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.

Ceci n’est pas une pub. This is not a commercial.

ImageThis qr code links to a recording of a street improvisation by ordinary passers by, facilitated by Akutsk, using the Anthropomorfer. Sound graffiti you may call it, I use the name fonografiti. When using a qr code, we embark on the colonisation of the still rather virginal web based virtual track of the street.

Although the medium is sonorous, the access to the location specific electro acoustic collective improvisation necessarily passes through the visual. The qr code must catch your attention before it can work as a key to the virtual audio track of the place.

QR codes are in many cases used in commercial contexts, and the first thing we need to do is to decolonise this technology from the logic of the market. I’ve met a good deal of people not aware that you can easily make these codes yourself. Using qr codes is probably the easiest way for anyone to interact (virtually) in the street through sound, – and any other media btw.

In order to make sure that people understand that this specific qr code is not a commercial – ceci n’est pas une pub – we must add something, visually, to the code itself. Streetsoundartist Medlyd uses CD boxes on which he paints the QR code. Using a technique that cannot be subject to mass production, Medlyd succeeds in communicating the non-commerciality of the code. And a CD box connotes music. It’s a CD release!

In this photo you see a stencil of a hooded crow on top of a paste up of a QR code measuring 15×15 cm. The obvious handy craft side to the work makes it obvious that this is not commercial, it is ‘street’.

Now scan the code! We won’t sell you anything. We want to share a unique piece of sound art improvised on this specific location using only sounds from this place.

Ceci n’est pas une pub.

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

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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

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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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.