Anna Sun

Anna Sun

Sociologist; 2015-17 Berggruen Fellow


Anna Sun, Associate Professor of Sociology and Asian Studies at Kenyon College, took her Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University in 2008. Sun’s research focuses on the revival of Confucianism as a religion in contemporary China. She also works on larger conceptual and methodological issues in the study of Chinese religions, as well as the relationship between religion and politics. In 2010-11 she was awarded a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she completed Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities (Princeton: 2013). This book received the “Distinguished Book Award” from the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association, and the “Best First Book in the History of Religion Award” from the American Academy of Religion. Sun was a Co-Principal Investigator in the research project “The Empirical Study of Religions in China,” 2006-2009. She is currently a Co-Principal Investigator in the project “The Concept of Fu (Blessed Happiness) in Contemporary China: Searching for Well-Being, Purpose, and the Good Life,” 2013-2016, for which she has been conducting ethnographic fieldwork on the social life of prayers in urban Shanghai. In 2015-16, she serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of ASIANetwork, a consortium of 160 North American colleges with Asia Studies programs. A Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 2015-16 and at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University and the Harvard Divinity School in 2016-17. Sun is now working on her new project on the return of religion in contemporary Chinese society and its consequences.

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.