How to Struggle With Big Questions

Charles Taylor, Zócalo Public Square

Charles Taylor’s 1989 book “Sources of the Self” is about 500 pages long, drawing on history, philosophy, poetry, music, and art to explain how the modern Western sense of self and identity came to be. Starting with Augustine, Taylor describes how people conceived of themselves from antiquity, and how a new understanding of the self started during the time of Descartes and the Enlightenment. These new selves were characterized by their inwardness, their interest in freedom, individuality, and a sense of being embedded in nature. “We have yet to capture, I think, the unique combination of greatness and danger, of grandeur and misère, which characterizes the modern age.”

We asked Taylor how he struggles with big questions, what his research process is like, and how he felt as he wrote “Sources of the Self.”

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.