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.
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:
The Barefoot artists are recording a series of improvisations. In each take a single musician is improvising freely.
The takes, – let’s call them soundscapes – are released on soundcloud.com, please visit the set here.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
It is characteristic for folklore activities that they include people non regarding age, gender, or body shape. I’m at my son’s capoeira graduation, batizado, and I see kids, 50 year old men, young people, tall or small, skinny or heavily build people, all engaged in the same activities, each with his/her own personal style. It’s playful, concentrated and including. In comparison, elite or popular cultural activities favour certain characteristics in people. Becoming a ballet dancer is excluded if you are not build in a certain way. Being a pop singer requires that you are born with a certain look ( singing talent is less important..)
Popular cultural activities are normally judged according to numbers. It is important to know how many people attended the concert, bought the CD, etc. Elite cultural activities are judged according to their apparent ability to give the audience a transcendent experience. In that sense, pop culture parallels the mechanics of market economy, and elite or avant-garde culture lends from religion. In both cases there is a clear division of labour, each part of the process being taken care of by specialists ensuring that the consumer/art lover understands that this particular product/ art work is ‘the best you can get’ (for the price).
In this dualistic scenario, with its clear division between producer and consumer of cultural products, conditions are fragile for both parts. The pop-expert-salesman and the art-expert-priest are dependent upon having a large number of people supporting them, buying their products or accepting their high placement in the hierarchy; the current crisis in the cultural industries stemming from the recent technological developments, and the crisis for elite cultural institutions fighting to maintain public funding, exhibit the frailties on the expert-producer side. The tragic life and recent death of yet another pop icon/ victim, Whitney Houston, underlines the costs for individuals fuelling the all-devouring industry of pop.
From the perspective of the consumer, there is a corresponding fragility in the sense that deposing the responsibility and the capacity for cultural expression and development in the hands of a centralised elite leaves us ordinary people with few possibilities of making useful translations of our cultural experiences into valuable, lasting and socially sustainable changes in our lives. The pop culture scheme provides us with one-size-fits-all solutions developed through a social darwinistic race towards ever more unattainable ideals for how you should look, feel and perform. The elite art scheme leaves you puzzled and without a clue until the art-expert-priest gives you the explanation that there is no explanation other than that the art work transcends your everyday life experience and brings you to a higher level of consciousness. Which you accept because you know that you don’t possess the decoding capacities to have direct access to this level without a guide/priest.
Learning from folklore
In contrast with the dualistic producer-consumer scheme, with its roots in industrial society, folklore activities give the participants much broader and socially sustainable options. Folklore thrives in communities where government is more or less absent, or if present then in an oppressing way. In welfare states, like Denmark, government is very present and most of the problem solving activities are institutionalized. This is very effective and it allocates time and energy for the individual to pursue his or her goals, which – according to our protestant-industrial ethics – is to excel in an expert function solving problems for others, so that they can allocate time for their individual goals and so on.
The question is not why our folklore has died out and what we can do to revitalise it. This approach would at its best convert historical documentation into curious art-pop products, competing with the huge amount of products that have already won the race. It’s much more interesting to ask what folklore is made of and what capacities lie in us for doing it. Folklore as process, not product.
Folklore activities are embedded in collectives, with a large degree of diversity of the participants in age and gender. The different forms of what we term as dance, music, narration etc., are intertwined, with unclear boundaries between modes of production and perception. Since no money is involved, questions about authorship are superfluous. New forms are being developed in collective creative processes embedded in everyday life situations. Folklore enhances the feeling of belonging, of ownership, and since expertise is rooted in the collective itself, there is a short path for each participant to autonomous reflection upon ‘how we do things here’ and there is a short path for making changes according to developments in other processes, such as pop culture, technological developments, political changes, climate changes etc.
Seeing folklore not as a set of cultural forms and products, but as processes in which we all have the capacities of engaging, opens up for a reflection on how we can find inspiration in folklore to change the current paradigm, based as it is on the producer-consumer dualism of industrialism.
How do we translate the capacities that folklore activities make apparent, into activities that can create substantial changes in our individualistic and alienating welfare society?
The most common strategy, which has been active since the 1970ies, is a sort of reversed colonialism, where enthusiasts immerse themselves into folklore activities in different parts of the (third) world. Back home they serve as hard-working entrepreneurs, establishing a local milieu for that specific folklore activity.
