kultur GERMANY | AUSTRALIA | ART | CULTURE 2020 EDITION 30
ABOUT KULTUR kultur edition 30 highlights some of the Goethe-Institut’s cultural programs and events in 2020–21. Take a look behind the scenes and learn more about the people and organisations we work with. Through interviews and articles we provide a deeper understanding of our network and exchange between Germany and Australia.
Order your annual complimentary copy of kultur magazine at email@example.com To keep up to date, sign up to our newsletter, check our website or connect via social media. Find out more about the Goethe-Institut in Australia: www.goethe.de/australia
ABOUT THE GOETHE-INSTITUT The Goethe-Institut is the cultural liaison between Germany and Australia. We are a not-for-profit, independent cultural organisation with a global reach. Our mandate is to promote the study of the German language abroad, and to encourage and facilitate international cultural exchange. The Goethe-Institut was founded in Melbourne in 1972; the Sydney branch followed in 1974. Our two local branches work with partners and networks across Australia. We strengthen the German language in Australia through providing leadership in the promotion and maintenance of German. Whilst our face-to-face Language Courses are available in Sydney and Melbourne our online and blended learning courses are accessible across the country. We host examinations in VIC, NSW, WA, ACT, SA. We support schools and teachers nationally through teacher training and the provision of teaching and learning materials that are in line with current best practice and the latest educational research.
Our cultural program presents contemporary arts and culture from Germany. It is developed together with an extensive network of Australian partners including festivals, universities and galleries. Exhibitions, concerts, films and talks are supported and delivered through our program and we facilitate the cultural dialogue in a broader sense. We initiate and nurture important connections between the Australian and German scenes. We are proud to be part of a strong global network: the Goethe-Institut has 158 branches in 98 countries. We work independently and at arm’s length from the German government. The Goethe-Institut is a founding member of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) with an active cluster in Australia: www.eunicglobal.eu
WILLKOMMEN This editorial is written with a heavy heart. COVID-19 hit our cultural program at its core: connecting and exchanging people across Germany and Australia. The arts sector worldwide is in financial turmoil with heavy burdens on festivals, cinemas, musicians, artists and almost all our partner organisations worldwide. Digital formats offer some relief but we surely need to explore further ways to connect and deepen the cultural experience beyond the fly-in/fly-out ventures of the past. And our climate will like that too! After a bustling year of events in 2019, most of our program for 2020 is still on hold due to the pandemic. This gives us the opportunity to introduce our focus Kulturtechniken 4.0 in more depth and offer you the thickest edition of kultur ever. The two-year program explores the opportunities and challenges that artificial intelligence will bring to our cultural and creative skills (German: Kulturtechniken) and the ethical framework around it. Join the discussion on our international platform goethe.de/creativeAI We look forward to meeting you online or in person soon,
BEYOND IMPERIAL TOOLS
HOW ARTISTS ARE HACKING BIAS IN ALGORITHMS
OBSESSION WITH INTERESTINGNESS: MARIO KLINGEMANN
INFORMATION IS MATERIAL: CHRISTIAN ‘MIO’ LOCLAIR
A GREAT CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT DISCRIMINATION
ASSIST BUT DON’T REPLACE: DARIN GRANT
MACHINE TRANSLATION GOES NEURAL
CELEBRATING ALGORITHMIC MUSIC: BENOÎT AND THE MANDELBROTS
AN APPEARANCE OF ORIGINALITY
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
OCEAN OF CONTENT
DIRECTOR AUSTRALIA, GOETHE-INSTITUT
GOLDEN AGE OF PHILOSOPHY: TOBY WALSH BARBARA GRUBER
KULTURTECHNIKEN 4.0: CREATING IN THE AGE OF AI
GOETZ RICHTER OLIVER BOWN
THE SOUND OF SYDNEY: ANOMIE
kultur © Rupert Kaldor 2016
GERMANY | AUSTRALIA | ART | CULTURE 2020 EDITION 30
SOUND FOR FUNGI: THERESA SCHUBERT
GATEWAY TO ANOTHER WORLD: REINHARD KLEIST
UNCOVERING THE UNSPOKEN
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS PUBLISHER Goethe-Institut SYDNEY 90 Ocean Street, Woollahra NSW 2025: T 02 8356 8333 MELBOURNE Level 1, 448 St Kilda Road, Melbourne VIC 3004: T 03 9864 8999 EDITOR/DIRECTOR Sonja Griegoschewski, firstname.lastname@example.org CO-EDITOR Jochen Gutsch EDITORIAL TEAM Gabriele Urban, André Leslie • Views expressed by the contributors are not necessarily endorsed by the Goethe-Institut. No responsibility is accepted by the publisher for the accuracy of information contained in the texts and advertisements. DESIGN Torkos Ploetz Design, Melbourne PRINTING Doran Printing Pty Ltd, Melbourne IMAGES The Goethe-Institut has taken every possible care to secure clear copyright permission for all images published here. COVER Narciss © Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair.
KULTURTECHNIKEN 4.0 CREATING IN THE AGE OF AI The Goethe-Institut takes a closer look at the interplay between artificial intelligence and traditional cultural pursuits, inviting artists and experts to discuss and explore our fear and curiosity about an increasingly AI-driven future. We examine how creative human skills such as writing, composing or dancing are being altered, influenced or assisted by AI right now, and how this might change in the years to come. In addition to what you see here in kultur magazine, we will regularly publish more related articles and interviews on our dedicated website:
What are Kulturtechniken ? The German term Kulturtechniken literally translates into cultural techniques. Traditionally linked to the cultivation of land, nowadays the word is broadly used to describe human skills which enable communication, problem solving and creativity.
Kulturtechniken always relate to a certain sociocultural context and empower the individual to be an active member of a community. They are crucial for any educational and cultural organisation like the GoetheInstitut working around language, music, art and film. The rise of AI and machine learning will impact these techniques as well as the ethical and social questions around it. Therefore artists, linguists and experts from all disciplines need to join the discussion and development of AI. PUBLICATION kultur magazine goethe.de/creativeAI LAUNCH EVENT AI and the Philosophy of Music Creation A conversation between Dr Goetz Richter and Dr Oliver Bown Friday 18 September 2020 Goethe-Institut Sydney, 90 Ocean Street, Woollahra Strictly limited capacity, bookings essential. EXHIBITION Future U at RMIT Gallery Featuring works by Mario Klingemann and Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair rmitgallery.com/exhibitions/future-u
Note: Due to the pandemic we are not in a position to announce further events at the time when this magazine goes to print. We will announce events as they become possible: panel discussions, exhibitions, artist talks, screenings, installations, performances, concerts. Alter3 robot conducting Keiichiro Shibuya’s android opera Scary Beauty © Sharjah Art Foundation
Â© Grant Turner
GOLDEN AGE OF PHILOSOPHY Toby Walsh interviewed by Barbara Gruber
AI STANDS FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, BUT AS LEADING TECHNOLOGIST TOBY WALSH LIKES TO POINT OUT THE A CAN ALSO STAND FOR AUGMENTING.
Toby Walsh is one of the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence, and has spent his life researching how machines think, create and help us make better decisions, for example when it comes to health or business. The author of the book 2062: The World that AI Made argues that we need to stop thinking of machines as competitors and much more as allies and co-creators.
KULTUR: You recently worked with Uncanny Valley, a team of musicians and AI experts who won the first AI Eurovision Song Contest. Why do you think the winning song, co-produced by man and machine, was probably better than most of the human written compositions for the original contest? TOBY WALSH [TW]: I think Uncanny Valley had quite an advantage as it was really a cooperation between machine and man that made the success. It wasn’t purely a computer-driven creation. Equally, it was not a purely human-driven creation, it was some synthesis between the two. I think that’s where the most interesting place to play will be in the future, because we’ve always augmented ourselves with machines.
WE’VE ALWAYS DONE THINGS BETTER BY ALLOWING MACHINES TO HELP US It’s going to be interesting to understand how we pick up computers and use them to extend creative abilities. There’s no reason to suppose that we won’t be able to be better musicians and better poets, by using machines. We’ve always done other things better by allowing machines to help us. Part of the challenge is that we really don’t understand our own creativity, and machines as a tool may help us understand more about this elusive idea of creativity. KULTUR: When you look at this challenge of defining creativity, where do you see the advantages that AI has over humans, the added value it brings? And where are the uniquely human traits we have? One of the features of computers is how stubbornly they follow exactly to the letter the instructions you give them. You can ask
a machine to try out all the possible permutations of an idea and because it’s a machine and because of its speed, it will literally go through all those possibilities. Humans may not be as thorough and systematic, and might tire and miss out some possibilities. So that’s one of the advantages. But equally, it has a number of disadvantages. Machines have neither our emotions nor our consciousness. We are starting to program machines to understand human emotions, but their emotional lives are incredibly impoverished compared to humans. And so we would have to give them much richer emotional lives. We could program them with something like a counter that says you’re happy or sad or you’re angry.
MACHINES WILL NEVER BE MORTAL AND WILL NEVER FALL IN LOVE Another really important aspect, which goes to much of art as well, is that we’re mortal. We live finite lives. A lot of artists are dealing with the tension that this poses to us. Machines are not alive and not conscious. Even if we do get machines to make art, they don’t have the shared human experience, which includes dying as well as seeing your loved ones leave the planet. All of these incredibly painful parts of human existence, machines will never truly experience. I think it’s clear that machines will never really experience some parts of the artistic process because they will never be mortal and will never fall in love the way we fall in love. KULTUR: We tend to focus on machines getting smarter — but when we allow, for example, writing tools to do the writing for us, does our command for literacy fade, along with our critical and analytical thinking? Do you see a risk of humans getting dumber as AI becomes an integral part of our lives? TW: Yes, I think that’s something we have to worry about significantly. As we hand over certain tasks to machines, we get lazy, which is a very human trait. And it’s clear that this will have profound consequences.
A SECOND RENAISSANCE PERIOD
WE’RE PROBABLY THE LAST GENERATION THAT KNOWS HOW TO READ A MAP BECAUSE WE OUTSOURCE THAT TO MACHINES: NOT LOOKING AT MAPS, NOT REMEMBERING THINGS AND JUST RELYING ON DEVICES WILL CHANGE US. We already know that this process will physically change us: remembering maps changes the physical size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in spatial reasoning. I think we have to be very careful when we outsource some of these things — we might be giving up something very important.
A VERY GOOD DEAL: STORIES ACROSS TIME AND SPACE When it comes to language and our oral tradition, we used to sit
So it might lead to a second Renaissance, a period of flowering of creativity. It is worth pointing out that the weekend was the invention of the Industrial Revolution. We used to work seven days a week. We used to get up when the sun came up and work until the sun went down, and then went to bed. But because of the benefits of automation and the industrial revolution, we got to demand to go to church on Sunday. And then we got to demand to take Saturday afternoon off. And then all of Saturday off and now most of us get two days off a week. But that’s a purely human construction. There are a number of companies in New Zealand, the UK and elsewhere that have been trialling a four-day week. They discovered two interesting facts. The first is: people are just as productive. So you stop having all your bullshit meetings and you focus on getting your work done. If people are just as productive, you can pay them for four days work where you used to pay them for five days. And secondly: people are happier, they spend more time doing the things that are important to them, whether that be reading or writing, or painting or cooking or whatever it is, that brings them pleasure in their lives, instead of wasting their lives at work.
down around the camp fire and pass on stories from generation to generation. That was an important cultural part of our lives. We lost that as we don’t remember those stories anymore. But we got something in return — something much more valuable: we got literature, we got stories that cross time and space. We’ve got the works of Goethe and Shakespeare and Wordsworth, and other writers from around the world from centuries and millennia ago that we would never have had if we just stuck to the oral tradition. We wouldn’t be able to remember these stories and they wouldn’t have spoken as far and as wide across time and geography to all of us. So we got a very good deal in return in that case. But it’s not clear to me that this deal is always as good when we outsource things to technology. We should be thinking carefully as we hand
IF YOU ASK PEOPLE WHO ENTER THEIR FINAL YEARS OF LIFE, MOST PEOPLE DON’T SIT DOWN AND SAY: “YOU KNOW WHAT, I WISH I’D SPENT MORE TIME IN THE OFFICE”. PEOPLE SAY: “I WISH I’D SPENT MORE TIME WITH MY FAMILY. I WISH I’D SPENT MORE TIME DOING THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE AND NOT JUST FEEDING MYSELF, CLOTHING MYSELF, HOUSING MYSELF”.
over more and more of our cultural tasks to machines: are we getting something more valuable back in return? KULTUR: You argue computers can do the dirty, the dull, the difficult and the dangerous and we can sit back and enjoy the finer things of life. Do you think AI will lead to more cultural creation, consumption and experience? Does an economy where people have more time thanks to AI lead to a strengthening of our cultural practices? TW: I think it’s a beautiful idea that we could end up in a place where we have more free time outside of the nine-to-five drudgery of work, to focus on the more important things of life — which include the arts, our families and our societies. The history of technology to date has been that the working week has gotten shorter and we’ve had more time to indulge in these things.
