move fw

Building Sound Collectives, what, why and how?

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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.

Why sound?

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.

How moving

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.

” As the voice is invisible, we can make it visible through a gesture or a drawing during the act of vocalization. In this way it will be possible to overcome the dichotomy between orality and writing. In this workshop we will find interactions between drawing and vocal expression to unveil the gestural aspects that are hidden in our voice.”

Gesture as a collective phantasm?

“.. we suggest viewing gestures as key constituents of phantasms , quasi-present objects that are produced through multi-modal utterances. This perspective highlights the ways in which gestures mark profound transformations of participants’ experiential histories, transformations that open up, for the speakers, new insights into the matters they strive to imagine. The study of these insights led us to emphasize not the simulative, but the creative roles of gestures.”

https://www.academia.edu/3615421/Gesture_and_Imagination_On_the_Constitution_and_Uses_of_Phantasms

Houses without walls in gated communities

The first thing that stroke me, when arriving to Cali, Colombia is the fact that

the houses don’t have walls!!

The house my wife stays in, and where I am staying untill my residency at Lugar a Dudas starts June 4, doesn’t have a wall to the patio. No wall, no doors. It’s not needed, because it is never cold, here!

The houses don’t have walls to the patio, but they do have walls to the street! And fences. Cali is a city with many gated communities.

Another thing that stroke me was the way that people are doing all kinds of things to earn a living. There is a lively  business going on around every traffic light, where people are selling lollipops, cleaning windshields, and even doing acrobatics.

What’s very much in vogue right now are yellow t-shirts, from the national football team. Everything is sports right now. In Giro de Italia, the  colombian team is winning. The owner of the house where my wife lives is super happy. Everyone is so proud about their bicycle champion, here!

Read more about my experiences from my residency in Cali here.

My residency in Cali has been made possible with help from 

0b is laughing at Vallensbæk Children's Culture Week

Telling a story through sound – a workshop concept for 0 – 3 grade

It’s a dilemma when working with sound as a means of expression, how to use the visual . It will almost always be a rather risky marriage – the visual being a very dominant partner, that tend to take control of the agenda. AT THE SAME TIME , we can use the visual as a lever to get the aural , – which is very hard to hold on to ! , – into the game.

I was invited by the Vallensbæk Children’s Culture Week, in sept 2013 to give workshops with and about sound. To the occasion, I developed a concept,  “Tell the story through sound” where I use digital and analogue tools and methods to give children who are not familiar with musical instruments the opportunity to express themselves through sound.

I used my own software, Fonokolab. With this tool, you can record a sound and it will be stored as a loop that you can manipulate with your voice. The computer analyses the tone and volume of your voice and translates it into a ‘riff’, that will control the sample rate  – similar to when you change the speed of an old record player – and the volume of the previously recorded loop. You can control the riff’s panning and overall volume using a smartphone connected via wifi. Up to 6 riffs/players can be active at a time (more would be technically possible, but methodologically confusing).

On top of that, I have added live animation, using a software called Animata. The theme for the Culture Week was “The forest and the city”, so the imagery I used was a forest and its animals.

I drew 4 animals. Here you can see the bits and pieces of fox, that I …

Fox in tatters

… put back together in Animata , with vertices, joints , bones , and whatever it’s called :

… and the resulting live animated fox:

Fox animated via smartphone, with mouth movements controlled by sound

Foxy !

These are the stages of the workshop:

  1. “We are going to tell a story through sound!”, I told the kids.
  2. Soundpainting. The kids conducted each other making forest sounds with their bodies/mouths. We recorded the “forest created through sound”
  3. We listened to the recording, and while it was playing, the forest gradually “came to live” on the screen.

    The forest conjured by the kid’s sound scenography
  4. “What about the animals?”, I asked. “If we sit still, they will come”, I promised, and using a smartphone, I remote controlled the appearance of  an animal on the screen.
  5. “The fox wants to play with us, but he doesn’t have a voice!” So we recorded some sound using things available in the room. A dustpan dragged over the floor made a perfect voice for the fox.
  6. “Now the fox has a voice, but he needs something to say!” The fox is a very sly ‘person’, so he will probably say: “So many kids, I can play with! I wonder how they taaaste!” And I performed this phrase in the microphone, and the dustpan sound immediately imitated the melody/volume of my voice (causing a little anxiety in some of the kids!)
  7. After repeating the same procedure for the other 3 animals, we were now ready to make a collective composition. This includes “the magical square”, where your movements back/forth and sideways are translated into movements in sound – panning and volume – as well as image – the animal moves the way you move. This is being controlled via smartphone, either by the participant herself or by a helper on the side.

My prior experience with Fonokolab has been with adults, setting up workshops in the street, improvised, inviting passers by. At the stage where they are supposed to do a collective composition I have usually asked the participants to decide a form, or you might say choreography, themselves. This includes decisions about who moves how and when and for how long.

In preparing the concept for the Children’s Culture Week, I thought that this way would not work with young kids, so I came up with the concept of the “Timeline”.

