Salomé Voegelin

“We cannot teach a virtuosity of listening as a skill separate from the contingent moment of listening” – Interview with artist and researcher Salomé Voegelin

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Salomé Voegelin is a  widely interested artist, writer and researcher working in different modalities. Her professional work is mostly engaged in the world sound makes, socio-political and aesthetic thinking via the practice of listening. She is the author of three influential books on sound: The Political Possibility of Sound (2018), Sonic Possible Worlds (2014), and Listening to Noise and Silence (2010). Salomé is a Professor of Sound at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. 

Cross-Over: Research & Artistic Practice

According to a common assumption, scientific practice is based primarily on a rational approach. Science stands for logic and clarity, while art is considered to be more chaotic, emotional, sometimes even irrational and therefore often less understandable. Voegelin shows us that it is not at all necessary to look at one from the other, but that the opportunities lie in the connection to discover and enable listening: „While there is some artistic research that is clearly research with artistic methods and tools and has no aspiration to make art or be seen and heard as art, and there is some art which has no aspiration to do research, both very often end up crossing over: the research delivering artistic impulses and the art providing questions and thoughts that generate research. In that sense some of the relationship between art and research is a question of contingency and context and where, in their process, they meet. At the basis of this cross-over I understand the unreliable and ambiguous nature of artistic material as resource for new thinking that feeds art as well as research with unexpected questions and answers”, she explains. Voegelin does not mean that these are two identical things. Rather, it highlights the oscillation between them: “I too undulate between the two, taking from art the purposelessness of unresolved materiality and from research the intentions that drive an investigative purpose. Together they enable processes of working and uncover questions and knowledge pathways that do not necessarily lead to an objective science but that have the potential to rethink knowledge and thinking about art and the everyday.“ 

A connection between the disciplines does not remain in the abstract for Voegelin. It leads to new connections being made on an individual level and ultimately fosters diverse exchange and collaboration. „As artists and writers, we live in a community of practitioners. Even if you work on your own you are constantly in dialogue with other work and ideas around you. So being aware and in conversation with other works and texts is very important and is what makes the work relevant and communicative. It is also what makes art making and writing enjoyable. This sense of writing and working in a remote-collectivity on new ideas, forms and vocabularies, is very stimulating and is where a lot of my motivation comes from.”

Virtuosity of Listening 

The connection enables Voegelin to approach her focus on listening from various directions. „On the one hand I am engaged in a UK research council funded project Listening across Disciplines II . This project which involves cross disciplinary working with scientists, social scientists, scholars from the humanities and the arts, engages the question: how do we listen and how can we communicate this listening to generate a shareable methodology that can be applied across disciplines and gain scientific legitimacy? In that sense the project seeks through listening a sonic epistemology that can be usefully practiced to hear more and different knowledges. […] On the other hand I am as an artist interested in a listening that does not aspire to knowledge in a scientific sense but produces a sensory sense and awareness, which can include nonsense: the sense of sensation rather than its transcription into knowledge discourses.“

She emphasizes that listening is not a skill that can be learned and used according to a specific plan. The conditions of listening change in different contexts. Ultimately, listening should be trained and done primarily through active practice: „Essentially both of these listenings, artistic and scientific, are radically contingent. Even as a shareable skill listening remains entirely situated and therefore not really a skill but a practice. It is always about a particular moment of hearing that is reciprocal and generative. What I listen to is not there before me, unaffected by my listening, but is through my listening to it what it is at this moment. And so we cannot teach a virtuosity of listening as a skill separate from the contingent moment of listening, but we can communicate about particular moments of listening that can lend imagination and desire to how listening can be practiced.” 

„[…] We are trying to practice and establish listening as a useful research methodology across science, social science, arts and humanities disciplines. Our research is guided by the conviction that listening as experience and practice can promote a different and additional knowledge that includes the unexpected, what we do not know is there, and what we do not have words or a visualizations for. Such an investigative listening can hear beyond language and disciplinary precepts, to provide new insights and a different thinking, that as concept and as methodology can reach unnamable materialities and subjectivities, and can help us understand the reciprocity of the known.”

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Interview conducted by Ona Jarmalavičiūtė (discover more of her work here)

Blogpost by Benjamin Stromberg

Pictures by Salomé Voegelin 

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Read the full interview with Salomé Voegelin here:

Interview with Salomé Voegelin

How do you balance your artistic side with the researcher side? How does this balance manifest in your everyday life?

The meeting between art and research is very relevant at present, and presents for me a very important element of the way I work. While there is some artistic research that is clearly research with artistic methods and tools and has no aspiration to make art or be seen and heard as art, and there is some art which has no aspiration to do research, both very often end up crossing over: the research delivering artistic impulses and the art providing questions and thoughts that generate research. In that sense some of the relationship between art and research is a question of contingency and context and where, in their process, they meet. At the basis of this cross-over I understand the unreliable and ambiguous nature of artistic material as resource for new thinking that feeds art as well as research with unexpected questions and answers.

I too undulate between the two, taking from art the purposelessness of unresolved materiality and from research the intentions that drive an investigative purpose. Together they enable processes of working and uncover questions and knowledge pathways that do not necessarily lead to an objective science but that have the potential to rethink knowledge and thinking about art and the everyday.

How did you become interested in the topic of socio-political practice of sound? Were there authors or that inspired you to go further into the field?

Doing sound art and writing about sound it became increasingly clear to me that sound is not something you can write about from a distance, as something over there, that remains an independent object or event. Sound is not ‘this’ or ‘that’. It is not an object and not even really a thing. Instead it is the between of things. It is where things meet other things and sound their encounter. In that sense sound is always necessarily social: it is relational and sounds the way we are together and of each other, in an exchange not only of words and ideas, but also, more radically of space and materiality. How this relational in-between is heard and listened to is political. Whether we engage in it for the invisible connections it makes, or seek to tie it to a visible source as the sound of…, reveals our political orientation: how we think about the world and ourselves in that world; how we organize and hierarchize it in our imagination. And so once we listen to sound for what it connects and how it generates the visibility of the in-between, we are in a socio-political practice, where we can hear how the real is actualized, the possible is governed and the impossible ignored.

How much does your research change the way you compose music? How could you describe the evolution of your creative process? Does it have a big impact on artistic expression to have awareness about practices of sound?

My creative work influences how I think about sound, how I come to hear it and how I research with it and write about it; and at the same time my writing, my reading of other’s writing and my listening to other’s works, as well as my collaborative research with scientists, influences what work I want to do and how I want to engage in certain themes.

As artists and writers, we live in a community of practitioners. Even if you work on your own you are constantly in dialogue with other work and ideas around you. So being aware and in conversation with other works and texts is very important and is what makes the work relevant and communicative. It is also what makes art making and writing enjoyable. This sense of writing and working in a remote-collectivity on new ideas, forms and vocabularies, is very stimulating and is where a lot of my motivation comes from.

How would you say each book notes your change as an academic? What lessons each book brought to the way you understand and handle your profession?

I see my three books on sound: Listening to Noise and Silence, Sonic Possible Worlds, and The Political Possibility of Sound; as closely related and creating a narrative together and between each other. This narrative is not entirely linear or simply moving forwards. Rather there are detours and ruminations that open new avenues of listening and thinking, and there are also disagreements and even contradictions within and between the books. I like how your question gives me the opportunity to reflect on their relationship, and also on how in the ten years since publishing the first one my own perspective but also the broader context and focus of sound art and sound studies, its themes and methods, have developed and transformed. And how concurrently my own practice as an artist and as an academic and writer has developed. That is very exciting. Sound and sonic thinking has really gained ground in how we engage with things, how we know the world not only visually but increasingly also by its sound. In the same way my own academic and research practices have expanded from mainly aesthetic and artistic concerns, into the political and into science to take a more confident stance for sound studies to not only study sound but to study the world through a sonic sensibility. I am very passionate about the knowledge we can gain through a sonic literacy, through listening and a sonic sensibility applied across disciplines. Therefore, more recently I have also started to work on research projects that bring my work on sound and art to scientific explorations and applications. This is very exciting to me, since, art in general and sound art and a sonic thinking in particular, can bring new questions and processes to the important challenges of today.

