendary Festspiel Haus. The Residency is comprised of an exhibition, concert series. It will be part of the joint exhibition of Academy researchers and artists responding to the overarching theme “Future Africa – Visions in Time” which opens on November 7th, 2015, at Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth. Paul D. Miller’s project on the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk is devoted to explores the philosophical dimensions of Wagner’s work in relation to 21st Century aesthetics and compositional strategies. The Residency will culminate in an album that explores many of Wagner’s most well known works.
I first encountered Wagner not just as a composer but as a friend of one of my favorite philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche. The collected Aphorisms of Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and one of my favorite adages from it “For, as a rule, artists are no better than the rest of the world, they are even worse – they misunderstand love. Even Wagner misunderstood it…” are a big inspiration for my work. I did one of my degrees in Philosophy and focused on Ludwig Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Hegel, and the rise of humanism. The intriguing thing about Wagner is that his work was never meant to be “just music” – neither is mine. I started my Residency in Bayeuth by physically walking through the town and environs for many miles. I wanted to put myself in the scenario of Wagner’s architectural idea-form, the Festspiel Haus to explore the resonance between the composer as architect and philosopher. There’s also the dynamic engagement with some of my soundtrack work: Wagner’s music was used to sublimely powerful effect in DW Griffith’s deeply controversial film “Birth of a Nation.” I remixed the film and soundtrack with Kronos Quartet in 2016. The other aspects of Wagner – The Tristan Chord (which many musicologist a trace to the rise of Modernist post Harmonic tone sequences, etc), and Wagner’s relationship to cinema inform the project and Residency: Apocalype Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), Amiri Baraka’s famous “Dutchman” (1964) on over to the Richard Burton 1983 biographic “Wagner,” to Stephen Fry’s “Wagner and Me” (2012), James Franco’s rendition of “Tristan and Isolde” (2006, Tony Scott, Director) and more currently, the rise of multimedia as the dominant global discourse of our time – all of these point to Wagner as more important than ever. From his relationship to modern cinema (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars etc) one can see his traces on almost every major aspect of Western culture – up to and including the main theme of many, many weddings: The “Bridal Chorus” (“Treulich geführt” in German), from the 1850 opera Lohengrin, is a march played for the bride’s entrance at many formal weddings throughout the Western world. Then there’s the whole issue of his concepts of Gesamkunstwerk and Zukunftmusik that anticipated our media discourse by a full century. While Wagner won critical acclaim for what he achieved in his theater works, his nuanced and passionately written, problematic philosophical works are less well known. I’ll balance music with art and philosophy in this Residency, and I hope you can join me for the journey.
I’ll be exploring a digital media response to his work by looking some of the more complex issues informing his work.
relation to 21st Century aesthetics and compositional strategies. The Residency will culminate in an album that explores many of Wagner’s most well known works.