The Magician of MkzdK
An Interview of Stephen Miller by Stephen Williamson

S.W.: MkzdK feels large and complex when you visit it. How large is it actually? You're always updating the site; it's hard to get to the bottom of it.

Miller: I've cut it back; it had gotten to upwards of 80 megs. It's about 50 megs now. There are about a thousand images. It had three thousand files; it now has around two thousand. It's like a tree -- I prune it and add to it constantly, and it reinvents itself as time goes on -- that's a pleasure a solo site creator can indulge in.

S.W.: You do all the graphics, design and coding on the site yourself?

Miller: Yes, all of it. I really enjoy creating an environment -- as much as possible -- of visuals and text, and now also sound samples, but also the logic of pathways, relations, and links. There are two areas that have other people's work, Victoria Faust's photographs and Aija Ludellyen's digital graphics. I am interested in putting other people's work up. But it's easier and faster using my own.

S.W.: My guess is that MkzdK is one of the more popular individual, and individualistic creations on the Net. How many hits are you getting now?

Miller: I think it is, and has managed to keep a strong and stable profile as the Web exploded these last two years. As for stats now, I can't really say. At the moment I only have stats for the entrance page, (That page sits at the MkzdK domain. It gets about 7,000 hits a week.) The site itself is hosted on the Envirolink Network domain, and I don't have stats from them. A rough guess based on earlier stats? Maybe 200,000-400,000 hits a month on the whole site altogether.

S.W.: You use mostly Photoshop and Alien Skin in doing graphics. And you use Painter now?

Miller: I use Photoshop; Kai's Power Tools are by far my favorite add-on. Alien Skin does some very cool things too. I think Painter is a great program. I don't use it heavily, because it's complex, and I started in Photoshop. The bottom line for me is that Photoshop lends itself to collage and mutations. I'd be more interested in Painter if I were a hand drawer. You're using brushes a lot. In fact, when I did paintings, I also built them out of stuff. It's a different kind of style.

S.W.: You did collages then?

Miller: I did totemic things using raw texture areas like shadowed cement and hair, with illusionary painted spaces, more minimal compared to the digital graphics now. Deconstruct and reconstruct, that's basically what I do. Or deconstruct, mutate and reconstruct. For example, I use symmetrizing to create forms, not so much because I am fascinated by symmetry, although to some extent I am, but because I can construct forms out of random shapes quickly, using symmetrizing. I use symmetry to get forms, then recreate their relations.

S.W.: Your images start off as organic, you've said. Are they photographs?

Miller: Yes, natural textures, usually from photographs. What I think separates my graphics from others on the Net is that it is pervasively organic. I don't need a lot of source material because it goes so far in the transformation. I often use underwater photos, because of the colors and textures and patterns. I've always liked light flashes on water for example. Light lines in water, or moon or sunlight splattering on the surface of water. I like that very much, and I take that and transform it in different ways.

And the fish, and coral -- I love to use them. The thing about using natural tones is this: if you have an image of a fish, with beautiful patterned blue and green and yellow, and you start changing those colors, deconstructing and reconstructing it.... No matter what you have done to it, it still has the same relationality within itself, as the natural thing does. Whereas if you just use your picker and drop colors in, you don't get that innate relationality of the colors.

S.W.: Something in the use of symmetry, brings out the faces that characterize your site.

Miller: Yes, right, all living things are symmetrical. There is an immediate tendency to see it as a being of some sort, to see faces and torsos. Which is fine because part of the argument of the site is that everything has its own intelligence. That kind of stretching our imaginative grasp, about what's alive, what a being is.

S.W.: Do you intend them, or do they appear on their own?

Miller: Actually they appear because any time you put mirrored sides of chaotic patterns together, you're going to start seeing faces. A much larger part of our brain is dedicated to recognizing faces and bodies than it is to any other kind of thing. So we see much a greater range of faces and torsos among symmetrical things than you would see other kinds of things. Because we recognize faces, we can stretch our model of a face much farther, and still have a sense that it is a face.

S.W.: And it's the tension between the familiar sense of what constitutes a face and the unfamiliar, forcing its extension, that evokes a sense of an alieness. It's one of the aspects I suspect people love about the site is the alienness, something really strange. Most of the attempts to create a sense of alienness are fundamentally mundane.

Miller: To stretch our minds. We need the imagination to grasp reality. Imagination is not something that leads you away from reality. We're going to need more imagination to grasp reality.