Maybe you could recommend some inspiring works in the field of the aesthetic, social and political realities in the world of sound?

I am a great fan of Mikhail Karikis’s work. Almost all of his pieces enable a critical and also emotional engagement with diverse socio-political realities through sound and images. He recently had a fantastic solo show at MIMA, UK (Institute of Modern Art Middlesbrough).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan works very explicitly and purposefully with social and political themes, while solidly producing art. His approach is very inspiring too me as his work and working processes contribute at once to knowledge within the judicial context of torture and immigration, human rights and policy, while presenting challenging artistic material.

Jennifer Walshe’s compositions for orchestra and voice in which she also performs are amazing journeys into philosophical, political and social issues via sound.

Lina Lapelyte, a Lithunian artist, who I assume most of your readers would know, works the colloquial, the beach, the supermarket, etc., into observations and critiques of neo-liberal patterns and norms in an at once critical and really entertaining way.

Khaled Kaddal’s work is heavier more earnest but equally illuminating on social and political issues particularly in relation to war and autonomy, sovereignty and identity.

Aura Satz’s work brings us to the social via the body and its instrumentalization. Not always in sound, but always with a sonic sensibility, it highlights sonorous bodies and interactions and listens to processes of musical and other production.

These are just a few artists of course, but they could be a good starting point for a listening into the socio-political.

Would you say that you have developed the critical listening to sound and acoustic environments? How would you say it works technically? Is it a crucial skill for musicians, musicologists and people in general?

This is a very interesting question and extremely relevant in relation to my current practice and research. I am working on the conceptualization and development of a critical listening in two ways at this moment:

On the one hand I am engaged in a UK research council funded project Listening across Disciplines II (www.listeningacrossidsciplines.net). This project which involves cross disciplinary working with scientists, social scientists, scholars from the humanities and the arts, engages the question: how do we listen and how can we communicate this listening to generate a shareable methodology that can be applied across disciplines and gain scientific legitimacy? In that sense the project seeks through listening a sonic epistemology that can be usefully practiced to hear more and different knowledges.

On the other hand I am as an artist interested in a listening that does not aspire to knowledge in a scientific sense but produces a sensory sense and awareness, which can include nonsense: the sense of sensation rather than its transcription into knowledge discourses.

Of course, the two are intrinsically linked and it is the sensory sense and awareness of artistic practice whose value I hope to convince scientists of. But essentially both of these listenings, artistic and scientific, are radically contingent. Even as a shareable skill listening remains entirely situated and therefore not really a skill but a practice. It is always about a particular moment of hearing that is reciprocal and generative. What I listen to is not there before me, unaffected by my listening, but is through my listening to it what it is at this moment. And so we cannot teach a virtuosity of listening as a skill separate from the contingent moment of listening, but we can communicate about particular moments of listening that can lend imagination and desire to how listening can be practiced. This might seem very vague in relation to your question of the description of a technical working. However rather than being disappointed that I cannot deliver a technical “how to” musicians, sound artists and everybody should be heartened by the idea that listening is a reciprocal and uncertain practice that does not require technical skill as such, but the rigour of practice and an awareness of the body that listens.

How could you explain the possible world theory in regards of how we experience sound every day?

My foray into possible world theory was inspired by a sense, and this relates to your last question, that it is difficult to engage in the sounds of art works and the everyday beyond semantics or a particular musical language. It is difficult to listen and attest to a listening of sound when it is not in the service of describing a visual thing or event. Our language and linguistic sensibility seems not to allow us to listen to and discuss the sonic beyond a visual source or intent: ‘the sound of’. And yet, my experience of sonic works and the everyday acoustic environment is much more complex. Sound is always in excess of semantic descriptions, something more that escapes reference. And in turn, language seems to reduce my sonic sense of things to what it is possible to reference in language rather than in sound, purposefully ignoring its excess.

Therefore, trying to access and discuss this more, this excess and sensorial sense of things, I became intrigued by possible world theory and how it makes space for variants, others ways things could be or are experienced to be. I also found the way it discusses accessibility as counterfactuality: as consensus between worlds, very useful to probe conflict and plurality. In particular I became very interested in how possible world theory was being used in literary theory and games design to discuss texts and computer games through the material/textual/digital- worldness rather than through the horizontal line of linguistic interpretation. The work of Ruth Ronen, Marie-Laure Ryan and Daniel Nolan in particular, allowed me to consider Saul Kripke and David K Lewis’ possible world’s of logic as sonic worlds that I inhabit in listening, which provides a different critical imaginary.

Possible world theory builds modal worlds to test counterfactuality and make semantic experimentations of “if that …. then what?” In general, these remain semantic and theoretical, thinking models. However, through their use in literary theory and games design, as precedents, they become imaginable in relation to sound as actual world models: I can use their idea of accessibility relations in terms of a shared listening; I can employ their discussion on the plurality of worlds (Lewis) in relation to the idea of individual listening worlds; and I can consider the idea of a semantic inhabiting of modal worlds in relation to the actual inhabiting of sonic worlds. Thus, I can propose a different way of accessing sound in its plural possibility from an inhabited position that understands its situated reality and accepts others. In this way possible world theory enables a model to hearing not via a visual referent or semantic/ musical language but via the worlds sound builds. And so we can inhabit the everyday acoustic environment in its invisible possibility rather than reduce it to a visual actuality; and we can experience and critically discuss the acoustic environment in its voluminous worlding of which we are a part, rather than as a surface of meaning.

You organize communal listening and sound making. What value does it bring to the people? What is the purpose of these activities?

To me the purpose and aim of collective and communal listening practice changes according to its context. What remains universal is a sense of reciprocity and participation: I listen and I am heard listening, my sound is part of the soundscape that I listen to. This entanglement of listening provides a quintessentially phenomenological insight of my being in the world and the world being through my being with in it. However, it reminds us not of our importance but of our responsibility and co-dependence: our being as a being with each other and other things. Sound sounds our autonomy not as a totalising individuation, but as accountability and as the capacity to be with others. This condition of a necessary and inevitable togetherness, interlinked and interdependent, in a global ecology, plays out very audibly in our environment. Working with sound in a collective framework enables and promotes such a “sonico-communal” consciousness. Listening and making sound together we become aware and perform this being-together.

Given the historical and contemporary prevalence for a politics of separation and partition, their power play and inevitable failure, violence and exclusion, such sonico-communal practices offer a relevant critique and alternative to political, economic and social objectives of individuation. They can provide a different imagination of collectivity and interdependence, based on the indivisibility and reciprocity of sound.

This is what motivates my participatory and communal projects and working. And so for example I co-convene, with Mark Peter Wright, a regular series of events called Points of Listening (www.pointsoflistening.wordpress.com). PoL is an expanded space for practice and research that facilitates experimental workshops and discussions with a performative emphasis.  It began in 2014 and continues as an ongoing project of collective listening and sound making situated at the intersection of sound arts, participatory practices and education. It gives a forum to practice and debate a sonic-communality.

I also write a phonographic/text score blog www.soundwords.tumblr.com which enables and frames collective and participatory practices of score making and their performance. I hope that both these initiatives manage to promote a sonic sociality of responsibility and interdependence.

