Venkatesh Rao

Venkatesh Rao

Writer, Editor; 2019-2020 Berggruen Fellow


Venkatesh Rao is best known as the founder and editor of the influential longform blog, Ribbonfarm, where he has been publishing both his own work, and that of several other influential contemporary essayists, for over a decade. Several of his essays, such as The Gervais Principle, and The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial, are widely regarded as cult Internet classics. His first book, Tempo (2011) was a study of the interplay between time and decision-making. During his Berggruen fellowship year, he plans to study the changing relationship between time perception and the human condition, with particular focus on the hypothesis that a century-old culture based on universally shared objective clock time is giving way to a condition of multitemporality — a human condition based on a fragmented landscape of subjective time cultures. Venkatesh received his PhD in systems and control theory from the University of Michigan in 2003, and has been working as an independent researcher, writer, and management consultant since 2011.

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.