Building sound collectives – a workshop concept


So, we want to work with sound as a means of building a culturally sustainable collective, and we want to do it in an open, intuitive, sufficiently challenging, though comfortable way. This workshop is designed for groups of adults and young adults. It is aiming at providing the group with tools and methods for building the collective through non-verbal means.

The workshop is intended to be a supplement to contexts where people are working with new ways of living, towards economical, ecological and social sustainability. This might be in connection with conferences, festivals, theme days in education, or seminars in organisations.


Basic info
Name Building Sound Collectives
Duration 1 – 2 hours
Target group Young adults and adults
How many? 12 – 20
Where is it relevant? In organisations, in education, at festivals and events with a focus on sustainability
Location A larger room with free floor space. If outdoors, in a quiet, private place.
Equipment used Computer, audio interface 8 in 8 out. Four microphones. Four (homemade) instruments with (contact) mics. Four smartphones. Wifi. A “magic square” 3×3 meter on the floor marked with adhesive tape. A pair of loudspeakers.
Aims 1) to find the groups “common core gesture”; 2) to develop new gestural expressions from the core gesture 3) to find our way to imitate gesture through sound 4) to create a collective electroacoustic composition
Learning keywords Collaboration, non-verbal communication, other-centeredness, gestural and sound imitation, sharing ideas, improvisation, collective creativity.
The workings

Expressing ourselves in sound is one of our most efficient modalities to reach out to each other, and to try to understand each other’s worlds.  But there is no sound without movement. This is true on a fundamentally physical level. It is also true on what we could call a meta level. When we are  expressing emotional content, we are imitating physical movement with our voices.

Therefore, we want to start with gesture. We want to explore gesture as something that members of the group are already using as a means of expression in their everyday lives. And we want to experiment with ways of imitating our gestures through sound.

The workshop comprises six parts.

  1. Our first aim is to search for what I would call a common core gestural phrase
    • In pairs. A comes with a gesture. Any gesture. B imitates it and adds a variation. A imitates B’s variation and add another variation.
    • Each pair present one gestural phrase that they liked. The rest of the group imitates.
    • Now everyone moves around in space. Each participant performs the gestural phrase they have selected, and when seeing another participant he/she will try to merge to two gestures.
    • All gestural phrases will eventually merge into one.
    • This is group’s core gestural phrase
  2. Gesture jam.
    • In this part we will improvise in different ways with gesture based on the core gestural phrase. Imitating with other body parts; varying the size of the movements; making supplementary gestures, filling out the “blank spaces”.
    • This way, we develop a common new gestural grammar, and a living library of movements for the group.
  3. Sound on top. This is where we work with imitating gesture through sound
    • in pairs. A performs a gestural phrase from the ‘library’. B imitates with sound.
    • In the whole group, the pairs give samples of their work, showing a gestural phrase and the corresponding sound phrase.  The group imitates the sound phrase, with sound
  4. Sound from the bottom
    • The group records one sound from each of the four homemade instruments. This might be done in a break by some of the participants.
  5. Collective electroacoustic improvisation
    • The group is divided into three groups of four: a gesture group, a voice group, and a remote control group.
    • The gesture group will move around inside and out of the square, using gestures from the collectives’ library.
    • Each member of the sound group will imitate one of the gesture performers with their voices. Each of the four sound group members has a microphone, and their phrases form the previously recorded sounds from the homemade instruments, live.
    • Each of the four members of the remote control group use a smartphone to follow the movements in the magic square of one gesture person.
    • During this improvisation,  in the loudspeakers we will hear the sound of the four homemade instruments
      • formed by the voices of the sound group (intensity and pitch)
      • moving in soundspace according to the position (left – right, back – front) of the sound group members in the magic square
  6. The collective improvisation is recorded. After the collective impro, everyone listen to the recording.
    • New impros can be made. New experiments tried out. New sounds from the homemade instruments used.
    • For each new impro, people switch roles. Ideally, everyone tries all the different roles once.


If there are enough people, a possible variation is to have a group of “musicians” adding new sounds from the homemade instruments, according to the movements of the gesture group.

See an example of a street performance using a similar approach, in Cali, Colombia, here.

Follow our page on Facebook.

Apparently using her imaginary iphone

How (not) to compose music

I made a profile in, 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.”

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.

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:

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“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.

Knippels bridge being streetstrumentalized, though momentarily interrupted by rain

Bikestruments, bridgestruments, anti padlock guerilla

Bike bells on bridge (anti padlock guerilla)

From bike to trike (?)

From bi- to tri-

Bike bone hanging in bike nerve being attached by bike magnet

Preparing bikestruments in the State Workshops for Art

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

First workshop: constructing streetstruments

The street dressed for the streetstrument workshop


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


The participants are constructing streetstruments


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

Luhmann, collage by CHC

Organisation’s lethal selfpreservation

Luhmann, collage by CHC

Luhmann argues that every autopoietic system has this sort of intra-systemic dimension. Autopoietic systems are, above all, organized around maintaining themselves or enduring. This raises serious questions about academic political theory. Academia is an autopoietic system. As an autopoietic system, it aims to endure, reproduce itself, etc. It must engage in operations or procedures from moment to moment to do so. These operations consist in the production of students that eventually become scholars or professors, the writing of articles, the giving of conferences, the production of books and classes, etc. All of these are operations through which the academic system maintains itself across time. The horrifying consequence of this is that the reasons we might give for why we do what we do might (and often) have little to do with what’s actually taking place in system continuance

Levi R Bryant

Regarding the intra-systemic dimension: I have made similar comments on the way the establishment around music in Denmark, – conservatories, universities, schools, high schools, etc. – works. Here’s one of my blogposts about it. (In Danish, google translated).

I actually think, that Levi R. Bryant’s point about intra-system’s lethal drive to selfpreservation is a general problem inherent in our interest based way of organising human activities. The way we have organised our collective problem solving activities, – in what we term as organisations, in which we work, the same problems we are theoretically trying to solve, will systematically drown in our effort to keep the organisations afloat.

Relevant reading from my  blog:

Learning from folklore / Reversed colonialism 2.0

Larval Subjects .

For the last couple of days, I’ve found my thoughts haunted by McKenzie Wark’s brilliant interview over at Occupy Times.  Apart from Wark’s provocative claim that politics doesn’t exist– though perhaps it could come to exist, in a sense analogous to how Meillassoux talk of a “virtual god”? –this passage, in particular, stuck out to me:

…the problem is:  how do you occupy an abstraction?  Power has become vectoral.  It can move money and power anywhere on the planet with unprecedented speeds.  You can block a particular site of power, but vectoral power routes around such sites.

The abstraction Wark is talking about is, of course, contemporary capitalism.  Contemporary capitalism seems to be characterized by two features:  First, it has the characteristic of being everywhere and nowhere.  You can’t point to a particular site of contemporary capitalism and say “there it is!”.  Rather, it pervades every aspect of contemporary life…

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