How did your collaboration with David Mollin begin? What was the purpose and thought process behind forming a creative duet?

Oh, I do not like duets, they make me think of love songs, romantic and about role play, realizing a specific, often gendered, expectation of subjectivity, particularly in a heterosexual context. I think what we share instead is a co-creativity, a way to challenge and critique each other’s thinking and doing of art and writing, in order to create something else. Something that is in neither’s expected repertoire or habit but is produced from the tenuous meeting points of both our practices. The first time we worked together was when we were both at Goldsmiths, University of London, doing our PhD’s. David, whose work focused on painting and writing, was producing a radio piece and so it made sense to try to do something together. But it is only a little later that our collaboration became more regular and in a way more formalized.

Working together we are leaning into one another as it were, trying to understand and produce something together, but inevitably failing and thus creating something else that maybe neither really gets but that is still something. What I find exciting about collaboration in general and with David in particular is that it uses this in-between space, the space that is neither him nor me, but where we meet, where things take on their own shape. This space I think is much harder to access when working on your own. It demands much more contortions and leaps to access that space alone. But when you collaborate it is there all the time and you dance around it, try to make sense of it, hold it, let go of it, accept its uncontrollability. Often in our effort to grab that space and make sense of it we argue. We literally fight over the invisible to persuade the other of what it might be. And so, we started to work with each other almost inevitably from arguing about what things are, what they could be, from reading each other’s writing and giving feedback to each other’s artistic works. It was a small step to try and work together.

In general, I think collaboration is an extremely valuable way of working. In fact, I rarely work on my own and even when I write, which can be a solitary pursuit, I enjoy co-writing and co-generative moments, and fully acknowledge that nobody writes on their own but from positions of dialogue and conversation even with people they do not know.

You are trying to establish listening as a reliable and legitimate methodology across the arts and humanities, science, social science and technology. How did you form this goal? What challenges do you face not having listening as a legitimate methodology?

I am very passionate about the fact that sound, when it is not tied to a visual referent or source, offers us another view on what we think we know and see. Its invisibility, its ephemeral relationality and its demanding reciprocity, present novel questions and new ways to engage in research and knowledge as well as ultimately in its communication and pedagogy. I am entirely persuaded by the idea that sound can contribute to what we know and how we know it, and that it can help us question whose knowledge counts and whose remains inaudible; to critique singular frameworks of legitimacy and ultimately to forge a more plural knowledge base.  I think my conviction on this point comes from a long-standing unease and sense of discrepancy about what the world feels like to me and how it is represented, valued and lived in. And an incongruity also between the experienced reality of what is here, presenting plural possibilities, and the singular manifestation of the real that is taken as its actuality: aesthetically, discoursively and in terms of politics.

We are all very visually literate. We recognize the world and are confident in reading visualisations, graphs, images and representations. We take their naturalization as real and forget how we got to know them and what ideologies are behind such undoubted recognition. The visual is an entirely legitimate knowledge tool. It offers the perspective of western, logo-centric and masculine knowledge. Sound by contrast falls out of this frame of legitimacy and can only be redeemed through translation into a visual language: as score, as spectrogram, or as referent of a very particular and mapped out audition. However, this visualization always and inevitably suppresses that which is not graspable within its grammar. Consequently, a lot of insights cannot make themselves count in relation to knowledge and research. Science is missing out on material evidence because it does not trust the heard.

In response, with the project I mentioned before, Listening across Disciplines II, we are trying to practice and establish listening as a useful research methodology across science, social science, arts and humanities disciplines. Our research is guided by the conviction that Listening as experience and practice can promote a different and additional knowledge that includes the unexpected, what we do not know is there, and what we do not have words or a visualizations for. Such an investigative listening can hear beyond language and disciplinary precepts, to provide new insights and a different thinking, that as concept and as methodology can reach unnamable materialities and subjectivities, and can help us understand the reciprocity of the known.

In particular, we are currently working on the observation and development of ‘listening protocols’: instructions, scores, guidelines, manuals, etc. on how to listen in a particular context, in terms of a professional aim or investigative purpose. We do this in order to make listening applicable across a wide range of scientific endeavours, and to inspire trust in the ephemeral.

What we have found so far is that listening protocols that work beyond recognizing what we expect to hear need to take the form of a ‘protocoling’ as a participle, a verbial of the noun, that remains fluid and contingent, and creates adaptive methodologies aware of their own contingency. Thus, listening remains forever a shifting practice, but in this shifting, it can reveal important truths and knowledge about the body, about society, about architecture, urban planning, politics and art.

How did you decided to live and work in London? Maybe you could compare the conditions for research in Swiss and London?

It is such a long time ago since I left Switzerland that it is hard for me to compare. Of course, Swiss artists, researchers and academics have generally speaking more resources at their disposal, but that is not always the key to radical thinking and making in the arts. Good resources and space can be a fantastic enabler but they do not replace a sense of urgency and desire for practice and dialogue. I am not suggesting the precarity pay in the UK and the poor conditions for artists and thinkers in terms of space and financial, political opportunity is to be aspired to. But it does provide an interesting context for collective experimentation, risk taking and conversation that I find very fruitful to my own work.

For me this has also to do with diversity. The Swiss sound scene is still rather white male dominated. That is a shame and it is entirely self-fulfilling. There are exceptions, with some great female artists and initiatives (e.g Rahel Kraft, Cathy van Eck, Anna Frei (OOR), Magda Drozd, Margaret Harmer). but while the UK cannot shake of its class system, Switzerland seems to find it hard to shake of its patriarchal norms. Both are difficult, but I find the first more ignorable on a personal level than the latter.

I am also very happy in how the UK has embraced artists as researchers. There is a clarity and coherence in its PhD and art research contexts, where artists are increasingly becoming contributors to scientific, social, humanities and artistic knowledge production and its dissemination, without having to change their language or transform into simple illustrators of scientific truths. There is still a long way to go to make connections and emancipate the knowledge of art to be an entirely autonomous participant at the table of knowledge, able to enter equal collaborations. However, the culture is clearly emerging and I hope we can continue and accelerate that development. I fear in Switzerland the same patriarchal norms impede the autonomy of art as a knowledge force a little still. University and communication hierarchies seem to still prefer what is considered objective knowledge, conventional fields and organisations, and disciplinary boundaries are less fluid and remain seemingly insurmountable.

On the other hand, the recent decision of the UK to leave the European Union and with it its network of researchers and funding opportunities, artistic opportunities and collaborations, will be hugely detrimental to art and to research in the UK. I came to London when Switzerland was not in Schengen, and the UK was in the EEC and then in the EU. And so, in many ways, I did not come to England but to Europe. Given the sonic imaginary of interdependency and relationality that I am advocating, I am entirely in favour of the social and political connection the EU as a political and lived concept is practicing. I might not agree with the details of its institutional and governmental organization, but no country has an entirely agreeable political institution. Every political institution has a politics which by necessity involves the violence of consensus. But I embrace the project of collaboration and interbeing that the EU represents and thus for me the UK leaving the EU is a terrible failure, born from a sense of superiority and a misunderstanding of sovereignty. And it will have grave consequences.

What is the biggest challenge that you face in your field of research?

The biggest challenge is the general reluctance to take the sonic and listening, outside of language and music, seriously, particularly when it is not supported by a visual frame or referent. I understand this reluctance in relation to western logo-centric rationality at the base of science. The habit of going from knowledge as an ideological and political intention, into experience and towards material proof, sets up boundaries of how and what we can know. By contrast, if we turned it the other way and practiced listening to hear what the material experience communicates even if we might not know what that is or how to call it yet, this could open what knowledge is, who it belongs to and how it relates to experience, truth and fiction.

