Tobias Rees

Tobias Rees

Founder, CEO of


Tobias Rees is the founding Director of the Institute’s Transformations of the Human Program. He also serves as Reid Hoffman Professor of Humanities at the New School for Social Research and is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

The focus of Rees’s work is on the philosophy, poetry, and politics of the contemporary.

He is intrigued by situations that are not reducible to the already thought and known –– by events, small ones or large ones, that set the taken for granted in motion and thereby provoke unanticipated openings for which no one has words yet. In his writings – he seeks to capture something of the at times wild, at other times tender, almost fragile openness that rules as long as the new/different has not yet gained any stable contours. When it is (still) pure movement.

His work on the brain, on microbes, snails and AI have increasingly given rise to two observations that have come to define his work.

(1) A distinctive feature of the present is that the question concerning the human occurs less in the human than in the non-human sciences. Say, in microbiome research, in AI or in the study of climate change.

(2) The tentative answers that are emerging from these non-human fields radically defy the understanding of the human as more than mere nature and as other than mere machines on which the human sciences were built.

What to do with the displacement of questions that defined the arts into the fields of the sciences and engineering?

Alone and together with colleagues in philosophy, art, and the sciences/engineering Rees has sought to build conceptual and institutional possibilities for addressing just this question.

He has also worked as an advisor for many North American and European Universities for how to re-invent the human sciences.

Rees is the author of dozens of articles and three books: Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (2008), Plastic Reason (2016), and most recently of After Ethnos (2018).

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.