S.W.: There are so many interesting areas on MkzdK. I counted more than fifty areas and separate articles in the index. I liked the shimmer area for example. I'd never seen the effect before.

Miller: Shimmer is a trick; you make a background of a long thin line. You can fool with the line, give it tones and colors and variations. When it stacks up, it will give you shapes that you couldn't have imagined. If it's a vertical line, when it loads, a line loads in, then loads in again. It comes up with a kind of sweep effect left to right. So apparently it moves across the screen. Funny things happen, like tables and text come in first, then the line will move back in blanking them out, and then they'll come back out again.

It's a good way to get variegated backgrounds quickly, especially when using frames, and you want a background in a frame shell. It's nice and fast and doesn't take any time to load, yet it gives some color modulations. It's the fastest way to cover a field. People are starting to use it now. It's fairly evident, but you can do fairly complex graphics with it And they end up looking a lot like.... (laughs) springs!

S.W.: It's looks like it might be generated by a program, but it's not?

Miller: No, it's just fooling in Photoshop. I like these kind of tricks, using normal HTML and normal Photoshop, and figuring something that will look -- well, you won't be able to figure out how that happened. But actually you are just using the most simple coding. I love those sorts of things. If I can turn it back on itself, so it looks like something else is happening, when in fact something very simple is happening, I enjoy that sleight of hand. You don't need a plug-in!

S.W.: Someone comes to MkzdK. What do you want them to take away with them?

Miller: I want to stir up their visionary imagination. And maybe help them to return to whatever strong moments of their spirit have earlier possessed them, and have later been forgotten. That seems to be a big effect it has. People seem to get stirred up again. Whether it's through idealism or the visionary quality of the art, it stimulates them.

And I hope that will happen with the science articles as well. The art is about stopping the normal mind, so that something else can rise up inside -- maybe. And I have had that response from a lot of people, that they appreciated the site because it gave them moments they haven't had for awhile -- a lot of people just get too involved in daily life.

That's why the articles are written short and punchy, and as brief as possible, to push and provoke the imagination. Science is just beginning a new holistic cycle, it's going to be really fascinating. It's going to be about the cosmos, life, and consciousness..."objective" science and "subjective" science, consciousness, meditation are going to re-approach one another.

S.W.: We're in time in which the imagination has to get out front, to lead in a way, that hasn't been as necessary before.

Miller: Every area of human study is up for grabs. Basically we are making an expansion in the direction -- that the world, the universe is much stranger than you think. More alive, much more surprising. That happens periodically. We go through that change periodically, but this is a big one coming up. That's why it can't be left to academics.

S.W.: The imagination has to extend beyond in order to take in the paradigm, the new paradigms that are coming?

Miller: And also to understand where we are, what the universe is. We're very narrow. Our species conducts itself within a very narrow perceptual range. It's an earth shaking re-evaluation if someone really gets it to the core, that they are living in a magical universe. Now there is no reason that they shouldn't be living in that all the time, but it hits people from the outside and shakes them up. Then it's unreachable when they go back into their normal daily life. This is the part that has to change. We have to break through into being in communication with the sense of magic all the time -- witness the magic of the universe rather than let it go dead in us.

S.W.: And a site like MkzdK can help in some way?

Miller: Yes, it seems to be doing that, both because the art is the way it is -- the art seems to stimulate that kind of mind and thinking, and in the content.

S.W.: The art and graphics may impact people first, but there is a lot of written material on MkzdK-- scientific developments, science speculation, cosmology, theory, metaphysics and so forth. Perhaps forty articles. The Gaia hypothesis a central theme?

Miller: I got interested in that reading James Lovelock's book in the eighties, The Ages of Gaia. I did a book review of it for a magazine in Santa Fe. Part of that article is reprinted in the site.

I think he is probably right, first of all. And even if the analysis is not exactly right, still, the exercise of thinking that the planetosphere is a living thing, extends our sense of what a living thing can be, and makes us think in terms of the interlocking, co-evolving complex of life we are part of. It is so important that we develop this understanding. It's like we make a meta-jump when we do.

It was like the first sight of earth from Apollo, that was the first comprehension that we were part of something broader, That there were no political borders. It's a living planet and we are part of that planet, We grew up on this planet, we're a part of the flesh of it.

Already, thinking about the Gaia hypothesis is a boon to human consciousness, particularly to the problem of making the jump to planetary consciousness, which has to underlie true sustainability in the future and a truly harmonious social reality.

