Francis Mckay

Francis Mckay

Anthropologist; 2018-2020 Berggruen Fellow


Francis Mckay is post-doctoral scholar at the Berkeley Center for New Media and a research fellow for the Berggruen Institute’s “Transformations of the Human” Project. He holds a Joint Ph.D. in Anthropology and the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago; an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago; and a Joint B.A. Hons in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Manchester, UK. From 2016-2019 he was the Earl S Johnson Instructor in Anthropology for the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences. He is currently writing a book, an ethnographic study of mindfulness-based therapies in the US, entitled Homo-eudaimonicus: A Phenomenology of Flourishing. From 2019 to 2020 he is undertaking new ethnographic research on AI in the Bay Area, focusing on issues of ethics, underrepresentation, bias, and literacy in AI. His most recent publication is called “Equanimity: The somatization of a moral sentiment from the eighteenth to late twentieth century,” published with the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2019). His research interests include science and technology studies, moral and medical anthropology, AI and Society, and contemplative studies.

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.