Technologies might not only help us amplify our skills, they may also give us more time. And time is of course the most valuable thing we have. The only thing that one cannot buy on this planet is time. It’s the most precious resource we have. If machines can give us time, then there’s nothing more valuable we can be given by them. KULTUR: Your books are urgent appeals for society to make choices and take action on AI. What are some of the most important choices we need to make when it comes to AI and making society a better place? TW: I think there are two key choices. One concerns equity: we’re seeing increasing inequality within our society, which is further poisoning the social discord we already have on our hands. This
can’t continue, it will be too destructive to healthy, functioning societies if we do not seriously address the fact that the very rich are getting much richer, and the rest of us are being left behind. That is not a recipe for a functioning democracy in the long term. We will see people rise up. A colleague of mine was saying he’s not worried about the robots taking over, he’s much more worried about people rising up, well before the robots get that capability. The other choice concerns our fractured political discourse. And again, AI and technology is contributing to that. We see very polarised debates within society.
INCREASINGLY, OUR DEMOCRACIES DON’T SEEM TO BE FUNCTIONING PROPERLY. IN MANY PLACES, WE SEEM TO BE LACKING GOOD LEADERSHIP. And that, again, is not sustainable. We need to worry about how technology is amplifying some of those trends: the misuse of social media and machine learning to micro-target adverts that are helping to fracture our political discourse even further. Those are the two worrying trends that we really need to address. KULTUR: So how do you create machines that are aligned with human values such as the ones you just described? TW: That’s a very tough question. This is a really interesting time to be alive, because when we try and program machines to help us with some of these decisions, we go back to the idea that machines are frustratingly literal. We have to be very precise when we program them. That requires us to think very carefully about questions that we perhaps thought about in too fuzzy ways in the past.
WHAT KIND OF SOCIETY DO WE WANT KULTUR: Crisis and challenges can be powerful catalysts for change. As we are in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, do you think this crisis will provide the necessary shocks to reform society for the upcoming revolution brought about by AI? TW: If we go back to the world we were at, then there’s no hope for humanity. You have to realise, you can’t stop the planet literally turning on its axis, and then think we go back to normal. Surely this is a wake-up call saying “What kind of society do we want it to be?” I’d like to be part of a society where we value our elderly people, the people who work in the health care system, the people who clean our offices, the people who run our public transport system, all those people who have not been adequately valued in the past. So I’m hopeful that this is a moment for change, that we are thinking radically. And it’s worth remembering: we’ve done this in the past. When we began the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 18th century, we made some radical changes. We introduced universal education, universal welfare and healthcare in most countries. We put in a lot of structural social changes to support people and to ensure that all of us benefited from the change. That process equally took some shocks. The horrors of the two world wars and the Great Depression started many of those transformations, but we did make some pretty radical changes to the way we ran our societies in order to make them a better place for all of us. And so I’m hopeful that, perhaps in 50 years’ time, we will look back and say, “Well, that was the moment, the shock, that got us to think in longer-term ways about what sort of society it is that we want to have for our children and our grandchildren”. This interview was transcribed with the AI tool https://otter.ai and has been edited for clarity and brevity.
And that’s why I think we may be entering a golden age of philosophy, in which we get to think more precisely about questions such as “What does it mean to be fair in giving out welfare or in deciding insurance rates or in locking people up, if we’re handing over some of these decisions to machines?”
It requires us to think very carefully about these ideas and will require the assistance of philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists as much as computer scientists. As a technologist I’m only one of the who people that should be trying to think about these questions. These are very deep, important questions that concern all of society. That’s one of the messages in my book: all of us need to be in this conversation. It’s not just the geeks in Silicon Valley building this technology, as it has been in the past. These are very rich and important conversations which reflect our fundamental values — and they are not ones with easy answers.
TOBY WALSH is a leading researcher in artificial intelligence who was named by the Australian newspaper as a “rock star” of Australia’s digital revolution. He is Scientia Professor of AI at UNSW, and leads the Algorithmic Decision Theory group at TU Berlin and Data61. He has won multiple prestigious awards and has previously held research positions in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Sweden. tinyurl.com/TobyW
BEYOND IMPERIAL TOOLS Angie Abdilla
INDIGENOUS GOVERNANCE AND TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS ARE NEEDED TO FUTURE-PROOF TECHNOLOGY SUCH AS AI AND MACHINE LEARNING. ANGIE ABDILLA OF INDIGENOUS CONSULTANT AND TECHNOLOGIST COMPANY OLD WAYS, NEW HIGHLIGHTS LINKS BETWEEN LORE AND CODE.
In March 2019, Angie Abdilla presented one of the keynotes at the Goethe-Institut symposium The Relevance of Culture in the Age of AI in Sydney. The following text is the slightly edited version of her chapter in the publication Decolonising the Digital and published courtesy of the author. Read the full publication online: ojs.decolonising.digital Australian Aboriginal peoples are the oldest living continuous culture, from the driest continent on Earth. Ancient technology developed by Aboriginal peoples reveals underlying design and development methodologies that reflect a unified approach and value system. Aboriginal social cohesion, well-being, environmental sustainability, culture and spirituality underpins the foundation of such innovation and has been nurtured through systems of governance, commonly understood as Lore (otherwise known as The Dreaming or Jukkapurra). It is these relational, cultural practices which have created the framework for this society and the myriad science and technology developments produced by Aboriginal peoples over millennia. Given contemporary global challenges, it is a critical time to reflect on what we can learn from such frameworks, and to initiate a new wave of technologies designed and developed through a Code of Ethics, embodying the principles of social and environmental sustainability: Caring for Country, Caring for Kin.
BY ADOPTING AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL LORE, ETHICAL TECHNOLOGY WOULD HELP TO BRING ABOUT THE CHANGES REQUIRED TO ADDRESS FRACTURED POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SYSTEMS.
The seeds for writing this text were planted through a curiosity to understand the different trajectories of Aboriginal and Western technologies, and what is required to create culturally relevant and grounded technologies for Aboriginal peoples into the future. Over the last few years, emerging technologies have continued to extend the influence of an anthropocentric economic understanding of the world, resulting in the acceleration of technologies’ drive to synthesise and commoditise what makes us human: consciousness. The raft of technology ethics frameworks, mainly developed by the private sector but increasingly also nation states, have typically focused on the prevention of artificial intelligence (AI) being developed in ways that may harm human (the individual), economic, and political systems. These frameworks are reactive attempts to respond to the negative impacts of technology which have manifested many times before in recent history, and tend to be limited by the speculative/imaginative ability of those who create them. Meanwhile, ongoing work with Elders and industry practitioners has revealed the values, principles and practices behind Aboriginal technologies designed around social and environmental sustainability. Through this understanding, it is clear Indigenous governance provides an existing, time-proven ethical framework for the development of new technologies. Central to this framework is the development of individual technologies within the context of a wider system of governance, which ensures that broader consequences are not ignored and new developments are not compartmentalised. As Jason Lewis states, “we do it because we believe that Indigenous epistemologies are much better at respectfully accommodating the non-human […] ultimately, our goal is that we as a species figure out how to treat these new non-human kin respectfully and reciprocally — and not as mere tools, or worse, slaves to their creators 1.”
ÂŠ James Horan, Originally printed in the Smith Journal 2019
Kulturtechniken: Ethics :09
ABOVE: Schematic representation of Dreaming song lines or ‘tracks’ (parallel lines) and sites (points) across Australia’s lands and seas (from Mowaljarlai 1992).
INDIGENOUS LORE: GOVERNANCE AND ETHICS Aboriginal Australia is a continent of 500 Nations with discreet languages, territories, customs and laws which are underpinned by Lore. Lore embodies all culture, kinship systems and Country itself. Within these systems, relationships and experiences are encoded in a unified set of values and principles. As a complex society, Aboriginal creation stories typically share a similar focus on how different creator beings brought the earth, the land and waterways, animals and humankind into being. Where Christian creation has Man as transcendent and pinnacle, in the image of God, Aboriginal creation stories position humankind as a derivative part of Country itself. The fundamental basis of Lore is therefore a law of nature, with humankind fitting into the land itself, rather than on top of it. Aboriginal societies developed through a custodial ethic: the repetition of an action such as that, gradually over time, the ethic becomes the norm 2. These rights, rituals and customs are firmly rooted by a deep, symbiotic relationship to Country itself and are the basis of Aboriginal cultural practices. To fully comprehend this relationship we need to understand Country as an entity, both materially and non-materially.
Country encompasses the sky, sun and moon; the seas and waterways; mountains and land; fauna and flora, the earth and everything held within it; the stars and space itself. It’s both the subterranean and metaphysics of land and is the one and only single source of Truth. For Aboriginal peoples, Country is the ‘Law of Reciprocity’. There are three main distinctions which help to distinguish Lore from Western concepts of Law: 1. Aboriginal Lore is a religion, 2. a science (it can be likened to a cognitive science or applied psychology), 3. and an action guide to living and understanding reality 3.
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS: PATTERN THINKING AND PATTERN RECOGNITION Within the context of Lore, I have previously identified ‘Pattern Thinking’ as “a system for understanding the complex web of ontology, epistemology and interrelatedness within the Indigenous paradigm” 4. Furthermore, Pattern Recognition 5 is the deep consciousness that comes from this uninterrupted way of seeing, being and knowing. This is the non-colonial state, and our uninterrupted old ways:
IKS [Indigenous Knowledge Systems] can nudge the existential compartmentalism of Western techno-science into another realm of interrelationship and interconnectedness; indeed, the current wave of “new materialisms” bears striking resemblance to, and could benefit from, indyamarra 6 [a sense of the sacred; to give honour to; show respect; and to do slowly]. Mukgrrngal 7 tells me that ‘the rock over there does not exist until it’s sung into being’ and adds that the power of matter interrelationship is such that ‘if we stop caring for Country, Country dies, and we die’.
for the collective wellbeing and advancement of Country and Kin. Strict protocols exist to ensure the custodian- and stewardship of Country and the veracity and pertinence of its knowledges are kept intact through the lived, embodiment of the knowledge system. The custodianship and sharing of any story in Aboriginal culture is regarded as of critical importance; to tell the story the ‘proper way’ or risk contaminating knowledges and impacting potentially fatal consequences.
1. Lewis, Making Kin With The Machines.
In Pattern Thinking, the rock has value, meaning and place, as do human beings and the animal, plant, cosmological and metaphysical worlds combined. All things create the complexity of the Pattern Thinking web in a nuanced relationship of being and knowing entwined.
2. Graham, Some Thoughts About The Philosophical Underpinnings Of Aboriginal Worldviews.
Where once religion informed and influenced all aspects of Western society, now technologist corporations are increasingly informing and influencing our worldviews [...] Pattern Thinking can regulate the delicate balance of all things synthetic and our relationship to them. It is an ethical intelligence and embodiment born from this land, giving meaning and relationship to everything. I take this system, evolved as a streamlined ecology, as the best chance of Australian humanity’s maximising its chances of success. 8
5. Otherwise known within A.I. as related to the field of machine learning where patterns and regularities within data are recognised through unsupervised learning
3. Ibid. 4. Abdilla & Fitch, Indigenous Knowledge Systems And Pattern Thinking: An Expanded Analysis Of The First Indigenous Robotics Prototype Workshop.
6. From the Wiradjuri language 7. Mukgrrngal/Wayne Armytage, Elder and Lore man. 8. Abdilla & Fitch, Indigenous Knowledge Systems And Pattern Thinking: An Expanded Analysis Of The First Indigenous Robotics Prototype Workshop
Aboriginal peoples use a strict code to bind the veracity of oral language for the custodianship of often critical and complex information and the regulation of its transmission throughout successive generations, over hundreds of thousands of years. The vast reservoir of knowledge including fauna and flora, astronomy and space itself required to ensure the health and wellbeing of both Kin and Country meant that Aboriginal people needed to have encyclopaedic memories. So how do those old people recall such vast volumes of knowledge?
THROUGH THE PHYSICAL PRACTICING OF CULTURE, ITS RITUALS, PROTOCOLS AND CUSTOMS, WITH REPETITION THE ENCODED KNOWLEDGES ARE REVEALED. Information bound within the code includes the mapping of locations, such as vital sources of water, food and shelter; complex kinship laws to protect the biophysical diversity for the health and interrelationships of clans; how to manage biodiversity of flora and fauna resources for environmental sustainability; trade relationships and the management of sovereign territories for peace-keeping; and the guidance of spiritual and cultural practices
ANGIE ABDILLA Trawlwoolway (Tasmanian Aboriginal), founder and CEO of Old Ways, New, leads the team of Indigenous consultants and technologists, developing social and environmental sustainability through integrated research, service and product design, and the development of deep technologies — all informed by our old ways, new. oldwaysnew.com
HOW ARTISTS ARE HACKING BIAS IN ALGORITHMS Barbara Gruber
ALGORITHMS AND AI ARE USED TO HIRE AND FIRE STAFF, ADMIT STUDENTS TO UNIVERSITIES AND EVEN DECIDE ON PRISON SENTENCES. WHILE THESE ALGORITHMS SAVE TIME, THEY ARE OFTEN UNFAIR AND DISCRIMINATORY. CURATORS AND ARTISTS MARNIE BENNEY, JOY BUOLAMWINI, CAROLINE SINDERS AND MIMI ONUOHA TACKLE CODED BIAS AND EXPOSE SOME OF THE PITFALLS OF MACHINE LEARNING ON THEIR PLATFORM AIARTISTS.ORG.