Sound is the knowledge of excess, it remains outside language and representation. Therefore, to write about it and to promote it as a legitimate research tool, means working at the margins and against cultural norms. And so, writing about and researching with sound and listening inevitably describes a marginal and a feminist practice.

How did you imagine your profession at the beginning of your career? How does the reality differ?

I am not sure I imagined anything. It just gradually became clearer that I wanted to work with sound, and working with sound, first in music, film and video and then through art and writing, made its own paths. I think I was very fortunate to be part of an emerging context and interest in sound and listening. There were people around me when I studied Film and Video, Peter Cusack, David Cunningham, later, when working between Music and Visual Arts in search of what sound does, there was Katherine Norman and of course now Cathy Lane, David Toop, Angus Carlyle, and many more mentors, colleagues and collaborators, who encouraged me and enabled me to think beyond the soundtrack, into the soundscape and into sonic works, and also into theory and how to speak about sound. The focus on writing came out of a lack of existing writing and a certain economy. It is cheap to write and you can do it anywhere, you do not need much equipment, space, or even necessarily continuous time. This personal economy coincided with a turn in theory towards the sonic which I felt excited about.

I have in recent years become increasingly interested in knowledge and research. Not because I do not value art and artistic expressions per se, but because I feel passionate about the discrepancy between what the world is, in its invisible and indivisible plurality, and how a normative, patriarchal thinking and representation is making us believe it has to be. Art is a powerful tool to create different perceptions and provoke a different engagement; to generate a different thinking and participation and ultimately a different knowledge base. Therefore, I am very invested in how art can know, how it can interfere in normative projections and transform knowledge processes from the unreliable ambiguity of its materiality and show a different real.

What do you value the most in the music performance?

That it alters time and space and makes you aware of their co-production. And from that change anything else can transform too.

What would you name as musicians that inspired you; or pieces that introduced you to something new at the beginning of your career?

The first record I ever bought was the German Punk Singer Nina Hagen. I loved her aberration of classical virtuosity, which I later also started to admire in Diamanda Galás, Jocy de Oliveira, and others. I had no idea then what it was that so fascinated me at the time. Now I think that as a young woman, teenager, in the middle of training in classical music and thoroughly enjoying the sound making but unsure about my part in its composition, and unable to articulate this unease in an informed way, they must have carried that other voice, that excess and desire that it took me so many years to understand what it is.

What do you think is the future of listening to music?

At the moment we are under lock down due to COVID-19, and so the present of listening to music has all of a sudden become its future: we are now exclusively listening through streaming and pre-produced work online. The participatory audience has become separated and a new communal listening is being built. The concert context has shifted to the domestic, dependent on the technological and economic infrastructure of the internet.

Consequently, work and listening have transformed. I use the same device to work, to do online lectures, meetings, writing, etc. as I use to listen to music and sound art now. There is a short-circuiting, as in making the connections shorter that is happening, which might have benefits: it might create an understanding of how things link up, and it could trigger awareness of how their separation is a device to parcel us off into workers and domestic beings. But on the other hand, there is also something very exhausting about this online living and listening. Normally going to a gig gives you great energy, the energy of the life-event, of other people breathing moving and being in your proximity. Digital nearness is different, it is intellectual, understood but not felt, and has to rely on language at the expense of the non-verbal and tactile to make you feel collectivity.

But maybe when the lockdown is lifted and this time has passed we will abandon the internet and seek out other bodies to listen with.

Are there any future projects that excite you the most?

Exhibitions, performances and curatorial performances are currently on hold due to the lockdown. Maybe some of them will happen online. But I am not sure I have the energy of the life-event in me at the moment to produce something that has the tension of that encounter.

Therefore, I am at this moment prioritizing work on the second edition of Sonic Possible Worlds, adding a chapter on Possible and Impossible Bodies to its discussion of possible and impossible worlds. And as a research team we are continuing to work on Listening across Disciplines II. some field work had to be postponed and changed, but we try to keep on developing the thinking and conceptualizing behind the research so far, to be able to contribute a sonic sense to the biomedical emergency we are encountering at this moment.

Thank you for the conversation!

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Jürgen Budday during a concert
Jürgen Budday during a performance

„Never give up and never lose hope“ – Interview with German conductor Jürgen Budday

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Interview 1 Comment

For Jürgen Budday, his artistic path began primarily through his own love for music. Above all, he wanted to do something that could also satisfy him personally. His becoming process was characterized by a dialectical development process: good mentoring on the one hand and persistence and his own discipline on the other.: „During my studies I got a very solid basis for making music and I am very grateful to all my teachers who brought me to a higher level. But the most I learned in conducting was to do it in practice and to complement my skills in specific private studies.“

The conductor who worked over 40 years in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Abbey does not see music as a pure demonstration of skills, but rather as something deeply emotional. Only a combination of skills and dedication for the moment create the magic.For me music is emotion and that’s a very sensitive situation. You turn your innermost outside. And if the audience realizes this, it gets touched. You are transporting your feelings by the music. And that’s the moment where you are authentic. This brings the audience to deal with the message you are singing.“ In this process he is deeply connected to his musicians. “I try to show the essential, not more. I trust in my choir.” This trust arises from a community concept that is practiced on and behind the stage. “For me it is also important to have a good community in the choir.”

Today he draws from his wealth of experience and as he learned to appreciate his teachers, today he continually passes on his own learnings. He makes it clear that he is constantly learning from his current position instead of having reached an end. „The biggest lesson I had to learn was being a teacher: When you get new students every year and you have to teach them essentials, not to resign, to be patient and to be confident in their possibilities. And after some years you often get splendid results. That‘s the identical pattern for a teaching musician: Never give up and never lose hope…“

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Interview conducted by Ona Jarmalavičiūtė (discover more of her work here)

Blogpost by Benjamin Stromberg

Pictures by Jürgen Budday

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Read the full interview with Jürgen Budday here:

Jürgen Budday

German conductor, teacher, director of church music – Jürgen Budday molds into different professional shapes as a creative mind and a lover of music. His main accomplishment is concert series at the Maulbronn Abbey (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), where he leads such choirs as ‘Maulbronner Kantorei’ and Maulbronn Chamber Choir. His creative work was noted by various awards – including Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (German Cross of Merit) and the Bruno Frey Prize from the Baden-Württemberg State Academy of Music. In this interview the musician shares his views on inspiration from the Abbey of Maulbronn, his biggest lesson as a teacher, and simplicity of his conducting style.

How did you imagine your profession at the beginning of your career?

At the beginning of my musical studies I had no special expectations. My first intention was to improve my skills in order to make music which satisfies me. Seen like this I was humble. In the meantime, I can say that everything went beyond my expectance.

You studied musicology and church music at the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart. What do you take away from your studying period?

Since my youngest years I loved music very much. So, for me it was a dream to improve my musical skills. During my studies I got a very solid basis for making music and I am very grateful to all my teachers who brought me to a higher level. But the most I learned in conducting was to do it in practice and to complement my skills in specific private studies.

Define inspiration – does it exist?

Of course, it exists. My greatest inspiration is the building in which I had the privilege to work for 40 years, the Abbey of Maulbronn. If you enter this 870 years old church, the Refectorium, the cloister, you are directly touched by the spirit of this speaking and sounding stones. You immerse yourself in a spiritual world and out from this silence inspiration is directly tangible. And if you make music in this surrounding there are moments where you are hovering between earth and heaven.

What does being artistic director of concert series at UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Abbey means to you? What are usually the creative thoughts behind directing the concert series?

The precondition for the concert series has been the monastery itself. The atmosphere of the different rooms is unique and you have the possibility for open-air concerts as well. I felt the responsibility to the public, to open these rooms and to fill them with art and music. So I built up a concert series up to 35 concerts over the summer with artists from all over the world.

