Is This What Direct Democracy Looks Like? With Shirley Weber

May 11, 2022

7pm Los Angeles, CA

Location: Los Angeles | Streaming

Registration: Please click here.

A Zócalo Event in Partnership with the Berggruen Institute, the Public Policy Institute of California, and the Pepperdine School of Public Policy

Moderated by Nathan Gardels, Editor-in-Chief, Noēma Magazine and Co-founder, Berggruen Institute

Direct democracy is supposed to be a people’s process, allowing everyday citizens to enact their own ideas for laws or constitutional amendments. But does California’s system live up to that promise? Qualifying a measure for the ballot costs so many millions of dollars that only the richest people and interests can bring their proposals forward. Elected and appointed officials have considerable sway over the process, and routinely use it for their own aims. And voters have little information, and few opportunities to deliberate, as they make decisions about complicated proposals that, once approved, are very difficult to fix or change. How should recall and ballot initiatives change, and what reforms does the state seem likely to enact?

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Public Policy Institute of California president Mark Baldassare, and Initiative & Referendum Institute president John Matsusaka, author of Let the People Rule, visit Zócalo to explore what it would take to bring more democracy into California’s direct democracy.

Introduced by Pete Peterson, Dean, Pepperdine School of Public Policy

Zócalo invites our in-person audience to continue the conversation with our speakers and each other at a post-event reception with complimentary drinks.


composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.