We want economical sustainability. We want ecological sustainability. But how can we get that if we don’t have cultural sustainability?
When I say cultural sustainability, I am thinking about the capacity of a group of people, a collective, to create their own cultural expressions, while being open to influences from newcomers. It is the awareness of our cultural processes, methods and tools, and a capacity to store our knowledge, and pass it on to future members of the collective.
The idea of cultural sustainability is inspired by the way communities with a strong folklore tradition keep their culture alive and diverse. As opposed to a typical industrial age community, where the citizens are atomized into smaller and smaller units of cultural consumers. It is the opposition between a community where all are participating in the development of the cultural expressions, and a community, where there is a sharp division between passive consumers, and expert producers of culture.
In these years there is a booming focus on how to make our collectives more economically and ecologically sustainable, on how to build up a resilience to the obvious flaws of the current financial and political system. On how to make our collectives independent, and autonomous when it comes to food production, housing, energy, goods and services.
But we rarely hear about how to make our collectives culturally independent, self-supplying and autonomous. Or simply put: culturally sustainable. There is an abundance of occasions where we are getting together to find new ways of e.g. growing our own vegetables. But what about growing our own culture? While discussing new ways of living, new ways of organizing, new ways of decision-making, we still put on good old industrial pop music!!
With the concept Building Sound Collectives, the aim is to find out what happens when we use sound as a means of making our collectives culturally sustainable.
Building a collective is about listening to the other, about trying to understand the other’s world, and try to find a ground for building a new common world. We usually do this through words. This is smart when we talk with people that we are already agreeing with. But what about those with whom we disagree? Preaching to the choir always gives the best results, right?
It’s a very adult way of doing things. Talking. Using words. When you think back to the time where you went to school, you might agree with me that we had other ways of connecting with other people.
When I was in school, the official activity was about us learning stuff. There was a teacher talking about something seemingly relevant to us. But actually most of the activities I engaged in had to do with building a collective with the other classmates. And how did we do that? Did we sit around and talk and discuss and debate? Well, some. But most of the time we where playing around with meaning, playing around with sounds, we were playing around with nonsense, we interacted with our movements. We didn’t only talk. We didn’t only use this one channel. We had a lot more channels to draw upon, when building our collective.
A lot of people say:
“I am not musical. I don’t know how to play an instrument. I can’t sing. It sounds terrible.”
My answer to these people is: We are all musical! We are using sound ALL the time as a means of expression. We are doing it at a very very high level. Everyone. All the time. Most people simply don’t see it. They understand working with sound at a high level as something only musicians can do.
I am saying: we are all musicians. In our everyday life, when speaking, we are expressing ourselves in very intricate patterns in sound. We are able to perceive what is going on in another person through the sounds he or she is making. Not only through the words, he or she is using – sometimes people use words that are different from, or even opposite to what they actually feel, whether consciencely or not. How can we know what’s going on in another person, when the words don’t match? We listen to sounds! We are listening to all the intricate changes in the tone of the voice, the intensity, the timbre. From these little clues, we can build an understanding of what is going on in the other person.
When we are trying to create new ways of producing, consuming goods, and making decisions, we use new innovative tools and methods. If we want to build cultural sustainability, we need tools and methods as well. Indeed there are many new technological innovations that we can use. There are tons of apps, and online tools for people to be create new expressions, and recycle old expressions. However, few of these innovations give the users the ability to be creative as a collective.
So which tools and methods will help us be part, as a collective, of the creative moment itself?
Let’s start singing and dancing, right?! Well. Most people are not very fond of using their bodies and voices in unfamiliar ways. We learn that it’s wrong to stick out, and we think we are going to make a fool out of ourselves. Most of us. Then you have those who are good at it, and they will shine, and we will be ending up with the good old consumer-expert duality.
Focusing on performance, on excellence and on what we call talent is a residue from the good old industrial society. The thing is, that the way we use our bodies and voices, – our gestures and intonations – are embedded cultural patterns, that have a very strong effect on our collectives. They can sustain ways of doing and being that are excluding new people, new thoughts, new possibilities. A simple example is the handshake. Or looking people into the eyes. In some cultures people don’t shake hands. And looking into other people’s eyes is impolite. Good luck with the job interview in a Western company!!
We need tools and methods for building sound collectives, and for them to have an effect, they should be
- intuitive – building on existing ways of doing things, on known technologies, on everyday life.
- sufficiently challenging, but not too much. People will back off. Or just start fooling purposelessly around.
- open design. Participants must be able to influence the design in real time.
- rhythmical. No learning without repetition, we must find ways of repeating the processes, keep them going, sustaining them.