With 'Quantopia,' DJ Spooky Ponders the Evolution of the Internet

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Paul Miller speaks during the Digital Life Design conference (DLD) at HVB Forum on January 22, 2012 in Munich, Germany.  (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

There's an old saying in music journalism that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Perhaps even harder to pull off is a symphonic composition about the evolution of the internet—which is what DJ Spooky endeavors to do with Quantopia, a new piece premiering at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Jan. 25.

"The basic premise is that we live in a data-driven society, and most of us use our phones, tablets, laptops, monitors as portals into the web," says DJ Spooky, whose real name is Paul D. Miller. "Music is about patterns and so is the way we interact with the internet. We have patters in everyday life; we have patterns of data that algorithmically drive our tastes and styles. So I thought it would be cool, instead of doing a dry analysis, to do a lyrical approach to pattern recognition."

Quantopia, an incredibly eclectic work, combines elements as disparate as dial-up modem noises (remember those?), electronic beats and chamber music. Spooky collaborated on the hour-long work with the Internet Archive and data artist Greg Niemeyer, who created visual projections for the performance. String ensemble Classical Revolution and the San Francisco Girls Chorus will join DJ Spooky on stage at YBCA.

At the heart of Quantopia is the idea that the internet is a democratic place for sharing information. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which posits that everyone has the right to seek and impart information, was a major source of inspiration for DJ Spooky.

In our conversation, DJ Spooky mentions how the first message sent over the internet was from UCLA to Stanford, and how its academic background informs its utopian spirit as a place to connect and imagine new worlds. "It was made as this open source, educational space," he says. "Had it been made at some corporate lab, you probably would've had a different internet as we know it."

Quantopia premieres Jan. 25 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Details here.