” The reduction of listening–as an embodied practice–to the quantification and control of the audible spectrum, is, in other words, the history of compression”, – this post is relevant for the discussion about how to store ‘ the analogue’. I would argue that not only the mp3 is an expression of a tendency towards efficiency and making money, – any recording in any format is an expression of an industrial way of thinking. The logic of the recording as a sequence of small bites of information gives us a framework which makes us reproduce an idea of analogue storage as something linear and object like. Storing the analogue becomes an exercise similar to producing a good instead of being a culturally embedded practice, which is open and flexible, allowing for variation, chance and adaptability according to the moment, the use, the participants, etc..

Sounding Out!

SO! Reads3The point that had lingered with me after first reading Jonathan Sterne’s essay “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact,” was the idea that the mp3 was a promiscuous technology. “In a media-saturated environment,” Sterne writes, “portability and ease of acquisition trumps monomaniacle attention . . . at the psychoacoustic level as well as the industrial level, the mp3 is designed for promiscuity. This has been a long-term goal in the design of sound reproduction technologies” (836).  A technology, promiscuous? I did not have to look far to find support. Like germs, I could find copies of mp3s that I had downloaded from Napster in 2000 scattered across generations of my old hard drives. Often they were redundant, too – iTunes having archived a copy separate from my original download.

But, for Sterne, mp3s are also socially promiscuous. They accumulate in the hard drives of the working class and are shared, almost…

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unmusic

“Kraptavicius’ catalog has been recognized widely, with concerts and sound-art installations all across Europe. These events have helped to develop what he calls an aesthetic of “unnecessary notes.” Hence his particular love for digital compositions, since he feels that computers help to “pull” elements of unmusic into his portfolio: machines show scant regard for compositional norms.”

From Far From Moscow  about the Lithuanian collective known as Twentytwentyone.

“Today is a landmark day in the history of music.  On Saturday February 5th at 10:37 AM a new genre of music has been born.  Welcome to the world of UnMusic.  Many times I have read the song titles on albums and thought to myself “This album has great song titles, it’s too bad the songs are horrendous.”  If you have had that thought from time to time, then UnMusic is for you.  UnMusic removes the irritating and grating music that is on albums and merely gives you song titles. I give you the song title, what your imagination does with them is up to you. Think of the possibilities?  Music without the limitations of actually having a song!”

Keith Spillet in his blog The Tyranny of Tradition

These are two different ways of using the term unmusic, among surprisingly few google search results. I am looking for a term the can denote a way of working with sound that is musical in the sense that it draws on the essential elements of analogue reflection through sound, although it does not share the caracteristics that people in general would expect when they are presented with the term music.

There is the term unschooling, which is broadly used, it has over a million google hits, and a definition on wikipedia:

“Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum.”

Would it make sense to use the un- in front of music in a similar way? The 2nd quotation above has a definition and a use of the term that makes sense, – the ‘un’ signifying a totally reversing of the way we in general think music, namely as something that unfolds through sound. Well in this use of the term, it simply denotes  silent or imagined music. One could state that there is not necessarily a natural opposition between music and silence, since what makes music musical is the way we use silence. This is obviously not very much the way most of the music people listen to is conceived, satiating each millisecond with a wall of sound.

In the first example above, from Far from Moscow, there is not a clear definition of the term unmusic. In the cited article, there is an equation of unmusic with “non-musical”, as well as “experimental electronics, electroacoustics, minimalism, phonography, improvisation, sound art”. It seems like just another genre term, of which the world has already got in abundance.

The un- in unschooling doesn’t set up an opposition to the goal of schooling, namely learning, but it questions the current framework of learning, namely the school. To the extent that we can consider music a term for the institution music, it makes sense to use the un- to reclaim the term music from its current use, so much infiltrated in the idea of music as a commodity or an object, and all the activities and categories supporting that misunderstanding: genre, styles, CD-release, labels, etc.

Unmusic in this sense would be a way of describing activities around sound that are collective, open ended, non-hierarchic, non-linear, including, in short human. Culturally as well as socially sustainable activities around sound. That is unmusic.