Most AI systems reflect characteristics of the dominant voice in their code and in the data they use to learn, and that is clearly male and white. AIArtists.org curator and founder Marnie Benney says that while AI might be designed with good intentions, a lack of diversity in the datasets impacts people’s opportunities all over the world and magnifies discrimination entrenched in our societies. Benney launched the platform in 2019 to create a global community of artists exploring the creative possibilities and challenges of AI. She argues that a wide variety of experiences and perspectives is essential for understanding how humans are entering the age of intelligent machines. “We need artists, poets, musicians and philosophers around the world to channel their creativity and help investigate these new tools,” she says. “We need queer, gay, trans, straight and fluid people thinking about it.” “Only about 10% of professionals working in the field of AI are women, and when it comes to AI and art it’s no different. This is why the role of curator is so important to promote diversity and inclusion”, says Benney.
Mimi Onuoha’s Library of Missing Datasets
JOY BUOLAMWINI: DATA-DRIVEN DISCRIMINATION One of the women featured in the AIArtists.org project is poet and academic, Joy Buolamwini. In her powerful performance piece AI, Ain’t I A Woman, Buolamwini shows how modern AI systems fail to recognise black females. Reciting her poem as images display how coded facial recognition algorithms have identified Shirley Chisholm, Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams as men, labelled the hair of Michelle Obama as a toupee and Google photos labelling black people as gorillas, Buolamwini shines a light on what she describes as the ‘coded gaze’. “AI systems are shaped by the priorities and prejudices — conscious and unconscious — of the people who design them,” she says. Buolamwini uses art, the poetry of code, and research to explore the social implications of AI and is a leading activist for what she calls “algorithmic justice.” She founded the Algorithmic Justice League which collects people’s experiences about bias in AI, audits software and creates more inclusive data sets. “Who codes matters,” according to Buolamwini, who particularly stresses the need for “full-spectrum teams with diverse individuals who can check each other’s blind spots”. Buolamwini emphasises that it’s also important “how we code,” factoring in fairness, and “why we code,” making sure greater equality and social change are a priority and not an afterthought. She says she wants a “world where technology works for all of us, not just some of us”. © Mimi Onuoha
Whether it’s Google Translate arbitrarily assigning genders to certain professions, or Amazon sifting through resumes and suggesting mostly male names for hiring, or facial recognition software misidentifying black faces: there are many examples of AI-generated bias.
CAROLINE SINDERS: WHY FEMINIST DATA MATTERS Algorithms are only as good as the data they work with, of course. However, collecting diverse data is often challenging and extremely time-consuming. Frustrated by the many documented cases of data-driven bias against women, machine learning design researcher and artist Caroline Sinders commenced a social justice art project to work on a feminist data set in 2017. Sinders’ approach is to dissect and interrogate every step of the AI process — including data collection, data labelling, data training, selecting an algorithm to use, and then designing how the model is placed into a chat bot — all through the lens of intersectional feminism. This form of feminism acknowledges that different identities and marginalisation of a person should be viewed together as overlapping and not as separate issues. For example, looking at both race and gender that a woman of colour would face when marginalised. Algorithms are often seen as the black boxes of global tech giants capturing as much of our personal data as possible, and using this information for targeted advertising and algorithmic suggestions. For Sinders, the key question is how processes of machine learning and particularly data sets can be made legible to a general audiences. To help people understand how algorithms work, Sinders gathers feminist data through a communal process and workshops in libraries, conferences or art spaces. Feminist data can be blog posts, podcast transcripts, books or articles identified and discussed by workshop participants. In doing so, Sinders always makes sure the angle is not only feminist but also intersectional. “Ethical, communal, hackable design and technology is a start towards an equitable future,” she explains. “It allows for community input and for a community to drive or change a decision about a product, its technical capability and its infrastructure.” Sinders says her workshops show how hard it is to actually find feminist data, because, “these writings are under-cited, underpublished and if you’re using Google to search, it’s also really hard because there’s the biases of the search tools.”
STEPHANIE DINKINS: NOT THE ONLY ONE One artist whose work is directly challenging biases of technology intersecting with race, gender, ageing and our future histories, is Stephanie Dinkins. Her trans-media project Not the Only One (N’TOO) is a voiceinteractive installation telling the multigenerational story of a Black American family. Dinkins designed and trained the deep learning algorithm with interviews of three generations of women from her family.
The project’s first-generation woman was born in the American South in 1932, moved north with her family for better education and opportunity, and worked in the same factory for 40 years, progressing from line worker to a respected supervisor. The second-generation woman was born in 1964. Growing up in one of the few black families in a small suburban town, she experienced racial challenges, but also had opportunities her mother could never have dreamt of. The third-generation woman was born in 1997 as a biracial daughter of a family who grew up with the privileges of whiteness, yet identifies as black and is currently trying to understand what it means to be black and white in #BlackLivesMatter America. Through Dinkins’ use of oral history and machine learning as co-creator of a living repository of memories, myths, values and dreams of this specific community, the AI becomes the fourth generation in the lineage of her family. Visitors can walk up to the installation and interact by asking questions.
MIMI ONUOHA: LIBRARY OF MISSING DATASETS Data sets can also just simply be missing and in that way contribute to machine learning bias because relevant data isn’t being tracked at all. Mimi Onuoha is a Nigerian-American artist whose work Library of Missing Datasets shows how non-recorded information reflects priorities in society as well. Missing data sets could include LGBTIQ applicant acceptance rates in housing, for instance. She explains that her artistic practice aims to disrupt and challenge assumptions baked into the technologies shaping our experiences by focusing on patterns of absence. These are “always real and material, located within people, especially folks of colour and folks of queerness and folks who have immigrated and folks who are stuck between categories”. Onuoha believes art can change the AI narrative and shift the way we think about these things. “It allows us to imagine different possibilities and different futures for how we can be using these technologies, instead of getting caught up in this trap of constantly responding to the harms that we see,” she says.
BARBARA GRUBER is a multimedia journalist and project manager working for the training division of Deutsche Welle: DW Akademie. She has a deep interest in photography, explores sculpture, community and public spaces, teaches ethics in primary school, and currently contributes to the Goethe-Institut project Kulturtechniken 4.0. linkedin.com/in/barbaragruber
OBSESSION WITH INTERESTINGNESS Mario Klingemann interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
Â© Mario Klingemann / Courtesy: Onkaos
MARIO KLINGEMANN DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS A SCEPTIC WITH A CURIOUS MIND. THE MUNICHBASED ARTIST IS NOT NEW TO THE TECHNOLOGY GAME: HE TAUGHT HIMSELF PROGRAMMING IN THE EARLY 1980s AND HAS BEEN AIMING TO TRAIN MACHINES SO THEY WILL DISPLAY NEAR-AUTONOMOUS CREATIVE BEHAVIOUR SINCE THEN. WITH AI DEVELOPING AT A RAPID PACE, HIS PRIMARY TOOLS — CODE, NEURAL NETWORKS AND ALGORITHMS — ARE BECOMING MORE POWERFUL BY THE MINUTE. KULTUR: Dear Mario, welcome to kultur magazine. You have stated that you’re confident that machine artists will be able to create ‘more interesting work’ than humans in the near future. Does this also apply to aesthetics and beauty? MARIO KLINGEMANN [MK]: At least in my world model it does. If you drew a Venn diagram of things that are interesting to humans, aesthetics and beauty are surely some of the bigger circles there. But not everything that we consider beautiful is also interesting, beauty on its own can become quite boring — which is what makes ‘interestingness’ so interesting. If beauty was all that it takes to get our attention, to fascinate us or to evoke our emotions, then creativity would be solved — just add a flower or a pretty face and your work is done. Creating something that the majority of people will find aesthetically pleasing is technically not difficult — you can make a permutation from a set of typical aesthetic subjects, apply a few well-known composition rules to it and you will have instant beauty. Quite likely boring and predictable kitsch. Creating something that is beautiful and interesting at the same time is much harder and due to the fleeting nature of interestingness also something that can never be solved once and for all. It has to be attained every time anew.
THE ESSENCE OF INTERESTINGNESS KULTUR: Here in Australia you will show the work Mistaken Identity. For this installation you incorporated random elements and glitches, so essentially you’re playing with mistakes. Are you sometimes genuinely surprised by the outcomes you generate with the help of neural networks? MK: Surprise is the essence of interestingness. We experience it if our expectations are not met — either in a positive or a negative
way. When we encounter any kind of information or situation, we start making predictions based on what we know: what is likely to happen next? What else is on that picture? What will we read in the next sentence? And if whatever comes next is not what we expected, we are surprised and interested, because this promises us to expand and improve our model of the world so in the future we are better prepared. In particular in the early phase of working with neural networks these types of surprises were plenty since these models were like a ship that took you to a previously unexplored territory. Imagine how it must have felt for the first settlers who came to Australia and who encountered the Platypus or the Kangaroo for the first time — that’s how I feel in my artistic experiments. But the longer I travel in these latent spaces the more I get accustomed to their nature and just like you probably won’t get too excited anymore by spotting another Marsupial, getting genuine surprises out of these models now takes effort and time. But it still happens. KULTUR: AI art is a relatively young genre. Currently we are still in its pioneering phase but sooner or later applications that are easy to use will filter down to the masses. Are you excited or worried about the prospect of AI art going mainstream? MK: It’s the way these things go, but I am happy that I had at least a few years of solitude when this way of creation was not the norm. It’s again the crux with interestingness here — if something is easy to do so everybody can do it, it becomes harder to make something with it that has not already been done by someone or seen by everyone. So, as civilisation starts creeping up into these territories in the form of one-click AI art tools, it forces me to look for areas out there that I still consider ‘wilderness’ and to learn more about what it is that we humans find truly interesting and captivating. Right now, words and storytelling are some of those areas that look promising to me.
UNDER THE SURFACE: A COLLECTION OF NUMBERS KULTUR: For your recent work Appropriate Response you chose to focus on language and the power of words as your main medium. How was this different to working with images? MK: The truly fascinating part about the way neural networks work is that underneath the surface, everything is a collection of numbers. It does not matter if you’re dealing with images, sounds or words — once you have a way to convert them to numbers, they are all on the same playing field. So ‘meaning’ becomes a location in a multidimensional space and you can measure, manipulate and translate it. In that sense, words behave like pixels and sentences like pictures — or to use another image — letters are like clay which I can then mold into sculptures using similar or even the same techniques that I use to make visuals. One of the big differences is that words are less forgiving than images when it comes to assembling them — images are way more redundant and indefinite and it usually doesn’t matter if a few
DISTINGUISHING NOURISHING INFORMATION FROM EMPTY PHRASES KULTUR: One of the systems you have used is GPT-2, which was created in the Elon Musk-founded research lab OpenAI. The lab itself states that there is a real danger of extremist groups misusing the system to generate synthetic propaganda. Are we playing with fire when these powerful tools are released into the community? MK: With these types of systems it’s a little bit like with the Coronavirus: yes, there might be a temporary danger due to the nature of how we spread and consume information nowadays online and what we then perceive as reality — mostly through social media and Google searches. If suddenly an information virus comes along that is able to reproduce at an enormous speed and which can trick the information replicators into believing that it is a valuable message then this might overwhelm those systems and ultimately society. Unfortunately, we tend to believe what we see, in particular if it’s written in black on white. Our social immune system is not prepared yet for neurally optimised attacks that can abuse that. But I believe that with more exposure to these threats we will develop “herd immunity” and be able to refine our information receptors so we can again distinguish nourishing information from empty phrases. KULTUR: As an artist, you’re interested in handing over more and more control to machines — as a citizen, are you concerned about the level of control algorithms have over your daily life? MK: Oh absolutely. Not a day goes by when I’m not shocked by the naÏvety or malignancy of certain politicians who try to convince us to give away another piece of our privacy under whatever pretext. Working with machine learning I know how little information can be required to home in on a certain target or to separate data points into different classes and how you can use gradient descent to optimise whatever your goal is in order to maximise your gain. So in my daily life I’m very suspicious of every attempt that forces me to reveal personal data and I try to keep control over what I’m willing to share and what not.
PHOTOGRAPHY DID NOT KILL PAINTING; TV DID NOT KILL BOOKS KULTUR: Your projects tend to be very technical and require not only coding but also engineering skills. Do you think our more traditional Kulturtechniken like drawing and writing are under threat as machines are trained to learn more and more of these skills? MK: I’m not worried about that. Yes, you could say that technology is the natural enemy of tradition, but history also teaches us
that it acts more as a transformer or catalyst than a destroyer. Photography did not kill painting, TV did not kill books. What technology does change is the ratio of how many people can make a living from a particular Kulturtechnik. At the same time, it opens the door for others to participate in the system and creates new opportunities for those who are willing to adapt. Which means for our times that besides drawing and writing, learning how to code should be seen as one of the most valuable skills to acquire to be prepared for a future in which machines are taking an active role in all our lives. The reason I’m not worried is that one of the important aspects of what makes a work interesting to us is the fact that it was made by a human hand or a human mind. The story behind the work is often just as important as the work itself. And this is something that machines will have a very hard time replicating. KULTUR: You have a keen interest in the inner workings of systems and human perception. What do you think societies can learn from the current pandemic? MK: I think we can learn first-hand how fragile seemingly stable systems can be. How quickly things we have taken for granted can be taken away from us in a matter of days. These are ‘interesting times’ and whilst for many people they are uncomfortable or even frightening I can’t deny that given my obsession with interestingness I partly enjoy this departure from normality.
