Collective street improvisations, – how do we get people involved?

How can you start a new trend, create changes in other people’s lives, making them start doing things no-one has done before? How can you make more people start doing what only few people did before?

The basic goal of all my activities in the ongoing process I call Akutsk, is to inspire people who are not professional musicians or composers to work with sound as a means of expression in a creative, reflected and situated way.

I’m pursuing a bottom up approach, where I use the street as a place where people are presented with the methods/technologies for collective street improvisations, through workshops and flash mob inspired interventions.

With the workshop concept,  I aim at making a number of 3 hours workshops in local communities, starting by the ones close to where I live. The main target group consists of young people aged 13 – 16, a central criteria of success being to engage young people from not-so-well-off neighbourhoods.

How can I engage young people in taking part in collective street improvisations? I have three strategies:

  1. Go through the adults they trust. Pedagogues in the youth club, teachers, neighbourhood workers, etc. The challenge is to actually get in touch with these people, they seem to be always busy
  2. Participants from one workshop are invited to participate in the next one. This helps overcome the shyness, and it can also create new connections between young people from different neighbourhoods. And it empowers the ones who participate the second time, giving them a role as peer trainers.
  3. Have a group of facilitators, young adults by preference, that help on the workshops, giving the example of the work flow of the method. It’s always easier to engage in something, when you can see how it works.

The largest barrier to inspire people to get involved in these activities lies of course in the answer to the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. Since there is no money involved, I have to come up with something else. For the participants in the workshop, the answer would be, that it provides them with new means of expression through sound. It gives them a framework, as a collective, in which they can create something unique out of the sounds that are there at a given time and place. And the ‘something’ they create leaves a mark on the place in the form of a QR code. The participants can tell others about this moment by referring to the QR code. In addition, the process itself is fun, it’s playful, physical, and the way we work with the material is flexible, personal and situated. At least this is what I believe!!

The main challenge is to make people pass the barrier of shyness, and of why-should-I-start-doing-this-stupid-thing-ness. We all experience these situations from time to time, where someone wants us to do something in front of others that seem awkward and unnatural in the moment. My solution is to

  1. have a set-up that is simple. What meets the participant is: a quadrangular field. Two microphones, one set of headphones. A smartphone in his/her hand.
  2. have a set of play rules that are simple. There might be a weak point to my concept here, though I think that newcomers can quite rapidly get the hang of it. It consists of 4 steps:
    1. find a sound, explore the area for interesting ‘streetstruments’
    2. record it (by tapping your smartphone)
    3. form your sound with your voice (after putting on the headphones and turning your smartphone upside down)
    4. move yourself and your phrase in the quadrangular collective improvisational field (by using your smartphone as a remote control turning up/down the volume and the panning of your phrase)
  3. Have a couple of people who already know the processes start up the activities, and gradually make new participants replace them.

street improvisation; field for collective improvisation

Two days ago, I got an answer from the local community centre in a neighbourhood called Valby, that they accepted my application for two workshops. The workshops are set to August 2012. I also have a pilot workshop in collaboration with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, July 6. I still wait for the answer to 4 additional workshops, but in any case, I will be making improvised street ‘interventions’ whenever I have the time for it. In total this gives a fair number of occasions, where the magic can begin. And it gives a basis for a group of volunteers to work for the project.

This is the next step: Starting up a group of volunteers or ‘fonografists’. I think there are a number of reasons why someone would want to get involved in this project. First of all, it is something new. Working with sound in street art is very little developed, since it has been to complicated and expensive until now, and being part of a movement towards a new form of expression is simply extremely inspiring. Being a voluntary in this project also means experimenting with how to extend the ordinary way you use your voice and body into a form in which you can develop a sound improvisation in a collective. And it means guiding others in doing so. It means experiences in how to develop the tools and methods for involving non-musicians in working with sound as a means for expression. And then there are the additional experiences in documenting, communicating, organisational development, fundraising, etc. But most of all, there is the kick in making events at unexpected places, to create occasions where magic can enter in our everyday lives.

Quotations: Lefebvre on the living disorder of the street.

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