Robert Neuwirth

Robert Neuwirth

Author, Journalist, 2020-2021 Berggruen Fellow


Robert Neuwirth is the author of two books of immersive reportage on the street life of the developing world – Stealth of Nations and Shadow Cities. He is now at work on a third book, a study of what he calls “bottom-down economics,” how certain communities, though powerless and economically ignored or excluded, function as platforms that collectively raise the welfare of their members. Neuwirth’s work has garnered support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. His books have been translated into many languages and his writings have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. In addition, his three TED talks have been watched and shared by millions. Before turning to writing full-time, Neuwirth spent a decade working as a community organizer and taught at Rikers Island, New York City’s jail. At Berggruen, Neuwirth is going to work on a book-length voyage in what he calls “bottom-down economics,” chronicling how certain communities, though powerless and economically ignored or excluded, function as platforms that collectively raise the prospects of their members.

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.