Building streetstruments: paint-bucket-bass, drain-trombone and sewer-chimes

First workshop: constructing streetstruments

The street dressed for the streetstrument workshop

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Materials from the construction site are lined up according to their characteristics

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The participants are constructing streetstruments

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Sewer chimes

Second workshop: Collective improvisations on electrified streetstruments

Improvising using the paint bucket bass

After the workshops: The streetstruments are left in their street, inspiring passers by to make their own street improvisations

Paint bucket bass and drain-trombone entrusted the passers by

Related posts:
Construction site interacts musically with neighbors

Quotation: Lefebvre about the living disorder of the street

The street sound activist’s toolkit

Tubes from the ground, now getting a sonorous aftelife

Construction site interacts musically with neighbors

Tubes from the ground, now getting a sonorous aftelife

Tubes from the underground. Now getting a sonorous afterlife in a streetstrument/ giving-back-the-noise workshop

Concept: During a street art decoration of the wall around the local metro construction site, akutsk is making a ‘streetstrument’ workshop.

The workshop is going to be in two parts:

  1. a streetstrument building workshop. In these weeks, I’m collecting debris from the construction. At the event August 11, these objects will be the material for instruments.
  2. a Anthropomorfer workshop, where the participants form the sounds and improvise collectively via laptop and smartphones

Everything is on location, anyone can join, and afterwards we paste up QR-codes linking to recordings of the impros.
Here is the Facebook event.

The street sound activist’s toolkit

The fundamental reason why I work with these “street interventions”, using the Anthropomorpher as a tool for inviting passers by in the street to make collective improvisations on the street’s sounds, is because I want to ignite a trend where people start making sound art as street art. There is no official name for this, – I have suggested ‘fonografiti’ (intended misspelling), ‘proto urban folklore’, or ‘soundtagging’. I have only seen few examples of sound art as street art (see my page with examples), and I have seen no examples of collective street improvisations using electroacoustic tools, – a part from my own project, that is. As always, I invite the reader to give feedback: if you have examples of sound art as street art, and collective electroacoustic improvisation in the street, please give me a comment!

But why electroacoustic collective street improvisations, you might ask? Why is this approach important, necessary, indispensable?

Why street? Public space is the only place where there is a possibility for random meetings between people, across differences in gender, age, occupation, income etc. People are different, and when they engage in problem-solving activities in contexts with only people of a similar kind, the way the problems are solved will tend to exclude the viewpoints of other kinds of people. Therefore, the street is a potential motor for balancing contrasting interests. Public space is invaded by commercial and municipal interests to an extend where we ‘ordinary people’ tend to forget that the street is a common space for all of us. The visual ‘screen’ of the street is already full, so to say, BUT there is a whole new ground for expression left untouched: sound!

In the unfair battle between commercial- municipal interests and the citizens, there is space left open, allowing ordinary people to express themselves through sound, while adding a virtual track to the all encompassing visual track of public space.

Why collective improvisations? In posing the problem: how does this street sound, and what can we express through the sounds of this street, on this time and place, the concept I’m developing is setting up an example showing that collective problem solving involving different kinds of people is indeed possible. Improvisation is a very important aspect of inclusive problem solving activities, where a predefined agenda will always favour the interests of some to the expend of others. An improvisation in the akutsk sense is a reflexive collective activity, involving a process where the participants agree on a common ad hoc script for the collective improvisation, thus giving the example of a collaboration around a problem solving activity, with sound as a medium.

In general, people regard public space as a distance they have to cross in order to get to the places that are important to them, all of which contain people that are in general of the same kind. A street sound improvisation can work as a interest-free brake for this stream of people hurrying from A to B. A collective street sound improvisation is not aimed at serving specific interests, the participants being the ones defining the aim and content of the activity within the given framework. It is an attempt at setting up an ideal form of interchange between contrasting interests, an experience that can be scaled to a broader, societal perspective.

Why electroacoustic? I talked to a guy who has a lot of experience in performances, street theatre and the like, and he was sceptic about the level of technology required for the Akutsk concept of collective street sound improvisations. There are many examples of people making musical activities in the street, ranging from street musicians, over flash mobs to stomp inspired activities. Common to these activities is that they do not challenge the traditional duality between performer and audience, not succeeding in inviting the latter to reflexive (co-)creativity.

Although the relatively high level of technology required for the akutsk approach is a challenge for the possible spreading of the concept, it is an obstacle worth the while considering the benefits it entails. Reflection and informed decision making is central to the concept, and the way I use the computer eases the path to this considerably. With the possibility for the participants to record a sound, listen to it, form it with their voice, and subsequently listen to it together with the other participants, the Anthropomorpher bridges the gap for most people not trained as musicians, that inhibits them from expressing themselves in a creative and reflected way through sound. In addition, smartphones connected with the computer through (portable) wifi, serving as individual remote controls for each participant’s sound, facilitates the use of space as a ‘resistance’. The participants move in a traced field on the ground representing the sound’s virtual space as gestalted by changes in volume and panning by each of the participants.

