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.

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

Help I’m a bike. Curate me !

So it’s official. I’ve often wondered what I should call what I’m doing. Well. It’s art.

I’ve found out that my participation in a sound art project at the Knippels Bridge (a bridge connecting main Copenhagen with the island of Amager), is in fact part of Copenhagen art festival 2012.

Being a part of a part of something to do with art, I’ve been given the possibility to use the “national workshops for art”. So now I’m chopping up old bikes in the official national workshops for art, and therefore I’m making ….. art!

Art art art art art.

In the outset I was planning on doing what whomever could do, namely take parts of old bikes and set them up in the street, and in this particular case a bridge.

It was supposed to be a sort of ignition fuelling a trend where people start putting up things in public space that can serve as  “streetstruments”, inspiring to engage in collective activities around sound.

The need to hang things in public space is strong, judging from the padlocks that people put everywhere, inadvertently enhancing the omnipresent focus in public space on reproduction. Well instead of (biological and other) reproduction, streetstruments should inspire people to engage in productive action beyond the twosomeness of the nuclear family and co.

And now I do art. Which is the same as saying I’m a name and a nationality. As in “John Cage (USA)”. Although I have been invited to participate in the festival, I’m not in the programme, for some reason,  – as opposed to John Cage. Looking forward to meet him.

I haven’t even been curated. The so-called curator, curating the sound art events at the Knippels Bridge hasn’t contacted me. So I have not had the chance to adhere to some sort of ‘overall concept’, which is generally the way these things work.

So I’m only halfway participating in the festival. Which makes me a halfway artist. And what I’m doing is consequently halfway art.

Which in the end might save my project.

Since it is not really art after all, then it is not really mostly an individualistic project promoting its creator, who is in the programme with a name and nationality (dead or alive), and who has been curated according to the overall so-called concept of the festival, which in the case of Copenhagen Art Festival 2012 is “Art in community”, a concept which is put into play through a large number of individual artists’ individual artworks in (mostly) solo exhibitions.

Since I’m not really an artist after all, I’m not really an expert producer of works of art, that the consumers-recipients-of-works-of-art will consume, after appropriately being guided by an expert knower-of-art or curator. Therefore there is a smaller risk that what I’m doing could not be done by anyone, and that it will actually be done by someone, that there will be people using the street as an instrument, without being curated, without having their name and nationality in a programme.

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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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.

Spelling out the invisible social wall

Owing to the curious lay-out of the town it is quite possible for someone to live for years in Manchester and to travel daily to and from his work without ever seeing a working-class quarter or coming into contact with an artisan. He who visits Manchester simply on business or for pleasure need never see the slums, mainly because the working-class districts and the middle-class districts are quite distinct … To such an extent has the convenience of the rich been considered in the planning of Manchester that these plutocrats can travel from their houses to their places of business in the centre of the town by the shortest routes, which run entirely through working-class districts, without even realizing how close they are to the misery and filth which lie on both sides of the road.

Friedrich Engels

Stockholm is an extremely beautiful city. The buildings are well kept, beautiful, old. Everything is clean and in good order. Streets are clean. And the water! There is water everywhere, and contrary to Copenhagen, the old city is including the sea to an extent to which you find yourself always looking across water, when looking at the beautiful architecture.

Stockholm – a beautiful city with an amazing mix of see and city, Capital of Scandinavia, or just another urban area in the Global North with strong but invisible social walls

In central Stockholm you get the idea that people in Sweden all just happen to own (at least) a yacht.

By the end of my 6 days stay in Stockholm, I wanted to find a flee market, so I checked The Visual Guide to Stockholm. Thumbing through this book, my impression of Stockholm as a place for only very beautiful houses where only people with (at least) a yacht live were completely reaffirmed. It mentioned a flee market in a place called Skärholmen. Supposedly the only place in Stockholm, where people go when they want to go to a flee market.

I asked a woman in the street if she knew about this flee market. She actually grew up in that place, she told me, but hadn’t been to the place in 10 years. I clumsily tried to get out of her what kind of neighbourhood it was, asking if it was a residential area, urban, or where only old people lived. She didn’t really get my point, but stated that it was a ‘mixed’ area. So I went there.

The trip in the subway launched a totally new experience with the city. First: the sounds. From a soundscape with birds, boats, ferrys, waves etc. I entered this gloomy ugly soundscape of the subterranean. There are excuses for the sounds that the trains, lifts, escalators etc make (although we know that where there is a prestigious market for things, – a lot of money is spend in designing the incidental sounds that our products make). These sounds can be ugly and you can accept it because you know that when the train stops it needs to use breaks. And the train is heavy, so of cause it makes a loud annoying sound. But the intentional sounds !!!!  – the sounds that are created in order to signal things to the users, like ‘the doors are closing’, and the way the pre-recorded voices announcing the name of the next station. These sounds do not necessarily need to be ugly, impersonal, depressing. Then there is the visual side.  There are many shades of yellow. But why use THIS yellow for the places you must put your hands in the train!

Arriving at the station where the flee market is, the sound of corvids met me, and the sight of people that probably do not own a yacht (or anything else).

Fleemarket in suburbian Stockholm

If this was a movie people would think, you don’t have to overdo things that much! The flee market was in the basement of a mart-like construction by the underground station. Large tubes running in the low ceiling and non-yacht-owners sitting each at his/her stand, immobile, looking out in the air. It took me some time and the purchase of an old hunting horn for my son, to get used to the quite heavy atmosphere of the place. There were light moments of people small talking and laughing, but it seemed that most of the people didn’t consider the flee market spirit interesting as such, and were more in it for the money so to say. The woman I had asked in central Stockholm about the flee market hadn’t been back to her place of birth in ten years, – a connexion?

My experiences in Stockholm, although in general on the positive side (which probably had to do with the purpose of my visit, – I was there for a workshop, and not for collecting bottles), inspired to reflection on the relation between how many yachts you own, and how much right you have for beautiful sound and sights.This is of course quite banal, but Stockholm does a pretty good job spelling it out. As if it was meant to be so, I stumbled upon this book at the Moderna Museet, from which I have the initial quotation:

this is my diy copy of the image of the front page

As it shows, this book is extremely inspiring. I have always avoided these kinds of texts because I thought that these questions were for architects and designers and not for sound artists. How wrong I was!! Questions about the urban space are extremely important for all of us!! Not least when it comes to sound. First of all there is the question about the soundscape itself. It certainly makes sense to question the way sound meets us in our public space. And then there is the general fact that public space is the only place of encounters of people of all kinds, and therefore a potential place of interchange between different ways of living and seeing life.

The space-time vector converges to zero in urban space; every point can become a focal point that attracts all, a priviliged place upon which everything converges.

Henri Lefebvre according to Christian Schmid

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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