Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Book of Ice

There's no question that Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, is a potent and persistent media innovator, ever building new and surprising bridges between sight and sound, dada and data, academic and popular worlds. A typical Spooky project has at least three media arms: a multimedia performance, a musical mixtape, and a graphical interface, whether virtual or concrete; it can be attended as a performance, popped into a pod, and slid onto a shelf.

His Book of Ice is one part of such a project, complementing his remarkable Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica suite. Unfortunately, it's the weaker part; without the visual and musical motion of his performance piece, the book seems strangely static and immobile. There are a couple of brief, somewhat inscrutable introductions by scientists, a typically wide-ranging tour-de-force essay by Spooky himself, and a couple of interviews. There's some interesting stuff in each of them -- I was especially fascinated by Spooky's referencing Georges Méliès's Conquest of the Pole, a clear print of which was only recently discovered (although the text incorrectly gives its date as 1902, not 1912) and Cook's Truth About the North Pole, an amateurish self-promotional film released the same year. But these are, of course, films about the "other" pole; there's not much about Frank Hurley's majestical Antarctic footage, and though the book contains a series of lovely historical photos at its end, there are no captions or comments to even identify their subjects, nothing to put them in context. The most visually striking part of the book, in fact, is a series of posters and logos announcing a "Manifesto for the People's Republic of Antarctica," though such a manifesto doesn't seem to appear in the book, and there's no reference to the (delightful) novel by John Calvin Batchelor which would seem to have anticipated this phrase.

For those who have been able to see and hear Miller's live show, The Book of Ice makes a visually engaging, thought-provoking souvenir. But, on its own, it doesn't really seem to reach a critical mass; what we have here is not so much a berg as a series of icy fragments, enticingly evoking a larger landscape that we never really get to see.

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