Marjan Horst Ehsassi

Marjan Horst Ehsassi

Policy Strategist, Advocate and Practitioner, 2022-2023 Berggruen Fellow


Marjan Horst Ehsassi is a fierce believer in the potential of meaningful citizen engagement, inclusiveness, and impactful government-led democratic innovations that provide citizens with a consequential and binding voice. She has traveled to and worked to enhance space for civil society in some of the most complex environments including Iran, Ukraine, and North Korea. A lawyer and international governance expert, she most recently received her Doctorate in International Affairs (DIA) from SAIS, Johns Hopkins University with a concentration on democratic innovations and government-led Deliberative Mini-Publics (DMPs). A former COO and Executive Director, she led a team of 150 and a portfolio of $50 million in development funds. As a Berggruen Fellow, Marjan will support several initiatives to raise knowledge and test DMPs in the United States, including the implementation of a Legislators’ Forum on Innovations in Democracy, the Working Group on Deliberative Democracy for the Second Summit on Democracy, the Future of Institutions Working Group on Deliberative Democracy and plans to develop the first State-wide Citizens’ Assembly in the United States.

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.