This could be done acoustically, – people using their voices or improvised instruments, but this is probably to far from most peoples zone of comfort. Using a smartphone as a remote is comfortable. Using your voice in a mic, and walking around in a field in the street with strangers are sufficient barriers to overcome, and although they exclude some people, I think that they exclude people in less predictable ways than the traditional acoustic variant of street performances favouring people who consider themselves ‘musical’ or ‘extrovert’.

With my aspirations for a proliferation of this approach – or similar approaches – it is essential that the procedures are simple,and easy to copy. For the time being, I think that the complexity of the electroacoustic method and the technical requirements are posing a serious barrier.

In a global context, you can argue that the approach is excluded for most of the communities in the Global South. You might say though that we northerners are more challenged when it comes to spontaneous expression in a public setting, and that we need technical aid to overcome this. For the sake of people interested in engaging in activities inspired by the akutsk approach, I have made this list of tools needed for the aspiring street sound art activist:
Though summing up to I don’t know how many years of wage for an average garment worker in Bangladesh, I believe that it is not inconceivable that a local group of activits in a Northern welfare state could get their hands on these things.

Quotations: Lefebvre on the living disorder of the street.

Similarities in composition

Ich bin ein Amateur!!

Collection, composition, reflection, these are the three main elements of an artistic process, and here I’m going to do the third.

For a detailed account on my “cycle of artistic processess”, read here: http://www.wix.com/akutsk/akutsk#!artistic-processes-cycle

For the processes of collection and composition I use the Anthropomorfer. This is an instrument I have build in the computer, using a program called MAXMSP. The Anthropomorfer in its current version makes it possible to record sound in 8 ‘players’. For each recording, the user uses his voice in a 2nd microphone, adding a ‘meta-layer’ to the first recording, let’s call it the “voice” of the player. The meta layer works as a mould for 1st recording, – the “body” of the player. You do not hear the second layer; what happens is that the Anthropomorfer makes an analysis of the second layer of sound, and uses this analysis to form the first layer according to  two sets of parameters:

  1. Volume and pitch.  The analysis of the volume and pitch of the 2nd layer controls the amplitude and sample rate of the first player. As a result, you perceive changes in melody and rhythm. This is the prosodic level of speech, and it is – among other things – our means for using our voices to imitate movement. We use prosody when we are moved, and we use prosody to move a virtual fist in the face of the other in a discussion. In the Anthropomorfer, this is where ‘the voice’ makes ‘the body’ move.
  2. Timbre. The analysis of timbre of the voice/the 2nd layer is being used as a filter for the body/the 1st layer. Timbre, we also call it tone quality or simply color, is the domain of phonemes, quality of voice, and different ways of using the oral cavity. We use timbre when we form words, and also as a mark of our feeling state. We distinguish between voices according to timbre. Timbre has to do with identity. The identity granted to a thing/concept, when we use words; the identity of a person, when we hear his/her voice; and the identity of an emotional state. In the Anthropomorfer, timbre is a way of infecting a layer with the identity of another layer. What you perceive are changes in the spectral quality of the sound. It corresponds to instrumentation in an orchestral score. In popular music the effect of tweaking the EQ of a theme/track is extremely common.

So. You have a body. And you have a voice. The voice moves the body and changes its appearance. In the Anthropomorfer, it doesn’t stop there, though. There are 8 players. Actually any ‘player-voice’ attached to a ‘player-body’ can form any of the other players. In ‘movement’ or ‘identity’ or both. And what’s more: The player-bodies themselves can form each other. In moving the other ‘player-bodies’. Or infecting the other player-bodies with its own timbre-identity . The only thing that can’t happen is a player-body controlling its own ‘movement’ – it stands still!

