We need tools for building sustainable collectives

Building a collective is about listening to the other, about trying to understand the other’s world, Tweet: and try to find a ground for building a new common world. We usually do this through words. This is smart when we talk with people that we are already agreeing with. But what about those with whom we disagree? Preaching to the choir always gives the best results, right?

It’s a very adult way of doing things. Talking. Using words. When you think back to the time where you went to school, you might agree with me that we had other ways of connecting with other people.

When I was in school, officially the point was about us learning stuff. There was a teacher talking about something seemingly relevant to us. But actually most of the activities I engaged in had to do with building a collective with the other classmates. And how did we do that? Did we sit around and talk and discuss and debate? Well, to some extent. But most of the time we where playing around with meaning, playing around with sounds, we were playing around with nonsense, we interacted through our movements. We didn’t only talk. We didn’t only use this one channel. We had a lot more channels to draw upon, when building our collective.

A lot of people say:

“I am not musical. I don’t know how to play an instrument. I can’t sing. It sounds terrible.”

My answer to these people is: We are all musical! We are using sound ALL the time as a means of expression. Tweet:  We are doing it at a very high level. Everyone. All the time. Most people simply don’t see it. They understand working with sound at a high level as something only musicians can do.

I am saying: we are all musicians. In our everyday life, when speaking, we are expressing ourselves in very intricate patterns in sound. We are able to perceive what is going on in another person through the sounds he or she is making. Not only through the words, he or she is using – sometimes people use words that are different from, or even opposite to what they actually feel, whether conscient or not. How can we know what’s going on in another person, when the words don’t match? We listen to sounds! Tweet: We are listening to all the intricate changes in the tone of the voice, the intensity, the timbre. From these little clues, we can build an understanding of what is going on in the other person.

When we are trying to create new ways of producing, consuming goods, and making decisions, we use new innovative  tools and methods. If we want to build cultural sustainability, we need tools and methods as well. Indeed there are many new technological innovations that we can use. There are tons of apps, and online tools for people to be create new expressions, and recycle old expressions. However, few of these innovations give the users the ability to be creative as a collective.

Also read: Can social media help us build our collectives?

So which tools and methods will help us be part, as a collective, of the creative moment itself?

Let’s start singing and dancing, right?! Well. Most people are not very fond of using their bodies and voices in unfamiliar ways. We learn that it’s wrong to stick out, and we think we are going to make a fool out of ourselves. Most of us. Then you have those who are good at it, and they will shine, and we will be ending up with the good old consumer-expert duality.

Focusing on performance, on excellence and on what we call talent is a residue from the good old industrial society. The thing is, that the way we use our bodies and voices, – our gestures and intonations – are embedded cultural patterns, that have a very strong effect on our collectives. They can sustain ways of doing and being that are excluding new people, new thoughts, new possibilities. A simple example is the handshake. Or  looking people into the eyes. In some cultures people don’t shake hands. And looking into other people’s eyes is impolite. Good luck with the job interview in a Western company!!

We need tools and methods for building sound collectives, and for them to have an effect, they should be

  • intuitive – building on existing ways of doing things, on known technologies, on everyday life.
  • sufficiently challenging, but not too much. People will back off. Or just start fooling purposelessly around.
  • open design. Participants must be able to influence the design in real time.
  • rhythmical. No learning without repetition, we must find ways of repeating the processes, keep them going, sustaining them

Read more about methods and workshops here.

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.

Bikestruments, the silver return

Political pimp-your bike-workshop, hacked for street politics

A local workshop hosted by a red-green political party with the agenda of promoting the bike as a preferred choice for transportation. The name of the workshop was “Pimp your bike”.

Fonografiti activists ‘hacked’ the event (to which you might question the environmentally friendliness of using spray paint for ‘pimping’ bikes, btw), and ‘pimped’ some bikestruments, spray painting them silver.

After being silverly pimped, the bikestruments were hanged on the same spot where the other – un-pimped – bikestruments had been violently abducted.

Now the question is: Does the ‘pimping’ of the bikestruments, possibly sending the message “we are street”, inspire passers-by to NOT remove them?

Now THIS is a pimped bike!! (Photo by Simon Cordes)

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

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.

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.

Giantophone

During my trip to Stockholm where I  am participating in a workshop about forum theatre methods, I discovered this …. thing in the neighboring museum of modern art: a “Gigantophone”.
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Made of tubes, ladders, pieces of wood, this I-don’t-know-how-long instrument stood there, outdoors in a lawn, accessible to anyone. Of course I had to test it!

One of my current projects is to incite those who make decisions about our public urban streetscapes to start thinking about the ‘street-furniture’ in terms of the possibilities for passers by to make sounds on them, to use them as ‘streetstruments’. This is an example of a rather conventional way to give us a means of making sound in public space.

However, as I discovered the following day, it certainly has an appeal on people….

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... kids as well as adults

This evening, I experienced a perfectly clear illustration of the ‘audience crisis’ of contemporary artistic expressions. And a possible solution. Approximately 5 meters from the giantophone there is a tent meant for performances, concerts etc. Here, the Fylkingen (Swedish electro acoustic music organisation) hosted an event at which sound artists had a public jam session.

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So: You see two groups of people engaged in the same kind of activity. Both groups immersed in the creative exploration of sound, curiously, open and collectively. But not together. Actually the ‘real’ musicians had as few people, or less, watching as the ‘amateur’ guests playing on (/with) the giantophone, 5 meters away.

Would it be conceivable to join the activities of the two groups into one collective, learning, curious, openminded, sharing activity, where the ‘guests’ would get inspiration from the ‘pros’, and the pros would have their competencies with sound as a means to expression put into play with people who are not normally involved in this?

I think the answer is obvious, and the way to do it is extremely simple: mic it up! Put microphones on the ‘streetstrument’ and use ‘ordinary people’s’ sounds in your avantgarde musical processes.

This is an impro I made on the giantophone:

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.