Do you choose or audition singers with whom you are working?

Both. In the meantime as the choir was well known, many singers applied for singing in this choir. For me the sound of a choir is most important. That means to have a homogeneous, balanced cast from very deep and sonorous basses to very high and light Sopranos. And for me also important is, to have a good community in the choir.

You are a conductor, director of church music and music teacher. How do you balance and combine all the practices in your everyday life?

The position I had (in the meantime I have retired), was an ideal combination between making church music, teaching music, conducting several ensembles and running a concert series as an artistic director. During the week my main job was teaching young students, rehearsing and organizing.  On weekends I was conducting and running my festival. As everything took place in the UNESCO world-heritage Maulbronn Abbey, there was no loss of travelling-time. Of course I had no free weekends and only 3 weeks holidays in the year.

What kind of impact do you want to have to the listener? What musical message would you want to convey to others?

I have no special message as for example in politics. For me music is emotion and that’s a very sensitive situation. You turn your innermost outside. And if the audience realizes this, it gets touched. You are transporting your feelings by the music. And that’s the moment where you are authentic. This brings the audience to deal with the message you are singing.

How would you describe your conducting style?

I try to show the essential, not more. I trust in my choir.

How could you describe your lifestyle as a musician? What elements of it challenge you the most?

I am very interested in new things and I am looking for it. Especially, to design stringent programs. To have a headline for my program, to find pieces which follow this idea.

What did you learn from your teachers? Maybe they have shared some wisdom which is guiding you even today?

I learned a lot from my teachers. But one essential thing I learned is always to be focused on what you are doing in this moment.

What do you think that your career gave you the most? What do you value the most in the journey?

Wonderful music, wonderful people to work with, fascinating concert-tours around the world.

What is the biggest lesson on creativity you had to learn?

The biggest lesson I had to learn was being a teacher: When you get new students every year and you have to teach them essentials, not to resign, to be patient and to be confident in their possibilities. And after some years you often get splendid results. That‘s the identic pattern for a teaching musician: Never give up and never lose hope…

Are there any future projects that excite you the most?

A very actual and fascinating project is building up the new National Youth Choir of Germany. This means to invest in the future. And I love to work with young people.

Thank you for the conversation!

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Elastic in Times of Crisis

Benjamin Stromberg Insights Leave a Comment

A NEW NORMAL 

Whether the situation is acute like SARS-CoV-2 or creeping like the climate catastrophe: what is perceived as a state of emergency can, today, be understood as a constant companion in different guises. “Uncertainty is the new normal,” explained IMF chief Kristalina Georgiewa in a recent interview with the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel. If she is correct in her assessment, we must fundamentally change our perspective on crises. In organizations, a crisis is usually seen as an emergency situation that requires an emergency plan. As long as crises occur rarely and remain manageable, this approach can work. However, if there is no long term stability, if a whole period of time is marked by unpredictability, it will help less and less to see crises as individual cases and to be able to cope with them separately in a survival mode that has to be activated again and again. Rather, we have to begin to understand crises as a productive force in order to be able to adjust our activities while they are going on and, in the best case, to emerge stronger from them.

Against the current background, the reference to a Black Swan, which the philosopher and financial mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb uses as an image for events that occur unexpectedly and suddenly and at the same time are extremely effective, is once again popular. Taleb himself stated that SARS-CoV-2 is not a Black Swan in his understanding. Looking at history, which has always been characterized by the coexistence of humans and a multitude of deadly viruses, and a globally networked world as a gigantic accelerator, a global pandemic seems to be a question of when and not of whether. In this context, futurology also speaks of Known Unknowns – things we know about but cannot know their details before they appear. At SARS-CoV-2 we cannot speak of a truly unforeseeable event, an Unknown Unknown: “The pandemic, in fact, is the whitest of white swans. So it’s arresting that in many ways it’s taken us by surprise. The crisis we inhabit now is many things; but is it in part a failure to think properly about our shared future?”. The question posed by the future thinker and journalist David Mattin becomes all the more compelling when we consider what could soon be the future of humanity. Rapid climate change makes nature more and more unpredictable which directly impacts us. Natural disasters and wars could be the result, which would require much more than a few days without the much-quoted toilet paper. Additionally, these scenarios do not take into account any cosmic catastrophes, which may befall our planet, and which have cost many species their existence. The inevitable question is how we can prepare for completely unpredictable events when the Known Unknowns are already causing us significant problems and  violently rocking our societies.

BEYOND SURVIVAL 

Our fragility is concealed by the fact that we simulate predictability by trying to address the problem with deadlines (such as the duration of curfews) and forecasts (such as the production of a vaccine). There is nothing wrong with this per se – at the same time, if overemphasized, it tempts us to lull ourselves into a false sense of security (and in the worst case it can even be interpreted as an intentional encroachment on personal freedom and dignity) and then we tend to persist and wait until the exceptional situation is overcome and things can continue “normally” again. Such an attitude ultimately prevents us from seeing crises as opportunities.

Healthy restraint must be accompanied by resilience and elasticity, which can absorb, transform and use the forces acting on it to survive in a constantly changing environment. Organisations can do this by using their energy in times of crisis to achieve reformulated results, activate resources, create improvements and seek new and creative solutions.

Such a form of elasticity and resilience seems like a prerequisite, though, some companies are already demonstrating that they are able to do this: numerous clothing manufacturers, small and large, such as Trigema, Eterna, Prada, or H&M, started to produce face masks and protective suits right at the beginning of the crisis, and some large automobile manufacturers are copying them. Jägermeister, Klosterfrau, and Pernod Ricard deliver alcohol for the production of disinfectants. The bakers and butchers next door offer various hygiene articles for sale. Further afield, a few small businesses venture out when they develop apps that remind us to wash our hands or connect users to their local hairdressers via an app for instructions on how to cut hair and beard at home (at least halfway decently).

The list could go on for some time because what began as a heroic act by a few companies and firms is already a new benchmark after only a few weeks. At the same time, as in every crisis, there are calls for bailouts, and heavy aid packages, because the sometimes exorbitant pursuit of profit by organisations through radical downsizing and record dividend payouts is not compatible with sustainable management, which would allow for robustness even in times of crisis thanks to financial cushions and foresight. As a result, large organisations appear fragile even during a comparatively harmless crisis and in some cases their very existence is actually threatened.

For future crises, it will be crucial to develop a resilience that goes beyond the impulse to survive, so that organizations can not only react but also actively act and shape. In preparation for this, a more sustainable economy in all respects is essential. In order to be able to act productively even in a crisis, attempts to predict a future and avert impending vulnerability (which is usually attempted with the help of rules, instructions or standards) will be of little use. Instead, it is crucial to enable employees to develop their individual resilience.

If an organisation wants to be elastic, people must be allowed and able to move, this requires a certain stability, which common values can provide. The current crisis can enrich the breeding ground for this flexibility: whether it is the fashion designer who designs protective suits and masks, or the factory worker who has to ensure and optimize a clean production process with previously unknown machines. However, a temporary switch to the production of urgently needed goods can only be a beginning and becomes questionable when it degenerates into a PR stunt.

In all social areas, we can and should currently freely address the question of common values and the shaping of the economy and society. This includes not only the fragile and environmentally damaging production of goods and food scattered around the world, but also questions about virtual work and cooperation, or the position of the local community and the environment that can be directly experienced. The serious confrontation with these questions will make us personally as well as our organizations more elastic and resilient and ultimately enable us to think and shape beyond survival even in crises.

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If you want to find out more about how we can be elastic in times of crisis, you should check on our book Creative Company.

