Thanks for a very intersting text! And well written. Your debugging of the musicotechnophilia is indeed very important.
In musical education in Scandinavia, you have a trend for the moment I would call ipadialisation, where technoenthousiasts praise the possibilities in a software like Garageband. It simply, – this is their claim – enables the kids to express themselves musically in a natural way.
This is where your criticism about the inbaked bias of the technologies hits bulls eye: no technology has ever been or will ever be value free or neutral.
This is also why, by the way, that it is not a big surprise that the tools are eurocentric. Actually they SHOULD be centered in the culture in which they exist. If exported to other cultures, each local culture should then reinvent the technologies or make new ones according to their context. The REAL problem is that the tools are not eurocentric enough.
The current technologies are build on abstractions like scales, chords, metrum, notes etc., this being reinforced by techniques like autotune, quantization etc. These abstractions come from an analysis of what we used to call music.
They are based on music theory, which is to say that they are focused on an end product, viewed through certain filters, and that they completely overlook 1) the embeddedness in real life materials, – the resistance of musical instruments, of the human voice, of space and of context in general, and 2) the potential generation of new elements to be included in what we might consider as musical, ie noise, gesture etc. and not least 3) the non-conformity of actual musical practices with what musicologists and others have zipped into these abstractions, basically driven by a logico-deductive approach, – probably in an attempt to legitimize the field of study called musicology.
Real eurocentric digital technologies would
A) take the technologies themselves seriously, and use the new media in their own right, while allowing them to combine with existing technologies.
B) be sensitive to humanness, be tweakable for to the user, be open for him/her to express the nuances of everyday life.
C) be open to context, be combinable, pluridimensional.
I was delighted to be invited to respond to John Kratus’ talk at the CIC/New Directions conference today at Michigan State University.
My response focuses on the importance of a critical perspective and pragmatic approach to technology in music education. To assist those who might like to follow up on some of the ideas, I’ve posted my response, with additional footnotes and references, right here: Thibeault CIC 2011 Response.pdf
And here’s the picture from the Ellnora Guitar Festival sing-along from my slides:
“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.”
“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!”
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.
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.
Now the question is: Does the ‘pimping’ of the bikestruments, possibly sending the message “we are street”, inspire passers-by to NOT remove them?
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!
This 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.
Yesterday, I posted my thoughts about Learning from folklore, and since I want to get in touch with people, around the globe, that are interested in the same things, I shared the link to the post on facebook to all sites and people that I have a connection to. For a lot of them it is no longer clear to me, who they are or where I know them from. Just the same. Today, there was a “like” for my facebook post in a forum called Sound Art, and I clicked on the person liking my post, and it got me to this interesting project, totally related to the reflections in my blog post:
USINA COLECTIVA…soñamos con puentes que nos integren y nos proyecten, porque el anhelo que nos une y motoriza no es más que la esperanza de que llegará el día que sumando pequeñas acciones y los grandes sueños, la voluntad y el compromiso en el gesto y en los actos, lograremos una nueva cultura que nos hermane en la diversidad de nuestras mentes y nuestros modos expresivos. Una nueva cultura que nos humanice, una nueva forma de hacer la vida y la política…
USINA COLECTIVA…existimos tenemos voz…Usina Colectiva es un programa de radio cuya gestión y programación se elabora en forma colectiva, escuchando con el corazón, escuchando de verdad al otro. Usina Colectiva no entiende de modelos, si entiende de procesos, por tal motivo te invita a que te integres desde un punto inicial participativo y creativo…
USINA COLECTIVA…programa radiofónico que transmite los sonidos de costumbres, quehaceres cotidianos, arte, comunicación y formación a través de la historia oral, relatos, entrevistas. Que la Usina Colectiva sea una memoria colectiva de los propios actores sociales, un generador de conocimiento y afecto.
Producción y conducción: Valeria Barbero y Rubén Marino Tolosa.”
Unfortunately, I cannot find any websites with content from this project collective factory-project. But still, finding this description by two persons completely unknown to me (and luckily, I understand Spanish) is telling me, that there is … intelligent life out there, and that my strategy of writing in English, although I am anglophonically challenged, works. It works!
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.