THROWN BACK ON OUR PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS — BUT MAYBE IT WAS NECESSARY When training neural networks to solve a problem by gradient descent they tend to reach a certain configuration which is called a ‘local minimum’: which is the current best solution the model has found. The problem is that — whilst there are better solutions out there — they are impossible to reach from where the model has ended up, so the only way to get to a better place is to trace back several steps and try to find a different route. Going back means that for a while the outcome is worse than the previous one, but given some time the next solution will almost certainly be better. And that is the way I see the impact of COVID-19. Yes, we got thrown back on our pursuit of happiness, but maybe it was necessary to reach a new level. And once this is over and contained — which I have no doubt will happen — how amazing will it be when we can find some new appreciation for ‘trivial’ things again, like meeting friends, going on a holiday or visiting a museum? KULTUR: Thank you for your time. We are looking forward to seeing Mistaken Identity here in Australia.
Mistaken Identity Neural Glitch © Mario Klingemann
pixels are “in the wrong spot”, whereas a single misplaced letter can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Which is not necessarily a bad thing since it allows for a lot of surprises. However, the ratio of “neural rubbish” that you get with text is higher and it takes more work to separate the interesting from the mediocre.
MARIO KLINGEMANN is considered a pioneer in the field of neural networks, computer learning, and AI art. He was an Artist in Residence at Google Arts and Culture and has worked with prestigious institutions including The British Library, Cardiff University and New York Public Library. His work has been featured in art publications as well as academic research around the world and his work has been shown in international museums and at art festivals.
MISTAKEN IDENTITY consists of three rendered two-hour long videos that were first exhibited at the Beyond Festival at ZKM Karlsruhe in October 2018. Based on the artist’s “Neural Glitch” technique the fully synthesised videos show visualisations undertaken by generative adversarial neural networks (GANs). Mistaken Identity will be on display as part of the Future U exhibition at RMIT Gallery in Melbourne.
INFORMATION IS MATERIAL Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
© Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair
BERLIN-BASED DANCER, CHOREOGRAPHER AND NEW MEDIA ARTIST CHRISTIAN ‘MIO’ LOCLAIR HAS AN ONGOING DESIRE TO DIGITISE HUMAN ACTIONS AND TO HUMANISE DIGITAL PROCEDURES. IN HIS ARTISTIC PRACTICE AND WITH HIS COMPANY WALTZ BINAIRE HE EXPLORES THE SPACE WHERE HUMAN MOVEMENT OVERLAPS WITH AI, ALGORITHMS AND MACHINE LEARNING.
The Future U exhibition at RMIT Gallery in Melbourne will present BlackBerry Winter , a video installation showing artificial human motion in asymmetry. Three different choreographies of human bodies and their ongoing neural relationship act in reference to each other, using a custom machine-learning solution.
REITERATING THE NECESSITY OF HUMAN INTERVENTION KULTUR: You have worked with Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) technology, in which two networks are placed into a game-like situation. The systems can be trained to create seemingly authentic art based on data of actually authentic
KULTUR: Dear Mio, welcome to kultur magazine. You started out as a dancer who wanted to be a robot. In recent times your interest has shifted towards developing generative artworks with increasingly human features and characteristics. Why not let humans be humans and robots be robots?
art. Do you believe the work ‘authentic’ will shift in its meaning
CHRISTIAN ‘MIO’ LOCLAIR [CML]: I think this overlapping space is what interests me most. I do believe that humans become increasingly mechanic and continuously reduce the complexity of their behaviour for the sake of speed and self-optimisation. On the other hand, we see machines that can heavily increase the complexity of their actions and even appear organic. It’s as if we approach each other and as if our areas increasingly overlap. This proximity I think is a perfect melting pot to investigate what human behaviours have in common with mathematical procedures — and even more importantly — what we do not have in common. The things that cannot be reconstructed by digital algorithms might be the things that make us humans unique.
We continuously reiterate the necessity of human intervention
AN AUTONOMOUSLY MOVING EXPRESSIVE BODY KULTUR: Please tell us about your work BlackBerry Winter. What is the process behind it, and what do you wish to tell us with this artwork? CML: Blackberry Winter is part of a continuous research project of mine, in which I aim to create digital methods that are able to do what I do: dance. As a human, I know I can dance and I know how it feels. In order to challenge this impression, I build digital procedures copying my behaviour, my knowledge and this particular feeling mentioned above. Throughout the last 15 years I have written robot algorithms, choreography algorithms and even artificial judge robots determining the individual ability of humans to express themselves. Blackberry Winter is my newest iteration of this series. This work is based on a data-driven solution. It’s trained on 60,000 unsorted poses of bodies and tries to create its own human poses. In doing so I did not define the rules of dance for a computer myself: instead, I picked a huge amount of data and the algorithm taught itself. It’s the closest I ever got to an autonomously moving, expressive body. I feel it resembles dance and yet it’s like a completely empty shell. It has no intention and appears like a passive part of nature. I enjoy that thought since it challenges my perspective towards my initial thought: “I know I can dance and I know how it feels.” Maybe this part was just an illusion to begin with.
as these possibilities progress? CML: I do believe that the discussion of authenticity has been somewhat weaved into the arts over the past 100 years and that GAN technology is just an organic consequence of this movement. and, therefore, ownership and authorship. The broken artefact of Duchamp’s Large Glass, the artworks as printable mass products, chance and randomness as a brush, the choreographies of Cunningham, and Instagram artists releasing two works per day for free. GAN technology feels to me like an organic continuation of these trends. Does an artwork need inspiration, intention and the resulting artefact, or is an expression just a mathematical phenomenon of nature that can be created in the absence of any human desire? In my opinion, the question that arises is not whether machines have artistic talents — but the continuation of humans asking: are we artists?
ARTIFICIAL TEACHER AND STUDENT SYSTEMS KULTUR: In times of deepfakes many people and organisations are increasingly concerned about malicious applications of the same types of technologies you use to create art. For example, human image synthesis is especially problematic when used in digitally staged pornography. Do you have advice for regulatory bodies in how to deal with these problems? CML: It’s absolutely true that deepfakes are based on a technology that is similar to what I use for the creation of my art. My perspective towards the current situation is split into two different views. From a technical standpoint I do not know how to solve it. Powerful networks generate artificial realities and other powerful networks detect if they appear real enough to fake humans. This interplay of artificial teacher and student systems is an incredible powerful tool and I think it is already not detectable anymore whether an image is generated by a camera capturing live footage or by AI. However, there are artists and activists using this technology for the sake of what I believe is good. And then there are other parties using this same technology to mislead people. The force that receives the most funding will probably determine the future of this technology.
KULTUR: You have stated that artists have a responsibility to reflect the culture the audience lives in, which includes technology. Are you implying that artists who do not use cutting-edge technology do not reflect culture, thereby saying that works from pre-digital times are outdated?
KULTUR: The cover of our magazine shows a photo of your work Narciss. This is a good example for a piece that is not only interesting but also beautiful. Do you adjust the outcomes of the underlying processes in your concept-driven works in order to make them more presentable?
CML: I was implying that artists have a responsibility to reflect the culture they live in, and not the traditions of the arts they work in. However, the artists that inspire me most have nothing to do with code or digital practice. I enjoy their relationship and perspective towards the environment they witness, no matter which tools they use.
CML: When documenting a work, I use different elements including code, video and audio. Very often this documentation adds a layer to the actual work that is important to me. For example, Narciss itself is not beautiful at all in my opinion. It’s a robot that thinks about itself. A computer with a camera in front of a mirror. Narciss remains rigid and cold. The video clip documenting Narciss, however, is the opposite. It’s incredible excessive and overly dramatic. But this is not because I believe Narciss needs theatrical spaces and dramatic music to think about themselves. Instead, it’s dramatic how theatrical we are when thinking about ourselves. And only about ourselves. Neither the work nor the clip is about robots.
WORKING WITH WEIGHT KULTUR: While you usually work with human bodies and digital technologies, you’ve recently also started using marble for physical sculptures. What are the main challenges you are facing when you introduce new materials into your artistic process? CML: As a digital artist my material is mostly information. This information might be compressed into a .jpg file as an image or an .obj file as a digital object or uploaded to a social media network — and then it might travel forever, without any weight to it. When working with real-world material I really enjoy how numbers translate into something that has a literal weight. It feels to me as if all the information I’m working with is just a part of a neverending sentence and the material sometimes allows me to place a full-stop at the end. KULTUR: Your company Waltz Binaire counts some of the world’s largest corporations among its clients. Is it difficult to draw the line between commissioned commercial projects and purely creative research and art? CML: Early in my career it was very difficult to me. As a dancer I performed on theatre stages because I felt good expressing myself. But I also did movies and commercial choreographies expressing the interests of companies. In my visual works I’ve experienced the same interplay. I expressed my own thoughts through independent works and designed campaigns for global companies. It took me years to learn to separate the two by clearly adapting my expectations to the project. In art, I find a channel to express myself from within myself. In design, we respect the perspective of the client. I’ve found out that frustration occurs when you start projects not knowing which perspective to represent.
KULTUR: With restrictions on movement all over the world, artists have increasingly shifted their focus to online projects. Nevertheless, people miss attending live performances, discussions and social interaction in general. Do you see areas in the arts that may change in the long term due to the pandemic? CML: I was incredibly proud to be part of a global scene of digital artists. In recent months I’ve seen the most spectacular and creative iterations popping up everywhere. A gigantic digital boost that moved forward and simply experimented. At my studio we currently work day-and-night to develop the digital architecture for a virtual museum. We have already created more than 40,000 square meters of exhibition space and we hope we can invite artists, curators and visitors to share their work soon. KULTUR: Thank you for your time. We’re looking forward to seeing BlackBerry Winter here in Australia. BLACKBERRY WINTER is a triptych of artificial human motion in asymmetry. For this project Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair developed three different choreographies of human bodies and their ongoing neural relationship in reference to each other, using a custom machinelearning solution. The large-scale video installation will be on display as part of the Future U exhibition at RMIT Gallery in Melbourne. rmitgallery.com/exhibitions/future-u CHRISTIAN ‘MIO’ LOCLAIR is a new media artist and choreographer from Berlin. He explores the harmonic friction of human bodies, movement, nature and identity colliding with digital procedures, datadriven algorithms and machine learning. His company Waltz Binaire designs, implements and communicates AI-based creative projects for the corporate sector as well as organisations. christianmioloclair.com
© Christian ‘Mio’ Loclair
In regards to my very own bubble and culture, I’ve been coding since I was a kid in 1992. I’ve witnessed the internet as an active programmer, studied computer science and have seen the rise of social media and machine learning. Code and digital practice were always natural to me, as long as I can remember — it became my culture, my brush, my poetic interest. Trying to be a classical sculptor would feel to me like pretending to be a ninja running across roofs in urban scenarios. It just doesn’t work for me.
A GREAT CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT DISCRIMINATION Barbara Gruber
SHIRLEY OGOLLA AND THE ARTIST COLLECTIVE NO:TOPIA EXPLORE DYSTOPIAN JOB PROSPECTS AND RAISE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS AROUND MACHINE BIAS IN THEIR INTERACTIVE INSTALLATIONS.
When she graduated from high school, Shirley Ogolla wanted to study computer science. She recalls thinking it would be cool to build robots for old people. But when the then 17-year-old looked into possible university courses she was told, “But you’re a girl. You realise you will be the only girl amongst 120 students. You should seriously think about whether you really want to do that.” Discouraged by these sentiments, she now regrets not pursuing a computer science degree, even though she still ended up working in AI, albeit from a different perspective: as an artist and social science researcher. Last year, she was voted one of the German Informatics Society’s top ten AI Newcomers of the Year. Ogolla has always been fascinated by the impact technology has on humans, what it does to society and the deep changes it’s having on the future of work. A summer at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center enabled her to dive deep into AI and to found the no:topia collective to explore machine learning and discrimination. No:topia’s five artists originally wanted to create art in line with its name — neither too dystopian, nor too utopic. The interactive art installation AI Oracle leans more towards dystopia though, as it triggers reflections and demands, in the words of Ogolla: “the time is now, we have to think about the future we want.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT AI AND DISCRIMINATION A self-professed internet geek, Ogolla says art has always been her second passion, though it’s not been easy to be both an artist and an academic: “In Germany I have the feeling you’re either an artist, or a scientist, but both is not really compatible,” she says. “But when I lived in the US, I realised that there are a lot of people who are both: artists and scientists. It’s totally compatible and feeds into each other.” “When I started working as a researcher in Germany, I kept it secret at first, because I thought my scientific credibility might be jeopardised if I’m approaching the topic of AI from a playful angle.”