As is the case for my son’s capoeira group, some of these milieus succeed in bringing parts of the characteristics of folklore into the participants’ lives. Still, the imported folklore traditions do not really threaten status quo, since the existing structures for leisure activities gladly suck them in adding to the variety of harmless spare time activities. Local policies welcome them as they fit in with strategies for inclusion and diversity.
If the new elements of ‘ethnic’ expressions succeed in reaching a larger audience, it is in the form of spectacular shows, focusing on the performative aspects of the given activities, thus draining them of their inclusive and empowering sides. Another way is when pop culture parasites the expressions, carefully leaving out their subversive or reflective components.
Reversed colonialism 2.0
The failure of this, let’s call it first wave reversed colonialism, in (re)implementing the capacities for local communities in the welfare state of being self-supplying in reflective, inclusive and open ended cultural activities, lies in the way that the pioneers of the movement(s) proceeded. By imitating the cultural forms, and copying the whole paraphernalia of clothes, language, colours etc, these milieus exposes the new influences for either rejection or exoticism. Hybridization is not an answer to this problem since the blending of the two systems will stem from a surface understanding of the new system based on criteria from the old.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a wave of new approaches to finding solutions to the challenges we face is rising. The central keyword is sustainability. Following the wave of ecological sustainability, (old-)new solutions to economic sustainability are now building up in the form of socioeconomic companies and collaborative consumption. With these version 2.0 of the ecological and economic movements of the 60ies and 70ies, it makes sense to look for a new development in social and cultural sustainability along the same lines.
A reversed colonialism 2.0 should focus, not on the surface aspects of folklore activities, but rather on the underlying processes of culturally and socially sustainable communities, where folklore thrives.
The What and How of cultural sustainability
The 2.0 of reversed colonialism has to do with a second level of reflection, that takes into account not the surface structures of third world folklore activities, but the generative capacities that we all have for cultural sustainability. The elements of folklore that are important for the what of this old-new project include:
The decentralisation of expertise. Knowledge about how to produce culture and how to reflect upon cultural production is monopolised in silos of experts in cultural production, diffusion and reflection. There is a need for empowerment on the local plane, enabling collectives to make qualified and reflected decisions about their cultural development.
Inclusive and open ended processes. There is a need for challenging hierarchies of age, gender and minority/majority groups. We should learn from collectives where cultural processes are open for people across barriers and that are open to new influences from other processes, while including new elements through hybridisation.
Collaborative creative processes. The processes of cultural creation should be liberated from the grip of the assembly line model, and we must (re)learn to work in collectives, sensitive to local context, where the participants contribute according to their unique personal background and capacities.
Cross modality. In our current paradigm, there is a hierarchy of the modalities of expression/reception ranking the visual at the top, then the auditive, etc. We split activities that imply hearing, looking, moving, or tasting etc. up in different incompatible activities. Since our lives are embedded in a cascade of impressions, the myopic favouring of one or two channels of perception impoverish our experiences, and the false splitting up of sensorial information in our cultural activities impedes a change in our culture of myopics. In culturally sustainable communities, any impulse can lead to activities in any combination of modalities, and an activity combining one set of modalities can be translated into a new set of modalities.
A broad concept of reflection. The logico-deductive way of thinking is child of the industrial paradigm, and binary thinking pervades our welfare societies within education, politics, production, and any area you can think of. A culturally sustainable approach flattens out the hierarchy of meaning making activities, and welcomes other kinds of reflection. Gesture, movement, sound, etc. are all possible vehicles for coding of unique information, the implication of which for innovation, cultural development and problem solving in general is highly underestimated in our era of stubborn rationalism.
Collective memory. Culturally sustainable communities have intelligent and diverse techniques for storing information about methods, tools and procedures for collective cross modal reflection. In our surface analysis of folklore, we talk about tradition, family and proximity, deploring the rootlessness of modern society. The challenge is to find adequate forms of storing both analogue and binary information in a way that allows us to retrieve useful information across time and space.
Key to the what of cultural sustainability is a flattening of the existing hierarchies within
modes of expression/perception (visual <> auditive <> movement)
in types of reflection (binary or analogue)
and in expertise (expert vs. consumer).
It is the redistribution or democratisation of the processes of cultural expression and it is their embedding in collectives. And it is the empowerment of these collectives, providing them with a ‘cultural filter’ through which new influences can be integrated, making the collectives adaptable to necessary changes, while safeguarding them from damaging attacks from outside political, cultural or commercial forces.
