Claire Webb

Claire Webb

Associate Director, Programs


Claire Isabel Webb directs the Berggruen Institute’s Future Humans program that investigates the histories and futures of life, mind, and outer space. With the advent of invented life, computational intelligences, and extraterrestrial exploration, what will it mean to be human in the future? How will humans relate to multifarious entities from microbes, to rhizomes, to sperm whales, to AIs, to possible alien life forms? Future Humans projects address these questions in several registers: in the science and speculative fiction writing workshop Vaster than Empires; in Embodied Machines that considers the slippage between increasingly unstable categories of the mechanical and the biological; and Life, Otherwise, a imaginative exosolar system in which leading exoplanetary astronomers and astrobiologists simulate life and worlds beyond Earth.

Webb earned her Ph.D. from MIT’s History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program in 2020. Her book project, Reflexive Alienation, explores how scientists since the Space Age, despite alien life forms’ perpetual and perhaps permanent unknowability, have designed sophisticated experiments of expectation that anticipate Other biologies and intelligences.

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.