And yet, as she emphasises in her academic research there’s an urgent need to demystify the field of machine learning, not only for social scientists, legal experts and policy makers, but also for the general public. For Ogolla, art is a great way to break things down, to add more voices and to talk about discrimination. “I felt that no one outside our academic bubble really understands the links between AI and discrimination. I thought it’s a shame because AI gives us a great chance — I’d even say somewhat of an excuse — to talk about discrimination. Because ultimately, it’s really about human bias, leveraged by technology.” Ogolla says the idea for AI Oracle was inspired by making the subject of AI, work and discrimination physically ‘experienceable’ and emotionally tangible. “You don’t need a high level of education nor do you have to speak academic English,” she says.
YOU SHALL NOW BE SCANNED The artwork invites visitors to step into a dark box, where they experience being scanned for available data including age, gender, sex, educational records, social networking profiles, social class, financial records, health records, intelligence quotients, credit score, location data, dating accounts and also extended data about family, friends, colleagues and even pets. “It’s an incredible number of data points, many people don’t realise just how extensive. And the more extensive it is, the more accurate the forecast,” says Ogolla. The installation’s creator enjoys sitting next to her work to watch the many hundreds of visitors entering the dark cube, getting scanned and asking themselves questions. “A lot of people thought that the data was pulled in via their mobile phones, which is funny because it was just a light installation. It was not actual artificial intelligence, it was just randomised. But people believed it was AI and that’s extremely
YOUR FUTURE JOB? Work is already changing rapidly under the influence of AI, introducing lots of new job descriptions. ‘Data janitor’ or ‘robot cleaner’ are Ogolla’s favourite dystopian future job titles as she points out that “everyone talks about fancy jobs like data scientists, but there will be a lot of new jobs around maintaining, processing, and feeding data. And as the job profiles change we will have to think about whether we want that or not.” Ogolla says by translating her academic research into an artistic practice, the installation raises a lot of ethical questions around privacy, transparency and also discrimination. However she is still doubtful whether people realise how much data actually contributes to discrimination.
“People who are not privileged or who are not white men, they know what it’s like to be discriminated against, based on their surname, their skin colour, their gender and their abilities — whether that is at the workplace, at school or even earlier, in kindergarten.”
SHIRLEY OGOLLA is a researcher at the Humboldt Institute of Internet & Society (HIIG) in Berlin, investigating emerging forms of Internet-enabled workers’ participation. She is also the co-founder of collective no:topia, an inclusive artist collective based in Berlin, Haifa, London and Torino, also featuring Vincenzo Werner, Moody Kablawi, Louis Killisch, Piera Riccio. ai-oracle.info
© Vincenzo Werner / Portrait: Jakob Weber
dangerous because it shows the projection of power into technology, and there is still so much that technology cannot do.”
ASSIST BUT DON’T REPLACE Darin Grant interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
WHAT DO LEGO MOVIE, THE GREAT GATSBY AND THE MATRIX HAVE IN COMMON? ANIMAL LOGIC, AN AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTION STUDIO, WAS INVOLVED IN ALL OF THEM, CONTRIBUTING AN ARRAY OF BREATHTAKING VFX SEQUENCES AND STUNNING ANIMATION.
KULTUR: Dear Darin, welcome to kultur magazine. The list of high-profile projects Animal Logic has been involved in seems to grow on a daily basis. What are you working on at the moment? DARIN GRANT [DG]: Our Sydney and Vancouver studios are currently working on Super Pets, a Warner Brothers feature length animated film, set for release in 2022. Our Sydney studio recently wrapped on the sequel to Peter Rabbit, which audiences will be able to see early 2021. KULTUR: As Chief Technology Officer, do you need to understand the nitty-gritty of data storage, rendering, writing code and designing algorithms, or is your role more about corporate relations and strategic leadership? DG: Both are equally important. In order to provide strategic leadership and establish the best external partnerships, I need to understand how our artists and support teams use technology dayto-day. To me, leadership involves understanding the problems and enabling those best able to fix them. That combines setting a vision along with clearing the path for our team to get there. KULTUR: The Animal Logic team in Sydney now has colleagues based in LA and Vancouver. How do these teams work together on day-to-day processes — are they assigned separate projects and responsibilities? DG: In our technology teams, we try to do everything we can through global direction with local authority, and to be honest, it’s a challenge. We are currently working with a 17-hour time difference between our two studios meaning that we only have a couple of overlapping work hours each day to communicate. We take full advantage of those limited hours as well as the plethora of online communication mediums available to make collaboration as smooth as possible. Ultimately, our teams are global because it allows us to share knowledge, talent and resources, which is the most essential thing; great work comes from great people.
ANYTHING QUANTITATIVE IS AN EASY TARGET KULTUR: The production of animated movies is notoriously timeconsuming and resource intensive. What are steps in the process that could be streamlined through machine learning and AI? DG: There are a couple of key areas where AI can help. Anything quantitative is an easy target. If machine learning can hit the same result of a computationally more complex solution, then it’s a place to focus. Things such as rendering (creating an image from a 3D scene), and simulation (determining the animation of water, clothing, fur, or even an explosion through mathematics versus artistic interpretation) are areas that have already made some significant breakthroughs thanks to machine learning. The tricky area of focus is where machine learning can improve qualitative work. If you can’t prove something is better, how can you train a machine that it is? In those cases, we look to machinelearning assisted workflows. On the artistic journey to creating our content, there are still many time-consuming tasks that must be completed. Computers have already achieved some of this without machine learning.
FILLING IN THE BLANKS The “in-betweener” role in traditional animation of a human filling in the blanks between key poses created by an animator has been replaced by machines even without machine learning. Now is the time for us to focus on what those next level tasks are that could be used to assist but not replace our key talent. We want to find ways to use technology to empower greater creativity. KULTUR: So if machines can be trained to fill in those blanks and if they consistently improve, perhaps those key frames could be moved further and further away from each other, thereby leaving more and more creative space to the computer programs. If we take this idea to the extreme, machines could eventually take over the entire process and create a complete film. Do you see this as a realistic scenario or as a naïve theory?
DG: In some cases, but there is a balance. Ultimately, the reason you have an actor and animator combining to create a character are the subtle nuances of performance that are non-deterministic. For example, we could feed all the facial animation in for a character alongside the actor’s stems (vocal tracks) in order to train a model to produce facial animation based on new vocal tracks. While that may reduce the amount of facial animation necessary to be achieved by hand, you can bet that there would still be artistic interpretation necessary in many scenes in order to get the right tone and nuance to convey the story. That’s why in those cases, we look to machine learning assisted workflows that help the artist eliminate work but doesn’t ever look to replace them.
CREATIVE LIBERTIES KULTUR: Science fiction and comic artists have long fashioned worlds in which machines have evolved beyond human control. The 2019 movie Captain Marvel features a so-called Supreme Intelligence, and Animal Logic was tasked with creating several sequences in the film. How can such an abstract concept be represented on screen? DG: It’s as much of a challenge as representing human intelligence on screen. I was fortunate enough to have worked on the opening sequence to Fight Club which involved a tour through the main character’s brain as neurons fired to reflect the dire situation
he was in. I think creative liberties need to be taken in order to visualise the intent to the viewer as the actual process would be pretty uninteresting to watch. KULTUR: Some AI advocates envisage a world in which machines take on laborious, repetitive and dangerous tasks, freeing up humans to focus on creative and intuitive things. In your industry, is it possible to draw a line between these areas? DG: Yes. As mentioned, we want to focus on removing tasks from the artist’s workflow in order to allow a focus on creativity. The focus is on assisting versus replacing workflows. It’s surprising how much of the day is spent prepping for that bit of creative time that an artist was trained and hired to do! A guiding principle for us at Animal Logic is “artists doing art” and machine learning looks to allow us to break new ground in achieving that goal.
KEEPING PEOPLE CLOSER IN CONTACT WITH HUMANITY KULTUR: We have reached a point where cinema audiences can hardly distinguish between real and computer-generated elements anymore. With neural networks that can create extremely realistic synthetic faces, is there a danger of audiences losing touch with reality? DG: No, I don’t believe photorealism is the progenitor to a loss of humanity or reality. People lose touch with reality today
without realistic visuals in computer games, online chat, and other mediums. In fact, I believe putting humanistic faces onto more interactions could help to keep people closer in contact with humanity than before. I’m saying this in the middle of a global pandemic, stuck at home, and yet I’m able to see and connect to my co-workers all over the world on a daily basis. I can’t imagine how reality blurring this experience would have been had we not had video conferencing, and better visuals in media will continue that trend. KULTUR: From 2006 until 2011 you worked for DreamWorks Animation. Since then, have you seen technological changes that significantly re-shaped the positions of the main players in the industry? DG: I think that the main players are still there today but there have been a couple of fundamental changes enabled by technology. Ultimately, the thing that distinguishes the main players of today from those in the future is whether or not they are investing in R&D in order to enable newer ways of working. As long as companies keep investing in innovation, they have the opportunity to remain at the forefront of the industry.
DARIN GRANT holds the position of Chief Technology Officer, overseeing all technical aspects of the company including R&D, IT and Production Technology. Before he joined the company in 2018, he held a variety of senior positions, including Head of Production Technology at DreamWorks Animation.
ANIMAL LOGIC was founded by a small team of artists and technicians in 1991. The company’s headquarters is in Sydney, with a second studio in Vancouver and a development office in Los Angeles. animallogic.com
Captain Marvel Images © Marvel Studios
BELOW: Before and after shots of a sequence in the film Captain Marvel. The hero meets the ‘supreme intelligence’. Animal Logic was tasked with digitally creating a virtual room around the actors, including an interactive lighting design.
MACHINE TRANSLATION GOES NEURAL André Leslie
MACHINE TRANSLATION HAS IMPROVED RAPIDLY IN RECENT YEARS THANKS TO A NEW TECHNOLOGY CALLED NMT. THE RESULTS ARE STAGGERING — SO WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THIS RAPIDLY ADVANCING FIELD AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE HUMAN TRANSLATORS TRYING TO KEEP UP?
Online translation tools have been refined substantially over the last few years. What were once a reliable source of clunky texts, mixed-meanings and cross-cultural gaffes now produce readable smooth sentences. Google Translate now understands almost any bizarre slang you can throw at it. Meanwhile, new players like German company DeepL show incredible accuracy time after time. The change is thanks to the recent rise of neural machine translation (NMT), a comparatively new method of machine translation which produces more natural-sounding translations.
NMT EXPLAINED The new technology uses an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words, often in the form of whole sentences. If that sounds a little abstract, let DeepL CEO Jaroslaw Kutylowski explain it a bit more simply. “You have to think of it like a child’s brain,” he told German website Gruenderszene.de in March of this year. “This child sees many things during its development, experiences the world and learns from the experiences.” “Our neural networks function in much the same way. They see a lot of translations and learn to translate a sentence in a certain way if it is constructed in a certain way.” “A mathematical sequence is run which trains the model,” he adds. “This makes the procedure so generic: it can be applied to different languages.” NMT-run online translation sites require masses of data, mainly in the form of paired sentences that the system can extrapolate from. DeepL, although only a few years old, is the successor to
popular online language dictionary Linguee, and uses that data to produce excellent translations of large texts.
“DOESN’T SOUND LIKE RUBBISH ANYMORE” Tea Dietterich, whose company 2M Language Services offers tailored NMT services to some of its bigger clients, says that the new translation technology has clearly led to smoother translations in certain language combinations. “We used to have statistical machine translation — which is data in, data out,” she explains. “It took the text and just gave you the equivalent of the words.” “The benefit was: it left nothing out. It might have sounded awful but it didn’t leave anything out.” NMT in comparison has a completely different science behind it, she says, and may leave out words that don’t need to be translated individually, leading to a much more naturalsounding translation. “This is why people go, ‘Oh, this has got a lot better, it doesn’t sound like rubbish anymore’,” she says.
TECHNOLOGY WITH LIMITATIONS But, NMT still has its shortcomings. Professor Trevor Cohn, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems, says that while the texts can sound fluent, sometimes they are just plain wrong. “It’s very good at learning to create good-sounding English but sometimes it might miss some nuance at the input, in order to make it good-sounding English,” he explains. “There’s nothing really in the way that you create the model
that’s telling it to do that, or not to do that, it’s just sort of an emergent property and that’s a real problem.” Aside from accuracy, there are security issues with online machine translation websites too. Information entered into the websites isn’t always secure and is often being saved, to help train the system to learn. A memorable case in Norway in 2017 saw confidential documents from oil company Statoil appear on the internet, after an employee entered them into a free online translation service.
“I think you should never shun new tech,” he says. “Instead, try and work with it to find out how it can improve your client experience.” “Translators may have to adapt their skill sets to include localisation, ‘transcreation’ and content creation or copywriting as a result.” Tea Dietterich also thinks that humans have something to add to translation work, that machines can never provide: “The ability of taking two different concepts and creating something new: that’s something only we humans still can do.”
