Creating a sense of communality through sound and gesture – Minna Liski’s report on Building Sound Collectives

Minna Liski’s comments/report on
Building Sound Collectives Workshop
Casper Hernández Cordes, Fonografit (Denmark)
Fri 8th at 11.30-13.00

The Open Stage concept of the conference was about forming an experimental platform where art and science could meet and establish a dialogue. It is understood that this dialogue may help artists and scientists gain new perspectives on their own work and together acquire new ways and tools to reflect on sustainable development issues. Although science and art have become to be identified as two separate areas they however share an underlying will and motivation to extend our experience of the world and our understanding of it. I believe that at the heart of both science and art is a desire for the pleasure of understanding something new and communicating this to others. One can say that science is more interested in finding answers and truths, whereas art is more interested in asking questions and is therefore more comfortable with uncertainty. This quality of art is however extremely useful when dealing with complicated and wicked problems related to the future of this planet.

As part of the Open Stage, the workshop facilitated by composer Casper Hernández Cordes was an example of using arts-based methods in trying to find a common understanding. This workshop in particular tried to find answers and questions on what roles non-verbal communication may play in our efforts in building collectives and if it is possible to build a collective from scratch, from an ad-hoc and diverse group of people, such as the group of conference participants.

We humans normally talk, discuss, argue, make speeches, give presentations, debate, ie. communicate verbally when we try to find a common understanding. But as Hernández Cordes said in his workshop introduction, it is not that words are bad, but there are other ways of experiencing the world and much more at play in human interaction. For example Dr. Albert Mehrabian, who conducted several studies on nonverbal communication concluded that only around 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). One can disagree with his findings, but they should make us think deeper into the role of sounds and gestures in our expression, however. As is noted in the workshop abstract these forms of non-verbal interaction are ”closely linked with our fundamental capacities for building trust and showing empathy, and for relating to our peers in ways that circumvent hierarchies and prejudice”.

Arts-based methods are a general conception for all kinds of actions ranging from community art projects to workplace development interventions. They might be a one-time workshop like this one during the conference or applied for longer periods depending on the aims set. It is believed that the methods can promote (co-)learning, communality and social interaction in particular. The conference workshop clearly brought people who did not know each other before together and created interaction. Maybe therefore a better place for it would have been earlier in the programme, so the neutral platform it provided for people to meet and discussions it roused could have had more of an effect – more discussion and interaction during the rest of the programme.

The neutrality regarding arts-based methods comes from the equality the workshop participants experience as they participate without their usual social roles. The methods promote a feeling of everyone doing something for the first time and therefore there cannot be any experts. It’s a kind of co-jump to the unknown. There are no pre-set rules of what is wrong or what is right. Especially in this particular workshop concentrating on non-verbality, the participants learned something totally different about one another as there were no usual introductions of name, title and organisation etc. They for example learned what different colours sounded like according to the fellow participants – totally new kind of knowledge.

Although the facilitator sets the tasks and keeps the workshop going, it is the activity of the participants that push the workshop forward as they keep offering different kinds of solutions or alternatives to each other based on their own experience, feelings and skills. The gestures provided by the workshop participants had a whole range of human movement capacity and there was no judgement on which gestures were better. By seeing and hearing different ways of reacting, gesturing and sound making, which are all equally important, not one better than the other, can give a strong sense of empowerment. It can also help to understand how many different points of views and ways of doing things there can be, ie. the diversity. One might also understand one’s own actions better.

Arts-based methods are very good when working at interfaces, when there are many voices, many approaches. They can help form a common understanding and an understanding that there might be many different ways of solving problems. The exercise of picking two people to follow and trying to keep the triangle, an equal distance between them and yourself, demonstrated this in a very concrete way. It was hard to control the others to find the balance. It was made even more concrete by naming the persons one followed “culture” and “sustainability”.

The arts-based methods are usually considered fun and there is a lot of laughter involved, like in this workshop. Who says that serious discussion always brings better results than amusing co-creation? Could there be more fun ways of trying to solve problems? The arts-based methods are also very good at providing the element of surprise. In this workshop one of the participants suddenly facilitated the workshop because he had mentioned during the feedback discussion that he knew a similar exercise to do with listening and following your ears instead of your eyes.

There was a constant feel of testing and experimenting in the workshop. Hernández Cordes also made sure that if there was any kind of feeling of discomfort regarding the tasks, one did not have to participate. Regarding building a collective on can question if it is right if some members of the possible collective only watch and observe. Can they still feel being part of the collective? Obviously one cannot force anyone to take part, so there may be different levels of commitment to the collective.

As well as trying to form one common gesture from all the gestures provided by the participants – the group’s own genuine gesture – the workshop explored the use of other senses than sight. Because we rely so much on our eyes, it seems a lot of other kind of information passes us unnoticed. Especially with music-based methods making sounds and listening to others can create a strong sense of communality, being part of a collective. According to recent studies into human brain, it is has become clear how important sounds, which have over time become music, have been to us humans and in our development.

A common reflection at the end of the workshop can usually open up the common understanding further. Hopefully this was the case this time also. The video filmed about the workshop can give further information to the facilitator about the exercises and methods and act as a form of research. It also gives some new perspective regarding small details and timing, for example.

Links:

Video documentation from the workshop.

The conference: Culture(s) in sustainable futures.

Follow Minna Liski on academia.edu.

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