Building sound collectives – a workshop concept


So, we want to work with sound as a means of building a culturally sustainable collective, and we want to do it in an open, intuitive, sufficiently challenging, though comfortable way. This workshop is designed for groups of adults and young adults. It is aiming at providing the group with tools and methods for building the collective through non-verbal means.

The workshop is intended to be a supplement to contexts where people are working with new ways of living, towards economical, ecological and social sustainability. This might be in connection with conferences, festivals, theme days in education, or seminars in organisations.


Basic info
Name Building Sound Collectives
Duration 1 – 2 hours
Target group Young adults and adults
How many? 12 – 20
Where is it relevant? In organisations, in education, at festivals and events with a focus on sustainability
Location A larger room with free floor space. If outdoors, in a quiet, private place.
Equipment used Computer, audio interface 8 in 8 out. Four microphones. Four (homemade) instruments with (contact) mics. Four smartphones. Wifi. A “magic square” 3×3 meter on the floor marked with adhesive tape. A pair of loudspeakers.
Aims 1) to find the groups “common core gesture”; 2) to develop new gestural expressions from the core gesture 3) to find our way to imitate gesture through sound 4) to create a collective electroacoustic composition
Learning keywords Collaboration, non-verbal communication, other-centeredness, gestural and sound imitation, sharing ideas, improvisation, collective creativity.
The workings

Expressing ourselves in sound is one of our most efficient modalities to reach out to each other, and to try to understand each other’s worlds.  But there is no sound without movement. This is true on a fundamentally physical level. It is also true on what we could call a meta level. When we are  expressing emotional content, we are imitating physical movement with our voices.

Therefore, we want to start with gesture. We want to explore gesture as something that members of the group are already using as a means of expression in their everyday lives. And we want to experiment with ways of imitating our gestures through sound.

The workshop comprises six parts.

  1. Our first aim is to search for what I would call a common core gestural phrase
    • In pairs. A comes with a gesture. Any gesture. B imitates it and adds a variation. A imitates B’s variation and add another variation.
    • Each pair present one gestural phrase that they liked. The rest of the group imitates.
    • Now everyone moves around in space. Each participant performs the gestural phrase they have selected, and when seeing another participant he/she will try to merge to two gestures.
    • All gestural phrases will eventually merge into one.
    • This is group’s core gestural phrase
  2. Gesture jam.
    • In this part we will improvise in different ways with gesture based on the core gestural phrase. Imitating with other body parts; varying the size of the movements; making supplementary gestures, filling out the “blank spaces”.
    • This way, we develop a common new gestural grammar, and a living library of movements for the group.
  3. Sound on top. This is where we work with imitating gesture through sound
    • in pairs. A performs a gestural phrase from the ‘library’. B imitates with sound.
    • In the whole group, the pairs give samples of their work, showing a gestural phrase and the corresponding sound phrase.  The group imitates the sound phrase, with sound
  4. Sound from the bottom
    • The group records one sound from each of the four homemade instruments. This might be done in a break by some of the participants.
  5. Collective electroacoustic improvisation
    • The group is divided into three groups of four: a gesture group, a voice group, and a remote control group.
    • The gesture group will move around inside and out of the square, using gestures from the collectives’ library.
    • Each member of the sound group will imitate one of the gesture performers with their voices. Each of the four sound group members has a microphone, and their phrases form the previously recorded sounds from the homemade instruments, live.
    • Each of the four members of the remote control group use a smartphone to follow the movements in the magic square of one gesture person.
    • During this improvisation,  in the loudspeakers we will hear the sound of the four homemade instruments
      • formed by the voices of the sound group (intensity and pitch)
      • moving in soundspace according to the position (left – right, back – front) of the sound group members in the magic square
  6. The collective improvisation is recorded. After the collective impro, everyone listen to the recording.
    • New impros can be made. New experiments tried out. New sounds from the homemade instruments used.
    • For each new impro, people switch roles. Ideally, everyone tries all the different roles once.


If there are enough people, a possible variation is to have a group of “musicians” adding new sounds from the homemade instruments, according to the movements of the gesture group.

See an example of a street performance using a similar approach, in Cali, Colombia, here.

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Analogue illiteracy in the Urban garden

I was at a workshop in urban gardening. In this collective of people sharing an eagerness for ecological and economic sustainability, I experienced a situation that would have required a similar interest in cultural sustainability. In the break, with mint tea and home baked cookies, one of the facilitators – a 2 meter tall man – was engaged in a vivid conversation with one of the participants about home gardening, herbs, and other important issues. They stood right in front of the table with tea and cookies leaving very little space for the participants to serve themselves. Someone with basic skills in reading analogue information would now experience a flood of messages about potential movement and intention emanating from the participants fighting there way to the tea and cookies. The central characters noticed nothing, engaged as they were in ensuring the world’s food supply through urban gardening. Why didn’t they make room for the 10 – 12 people having a clear intention of getting to the table? And why didn’t anyone supply their analogue communication with a digital one, emitting the following line of phonemes: “excuse me, could you maybe step back, so that we can all get to the table?”. I suppose it’s because of shyness, or maybe nobody actually noticed anything?

In our culture, we use the body as a vehicle for bringing our brain to where we need it to engage in digital communication. If another brain-vehicle comes in our way, we either wait until it has moved by itself, or  – when pressured – resort to digital communication. “Could I get by, please?”. Our incapacity in reading the intentions and potential movements of the other is an example of what I would call analogue illiteracy.

“I have never experienced anyone belting before I have put the little divider up, but I can not abide people that feel the need to go heel-to-toe with me in a queue!

I have terrible anxiety and any sort of crowd or claustraphobic enviroment makes me pespire, shake and feel nauseous.

More than once I have had to dump my shopping and walk out because of some one literally breathing down my neck as if it is going to get them served any faster!

Claire L(571) on

Not being aware of the other’s physical space, because you cannot read the other’s potential movements, is parallel to lacking awareness of the other’s mental space. Analogue illiteracy is threatening the physical and emotional well-being of people. It means wasting a lot of energy on unnecessary actions and detours. Being unable to attune to the situation, we develop overcompensating behaviour, and we all end up like Claire L.


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