Adrienne Mayor

Adrienne Mayor

Historian, Folklorist; 2018-19 Berggruen Fellow at CASBS


Adrienne Mayor explores the deep roots of the impulse to fabricate artificial life, beings “made, not born.” Gathering evidence that concepts of robots, animated statues, human enhancements, and Artificial Intelligence arose long before technological innovations made them possible, Mayor looks at Greek myths (and tales from Egypt, India, and China) that envisioned ways to imitate, augment, and surpass nature by bio-techne, “life through craft.”

A historian of ancient science and research scholar in classics and history and philosophy of science at Stanford since 2006, Mayor’s books include Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws: Classical Myths, Historical Oddities, and Scientific Curiosities (Princeton University Press 2022), Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (Princeton University Press 2018), The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, 2000); Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (revised, updated, Princeton University Press, 2022), The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women (Princeton, 2014); and a biography of Mithradates. The Poison King (Princeton, 2010), is a National Book Award finalist. In 2018-19, she is a Berggruen Fellow at CASBS.

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.