© Portrait: Goethe-Institut / Image: © Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy Stock Photo
A BRIGHT FUTURE Cohn says that one way machine translation could be used more in the future is to help people learn a second language. Apps like Duolingo are already employing technologies from machine learning and language processing and trying to build them into their products. He also thinks that machine translation technology will start to form part of virtual assistants, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Cohn believes developers will boost the devices to facilitate multi-lingual communication with someone else or retrieve documents from the internet written in a foreign language. “I think translation is a key part of that puzzle of having decent dialogue systems,” he says.
WORKING TOGETHER So, do the impressive developments in machine translation technology spell doom for the human translator? Berlin-based translator Martin Haynes doesn’t think so. He expects machine translation to be used more in multi-lingual website creation and digital media, but doesn’t think it poses a risk to his livelihood.
ANDRÉ LESLIE is an Australian journalist who has spoken German since the age of 13. His toughest language experience was studying law in Berlin before any online translation tools existed. As Online Editor at the Goethe-Institut in Sydney he writes on a variety of topics, including the AI project Kulturtechniken 4.0. andreleslie.com
CELEBRATING ALGORITHMIC MUSIC Benoît and The Mandelbrots interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
THE TERM ALGORAVE IS CREDITED TO UK MUSICIAN ALEX MCLEAN WHO COMBINED THE WORDS ALGORITHM AND RAVE IN 2011. SINCE THEN, ALGORAVES HAVE BECOME A GLOBAL MOVEMENT. ONE OF THE GERMAN ACTS THAT REGULARLY PERFORM AT ALGORAVES IS LIVE-CODING QUARTET BENOÎT AND THE MANDELBROTS. KULTUR: Dear Patrick, Juan and Matthias, welcome to Kultur magazine. For readers who haven’t heard of Algoraves — please tell us what they are, how they work, and what your involvement is. PATRICK BORGEAT [PB]: Algoraves are parties that celebrate algorithmic music with a strong focus on liveness and improvisation. A prevalent technique is live coding, where the performers are writing the algorithms that will shape the music and sometimes even the sounds themselves. It is common practice to also have algorithmically generated visuals alongside the music, and to project the coder’s screens so that the audience can not only enjoy a drink, listen to the music and have a dance but to also follow the process. With Benoît and the Mandelbrots we performed at several Algoraves, and we also organised six Algoraves here in Karlsruhe. KULTUR: With Algoraves happening all over the world, do artists take varied approaches or is there a common denominator like a go-to software such as SuperCollider or Alex McLean’s TidalCycles? JUAN A. ROMERO [JR]: There are certainly some tendencies, but the environment is full of personalised setups and DIY languages. Generally, the idea is to express ourselves and make music, so some like to write it quick and concise, others prefer a slower approach but with more detail to the sounds and not the sequences. A lot of us started with SuperCollider or TidalCycles (which also uses SuperCollider in the background), but there has been a lot of development on the languages and also sampling or audio engines, although it’s very easy to use SuperCollider as an “audio backend” for any other language you like, hence a lot of tools are combined with it. KULTUR: In most bands, the involved musicians play different instruments. With all four of you playing laptops, do you assign different creative roles to the four members? JR: We all have some kind of musical background, but this doesn’t affect our musical output. Two of us are more on the guitar side and the other two are more on the saxophone/wind instruments
side. With our previous band “Grainface” I played MIDI Guitar and Patrick played MIDI saxophone, but with the Mandelbrots, we all exchange roles, sometimes more bass lines or drums, sometimes just sound effects or harmonic sequences. It all depends on the day, how the music is being played and if someone thinks they have new ideas to throw in.
LISTENING CAREFULLY TO FIND BALANCE KULTUR: Your laptops are connected via a network which enables you to communicate, synchronise and share data. How does this work — can several people create and interfere with the music simultaneously? PB: In our setup everybody takes responsibility for their own sounds that they create and largely control themselves. The network, using a software component called BenoitLib, is mostly just there to synchronise our tempo and to allow us to send chat messages to each other. Through this network we can also share parameters, for example a harmonic sequence, so that we can play in tune with each other. A more important aspect of communication for us is the music itself, as one constantly listens carefully to find balance in all the sounds and to think of ways how to progress the musical performance. This also includes nodding at each other or sometimes also less encouraging gestures when things are not right, always paired with a smile and a laugh though. KULTUR: The question of authorship is often discussed in AI art. The Algorave website states that musicians take responsibility for the music they make, rather than ‘pretending their software is being creative’. Where do you see yourselves in the argument? JR: I see myself in the creative role. The music and the code I make have elements of “controlled randomness”, but I wouldn’t say it plays for itself or it evolves over time. I am the one evolving the algorithm, playing it on time, executing it when I think the music needs some changes or additions — but in the end, these are all personal choices and I do them as I please.
KULTUR: Your music is clearly recognisable as electronic music in the sense that it uses virtual instruments, repetition, synth lines, beats, soundscapes and so on. Do you have a sonic outcome in mind when you start? MATTHIAS SCHNEIDERBANGER [MS]: Generally, we want to feel the present, the ambience, the mood of the audience and take these vibes as our main inspiration for what comes next. Over the years we unintentionally developed some kind of meta language that helps us describe certain moods we want to achieve. It consists of terms like “noisy”, “beaty” or “ambienty” and describes certain perceptions that evolved during past performances and reliably help us to start with when we encounter a new concert situation. These terms don’t explicitly define parameters, but at the same time every one of us has his own techniques to address these keywords. Our common experience is maybe the main reason why we’re able to communicate with very few terms. The rest of the communication happens through music.
CODING ERRORS AS OPPORTUNITIES
© Steve Welburn / SuperCollider Symposium 2012
KULTUR: In the 1990s acts like Oval and Autechre introduced digital glitches, accidental sounds and other ‘mistakes’ into electronic music. Do you see your approach in the tradition of glitch, microsound and similar genres? JR: As Bob Ross said: “there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents”. We don’t abuse coding errors to make our music, but we see an error in our code as an opportunity we try to embrace. For listeners these situations may just sound like pleasant transitions. When one of our systems crashes on stage, the others take over and transition to another state until everybody is back online. It is challenging and helps our creativity, but this doesn’t mean we base our performances on errors, as glitch artists do. KULTUR: What are the band’s relationship with universities, venues and the ZKM (Centre for Art and Media)? PB: Key to the formation of our band and our involvement with the live-coding scene in general is the course of Music Informatics and Musicology (IMWI) at the University of Music in Karlsruhe
where we all met. We first got in touch with live-coding in guest lectures of Alberto de Campo and Julian Rohrhuber, two livecoding pioneers. At IMWI we were able to organise the live.code. festival in 2013, which was one of the early global gatherings of the live-coding scene. For a series of Algoraves, with many international artists from abroad, we found a very enthusiastic partner in Jubez, a culture and youth centre in Karlsruhe, which offers a varied programme of concerts, lectures and other events. And finally, we also had the pleasure to perform at or collaborate with ZKM many times. Nowadays we’re not truly based in Karlsruhe anymore as Juan moved to Frankfurt and Holger moved to Newcastle (UK) — actually he had lived in Australia for some time.
MUSICAL ADAPTATION OF FRACTALS KULTUR: And lastly, what triggered you to choose a band name based on Benoît Mandelbrot? MS: I guess every one of us has a different relation to our band name, but as for me, I always think back to courses in algorithmic composition with Prof. Denis Lorrain, where he introduced us amongst other things to algorithms based on Benoît Mandelbrot’s fractals and their musical adaptation. We never used fractal algorithms in our music, but we followed the lead to create complex structures from simple algorithms. In addition, we had this idea of forming a typical band despite our atypical live-coding approach. Hence, we were looking for a name that would transport this idea and resemble other typical group names like ‘Huey Lewis and the News’ or ‘Kool and the Gang’. And maybe we also wanted to distance ourselves from the mainly academical and contemporary music environment where live-coding originally emerged. BENOÎT AND THE MANDELBROTS is a live-coding band consisting of Patrick Borgeat, Juan A. Romero, Matthias Schneiderbanger and Holger Ballweg, who met while studying at the Institute for Musicology and Music Informatics at the University of Music Karlsruhe in 2009. the-mandelbrots.de
AN APPEARANCE OF ORIGINALITY Goetz Richter
AS AI SCIENTISTS TRY TO TEST THE TECHNOLOGY’S CREATIVE LIMITS, THE WORLD OF MUSIC IS BEING ISSUED WITH A CHALLENGE. GOETZ RICHTER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY’S CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC, GIVES HIS VIEW ON MUSIC, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND CONSCIOUSNESS.
Music remains mysterious. Seemingly useless and playful, it claims our attention. Seemingly elusive, it is always available on our devices. Music mesmerises us with its transience and it touches us in its immediacy. We feel the visceral stimulations of tone and rhythm. We respond to the sounding shapes, entrancing rhythms, intoxicating harmonies and haunting melodies with mind and spirit. And yet, we remain unsure of its whereabouts, unable to account for its power or its creation.
A composition is a guide, a direction towards intentional activity for musical performers and listeners. A musical score is a suggestion of possibilities, a riddle for our intentionality to create an emphatic sounding event. This event is itself particular, a phoenix, perishing in the moment and renewing itself with every performance in its infinitely different and new particular identity.
Is music an expression of fundamental human needs, instincts or desires prior to verbal utterance or is it a transposition of our most ardent efforts to capture beauty, truth and goodness beyond conceptual articulation? Does music connect us to our most mysterious foundations or does it disclose the highest possibilities of consciousness?
One of the great misconceptions of modern culture suggests that musical compositions are formal structures only, blueprints for musical performance, which are merely realised by performers for the consumption of listeners. However, the ontology and temporality of music make this view inauthentic. Musical performance itself has an autonomy and independence. It is achieved through interpretation, a search for meaning, that is always a reflection of the conscious life of the performer.
No matter how we might respond to the mystery that is music, the advance of algorithmic processing and artificial intelligence is challenging music and confronting musicians. This advance is man-made. Through it we hope to understand and advance human creativity itself. Artificial intelligence arises from a Promethean and Faustian ambition. Humans seek to transcend themselves by defining and understanding their own possibilities.
AI LEFT WANTING The possibility that algorithmic systems, autonomous neural networks or self-learning machines achieve — and even surpass — human creativity is exciting and confronting: Will artificial intelligence compose a musical work of original genius at any point? The answer depends not only on our current or projected technological state of play but on a view of the ontological determinations of music and their relationship to consciousness. It is here, that AI in its current form at least may well be left wanting and human creativity may well reveal its ultimate characteristics and requirements. The creation of music, while intellectually abstract, uncovers modes of existence and projects modalities of consciousness.
AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
In essence, musical creation unfolds within a peculiar context: a composition is created as a challenge and riddle to conscious interpretation and listening. The performance of a work is a personal document of this search rather than a reflection of an independent object. A culture that is driven by the marketplace distorts this authentic view of music as an art in its preoccupation with tradeable commodities. In that perspective, music increasingly becomes a mere assembly of pleasant, exotic or intriguing objects that might be created, even mass-produced in any number of ways for consumption. Naturally, AI has a much greater application in such a context. We see that in the realm of popular music where algorithmic systems are already taking over musical production and packaging on streaming servers.
CONVINCING FORGERIES AI systems are capable of impressive, quantitative, analytic achievements even in music. Computers have been used to compose music for some time. The composer and scientist David
Cope for example has created works that sound like Vivaldi, Bach or Chopin through computer analysis of the characteristics of their compositions. These efforts are impressive to the point where computer creations can deceive even learned audiences about the authorship of a work of music. Yet, as impressive as this may be, we should not forget that Cope’s computers completed essentially analytical and imitative tasks — they created convincing forgeries. More recently Cope has turned his mind to creating a computer system that seeks to be capable of entirely original composition. However, true musical creativity would need to match the genius composer who finds new and captivating musical expressions and develops a unique voice and style. No matter how clever the combinations and musical compositions are that Emily Howell (Cope’s latest computer program) produces, they remain essentially dependent on a human programmer, who teaches an AI system to progress by analysis. Music, in any case, is created as a seed of interpretative dialogue — even when we are using computers to compose.
REDUCING MUSIC TO MUSICAL MATERIAL
© Portrait: Goetz Richter / Image: © Lebrecht Music & Arts / Alamy Stock Photo
Widely publicised achievements of AI systems such as the recent completion of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (a publicity stunt by phone company Huawei) or the fashioning of sketches of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony into a work are no exception. They rely on human direction, selection and guidance when it comes to the final work which becomes what it is on account of the person selecting the final assembly. The system merely generates possibilities through analytic processing. It abstracts family resemblances from a set of given instances — a quantitatively onerous task but very limited in its contribution to creativity reducing music to musical material and, if anything, narrowing creative possibilities. A creative process that abstracts features from a given set of original, existing works is entirely different from one that creates such original works in the first instance. It is here that AI is struggling to reach a level of authentic creativity in music since it has no grasp of the importance of its mystery. To be sure, the technological capacities are perfectly capable of selecting, configuring, reconfiguring, editing, re-creating and re-composing existing musical material creating an appearance of originality and fundamental creativity at a combinational or exploratory level. However, creating new, truly original music in an artistic sense seems entirely beyond the reach of algorithmic systems at this point, and for good reason.
