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

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.

street improvisation; field for collective improvisation

Collective street improvisations, – how do we get people involved?

How can you start a new trend, create changes in other people’s lives, making them start doing things no-one has done before? How can you make more people start doing what only few people did before?

The basic goal of all my activities in the ongoing process I call Akutsk, is to inspire people who are not professional musicians or composers to work with sound as a means of expression in a creative, reflected and situated way.

I’m pursuing a bottom up approach, where I use the street as a place where people are presented with the methods/technologies for collective street improvisations, through workshops and flash mob inspired interventions.

With the workshop concept,  I aim at making a number of 3 hours workshops in local communities, starting by the ones close to where I live. The main target group consists of young people aged 13 – 16, a central criteria of success being to engage young people from not-so-well-off neighbourhoods.

How can I engage young people in taking part in collective street improvisations? I have three strategies:

  1. Go through the adults they trust. Pedagogues in the youth club, teachers, neighbourhood workers, etc. The challenge is to actually get in touch with these people, they seem to be always busy
  2. Participants from one workshop are invited to participate in the next one. This helps overcome the shyness, and it can also create new connections between young people from different neighbourhoods. And it empowers the ones who participate the second time, giving them a role as peer trainers.
  3. Have a group of facilitators, young adults by preference, that help on the workshops, giving the example of the work flow of the method. It’s always easier to engage in something, when you can see how it works.

The largest barrier to inspire people to get involved in these activities lies of course in the answer to the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. Since there is no money involved, I have to come up with something else. For the participants in the workshop, the answer would be, that it provides them with new means of expression through sound. It gives them a framework, as a collective, in which they can create something unique out of the sounds that are there at a given time and place. And the ‘something’ they create leaves a mark on the place in the form of a QR code. The participants can tell others about this moment by referring to the QR code. In addition, the process itself is fun, it’s playful, physical, and the way we work with the material is flexible, personal and situated. At least this is what I believe!!

The main challenge is to make people pass the barrier of shyness, and of why-should-I-start-doing-this-stupid-thing-ness. We all experience these situations from time to time, where someone wants us to do something in front of others that seem awkward and unnatural in the moment. My solution is to

  1. have a set-up that is simple. What meets the participant is: a quadrangular field. Two microphones, one set of headphones. A smartphone in his/her hand.
  2. have a set of play rules that are simple. There might be a weak point to my concept here, though I think that newcomers can quite rapidly get the hang of it. It consists of 4 steps:
    1. find a sound, explore the area for interesting ‘streetstruments’
    2. record it (by tapping your smartphone)
    3. form your sound with your voice (after putting on the headphones and turning your smartphone upside down)
    4. move yourself and your phrase in the quadrangular collective improvisational field (by using your smartphone as a remote control turning up/down the volume and the panning of your phrase)
  3. Have a couple of people who already know the processes start up the activities, and gradually make new participants replace them.

street improvisation; field for collective improvisation

Two days ago, I got an answer from the local community centre in a neighbourhood called Valby, that they accepted my application for two workshops. The workshops are set to August 2012. I also have a pilot workshop in collaboration with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, July 6. I still wait for the answer to 4 additional workshops, but in any case, I will be making improvised street ‘interventions’ whenever I have the time for it. In total this gives a fair number of occasions, where the magic can begin. And it gives a basis for a group of volunteers to work for the project.

This is the next step: Starting up a group of volunteers or ‘fonografists’. I think there are a number of reasons why someone would want to get involved in this project. First of all, it is something new. Working with sound in street art is very little developed, since it has been to complicated and expensive until now, and being part of a movement towards a new form of expression is simply extremely inspiring. Being a voluntary in this project also means experimenting with how to extend the ordinary way you use your voice and body into a form in which you can develop a sound improvisation in a collective. And it means guiding others in doing so. It means experiences in how to develop the tools and methods for involving non-musicians in working with sound as a means for expression. And then there are the additional experiences in documenting, communicating, organisational development, fundraising, etc. But most of all, there is the kick in making events at unexpected places, to create occasions where magic can enter in our everyday lives.

Quotations: Lefebvre on the living disorder of the street.