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Essay by Benjamin Stromberg

Edited by Stephanie Barnes

Image created by Samuel Rodriguez

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Gaspard recording a loop in Kathmandu, Nepal with Ritesh

“Everyone has a different creativity” – Interview with entrepreneur and video-maker Gaspard Bonnefoy

Benjamin Stromberg Insights Leave a Comment

I first met entrepreneur and video-maker Gaspard Bonnefoy while we were finishing our master’s studies in Montpellier. Back then, I remember rushing off to find an internship in a big company that would provide me the opportunity to start my career. Gaspard, meanwhile, was turning down a permanent job offer from the company where he had completed an apprenticeship, and was planning to set off on an exciting quest to understand how culture influences musical creativity. Within a year, this adventure would take him to 15 different countries across four continents where he would meet, play with, and record more than 100 musicians. What made him choose a path different from 99.9% of his master’s class?

A music enthusiast at heart, both as an amateur musician, and as a musicology researcher. During workshops organized in Paris, Gaspard had started experimenting with musical creativity using a looper – a tool that enables the musician to record, sample, and play music repetitively. Conscious that the looper was a compelling enabler to create music from scratch, Gaspard wondered: how would musicians around the world use a looper to create music? Would the creative process differ from one culture to another? “The objective is to see if in other countries and cultures, musicians have the same creative process and if there are any universal standards for musical creativity.”

Additionally, when composing music, Gaspard felt limited and realised that his creative process was deeply rooted in music he usually listened to, so the trip became an opportunity to break free from this legacy. “I feel somewhat limited when composing music by what I know and what I usually listen to […] I am wondering if musicians around the world also feel this, and are also limited by their knowledge and culture. Has culture an influence on their creative process or, on the contrary, are they able to create beyond it thanks to their technique?”
Such research can seem difficult to put in place as a looper normally requires a microphone, a pedal, and a station to record and sample sounds. However, that’s where technology sometimes provides an answer for such challenges: a tool was, at the time, newly available in the form of an App, and so, Gaspard had his solution. Leveraging various means to connect with local artists, Gaspard organized over 100+ “loop sessions”. Regardless of whether the sessions were planned or ad hoc, the first question that came to my mind was “Did any musicians experience the blank page syndrome or could they just get started on the spot?”

“Musicians I met often had ideas in mind, chords they liked to play, or melodies stuck in their head, and they were waiting for one thing: to have an opportunity to play it. When a random person like me arrives and says “so what’s your song?”, they just get on with it. It’s impressive. Usually they play a couple of chords […], and once they get their first chords right, they start experimenting around, and they iterate depending on the outcome”. Or, in other words, for Gaspard it became apparent that composing Music was mostly about an initial inspiration and constant improvisation.

Prior to his trip, Gaspard had also planned to test the same approach on non-musicians to find out how culture could influence individuals in such settings. During such sessions, it was found that it was more difficult for the neophytes to improvise. If the lack of technique and understanding of musical processing were two natural blockers, another factor came to light: their inability to overcome “the fear of producing something that did not sound right”, preventing them from getting started.

To seasoned musicians, on the other hand, introducing the looper was a catalyst for playful exploration. It allowed them to create the songs they had inside of them but, for which, they had lacked the means to express, be it with different instruments or a capella. One example was a musician from Chile, Francisco. In the heart of the Atacama desert, Gaspard witnessed Francisco reach a moment of flow, performing a song involving guitar and flute, and singing at the same time. “This was a magical moment […] It was the first time that he could play both instruments at the same time, and create like this”.

Singer Velemseni during a loop session in Swaziland

In different settings and different locations, whether instruments were involved or not, the process seemed to remain similar and successful. A striking example of how the creative process is rooted in experimentation was with singer Velemseni in Swaziland. Using the looper enabled the Swazi artist to build a song using multiple vocal techniques at the same time and to perform a song without any instruments. “When you deconstruct the song, you have counterpoints, on-beats and off-beats. It’s extremely technical and complete. […] It was the first time she was using a looper, but it seemed obvious for her, in the sense that she did not need to think to create. She was just waiting to try and experiment those ideas”.

In some instances, however, there were limitations in the design of the research caused by the usage of a tool – the looper – to create music, that biased the results. The case of a traditional Nepalese musician who had limited access and knowledge about technology illustrate this bias: “showing him an App to sample and deconstruct the song electronically, it’s not natural, and there was a struggle to create with it, compared to another Nepali musician, in the same conditions, but who is connected, and who already listens to electronic music for example,” who did not have the same struggle. In such cases, differences in the creative process were “not necessarily related to culture or countries, but rather due to open-mindedness and access (and interest) in technology”. 

Nonetheless, during the sessions all musicians were able to create and to record from scratch a prototype of a song or even a finished product with curiosity, spontaneity, and playfulness even when being confronted with challenges: “Recording in the studio is very expensive, so when I came by [with a microphone and a looper] and told them we could record a prototype and a video, they seized the opportunity fully”.

Looking back at the journey, Gaspard found that no matter the locations and the instruments played, the eagerness to get started playing, experimenting, and creating from musicians remained the same. Artists also displayed the same attitude towards the experience: curiosity about the process and passion to play, to create something new during the sessions. Likewise, non-musicians in all places showed the same universal fear of getting started. What Gaspard’s research illustrates is the fact that the creative process does not differ from one culture to another, and is universal amongst artists. In all instances, the creative process involved very similar creative patterns, where musicians would explore the tool, deconstruct their ideas, start experimenting, reframe their ideas, experiment again, improvise; all in a non-linear and iterative manner. What changed, however, as Gaspard puts it is the outcome: “Everyone has a different Creativity”. Although the creative process remains the same, the outcome of each loop session was always as unique as the individuals creating them: the musician’s personal experiences, memories, and stream of consciousness all influence the outcome.

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Age of Artists. Interview with Gaspard Bonnefoy “Loop The World”, Part 1. 07/11/2016; Part 2. 02/11/2017 

Text by Thomas Castéran 

Edited by Stephanie Barnes 

Interview conducted by Thomas Castéran

Photo by Gaspard Bonnefoy, Loop the World  

 

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“I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in construction” – Interview with Painter Joël Renard

Benjamin Stromberg Insights Leave a Comment

When asked how he became an artist, Renard looked at us, slightly puzzled, before answering: “This is a difficult question. I don’t really know how we become artists”. After a short pause, he finally added: “All I know is that at some point in my life and studies, I studied in Beaux-Arts. Once there, I think that I have seen some workspaces, some thoughts where I realize that I belonged there. At least I think I meant to belong there. So it came progressively by my studies and my relationship to the world, to life.”

The French Painter pushes away the idea of vocation, and rather put forward the access and his sensibility to books on Arts and Culture at an early age, helping him to develop a curiosity and an interest, which would put him on the path of Beaux-Arts. As for his relationship to the world, Renard points out that being an artist is “a philosophy of life and a relationship to the world that is not random”. He elaborates: “Behind the word “artist”, we include a lot of people. In Advertising, for example, we say “my butcher is an artist”, so I guess that an artist is the one who is a bit different from others. I do think I am like others though, except for the fact that I have probably made more decisive, precise and, maybe, engaged choices than other people. Being an artist, I think that it is a commitment. A complete commitment.”

This commitment takes the form of a visual language deeply rooted in gestures, forms and patterns that Renard developed naturally within his artworks, where memories, readings, and an awareness about modernity come to life and keep on nurturing it. 

“I have put in place knowledge and assets for over 20 or 25 years, that became a sort of language, a pictorial vocabulary as I paint. I keep on harping it, to challenge it, to contextualize over and over again to put it into shape. It likes a multitude of words and with this multitude of words, I can make different sentences that might be meaning the same thing, but that are visually different”.