INTENTIONALITY AND INTUITION Musical creativity requires consciousness as a basis of intentionality and intuition. It requires social and collaborative attention and the transformation of imagination through lived experience — an essential source of artistic creativity. Music and musical creativity arise through existential experience that ignites artistic imagination.
The mystery of music, the fascination of listening and the curiosity to find meaning are — properly understood — not the result of an analytical response to abstract structures. They grow from a projection of possibilities expanding our consciousness and attention beyond sounding moving form and immediate sensuous enjoyment. Artistic music always suggests that there is more to what we hear. Composers could never create the sense of openness of musical listening through analysis or manipulation of material alone. Music reaches beyond the given into the realm of possibility and intentionality. Music calls on interpreter and listener to embark on a search beyond the audible. This requires not merely intelligence — it requires attention to the immense possibilities of our attention and consciousness. Algorithmic systems may exhibit analytical intelligence; however, they continue to be far removed from even the most rudimentary possibilities of human consciousness such as spontaneous attention or empathic intention. That is why they are also far removed from creating music with genuine artistic significance.
GOETZ RICHTER is a violinist, teacher and thinker with a dual background in music and philosophy. He is currently Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. Previous positions include a seventeenyear tenure as Associate Concertmaster with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. goetzrichter.com
SMOKE AND MIRRORS Oliver Bown
THERE’S NO NEAT THESIS ABOUT THE ROLE OF AI IN MUSIC, ACCORDING TO RESEARCHER AND SOUND ARTIST OLIVER BOWN. THE KEY IS LISTENING CLOSELY FOR THE DETAIL AND BEING ABLE TO DISCERN THE WORK OF THE MACHINE FROM THE HUMAN INVOLVEMENT.
You are listening to a music composition that somebody tells you has been composed by artificial intelligence (AI), and it is unnervingly good. There are rich harmonies that pluck your heart strings and surprising turns that hold your interest. Should you be dumbstruck at how smart AI is becoming? Is this the beginning of the AI takeover? Here are some thoughts to settle your nerves:
LOOK OUT FOR THE SMOKE AND MIRRORS If you heard something that has even the slightest human involvement in its production, then it becomes very hard to understand what input the AI has had. AI systems can be very good at generating melodic structures that sound coherent, but even a relatively incoherent melody can form the basis for a great piece of music. James Humberstone from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music makes this point well in a TEDx talk when he gets his audience to randomly pick notes to make a melody. He takes their melody and adds a swathe of music production techniques, including looping the result on endless repeat. The melody starts to take shape, partly because of your habituation to it over time. Adding harmonies and organising melodies into larger structures using repetition can turn something average into something amazing. Needless to say that directly tweaking a note or two can completely turn a melody into something else; even if 90% of the notes have been chosen by an AI system, it can still be the case that it has played almost no role at all in the resulting music. The cherry-picking of results also undermines our ability to judge whether the AI is doing anything good. It is not hard to flick
through 100 one-bar melodies to find something catchy. Even if no person interferes with the outcome of an algorithm, there is a lot of hard-wiring they might do within the algorithm itself that constrains its output to a space of beautiful possibilities. This kind of ‘templating’ can hide extra human input. This is not to say that there isn’t incredibly sophisticated work in music generation going on. But when it comes to judging its sophistication, we have a very wide tolerance for what we might perceive to be music made by humans. It has actually been decades since the first claims were made of AI-generated music systems fooling human judges. Some of the most sophisticated work of late has involved generating original music from the waveform up. Even though the system operates at the level of milliseconds, it can make music that has coherent and complex evolutions over minutes. This is truly awe-inspiring stuff. Check out Google’s WaveNet project and OpenAI’s Jukebox project. At their creatively most interesting, these both tend to output dreamy sounding streams of musical content which sound alien, and maybe more glaringly machine-generated, but all the more engaging for it. But even when the hands of humans are all over the final musical product, there is no need to fixate on the spectacle of AI performing talented feats. There is nothing wrong with working with modest AI tools that help you compose music, perhaps by suggesting some almost-good ideas that are unusual enough to break you out of your creative rut. Musical artists are not cheating by using the AI, and the AI is not cheating
by using them; This is true for the simple reason that making music is not a technical competition! This is after all one of the main ideas for how these systems will be used. This is only a problem if people are being led to believe that no human intervention was involved and that the AI is more remarkable than it is.
AI SYSTEMS ARE NOT SOCIAL BEINGS, AND BEING SOCIAL MATTERS The most sophisticated AI music systems today “learn” from listening to lots of human music, and at the cutting-edge we are beginning to see amazing competence deriving complex structure as well as abstract musical concepts that are emerging entirely from this analysis of data. Could such a system produce highly original music that was aware of the cultural context in which it was situated? Could it model the qualities of music that stimulate human emotional responses in order to create specific reactions? I would argue that there is no reason, given what we know, why such advances would not be possible, to some plausible degree. I think it would be wrong to argue that just because the system doesn’t “feel” or “understand” the music it created it is less worthy of being credited as real music. Computing pioneer Alan Turing proposed that any computer program that is indistinguishable from a human in its responses to an interrogator’s questions needs to be understood as possessing real intelligence, and I believe we can establish this kind of musical intelligence in algorithms. But there is still a difference between this and what we social beings do when we make music: we often care very much about the backstory and provenance of the music we enjoy. Music is a medium for social interaction and meaning, for marking our place in society. We may care less for AI generated music because the algorithms that make it are not so embedded in these social concerns, or this technology may become culturally relevant in the way it gets used by other humans.
Powerhouse Installation © Oliver Bown
THERE IS SOME CAUSE TO BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT WHAT’S COMING Generative media refers to any kind of “cultural product” that is made by machines, like music, literature, art and film. Music may seem fairly harmless, but the generation of targeted advertising copy or, worse still, political campaign messaging is clearly more concerning stuff. The power to sway entire populations threatens our democracies and social structures, and one could reasonably fear this kind of AI takeover more than killer drones. But having just said that music too is a powerful part of our social bedrock, it also has the capacity to play a role in such technologies
of coercion. The delight you take in a symphony or rock ballad is in turn driven by neural pathways with deep evolutionary histories. Your taste is the product of your social context and lived experience, interacting with your developing brain, shaped by millennia of evolution. As such we are predictable beings, susceptible to cultural influence. Short of forms of conscious manipulation, it could just “disrupt” in unwelcome ways; the automation of music by AI can have negative impacts for age-old systems of cultural interaction, not least for those people who make a living from creating music. And yet it is also a common story in history to be overly cautious or dismissive of an emerging technology, while a new generation is embracing it, as with photography, synthesisers, drum machines and Photoshop. Their negative impacts come hand in hand with phenomenal new possibilities. These scattered ideas don’t boil down to a single, neat thesis about the use of AI in generating human cultural products, instead suggesting how such technologies may be the bearers of new complexity and diversity in the cultural landscape. Make sure you listen out for this detail.
PHOTO: The installation artwork Spiral , Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 2019, created by Oliver Bown with the Interactive Media Lab and Tangents. The work was a modern re-take on the player pianos of old, rendering the music of the band Tangents via different means including mechanical instruments, generative technologies and networked audio microcomputers.
OLIVER BOWN is a researcher and sound artist working with creative technologies. His academic background spans social anthropology, evolutionary and adaptive systems, music informatics and interaction design, with a parallel career in electronic music and digital art. research.unsw.edu.au/ people/dr-oliver-bown
OCEAN OF CONTENT Jochen Gutsch
THE POSSIBILITY OF MACHINES COMPOSING ORIGINAL MUSIC HAS DEVELOPED FROM A FRINGE IDEA INTO A MAINSTREAM TOPIC. HEADLINES ARE FULL OF TECHNOLOGICAL PROMISE AS THEY HERALD THE PROGRESS MADE IN THIS AREA — WHETHER IT’S AI COMPLETING PREVIOUSLY UNFINISHED SYMPHONIES, WRITING MATERIAL FOR POP CONTESTS OR SYNTHETICALLY GENERATING AN ENDLESS STREAM OF HEAVY METAL.
This frontier is driven forward with an energy reminiscent of the time when computers were taught to play board games. The watershed moments when they eventually beat the world champions in chess (1997) and go (2017) beg the question what such a moment could look like for AI-generated music, and what the goal behind such an effort would be.
CALCULATING MUSIC Music as an artform lends itself well to AI involvement. The fact that numeric values can be assigned to most aspects that make up a composition means that music can be broken down and translated into a mathematic ‘language’ that computers can not only understand but also speak. In reversal this means that once machines have learned a number of rules, they can follow this logic and calculate possible new compositions from scratch — whether it’s a three-cord pop song or a three-act opera. If we define music as a collection of sounds with varying pitches, dynamics and textures that are assembled in a rhythmic and harmonic structure, the composer’s role can be seen as that of an organiser or engineer who arranges the ingredients in reference to each other, decides on their characteristics, assigns voices and adds instructions for the performers. Guided by taste, ambition, demand, target audience, or a client’s brief, the composer makes a series of decisions utilising an extensive skill set that is creative, or technical, or both — and in most cases the more technical steps in the process are already assisted by increasingly sophisticated software.
SETTING THE FRAMEWORK It is to be expected that AI will play an increasingly important role assisting composers with some of the more technical tasks involved in creating music. But if machines are tasked with creating new work from scratch, and if results are meant to sound like music to human ears, they will need clear frameworks within which to
operate — otherwise their compositions will be perceived as a collection of random noises. These frameworks can either be set manually or they can be learned from data of existing compositions. At this point, the importance of human guidance, references, curation, validation and other interferences becomes clear. It is crucial that humans lay down very clear instructions and goals as a starting point — even if machines are then set to move along their generative paths independently. This presents a problem that evokes a Catch-22 situation: If we give machines the task to create original music, but we don’t allow them to step outside our own set of parameters, how can they truly innovate?
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX Artists tend to push the boundaries of their art forms, and challenging the norm is generally considered a creative act, with some experiments more successful than others. At the same time, steering away too far from conventions will make audiences turn away in disinterest. Finding the sweet spot where a piece of music challenges listeners while keeping them engaged and attentive is not easy, and the key factors needed to get the balance right include artistic vision, creative intuition and historical context. Two of the most well-known examples of a composer breaking conventions are works by John Cage: 4’33” is an instruction for musicians not to play any notes at all, while an interpretation of As Slow As Possible is performed by an automated church organ in a small German town for a duration of 639 years. With these works, Cage famously broke the types of rules an AI would need to successfully create music, and he was lauded far and wide for his innovative approach. There are countless examples of such radical works, however the same is true on a more humble scale. A sentence that is often said in creative situations is “technically it doesn’t make sense, but somehow it feels right… so, let’s just go with this”. These gut-feeling
moments are where the magic happens, and they have the capacity to separate the ideas that draw us in emotionally from those that leave us untouched. Oftentimes we are unable to analyse why one notion ‘worked’ while the other was abandoned: we feel it, but we cannot explain it to others, let alone to machines.
WHERE THE MAGIC DOESN’T NEED TO HAPPEN
WHERE THE MAGIC STILL HAPPENS
With intuition out of the game and a human-made framework firmly in place, it stands to reason that the forte of AI-made music will neither be wildly emotive nor eccentrically innovative creations. But music can perform a wide range of functions, and not all of them require inventive, touching or inspiring compositions. For instance, music can serve as a background soundtrack for another activity, or it can simply be entertaining without a necessity for connection on a deeper intellectual, social or emotional level.
Music is first and foremost a language for us humans to communicate with each other. We invented and developed it, and we filled it with expressive nuances, emotional subtleties and a multitude of cultural, social, historic and political codes and contexts. The subject matter conveyed through music is so rich that it is often credited with the ability to say things words cannot express.
© Goethe-Institut, photographer: Wesley Nel / © Jochen Gutsch: Sheet Music for Hinterlandt Seven Tales
In this field, AI can thrive, especially where authorship is explicitly unwanted in order to circumnavigate copyright issues and royalty payments. Provided with a package of well-defined goals, an AI can be tasked with creating an infinite body of new work that will be fully functional for a specific role it was designed for. In fact, this is already happening. Ambient pioneer Brian Eno has worked on ‘generative music’ for decades. In recent times his team has developed several apps that can either be played by humans or be left alone. In the latter case AI takes over and creates an endless stream of ever-changing ambient music. Thanks to a set of well-selected parameters, the outcomes will always sound like they are ‘curated’ by Eno. This music has no intention to surprise or disturb the listener: it follows the tradition of Eric Satie who famously coined the term Furniture Music as far back as 1917, stating that his compositions were “intended to be heard, but not listened to”.
ENDLESSLY SELF-MULTIPLYING POOL With recordings predominantly published and consumed online, listeners already have access to an incomprehensible amount of music. This is but one of the many amazing possibilities the internet has afforded us with. However, the online world already provides more stimuli than many of us can handle. The addition of more and more computer-generated material will make this ocean of content swell even more, thereby making it even harder to navigate. Whether the prospect of an endlessly self-multiplying pool of content is a desirable scenario is questionable. As the volume of content becomes boundless, we run the risk that it is rendered increasingly meaningless, potentially resulting in some of us choosing to disengage completely. On the creator’s level, releasing new work is already very difficult: every new release technically competes for online attention with nearly everything that was ever released anywhere in the world. Adding masses of synthetically generated material is unlikely to strengthen the position musicians currently find themselves in.
