Bio/Tech & The Human Collective

Over the last two decades the possibilities to engineer living systems have increased dramatically. Synthetic biology and CRISPR- Cas9 based gene editing technologies will have powerful consequences for what it means to be human.

The majority of attempts to address questions about whether or not to synthesize human genomes and non-human animals or microbes are using 18th century distinctions of “human,” “machines” and “nature.”  However, from a biological perspective this distinction is untenable because humans are not outside of nature; the products of synthetic biology are non-natural; and CRISPR is an entirely natural tool. In other words, contemporary bio/tech undermines some of the most taken for granted philosophical assumptions about what it means to be human, and about what we mean when we say technology or nature, forcing us to rethink our definitions.

The Transformations of the Human program believes that addressing these questions is necessary in order to come to better terms with the potentials and perils of bio/technical possibilities that define our time. We aim to become the major site for new intellectual and artistic productions around bio/tech –– productions that influence how bio/tech is practiced. To achieve this goal, we have assembled a specialized advisory board and working group and will pair research fellows and artists in some of the world’s most important research centers in the fields of synthetic biology, microbiome research, and CRISPR-Cas9.

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.