Geoffrey Cowan

Geoffrey Cowan

Director, Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, University of Southern California


An award-winning writer, television producer, and teacher, Geoffrey Cowan is the former dean of the USC Annenberg School (1996-2007). He now holds the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership, the title of University Professor, and is the current Director of the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, Cowan headed the Voice of America. Then, from 2010 to 2016, Cowan served as the President of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, where he hosted three presidential summits, including the historic meeting in 2013 between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping of China. Cowan is the author of several popular books, including “Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary”, “See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television” and the best-selling “The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America’s Greatest Lawyer”, and an award-winning play, “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers”.

Cowan is Chair of the LA Committee.

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.