Melissa Williams

Melissa Williams

Professor, University of Toronto


Melissa Williams teaches political theory at the University of Toronto, where she is Professor of Political Science and served as Founding Director of the Centre for Ethics from 2005-2010. Her work is focused in contemporary democratic theory with a focus on questions of political representation, structural inequality, and social diversity. She is author of Voice, Trust, and Memory: Marginalized Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation (Princeton University Press), as well as articles on numerous topics ranging from the history of Western political thought, deliberative democracy, toleration, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and the rights of Indigenous peoples.  She was recently Editor of NOMOS , the Yearbook of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy; volumes she has edited include Humanitarian Intervention, Toleration and Its Limits, Moral Universalism and Pluralism , and Transitional Justice (New York University Press).  Her current research focuses on theories of global justice and global democracy, and of the role of intercultural political theory in a globalizing world. The latter has led to research collaborations focused on Indigenous political thought, and she is leading an international research project on East Asian political thought. Williams continues to serve the Centre for Ethics as director of its “Ethics in Translation” pillar, which aims at enhancing philosophical engagement across culturally diverse traditions of ethics.

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.