In the new area Cosmos, I survey the new theories of Cosmos and the Galaxies-- that they are also self organized critical systems in evolutionary development. The work of Lee Smolin is especially featured -- by the way, his Life of the Cosmos is now available, and I highly recommend it.

S.W.: You've moved increasingly toward reporting mainstream scientific speculation and discoveries on the site. Did you study the sciences?

Miller: I went to the University, Harvard, in the late sixties and early seventies. The sort of vision that is coming out in the sciences now is the sort of vision I assumed at that time. But when I spoke in these terms people tended to change the subject, like I was recklessly opening cans of worms. I was impatient with the university experience because I couldn't engage with the classic perception of the big bang and strict interpretation of quantum theory, reductionist evolutionary theory, that sort of thing. It didn't seem either elegant or correct.

So I stayed out of science, and for similar reasons stayed out of philosophy. Back then I didn't want to have my head filled with old idea constructs, that seemed useless to the tasks ahead. Almost all my reading though in life has been in science and philosophy. When I carried books around Asia for years, it was David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order, or Rupert Sheldrake's A New Science of Life.

Things have shifted, and because the material is coming, I can report it. What used to be my own private speculation is now coming under study by the scientific community. Ideas that used to get me classed as too "out there" are now being looked at carefully, so if I can show it's actually happening in the science community, then of course there is more credibility. It's more about the ideas themselves.

S.W.: What else are people looking for when they come on the Web -- beyond the obvious? As you said one thing they are looking for is something strange, something mysterious and something that will stretch their imaginations. I read your feedback area. I think you're right to have it, because individuals need to get the sense of other people exploring the same way.

Miller: It's about finding others -- even from the data angle, the market, it means something. You can reach a multiplicity of very specific interests directly, no matter where they are or how thinly distributed they are. If there are a million people interested in something that's a lot. If there is only one in every large town that's not enough to distribute your goods which you can do on the Web.

So it's the same way with the sense of who we are and what we want to see in our future. It's important that people feel that there are others like them. They have a certain vision of a potential human future and how they want to live on the planet. I think that many of us just grown to accept that things are fucked and they'll only grow to get worse. That's fine, maybe that's true, but we have an opportunity to play a role in this drama in this lifetime, and it helps to know that there are other people who interested.

S.W.: How about the future of the Web itself?

Miller: We have entered a new period, because the first year or two on the Web it was easy for independents-- without Java or Shockwave or any of that, you could write a site and learn how to write a site very quickly by a source looking at it. You could learn that way everything you wanted to know.

Because of that ideas spread very quickly, so an individual could do a Web site as good or better than large company -- almost always better because on a large Web site too many people are involved decision making. But with Shockwave and especially Java, bigger companies can field more programmers. They can use their capital to leverage a difference in the Web sites. So we are in a secondary period now.

But since the Web is virtual, its not like West Broadway in NYC, where shoe stores replace galleries, and you see them every time you buy a newspaper. Of course, people's attention may get filled up; even if the Web can't get filled up, people's attention can get filled up. So if people's attention is getting overloaded by corporate messages and press releases, they may not remember where the independents are.

S.W.: The quick corporatization of the Web now taking place is a striking event, especially for early users of the Web, and still more for those that used the Internet for a long time. People just arriving don't realize how un-corporate and unofficial it once was. There has been a huge boom of self expression -- of connection and reconnection -- all over the world, which is continuing and is unlikely to end.

Miller: I assume that will continue. The distribution of the system is such that everyone should have their own area. In terms of it's being a new paradigm, a new view point of the world, I think the Web is going to be the premier medium and pull everything behind it. It will be the thing that pulls film and books and every other kind of medium in its wake. It will take on local color in spite of its universality -- for example in northern Europe now there is a huge connection of techno-culture with the Web which is producing some very inventive sites.

S.W.: Corporations are putting millions of dollars into sites now, but many of them don't have intrinsically interesting subject matter. No one has to go to a corporate Web site, unless they need some sort of hard information. Without all the bells and whistles, they won't get the extra visitors than constitute advertising as opposed to customer service. I think some of us are not going to go with the newest technology. We'll begin to look more like literary magazine as opposed to a glossy. The distinction will begin to occur more on the Net. It seems inevitable now.

Miller: Well, we still use pictures and text five hundred years after Gutenberg. It's still the most effective and simplest way to communicate things.

S.W.: My partner on the Motley Focus E-mailed me in September of '95. "You've got to see this site. It's one of the most advanced sites on the Web." He hasn't changed his mind.