Imagine 8 player-bodies, playing around, making each other move, and infecting each other with their appearances. Like independent actors each with its own will, sometimes being influenced, though keeping its own basic characteristics, sometimes influencing others. In the current version of Anthropomorfer, your role as an improviser is akin to the role of a director. I have made an iPad user interface for the Anthropomorfer, where you can control:

  • the overall volume and pan of each player, thus being able to move each of the player-bodies to the front/back (volume) and the right/left side (pan) of the soundspace.
  • the degree of ‘timbre-susceptibility’. You can fine tune how sensible a given player-body is to the viral influence of another player-body or player-voice. This is being perceived as the saturation of the sound, sometimes to a degree of overdrive
  • the influence-matrix. Which player-body or player-voice is influencing which player-body’s movement and/or identity. This is done through two 8X24 matrices.

You can mould any player with your voice (or any other sound) in real time. Actually up to 8 external players (IRL) can participate.

In the improvisation ‘Æææææ’ I use two microphones. One hanging out of my window, recording the sounds from my street, and the other in front of my mouth. At the moment of the improvisation, there were workers working on the construction site in front of my house, listening to the radio and mounting some plywood on a wall. People were passing by, talking. All these sounds make up the recorded player-body layer. I use my voice for the recorded player-voice layer, and I use it while improvising, in real time.

Listen to this improvisation, headphones recommended.

It is my own improvisation. Nevertheless, I will try to listen to it as if it was exterior to me. This is what I call level 1 of exteriorisation. It is a very important part of the cycle of artistic processes. But it is often ignored. With the Anthropomorfer, a good deal of the result is not a direct consequence of the improvisers intentions, and this gives it an open quality, where you can actually surprise yourself. This is why the first level of exteriorisation is more easily reached, when working with the Anthropomorfer.

So, what happens in the improvisation Æææææ? It seems, there are two overall movements.

  1. A rhythmic pattern, in a quasi 5/4 meter, with a hammer-like sound, garnished with other sounds.
  2. A dense complex mass of thick sound with elements of human speech.

These two movements intertwine, the 1st being present through the whole improvisation, though a little subdued, while the 2nd comes and goes, insisting, dense and confused, brutal. There is an overall division in two of the improvisation. The first part is where the two movements intertwine, the second messing around where the 1st keeps a calm repetition. At a moment, the 2nd movement disappears, and the 1st stands back, while being changed in color. A sharper, more crisp sound, in comparison with the more warmer sound at the beginning.

To me, there is a similarity between the way this improvisation works, and this painting by Asger Jorn:

Similarities in composition, used with assumed tacit accept by the painter

I use the Anthropomorfer for improvisation mainly to ‘try my own medicine. I want to make improvisations the way anyone with the instrument would be able to do it. In that sense, my approach is essentially one of an amateur. Being an amateur means loving what you are doing (the root of the word is ‘love’), it is about sharing, since you love it so much, and you want others to be a part of it. There is no issue about who did what, since there is no money involved.

In that sense, I’m proud of declaring: “Ich bin ein Amateur!!”

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Anthropomorfer – a tool for intercontinental collective sound art improvisation?

We are all virtuosos with our voices. Imagine being able to improvise over the sounds around you using your voice as an infinitely fine-tuned  controller. While  real time jamming with someone on the other side of the planet.

The mission is: I want to find the optimal tool to allow people to improvise sound art in collectives across the planet, in a creative, pleasurable, and reflective way. I have developed the Anthropomorfer as a desktop application, allowing collectives to improvise, while being in the same place. Now, I want to extend the functionality from a local wifi based context to a global web-based one.

The tool is intended for anyone interested in working with sound as a means for expression, but these contexts are of special interest:

  • working with children developing their analogue literacy and their divergent thinking
  • in organisations enhancing communication skills

What will the participant experience:

1) Open your app. Start a group or sign up for one. Select a sound, either by recording it on the spot, or from a database of sounds that other users have chosen. 2) You now hear your audio while viewing it as a waveform on your smartphone. You choose which part of the sound you want. 3) When all the participants in your group has chosen and cut their sound, start your session 3… 2… 1…. and:  4) improvise together. You can turn volume up and down, pan, and you can shape your sound with your voice via the phone’s microphone. 5) afterwards, you listen to the improvisation, give it thumbs up or down, and if a majority votes for it, the improvisation is saved on the server. Here you can comment and discuss it.

What lies behind:

Technically, there must be a server where the program runs, and audio files are stored. From each cell phone the server receives  1) an upload of a short sound file (max. 15 seconds). Or a selected audio file, which is already on the server. 2) A flow of analysis of the voice. Not the voice. Just analysis of pitch and volume. The server streams audio from the collective improvisation to the participants.

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