How can sound help us building our collectives?

A contact wrote a message to me on facebook, saying that he didn’t want to collaborate any more on a project we had been working on together. He suggested that we meet face to face. This made me glad. We met and we talked our way through, and though we didn’t continue the collaboration, at least we cleared the air, and we both learned what had to be learned from that experience.

Had we finished our interaction via Facebook messenger, we probably wouldn’t have come to an understanding, and the issue would have been left unresolved, – or worse. Why is it that we keep misunderstanding each other when communicating through social media, sms and emails?

Is it because  text is not the right medium to solve complex problems? I say that no matter how many emoticons we add up in an sms, it is never going to convey all the nuances of our feelings.

What about a phone call? Well. Am I the only one experiencing that the connexion is horrendous most of the time? “Did you hang up?” “No, no! It was the connexion!!”

It seems that nothing beats real life face to face communication.

Also read this: Can social media help us build our collectives?

Gestures with our faces, bodies and voices are all intertwined channels of communication, and it makes a lot of sense to regard them in a holistic way. For a moment, however, let’s look at what happens in the interactions we have through sound alone. And how this affects our capacity for building sustainable collectives.

When speaking, we are not only simply saying words. We accompany our words and other utterances with certain ways of using our voices. We are capable of expressing and perceiving very intricate patterns in melody, breaks, volume, quality of voice and rhythm. In other words: We rock at prosodyTweet:

First of all, sound has to do with our voices. Since the voice sits in the body, it reflects what’s going on in there. All the processes and rhythms of my body are influencing the way I sound. My heart rate, the rhythm of my breathing, and the degree of tension or release I am feeling, – it will all affect the tempo, timbre and volume of my utterances.Tweet:
Let’s look at it this way: I make a sound. The vibrations of my body make the air vibrate. And these waves of air will reach you, causing vibrations in your body, creating a similar kind of feeling in you. In other words: we have an innate capacity for empathy.

Empathizing is fundamental when it comes to building sustainable collectives. Tweet: Still, our societies fail at it. Why? Group dynamics based on social control, competition and exclusion teach us to control our voices, making sure nothing slips through. And if it does, the recipient has learned to suppress his or her natural physical reactions.

Also read this article: What Is Empathy?

Secondly, the way we distribute time in our interactions is staged through sound. Breaks, pauses, hesitation are all markers of how you react to what I am saying. It tells me something about the extent to which you are taking me seriously. Are you giving me space in the conversation? Are you snapping off my words? Are you RAISING YOUR VOICE so that you can conquer space and impose your points in the conversation? Therefore timing in conversation is about power and hierarchy. Tweet:  When building a collective, the question of power and hierarchy is important. I believe that in a sustainable collective, there should be an equal amount of space for each member. It’s a place where we all have an equal right to be heard.

A third aspect of sound as a means of expression is our capability of establishing a link with movement through sound. We are excellent at mimicking movement, acceleration, and physical volume with our voices.
This allows us to bring aspects of our bodily intentions into the dialogue in an abstract form. I might feel the urge to punch someone in the face, but there might be many reasons for not doing it. What I can do, legitimately, is to give life to this wished for movement through sound. “Aaaaaaaarr-he-is-simply-so-aaaaaNOying!”. A crescendo and a raise in pitch with a full stop. No need for broken knuckles there.

Also read: Non-verbal communication, – a world of valuable information

In many situations we are not using the words that correspond to our intentions. Think about flirting, which is all about NOT saying what we intend to do, with words. Here, words are simply marionettes for a whole performance in sound and gesture about all kinds of hinted at activities.

Read about one of my workshops here.

Aggression and love are a few out of an unlimited number of forms of interaction. We need to be able to handle these in ways that don’t challenge the cohesion of the collective.Tweet:

By imitating real or imagined bodily movements through sound, we are capable of staging actual as well as possible scenarios, and it enables us to test real or imagined outcomes of our social interactions, in a safe way, before proceeding to actual action. In other words: A sustainable collective is capable of handling controversy.Tweet:

Let’s sum this up:

Our voices are.. through (primarily)… This helps the collective … while establishing a relation to …
 conveying our feelings  timbre  Building trust  the body
timing our utterances  rhythm  Establishing equality time
giving an abstract form to our physical intentions  melody  Handling controversy space

Does this make sense? Please contribute with your comments below!

For my part, I think that these questions are relevant for a further discussion:

  1. Does the table above make sense? Is there a relationship between specific characteristics of sound,  and the way we use them in specific modalities of building collectives?
  2. Can we create better collectives by training our capacity for using sound as a means of expression?
  3. Does our current conception of musical practices and learning strengthen our capacities for interaction through sound? Or is it merely teaching us to become good consumers?
  4. Which kind of practice would help us become experts in building sustainable collectives through sound?

We need tools for building sustainable collectives

Building a collective is about listening to the other, about trying to understand the other’s world, Tweet: 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, officially the point 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, to some extent. But most of the time we where playing around with meaning, playing around with sounds, we were playing around with nonsense, we interacted through 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. Tweet:  We are doing it at a 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 conscient or not. How can we know what’s going on in another person, when the words don’t match? We listen to sounds! Tweet: 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.

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.

Also read: Can social media help us build our collectives?

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

Read more about methods and workshops here.