It’s alive!! – a collaborative “living album”

Did you ever wonder why live music is so much more exciting than listening to music in your living room? Isn’t it partly because the music you download from iTunes or stream from Spotify is exactly the same each time you listen to it? No surprises!

Recorded music just keeps repeating the same old patterns not caring about who is listening, when, where and how often. Just like some halfway autistic aunt who babbles about herself for hours, not aware that everyone else is sick and tired of listening to the same stories over and over again.

Barefoot Records is a collective of improvisors and composers, who are very active on the Danish music scene. As a  proud part of this collective, I have engaged in a journey that will explore ways of challenging the way we publish and distribute music.

Read about the project here: Publishing music as a living eco-system

First step in this journey is to develop a “living album”. This is a pilot project, and we – the artists at Barefoot Records – are inviting you to collaborate!

You might have heard about crowdfunding? Would you like to be part of a crowdsourcing experiment? You are hereby invited to take part in a collaboration, where anyone on the Web can pitch in with ideas in a creative effort to break new ground in the way we listen to and conceive of music!!

This is how it works:

  1. The Barefoot artists are recording a series of improvisations. In each take a single musician is improvising freely.
  2. The takes, – let’s call them soundscapes –  are released on soundcloud.com, please visit the set here.
  3. On Soundcloud, you can comment on the soundscapes, in the sound itself. For each comment, we open a small discussion, and we can add links to other comments, thus building conceptual connections between different parts of the soundscapes. Please share your comments about the improvisations, giving special attention to
    1. what images/ambiences/atmospheres/landscapes do the soundscapes evoke? Where are the aesthetic bridges between the soundscapes? Which parts match, and how? This will help us build banks of sounds, that we can combine in different ways, according to the musical imagery they evoke.
    2. how do you perceive the overall forms of the improvisations? If you consider each improvisation as a narrative, what is the form of the story? These analyses will give us some macro-forms to use when programming the generic structural elements of the album.
    3. imagine that you are listening to the final “living album”. The sounds will combine according to the above mentioned banks of sound and the macro-forms, in a way that is dependent on what happens at the specific time and place where you listen. In which way would it make sense for the sounds to interact with your environment? When programming the album, we can play with time, place, and we can connect with the computer’s “sensors”, i.e. camera, microphone, as well as streams of data from the Internet.
  4. After this process of crowdsourcing, of co-creating the collective living work of sound art, composer Casper Hernández Cordes will compile sounds, forms and interaction patterns in a living album, an application, that you can download for free. Every time you open the application on your computer, you will hear new pieces.
  5. The app will enable you to save the pieces, and you are invited to upload them to soundcloud. There, you will comment on the piece, and on the living album, sharing your experiences with the community of co-creators.

How about that? Click here, and you can participate! Join us! Comment! Share! Create!

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sQRikebeam bor fow

Ich bin auch ein Fahrrad, -or- Bikescream for QRow

-or- traffic jam session

Recommendation: Watch the video clip while listening to the sound:

The participants made sounds with the bikestruments and formed them with their voices through the Anthropomorfer. When working with the sounds via smartphones, how could we do with only very little space? I hadn’t prepared a silver concept for that part. Somehow someone came up with the idea to follow the passing cars, bikes and people with the sounds. So each participant chose one feature, for instance “everything yellow”, and each time a yellow car, bike og hat passed by, he/she would ‘follow’ the moving object with the sound, panning from left to right or vice versa. In this way, a new aspect was introduced in the the-street-as-an-instrument-concept: SILENCE!! Since there were not yellow things passing by all the time the participant following yellow things had to keep silent in the pauses. But since each participant followed his/her specific feature, – bike helmets, taxis, blondes, etc., a great variety of movements and velocities naturally came to the improvisations, thus creating variation and new mixes/collisions. QRaaaaa QRaaaa!

Related articles:

Bikestruharp, former bike now instrument (www.akutsk.wordpress.com)

Bikestruments, bridgestruments, anti padlock guerilla (www.akutsk.wordpress.com)

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

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.

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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