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Music & clubs

Discovery Zone: “Our digital future could be a real utopia”

Interdisciplinary artist and DJ Discovery Zone (aka JJ Weihl) lets us in on the concepts that informed her new record, 'Quantum Web'.

Photo: Andie Riekstina

In March, Berlin-based DJ and interdisciplinary artist Discovery Zone, aka JJ Weihl, released her new electronic concept album, Quantum Web. With mesmerising hyperpop beats, lo-fi vocals and synths, Weihl has constructed a narrative centred around our digital world, and our place within it. Challenging topics surrounding data tracking and cybernetics are paired with a modern, sprightly sound to immerse ourselves in just like we’ve immersed ourselves into digital worlds.

What is the Discovery Zone?

Discovery Zone was [an American] chain of child entertainment facilities that went bankrupt in the [mid-1990s]. I resurrected the name because it encapsulates a desire for curiosity and exploration within the confines of ‘Reality™’.

It’s like a janky attempt at a curated collective hallucination without the use of Apple Vision Pro.

Is it like your own version of The Matrix?

Well, if you mean a matrix in the mathematical sense of numbers arranged in rows to form a rectangle, then yes! And no! Making music inside of a computer sometimes feels like you are caught in a ‘matrix’ that dictates and restricts time and space in a way that can be both inspiring and limiting.

Can you tell us about the influences of Quantum Web?

In 2021, I took an online class at The School of Machines and Make Believe, called Radical Imperfection in Time-Tracking, and it was the first time I was introduced to the concept of self-tracking and data visualisation. The assignments included tracking your own behaviour, from how many hours a day you work and sleep to the things you eat, the time you spend exercising, reading, procrastinating, and on and on. Taking this class had a transformative effect on the way I see ‘data’ in general and the inherent flaws and biases that I observed firsthand collecting my own.

After completing this class, I made a commissioned piece for Pop-Kultur, called ‘Cybernetica’. In the process of creating the piece, I hired a private investigator to collect all my data and create different kinds of data visualisations. Then I took that very personal data and created a show that was a mix of a concert, a PowerPoint presentation and a sci-fi theatre play. Four of the songs I wrote for that show ended up being the foundation of my new record.

How are you intending to integrate this artificial world into the real world when you perform?

I utilise a special screen in my performances onto which I project 3D visuals, so I’m able to inhabit different environments and interact with different visual elements onstage. It’s like a janky attempt at a curated collective hallucination without the use of Apple Vision Pro.

What are your thoughts and hopes for our digital future?

Unfortunately, there is no outside force to blame for the state of the world, and, by extension, the digital world. Aliens and AI are nice scapegoats, but we are the ones with our hands on the wheel. The sooner we come to terms with the fact that we are in fact the obstacle in our own way of creating a more perfect world, the sooner we can begin working towards its creation.

Photo: IMAGO / Martin Müller

Technology is a tool, a force that can be used to elevate or destroy. Our digital future is a mirror of our IRL future, and the past and present at that. Watching a genocide unfold in real time inside our devices is a tragic and shocking reminder that we are in danger of becoming desensitised to violence, especially when it is mixed into our feed alongside an endless stream of self-optimisation apps, skincare products and clothing ads. Our digital future could be a real utopia, a place that transcends space and allows us to freely share information and ideas and play checkers as dinosaur avatars or whatever. As Jung said, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

A lot of your work is about acknowledging how much corporations use our data in online practices. Do you think, as a culture, we don’t pay enough attention to that?

I think sadly, at this point, we know it’s happening, and we still engage with the platforms that are exploiting us. It’s a hyper-normalised reality that we are all complicit in. It’s like being stuck in an abusive relationship. Things developed the way they did due to the greedy architects of platforms like Facebook and Google, who presented their ‘free’ services without any transparency as to how our data was being used from the start, because there was no precedent for it. Now that the curtain has been pulled off and we see how the backend works, we haven’t managed to create an alternative version of cyberspace that doesn’t exploit its users, so people just keep going deeper and deeper into the delusion. But I don’t think it’s hopeless.