Berggruen Institute Casts L.A. as the Lab to Reconceive Humanity

Beyond L.A.’s glamorous, famously sunny façade, the city has always had some pretty deep thoughts going on.

L.A. is home to a slate of Nobel Prize winners, top universities and some of the most oft-cited research reservoirs in the world (among them the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory). We are the “creative capital of the world,” and people don’t call you that just for being pretty. The weirder aspects of our city’s history have a cerebral component to them as well: L.A.’s origins are more heavily steeped in the occult than any other place in the country and, frankly, learning those crafts requires reading some pretty heavy books. A June op-ed in Forbes praised Los Angeles as the Silicon Valley of social impact. And even The New York Times conceded, as far back as 1999, that there’s brains behind L.A.’s beauty.

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.