Miller: I'm not a programmer, but I do cope with it. I use it, but I don't want to derail into a trip about technology. I've been more constrained in my use of frames, for example, than some sites which use them in a free-form artistic way. Media per se is a lot of fun to create, its true. Its easy to spend days fooling with a new tool. I have to sometimes remind myself that ultimately it's the vision, the ideas I run in MkzdK, that count there. That's MkzdK's job. I'm started doing more media-rich creations now for in Europe, and I am really enjoying the challenge.

I understand that the organization of paths, the navigation itself can be treated as an art form, an arena of artistic creation. I've been more constrained because I want to use it as an information organizer. For me the navigation has to be more transparent than that, because there is content that I want to make available to the reader.

I want them to experience MkzdK in the same way that you pick up a big book. I want them to know where the book begins, where it ends, where its table of contents is, where the pictures are. Then they have a grasp physically of the architecture of the book. I want people to have that with the site, that's why I have the frames with content links, because even if you only look at one area, you know where the other areas are. For example, in the galleries I liked the index along the bottom because it's a bit like a theater. You see the big picture up top.

S.W.: What were you doing before you established MkzdK?

Miller: Until 1992 I had been in business in Indonesia dealing antiques and ethnographic textiles. I managed a gallery in Santa Fe, which is how I moved my operation from Asia to the States. I had a PC at the time. For a couple of years I had been doing private investment in the stock market.

I got tired of the computer, using the PC, and was about to drop the whole thing when I decided to give it a last stab, and bought a Mac Quadra. I immediately fell into Photoshop and never came out again. There was a year doing Photoshop...and realizing that I wanted to keep doing it...and then the Web arrived.... I got turned on to the Web in the spring of 1994. As soon as some friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico birthed the server, I put MkzdK up on it. I had been on the Well. I was kind of expecting something like the Web and thinking of the future. Still the Web caught me suddenly by surprise. I thought "That's it, this is what I've been waiting for."

S.W.: Once there was more Shockwave material on MkzdK. Why did you pull back from Shockwave?

Miller: Well they were pretty big files, and not everyone had the plug-ins, you know. I used GIF animation more instead -- funny, with all the breathless press releases last year, it was still GIF animation that gave the most life to the Web, in a widespread way. I'm doing Shockwave and other creative media, and I'll be bringing more of it to the site soon. But this last year what I really needed for MkzdK was something that would blink and wink -- little lights going on, so it didn't seem static.

S.W.: I've noticed an increased focus on and use of music on MkzdK.

Miller: Well, when I started the site in 1994, there had already been ten years of development of techno-ambient-trance hiphop house music -- whatever you call this kind of music, which I love, and I love to work to it. It was widespread in the rest of the world, but unknown in America outside of New York and a few cities. So I've provided play lists on MkzdK, which are the mixes I did for quite a few years and provided radio stations. It's a deconstructed world music in a way. It doesn't have narrative stories, there is no singer whining and wailing. It's not hard techno, it's not manipulated or corporate pop. It's a real expression of our actual culture -- just like the explosion of music in the sixties was a true expression of our culture. Then it got into being a business. As a business it's a marketing thing, and it has nothing further to do with culture. Gets disconnected. And a true culture has been happening in this techno-ambient trance music in Europe and Asia. Now it's sort of sneaking into America, but it depends on whether the record companies think they can make a business out of it. It's kind of distorted in America, so the play lists and music on the site -- that's just my effort to cue people.

S.W.: You're interested in sound and you've been working with some experimental sound technology on MkzdK as well.

Miller: The reason I'm interested in sound on the site is, if you're looking at something on the computer and you have stereo sound coming out, it reaches you in the ears and kind of envelops you more, increasing the connection with the graphical informational material in front of you. Most of the sound on various pages in the site is kind of background subliminal atmospheric. There is more in the music and toys area.... But the main reason I'm into sound is that it offers a more complete experience -- when you're looking at the site, as soon as the ears are engaged it's wider.

S.W.: The site is Pixound enabled?

Miller: Yes.... Pixound is a cool toy, in fact it's a deep toy. Pages that are Pixound-enabled play QuickTime musical instruments on the viewer's machine with no download time, it maps sounds to hue, value or tonality in the image. Then there are the Pixound applets -- these are downloadables, and are really fun to make and play with.

S.W.: How do you see MkzdK yourself?

Miller: It's a pilot; as a pilot it's got to stand on its own, but it's also waiting for larger support. That's a pretty reasonable way to see it.

S.W.: What else?

Miller: It's a waterhole.

S.W.: And strange creatures drink there.


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