The Timeline is a line on the floor, where one kid, “Time”, walks as slowly as possible until the other end of the line. Along the line, a number of kids are standing at different distances, waiting for “Time” to pass by.

“Time” moves along the timeline, here meeting the first “event”

Is everyone ready? And do you know your tasks? Then we start the forest sound scenography, and “Time” starts walking slowly.

When “Time” comes to the first kid on the line she walks to the magical square and moves around, being the fox. Now the fox’ sound will be heard, adding to the forest sounds. “Time” comes to the second kid, who enters the square, playing he is the crow. Etc. When “Time” reaches the square, he spreads his arms, gently directing the “animals” to the base line, and “Time” stops, as does the recording.

Now it is time to say goodnight to the animals, disappearing one at a time from the screen, and the forest. And the kids will lay down and listen to the “story told in sound”. The visual kinesthetic and  narrative elements which have sofar served as scaffold for telling the story in sound has been removed, and now it is time to focus only on sound.

See examples from the workshop in this video (whatch in Youtube with English subtitles):

A PROPOS :

Apparently using her imaginary iphone

How (not) to compose music

I made a profile in wikihow.com, and by chance, I saw this article:

How to Compose Music

The people who have written it out have really done a lot of effort, including pedagogical graphics like this one:

She looks friendly
YOUR composition teacher

Unfortunately, the text is a tour de force through all the typical misconceptions you would meet in any presentation about music and composition in education. It seems futile to start and edit the article, – after all it is conform to the most widespread ideas about the subject, so my only reasonable option was to give this comment in the discussion:

“This article is a brilliant example of how to confuse people and block their musical creativity. It stems from the misunderstanding that the analysis of existing music, underlying what we call music theory, IS in fact music

However, music does not come from nowhere, it is embedded in a CONTEXT.
Explaining people how to compose by showing them scales, chords and instruments is like explaining someone how to communicate with another human being by giving them an alphabet and asking them to know the sequence of the letters by heart.

This musical autism is lamentably very widespread, and it is reproduced in education all the way to the conservatories. Being at a higher level of studies does not bring clarification but simply adds complexity to the same confusion.

Using sound as a means of expression MIGHT involve instruments, chords, scales, tones etc, but basically the capacity of composing is rooted in our everyday lives. Composing is something that we humans do all the time. As a collective we build a common world, an assemblage, and one of the most fundamental means we possess to that end is our ability to use language.

In language, we are capable of expressing and perceiving the most minuscule nuances in our interactions through sound.

THIS should be the message to someone asking how to compose music, that you are doing it already, and you can depart from this activity and prolong and extend it into sequences of sound. Use all kinds of existing music and sounds around you, choose according to your intuition, be a whole human being, use your voice and body as impulse giver. Remix, reuse, hack your way into existing technologies – digital as well as acoustic instruments, and build forms in sound inspired by everyday life events, social scripts and narratives.”

CHC:

Thanks for a very intersting text! And well written. Your debugging of the musicotechnophilia is indeed very important.

In musical education in Scandinavia, you have a trend for the moment I would call ipadialisation, where technoenthousiasts praise the possibilities in a software like Garageband. It simply, – this is their claim – enables the kids to express themselves musically in a natural way.

This is where your criticism about the inbaked bias of the technologies hits bulls eye: no technology has ever been or will ever be value free or neutral.

This is also why, by the way, that it is not a big surprise that the tools are eurocentric. Actually they SHOULD be centered in the culture in which they exist. If exported to other cultures, each local culture should then reinvent the technologies or make new ones according to their context. The REAL problem is that the tools are not eurocentric enough.

The current technologies are build on abstractions like scales, chords, metrum, notes etc., this being reinforced by techniques like autotune, quantization etc. These abstractions come from an analysis of what we used to call music.
They are based on music theory, which is to say that they are focused on an end product, viewed through certain filters, and that they completely overlook 1) the embeddedness in real life materials, – the resistance of musical instruments, of the human voice, of space and of context in general, and 2) the potential generation of new elements to be included in what we might consider as musical, ie noise, gesture etc. and not least 3) the non-conformity of actual musical practices with what musicologists and others have zipped into these abstractions, basically driven by a logico-deductive approach, – probably in an attempt to legitimize the field of study called musicology.

Real eurocentric digital technologies would
A) take the technologies themselves seriously, and use the new media in their own right, while allowing them to combine with existing technologies.
B) be sensitive to humanness, be tweakable for to the user, be open for him/her to express the nuances of everyday life.
C) be open to context, be combinable, pluridimensional.

Originally posted on Matthew Thibeault:

I was delighted to be invited to respond to John Kratus’ talk at the CIC/New Directions conference today at Michigan State University.

My response focuses on the importance of a critical perspective and pragmatic approach to technology in music education. To assist those who might like to follow up on some of the ideas, I’ve posted my response, with additional footnotes and references, right here:
Thibeault CIC 2011 Response.pdf

And here’s the picture from the Ellnora Guitar Festival sing-along from my slides:

View original

- about cultural sustainability, gesture and sound

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