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A Seismic Spinner

Photo by Mark Samuel Lee
Ben Parris spins music in a dark and smoky Baltimore club, hunched over two turntables. The music has a thumping bass beat, but instead of dancing, most of the club-goers -- young professionals and grad students -- stand listening intently to the computerized pings, whirrs, and scratches. Others just let the sounds melt into the ambience. Parris shies away from labeling the music he plays; "experimental electronic music" is the closest he'll get. And though his nighttime persona has its own name ("Pneuma" -- a Renaissance term for a substance thought to conduct sound), he'd rather you not call him a DJ. "There are too many DJs out there, people who are just into the idea of being a DJ," says the third-year graduate student in English. "I just happen to be someone who gets excited about music."

Parris studies literary theory and philosophy, as well as 16th- and 17th-century British literature. He also organizes an annual experimental music festival at Hopkins' Homewood campus, the Once Twice Festival. One of the artists he's bringing to campus in April, Josh "Kit" Clayton, made an album by plugging seismic data from the San Francisco Bay area into a computer program he'd written. Parris says the muddled sound didn't appeal to him, until he began to hear how the layers of sound interacted, just as tectonic plates do. He lapses into the vocabulary of Gilles Deleuze, one of his favorite post-structuralist theorists -- "multiplicity, assemblage, layers of stratification" -- until he catches himself. "Everyone talks about Deleuze and electronic music, but they do it in such a non-rigorous and lackadaisical way," he sighs. "All of a sudden it's cool and trendy to like Deleuze." --Val Wang
Return to April 2003 Table of Contents

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