It is no coincidence that the French painter has been constantly rethinking, re-adapting, and extending this visual language. To him, art goes beyond a way to express himself. It is a self-developmental work that takes its source into the idea that inspiration is nothing more than a romantic belief, and construction is sovereign to all types of work: 

Joël Renard – Au lac

“I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in construction. I believe in thought and in construction. I think that we build ourselves and what we build will give birth to shapes. Inspiration is rather like looking in the sky, waiting that it falls on you. It has a very romantic flair. I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe art is meant to build.”

Such perspectives provide Renard a frame where passivity, inefficiency, boredom, failures, and, even criticisms, are not only necessary at times, but also beneficial to one who wants to pursue this self-development through construction. From the moment where one takes the appropriate time to look, analyse and conceptualize, before getting back at it.

“What’s interesting in art is that, at some point, to think about failure and to remain on the same point is in any case a step further. So from this point, there are not any principles to work. Everything is possible […] What I mean is that if a paint is missed or that the conditions are not optimal to work on it, it is not a big deal. It is up to us to draw conclusions and understand it […] [Also] you can leave things floating and get back to it later when you might be more efficient and more available in your mind or timely.” 

In such settings, it is critical to find the balance between “intellectual” and “functional” as the artist puts it to be able to make progress, and ensuring that one does not get stuck in the infinite world of thoughts. Such intellectual work is fueled by uncertainty and doubt, and it contributes to his constant motivation to keep on developing and building on this visual language. 

“Uncertainty, doubt… It’s delightful. The worst is certainty and solution. Not to have any doubts is awfully boring. We need to doubt. We need to be uncertain. That is what makes us push it 2 millimeters farther or one millimeter closer, to realise that it is not the right place […] At the end of the day, time changes, our perception changes, light changes, our relationship to it changes. It never stops. The worst is to be decisive. Vive l’incertitude. Doubt is our research driver”

Having such a philosophy and approach to his work enables Renard to take a step back, and to frame the whole notion of work around self-development. Whether he paints or he teaches at school, there is always a notion of continuous learning and knowledge exchange. If the translation to define such a frame seems almost out of reach in the business environment, where immediate results are expected, and uncertainty is avoided in the aim to minimize risks, Renard advances that “work can be something else: encounters, and intellectual self-development”. 


Read the full interview here (French Only).
Text by Thomas Castéran

Sources:
Age of Artists. Interview with Joël Renard. 11/06/2016.
Interview conducted by Julia Kierdorf and Thomas Castéran
Photo/Picture by Jöel Renard

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Virtual Virtuoso: Better Working Online

Dirk Dobiéy Business, News Leave a Comment

Virtual collaboration

Inform, learn, exchange ideas with others – we are increasingly shifting our communications and collaboration increasingly into the virtual world. This development started decades ago and now increasingly includes creating together. It is driven by globalization, technological progress (digitization) and the demand for efficiency. The impending climate catastrophe and the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) both show us that it can be reasonable and extremely necessary to virtualize collaboration with others.

„The next few months are set to be a giant experiment in whether new technologies can allow successful mass remote working for employees, speeding up the reinvention of the office. And for firms already worried about rickety supply chains amid a trade war, the virus gives another reason to reconfigure them.“

The Economist (05.03.2020)

Virtuoso collaboration

Our attempts to collaborate virtually with others are mostly limited. We focus on technical feasibility and lose sight of crucial aspects of working with others – in the truest sense. For this reason, virtual collaboration lags far behind what we know and appreciate from dealing directly with people. For some it is proven that virtual collaboration does not work, and they reject such solutions, while others celebrate technological progress and downplay the obvious weaknesses. Both sides are right and wrong. The absolute openness to technology, if it tends to ignore psychological and social aspects, should be criticized just as much as the resistance and ignorance with which one can lightly dismiss its actual potential. At the same time, even the providers of digital solutions are not clear how they can successfully virtualize analogue experiences.

„How exactly each big tech company will pivot its conference to a virtual one remains to be seen. Summer developer conferences are a place for big keynotes and announcements, but they’re also essential for developers who get a chance to mingle with engineers who work on big platforms and with each other.“

The Verge (12.03.2020)

The biggest challenge is to transfer the positive experiences of the real world into the virtual space. Where this is not possible, we must find an adequate substitute or, through a combination of the analog and digital worlds, find compromises that result in virtuosity for dealing with the options available to us. Particularly, in addition to the reasonable focus on rational content, we must invest significantly more energy to strengthen the social and emotional aspects of collaboration.

But what can this exactly look like and what other possibilities does the virtual world offer us? And what does all this mean for us?

In the past few days, we have thought about these questions based on our experience even more intensively than before. First of all, it became a series of findings, then a presentation and finally a toolbox that everyone can use. Please visit one of our free webinars and download our presentation on the subject.

Registration for our Webinar

We are available for requests and feedback: contact@ageofartists.org

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Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

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Charles Caleb Ward: His First Appearance in Public

The Abolition of Creativity: An Essay on Artificial and Artistic Intelligence (5/5)

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Publication 1 Comment

By Thomas Köplin and Dirk Dobiéy

The last part of our five-part series. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here, and the fourth part here.

Part 5: Ratio and resilience

A unique feature of artificial intelligence is that it knows no feeling. It works logically, although its logic is not always understandable for us humans. The reason may be that with us humans the feeling still comes first (even if we all feel it differently), followed by the slower mind, which arranges only in retrospect, judges, and legitimates. In some way, the mind organizes and clears after the feelings. From this perspective, it becomes clear in which way humans and machines are ahead of each other and in which way we can complement each other. Nowadays, sometimes things that you don’t have or of which you have too little, are more desirous and valued than those that you already have. This desire, in turn, is expressed in our longing for a rational approach, predictability, and calculability, which we want to implement with the help of intelligent machines. They make us what Mr. Spock sought in vain to hide: half Vulcan, half human. He embodies the symbiosis that some of us have in mind when thinking of the future human.

However, our pursuit of predictability leads quite casually to a devaluation of human perception, one’s senses, feelings, and subconscious. At the same time, there is a growing danger that the imagination, which relies above all on experience, will increasingly be disempowered, writes the author Manfred Osten and continues: “The consequence is that humans become less and less aware of the fatality of possible errors and mistakes in the implementation of planning theories into real actions. (…) with the rapid increase of knowledge without experience against the horizon of virtual worlds, man runs the risk of being increasingly overstrained by handling mistakes.”[1] Ultimately, this means we are reducing our resilience rather than increasing it.

Artists are skilled in dealing with ambiguity and unpredictable events

In this context we can learn again from the artistic approach. After all, artists are well trained to consider feelings and subconsciousness in their work, to deal with ambiguity and unforeseeable events. They almost force their emergence, because they are the ones that make new things possible. Artists have developed an understanding that the considered downsides are essential if they want to be creative. They know the benefits of constant struggle for their work, of their beloved enmities, which connect them with criticism and dissent, mistakes and failures, doubts and crises. Any conflict with them strengthens their resilience. In this context, one can also present the performance, which for the artist is more of a question than an answer, which is to be understood as a perpetual nearness, as a letting go and not as a perfect final state, through which every artistic activity receives a tangible external reference.

Learning environment for profound experiences

In order for people in organizations to have a functional learning environment to build comparable resilience, they need to enable their employees to experience something similar and to feel more profound. Keeping them away from it makes little sense in the long run. Gerd Gigerenzer, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, sees this from a similar perspective: “In our society, we neglect the intuitive component, because, since the Enlightenment, we give priority to rationality rather than to intuition, and then we think that the actual inspirations and innovation come from reflection. But that is not always the case. We should not underestimate the source and importance of intuition here. (…) My point is to place head and gut on one level, thus, to show that decisions based on intuition instead of complex analysis are not always second-rate, but can often be better, too. “

If an organization wants to be agile, people must be able to be elastic and be deeply moved.

