Podcast: “Equality and Hierarchy” in America

Zócalo Public Square

For many in the West and increasingly beyond, freedom and equality are the ultimate political values, good beyond dispute. However, scratch the surface of the official consensus and it quickly becomes clear that both are in tension with other powerful values.

Equality in some shape or form is commended almost everywhere. But nowhere is it even close to being absolutely upheld, in part because there is always a need for hierarchies of some sort, be they of age, expertise, military rank or knowledge. Freedom is also never absolute, in part because we value social harmony.

These tensions have led some to question whether freedom and equality really are universal values rather than distinctively Western ones. Given that people have gone to war in recent decades in the name of freedom and equality, it therefore of vital geopolitical importance that we understand better how these values relate to each other and if they may carry different weight at different times and in different places.

It was with issues like this in mind that the Bergruuen Institute for Philosophy and Culture convened a pair of two-day workshops in September at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. Two dozen experts from around the world questionined received opinion about the relationship between freedom and harmony, equality and hierarchy.

Hierarchy and Equality in America

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.

RAVE (IRCAM 2021) https://github.com/acids-ircam/RAVE