Peter Ekman

Peter Ekman

Geographer, 2021-2024 Berggruen Fellow


Peter Ekman holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley. He has held postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., and at Cornell University’s Clarence Stein Institute for Urban and Landscape Studies. His work has appeared in History of the Human SciencesPlanning Perspectives, the Journal of Planning History, and the Journal of Urban History, among other venues. A cultural and historical geographer, he writes on cities, suburbs, and metropolitan regions across the long twentieth century, chiefly but not only in the United States. His first book, under review, assembles a hemispheric intellectual history of postwar planning, urbanism, design, and social science. At USC, he will be directing a project on urban futures, posing questions about knowledge, expertise, and the temporalities underlying what it is to plan. As a continuing fellow at Berggruen, he will be further conceptualizing the spatial and scalar dimensions of the planetary.

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.