So it’s not about making organizations more resilient by trying to predict the future, to make the unpredictable plannable and avert looming vulnerability (which is usually attempted with the help of rules, instructions, or standards). It’s about empowering employees to develop individual resilience by making immediate experiences and contributing entirely as a person, including their intuition and sense. If an organization wants to be agile, people must be able to be elastic and be deeply moved.

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[1] Osten, Manfred (2006). Die Kunst Fehler zu machen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

[2] Gigerenzer, Gerd. (15.1.2010) Sind Erfindungen auch Resultate genialer Eingebungen? Available online at https://www.swr.de/blog/1000antworten/antwort/4889/sind-erfindungen-auch-resultate-genialer-eingebungen/. Last checked on 11.10.2017.

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This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives. We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (https://creativecompany.ageofartists.de).///

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Image source: National Gallery of Art; Charles Caleb Ward; His First Appearance in Public FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Music without a person: Virtuoso without having to practice?

The Abolition of Creativity: An Essay on Artificial and Artistic Intelligence (4/5)

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Publication Leave a Comment

By Thomas Köplin and Dirk Dobiéy

The fourth part of our five-part series. Read the first part here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Part 4: Automation, Routine, and Play

Machines reduce our workload thanks to automation. They take on dangerous tasks, tasks that require precision, or tasks that bore us. The increasing efficiency or (if you will) intelligence of the systems makes it possible also to automate knowledge-intensive or complicated activities. Even though our perception of the associated benefits quickly wears off and everyone indeed develops their perspective on these benefits. No doubt, automating routine operations gives us new freedom that we can, at best, fill out with more meaningful activities.

The automation of routine activities gives us new freedom.

Moreover, of course, automation also takes some of our responsibility: the first thought of most people will be about potential job losses, perhaps followed by questions of ethics and security. However, hidden from it, almost unnoticed by the public discourse, there is another question that is central to our self-image and our future: What does it do with our creativity when we leave our routines to machines? What will eventually become of practicing, repeating the same actions that are necessary to attain the maturity that will make it possible to rise above it and outgrow it?

Without the foundation of routine, something new cannot be imagined.

The cultural scientist Andreas Reckwitz considers routine as an essential ingredient for the emergence of creativity. Innovation without routine is unimaginable to him. “To a considerable extent, writing a novel or painting a picture is a routinised technique. It also requires specific skills that need to be acquired and trained in an extended process. (…) It is not about a routine that relies on mindless repetition, but on complex skills.”[1] Although he seeks his examples in art, it does not matter to which area you move. Be it a violinist, software developer or chef – without the foundation of routine, something new is unimaginable.

Routine closely links to our penchant for playfulness, which trains our flexibility in thinking and flexibility in action. Bernd Rosslenbroich, head of the Institute for Evolutionary Biology at Witten / Herdecke University, is convinced that the tremendous evolutionary changes were not just adaptations to environmental conditions, but an interplay and exchange of organism and environment. For him it is consistent and natural that more highly developed organisms start to play: “Evolutionary research that focuses on adaptation can hardly explain this situation because playing has no adaptive value. At this point, you can consider the playing of humans and realize that humans engage excessively in play. Children play very extensively. If you build on this thought, you can recognize a certain creativity. Flexible actions are practiced although no particular behaviour; however, a variety of behavioral possibilities are practiced. Flexibility itself is learned, and that’s creativity. This particularly characterizes mankind. We have degrees of freedom that we train by playing. “[2]

Flexibility is creativity.

The many varieties of the play – experimenting, designing, rehearsing, composing, combining, improvising and a few more – found in the artistic, but of course also elsewhere, indicate that playing is an important thing for us humans. Moreover, rightly so: if you understand routine as a source of our ability, the key to creativity lies in playfulness, and the combination of both gives you the chance to bring about innovation. On the other hand, putting too many of our routines in the hands of machines automatically reduces our incentives to develop playfully. However, with that, we are removing the basis for a design competence and innovative ability that is repeatedly demanded from us by many sides.

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Click here for the last part of our series > Ratio and resilience

In the fifth part of our series, we think about how digital intelligence could devalue our intuition and reduce our resilience, by overemphasizing rational decision-making.

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This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives. We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (https://creativecompany.ageofartists.de).

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[1] Age of Artists. Interview with Andreas Reckwitz. 11/06/2015. 

[2] Age of Artists. Interview with Bernd Rosslenbroich. 14/10/2015.

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Buddha-Shakyamuni seated in Meditation (Dhyanamudra)

The Abolition of Creativity: An Essay on Artificial and Artistic Intelligence (3/5)

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Publication Leave a Comment

By Dirk Dobiey and Thomas Köplin

The third part of our five-part series. Read the first part here and the second part here.

Part 3: Decision and Self-Awareness

One of the benefits of artificial intelligence is that it helps us take decisions today (or more so in the future) or releases us from them altogether. This sounds sensible and tempting in the face of a real or perceived increasing variety of possibilities. How welcome would a simple app be that would take us by the hand when confronted with the supermarket’s refrigerated section in search of healthy dairy products for the children? Good, better, yogurt! However, developments in artificial intelligence tend to deprive us of decisions of greater importance. Which TV do we buy, where do we invest, how do we treat diseases?

Increasing the power of artificial intelligence brings many benefits. It decides faster and often better than us humans. However, it also carries the risk that we are less concerned with essential issues, that we do a less in-depth analysis, that we stop thinking carefully and strive less for answers that are compelling enough to become a good, binding and compulsory decision. Thus, we lose sovereignty in dealing with things, deprive ourselves of the ability to gain self-awareness and meaning in our actions and experiences. At this point, even a well-intentioned “Search Inside Yourself” seminar cannot help anymore. Today, many different disciplines agree in the endeavor to recreate a feeling of balance, safety and meaning in our actions and our view of the world. Mindfulness, for example, is nowadays a desirable thing in our organisations. However, it is only conceived as a simple concept, which can, at best mask what is missing in a broader context.

In artistic terms, we can see a path to more meaningfulness which has always been naturally equipped in each of us and therefore is open to each of us: artistically acting people bring everything into their work at all times: their knowledge and ability, their creative potential and above all their passion. A passion which they achieve – and this may surprise – through reflection. For the artist, the reflection means to analyse and to abstract, to free yourself from what has been, to distance yourself from what is generally accepted, to change your perspective, to generate ideas and to develop ideas in the exchange with others by constantly questioning, never being too sure. Everything aims to focus, to gain a better understanding, to commit yourself to such a thing that decisions are not only possible but compelling.

Such an understood and practiced reflection is not limited to the formation of judgment and decision-making about a single work but is also the starting point for the mediation between work and Œuvre, value and effect, meaning and objectivity, position and transcendence, work and life. Thus, reflection is the place where both the meaningfulness, so the relation of the work to the world, as well as the self-awareness, so the personal relationship to the world, are negotiated. It is easy to see that it can be risky for the individual, for the organisation, and for a whole society to leave these negotiations to algorithms. We need to know how to assess the ethical concerns of artificial intelligence in order to be at eye level in dealing with it. It is essential to be able to distinguish where and in what form artificial intelligence can be useful and when it limits our chances of self-awareness.

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To the next part > Automation, Routine, and Play

In the fourth part of our series, we’ll talk about how automation releases us from chores, but at the same time impairs our creativity by eliminating essential routines.

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This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives. We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (https://creativecompany.ageofartists.de).

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Image Source: Art Institute Chicago

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