How can this be achieved? It doesn’t make sense to try to recreate the conditions of pre-industrial society, where local communities drew upon tradition, family and religion for collective problem solving. These archaic entities simply do not have the flexibility any longer to include new elements and processes in the growing interrelatedness of our global societies in a sustainable way. The back-to-the-roots dream of first wave sustainability pioneers doesn’t do the trick. Our current solution, where we have deposited the responsibility for collective problem solving in ever growing mega-organisations certainly doesn’t either.
Let’s take the example of education: Solving the problem of preparing the next generation for developing healthy societies has been allocated to a silo called the school, totally isolated from the actual problem solving activities in the surrounding political, commercial or non-governmental organisations. Since we measure the outcome of this problem solving activity using a binary approach, we push schools towards an ever increasing focus on logico-deductive thinking, thus ruling out the other, analogue ways of reflection. Nevertheless, the actual problems our societies face are more and more complex and their solution requires cross modal thinking and a cross disciplinary approach.
Analogue approaches to evaluation need to be locally embedded, and they require broad skills from those who engage in understanding the scope and character of the problems, the solution of which should be in the hands of the same people who have this direct, analogue and reflected contact with the problems. Our current binary approach to evaluation contributes to the elephantiasis of our organisations with their myopic focus on each one specific problem to solve. Based on our market economy, each silo will fight for its on self-preservation, and there is no logical relationship between the scope and character of the solutions found and the size and relevance of the problems they solve.
Since our current paradigm keeps us busy in a vicious circle of evaluating according to binary approaches, expanding silos, and centralising problem solving activities, there seems to be little sense in trying to make the relevant changes from within the system.
Cultural processes have the capacity of flowing in and out of the other processes, setting up mirrors for the different problem solving activities, and functioning as interpreters between seemingly incompatible systems. They thrive where there is little regulation, in open and porous spaces, and as the central spaces are occupied by the silos, the sites that are left are the street and the web.
The challenge is how to direct all the vibrant energy from these sites into sustainable problem solving activities. Collaborative consumption is an economically and ecologically sustainable way of solving the problem of distributing goods to ordinary people. Københavns Fødevarefællesskab, KBHFF, is a “member-based and member-driven food co-operative” in Copenhagen, Denmark. By taking this problem solving activity in their own hands, they not only become independent from the one-size-fits-all solutions of the food industry, but as a side effect, since the activities are on a local scale and based on volunteering, the co-operative also work as a vehicle for social sustainability. People meet, talk and collaborate across differences in age, gender and social/cultural backgrounds.
After three years of existence, the KBHFF now has 3 -4000 members, and it is a vibrant organisation that contributes to changes in the culture around food consumption. The backbone for this project is the Web, offering easy, flexible and accessible solutions to the organising of activities, and sharing of knowledge about procedures. The success of the project is probably due to the combination of a real life, socially sustainable element with a virtual, ‘procedurally sustainable’ element.
Learning from the model for collaborative consumption, we might look for the site for a change in our cultural sustainability in a sort of street/web hybrid, where procedures, methods, and tools for analogue reflection, or reflected expression through sound, movement and narration, are being developed in collectives that are locally active, but connected to similar collectives through the Web, the Web being the site for storing and diffusion of knowledge about the how and what of these culturally sustainable activities.
A search for a new cultural sustainability raises the following questions:
Who is going to kick-start it? What is the agency of change? Since the actors within the established silos of problem solving are busy administering a centralised bureaucracy of binary procedures, we might think that those working with artistic processes are the right ones to take up the task. Since the artists’ activities are still embedded in a dualistic production-consumption scheme, in order for these experts to be converted into facilitators of cultural sustainability, a radical recalibration of their approaches is needed. There is a huge resource of competency for analogue reflection in the activities of artists, that can be routed into problem solving activities in all areas, enhancing the building up of competencies needed for culturally self-sustaining communities and organisations.
How can we make it last? Since the institutions of family/tradition/religion are no longer able to maintain knowledge about cultural processes in a sustainable way, and since no anchoring in a local community seems possible, due to the atomised life style of our welfare society, how can we make sure that the lessons learned in building up cultural sustainability are not lost in the flow of events? It seems that the most important competency we must build up is our ability to handle virtuality. As opposed to the industrial paradigm, where the approach to problem solving required the building of physical walls, and the proliferation of physical products, a culturally sustainable approach must supply us with tools for handling the ephemerality of analogue reflection. Actually, the tools are already there, the recent developments in technology having provided each of us with devices containing functionalities and infrastructure that makes us fully capable of create, distribute and reflect upon cultural activities in culturally sustainable collectives.
The technology is there. We just need to learn how to use it.