From the very beginning we have used tools to assist us with the creation and performance of music: voices and musical instruments, notation and printing, recording and reproduction, synthesisers and computers, and now AI and neural networks. But while these tools continue to get more refined, the place of music in our lives has not fundamentally changed, and the very human pursuit at the heart of the matter has not (yet) been replaced. As the excitement about progress in the field of AI-created music grows, so does the fear that the balance may shift, ultimately leaving humans on the sidelines while machines gain complete creative ownership. In this situation it is only natural that some composers get suspicious or defensive about their craft. On the one hand, they are told that magic musical moments are still firmly tied to human experiences and that there is no intention to intensify a rivalry between (wo)man and machine in this space. On the other hand, the latest AI advancements are often communicated in a way that devalues their skills, loudly pointing out that an algorithm can easily do what they do. At this stage I remain hopeful that (wo)man and machine are not pitched against each other to compete for attention in the precious world of music. Ultimately, audiences are the curators of their individual tastes, and while algorithms have been at work rapid-firing suggestions and recommendations at us for years, at the end of the day we make our own choices about the music we find truly meaningful. JOCHEN GUTSCH is a German-born, Sydney-based musician and composer. He has written music for many albums and has performed around the world. In his role as Cultural Programmer for the Goethe-Institut, Jochen works closely with Australian and German partners to organise events and support cultural projects. jochengutsch.com
THE SOUND OF SYDNEY Anomie interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
THE NEW GOETHE-INSTITUT ONLINE PROJECT SOUND OF X SHOWCASES EIGHT CITIES THROUGH SOUND, AS ARTISTS ADDRESS THEIR DIVERSE URBAN IDENTITIES IN THE GLOBAL CONTEXT. SYDNEY PARTICIPANT ANOMIE SPEAKS ABOUT HER CONTRIBUTION.
ANOMIE (real name SOFIE LOIZOU) is a Sydney producer who brings together nuanced electronics with forward-thinking dancefloor sensibilities. The musician, composer, producer, media artist, organiser and radio host brings together a tireless studio work ethic with a finely tuned political sensibility.
SOUND OF X presents artists from Singapore, Sydney, Medan, Yangon, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Wellington and Manila. The project aims to highlight the connection between urban noise and musicality in the everyday, as artists create the soundtracks of their cities. SOUND OF X is a Goethe-Institut project. Goethe.de/soundofx
KULTUR: Dear Sofie, welcome to kultur magazine. Your video juxtaposes iconic urban landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House with more private places. Please tell us about those lesser-known sites. SOFIE LOIZOU [SL]: Sydney has a lot of beautiful and curious places, many of them hidden away from view or off the beaten track. I wanted to share a little taste of the hidden places where culture and nature survive on the margins, surrounded by eye-sore apartments and industrial parks. The Inner West suburbs of Sydney, for example, right under the flight path of Sydney airport, have become a shelter for artists and performers, escaping the famously overpriced rentals, bunkering down in the warehouses of Marrickville. The banks of the Cooks River, only 100 years ago, provided food and leisure for locals, until it became a golf course alongside a thick broth of poisons and industrial waste. Over in Greenwich on the north side of the harbour bridge is where nature and industry collide in a soundscape of trains, planes and water birds. They take refuge in the Balls Head National Park overlooking the harbour bridge, only minutes from the CBD. KULTUR: In the clip you can be seen holding a curious stick construction. Please enlighten us about your invention — a divining rod holding a pair of microphones? SL: The idea was conceived on my trip to Indonesia back in 2018, I was looking for a way to mount some extra sensitive stereo microphones to allow me to practice a style of recording that legendary sound engineer Michael Stavrou — who is also known as Stav and wrote a book called Mixing with your Mind — described as ‘chasing the flame’. So here I was, in Indonesia, with this lovely matched pair of ultra-sensitive mics and I wanted to find a practical way to mount them. I wandered into a small wooded area and grabbed the first forked stick I found that had a reasonably wide “stereo image”. The process of sound divining was a discovery from there, creating my own technique for recording and turning that into a performative act. With headphones on, I have super hearing, picking up all the tiny sounds that are not so noticeable in the din of the city. It really felt like a sonic revelation to be able to hear the sounds of my surroundings in such intricate detail.
PROCESSING AND HACKING SOUNDS KULTUR: Your piece is not only sonically rich but also very musical. How did you turn the sounds you captured through field recordings into a coherent piece of music? SL: When I was approached to take part in this project, I thought a lot about how I could connect the locative sounds of Sydney with the ‘feeling’ that sound gives you as you move through the place. As a composer and sound recordist, it was a bit of a dream come true to fulfil this experimental approach of combining the two in a creative way. By processing and hacking at the sounds, I was able
to create most of the musical aspects of this piece with sounds sourced purely from field recordings. KULTUR: You reference the Indigenous heritage of Sydney and feature a protest march. What can European settlers learn from Indigenous people’s connection to their land? SL: There’s so much but my top choices of things European Settlers could learn include bushfire control, land management, astronomy, meteorology, farming, respect for the planet, and the intricate web of connections between humans and natural systems. KULTUR: Your clip shows Sydney’s typical hustle and bustle alongside quieter moments. The spread of COVID-19 meant the balance was temporarily shifted towards the latter. Do you think the city’s inhabitants can take anything positive away from the crisis? SL: I live down by the Cooks River, situated right under the flight path into Sydney airport. When the planes stopped in March 2020, my allergies disappeared, the air became cleaner, and a couple of months later, when I managed to escape down to the river for a quick walk, the river had completely transformed. Fish were swimming happily in clear water. Something unprecedented has happened to our living systems, and whatever was considered ‘normal’ before the pandemic, I don’t want to go back to it…
RECONSIDER EVERYTHING KULTUR: Since you made the work, the careers of performing artists around the world have been affected heavily by lockdowns and travel restrictions. Do you think musicians will reconsider their concept of touring and performing live? SL: Going back to before the lockdown, here in Australia we had unprecedented bushfires, and that period changed everything for me. During that time, I was on tour in Melbourne, and I remember one show was at an outdoor venue on a day that hit 45 degrees Celsius. When my equipment broke down from the heat I realised it wasn’t feasible to play in these conditions without new ways of thinking and acting as part of our acceptance of living in this new climate change-affected world. Instead of playing a gig we all sat down with cold drinks in our hands and discussed what this world will be like for artists. What has become clear looking back to this time through the lens of a global pandemic, and even further back through history, is that we artists have been on the front line, learning first hand how the gig economy ruins lives, how climate change shuts down gigs, and how pandemics reveal our unique vulnerability. We have no choice but to reconsider everything in our lives and how we do it, not just touring and performing!
SOUND FOR FUNGI Theresa Schubert interviewed by Jochen Gutsch
THERESA SCHUBERT HAS CHOSEN LIVE ORGANIC MATERIAL AS HER MAIN MEDIUM. COMBINING BIOLOGICAL MATTER WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, THE BERLIN-BASED ARTIST CREATES CONCEPTUAL AND IMMERSIVE INSTALLATIONS AND PERFORMATIVE INTERVENTIONS.
KULTUR: The outbreak of a virus is currently changing the lives of most human beings all over the world. Does the pandemic put your work with biological matter in a different context?
started in 2015, I tried to give fungi creative agency. In that project I have been investigating the morphology of mushrooms and the evolution of geometrical shapes on living membranes.
THERESA SCHUBERT [TS]: In my practice, I have always been aware of the invisible organisms around us. In my studio there is also a DIY biolab corner. The pandemic has suddenly made the power of biological matter much more tangible, it demonstrates violently how it can affect us.
I cultivated fungi from the mycelium and tattooed the young heads with basic geometrical forms. Over time, I observed and documented how the forms were changing due to the continuous growth. Later I took the photos and created an animation that only showed the expanding tattoo lines. I clearly operated from my own — an anthropocentric — perspective but my aim was to show an aesthetic outcome generated by natural processes.
COVID-19 may be a chance to encourage us to rethink aspects of our society. We have largely taken for granted that we — as humans — are in control of nearly all situations. The virus has shown us the fragility of being human again, and it reveals that we cannot control every situation. Moreover, a factor is that the enemy is not some outside force but within us, invisible. This is a new situation. In addition, there are systemic and societal problems we become aware of through this pandemic. I am cautiously hopeful that it may foster opportunities to create new values beyond consumerism and exploitation.
MOST FUNGI ENJOY SOUND KULTUR: As you play sounds to fungi you treat them with as much respect as one would treat ‘higher’ life forms. Interestingly, the fungi react by growing more quickly with sound, as if they are humans who are thankful for the entertainment. Do you support the posthuman idea of a de-hierarchisation of species? TS: In general, I think we can learn a lot from non-human living beings if we take a step back. Many thinkers of posthumanism stress a non-human-centred perspective on the world and that we should assume a more modest role in our dealings with nature, that we should stop categorising, and that we as humans are likewise animals. In my experiment I was using several different arboreal fungi. Most of them showed a positive response to sound although there were a few that did not like it. Initially, Sound for Fungi. Homage to Indeterminacy was only planned as an experiment during a residency. My emphasis was on creating a sensorial environment for the fungi that did not necessarily have to be perceivable by humans. Then I was so excited about my results that I did translate it into an exhibition piece in collaboration with Sage Jenson that lets the visitor interact with the fungi and experience their intricate microworlds.
© Theresa Schubert
KULTUR: Vincent van Gogh famously stated that one should listen to the language of nature, rather than the language of painters. In your practice you work so closely with biological matter that it could be called a collaboration. Can you see a scenario in which the creative process is completely undertaken by organic growth, a digital algorithm, or another generative system? TS: This idea is very fascinating to me and contemporary artists who are working on similar endeavours. In an earlier work of mine called Growing Geometries — Tattooing Mushrooms, which I
AI IS NOT A PROBLEM; IT IS A QUESTION KULTUR: Some see modern technologies such as AI as a threat to humanity, while the biggest global scares in recent times appear to have come from climate change and the spread of a virus. Is technology unfairly demonised by sceptics? TS: Technology per se is neutral and cannot be evil. It is what we make it to be. The danger is that specific processes and automations driven by AI can easily be abused or misinterpreted and serve as a justification or excuse for decisions. Therefore, we need to be very careful where we implement those systems and how much decision power we give them. In addition, many people are confused about AI, how it works and what it does. AI is not the problem; it is a question for us humans as we develop ethics for those systems and simultaneously we need to educate the public better about AI possibilities and consequences. Nevertheless, I can see innovative opportunities for artistic creation. It questions the role of the (human) author and what our values for art are. When the first neural network artworks came out with the release of DeepDream by Google in 2015, a big discussion emerged about whether computers can make art. This seems to be a recurring topic, looking back at the invention of the photo camera or post World War II cybernetic art. We saw the same insecurities and questions about machines and creativity. Personally, I had some really fascinating and inspiring results from using machine learning models in my art, but I also had some disappointing experiences.
WE COULD LITERALLY EAT OURSELVES AND STAY ALIVE KULTUR: For your project mEat me you grew meat from a sample of your own flesh and then ate it during a performance in front of an audience. What was the statement you wanted to make with this act? TS: With mEat me I wanted to contribute to the post-anthropocentric debate by scrutinising the idea of a ‘zoé-egalitarianism’. My starting point was to treat the human as any other animal and hence as a source for potential food, because this is how we treat animals, mostly.
With modern biotechnology, it is possible to grow new organs and tissue from our cells. Genome editing in theory allows us to construct a human as if it were a manual for a product; this has turned our bodies into a ground for engineering, and to a certain degree made it reconstructable. In conclusion, I am treating my body as a material — an impersonal, objective structure or an architecture in the words of performance artist Stelarc — to experiment with. In the performance, I am presenting the provocative notion of biotech-era cannibalism to raise awareness for issues around bioethics, body politics and the inhumane treatment of animals in industrial farming. Through new in vitro meat production techniques, we could use our own body to feed ourselves; we could literally eat ourselves and yet stay alive. The spread of COVID-19 has been linked to factory farming, with the argument being that as industrialised meat production requires more and more space, farms are pushed out of inhabited zones and closer to forests. The contact between wild animals and farmed animals may have played a role in the spread of the virus. KULTUR: Your practice involves tasks such as collecting mushrooms in forests as well as programming work in labs and studios. Do you consider yourself more of an indoor or an outdoor person? TS: Both. I’m a hybrid, I need both worlds. In addition, the outdoors, nature, influences my indoor work so they are intertwined. KULTUR: Thank you for your time. We are looking forward to seeing Sound for Fungi here in Australia.
SOUND FOR FUNGI. HOMAGE TO INDETERMINACY is generative and interactive video installation based on a collection of fungi from the Berlin area that were exposed to sounds in a highly controlled environment. Development with Sage Jenson and supported by the Mind the Fungi project of TU Berlin and Artlaboratory Berlin. The work will be part of the Australian touring exhibition Experimenta Life Forms: International Triennial of Media Art at RMIT Gallery in Melbourne.
THERESA SCHUBERT explores unconventional visions of nature, technology and the self. The Berlin-based artist’s work combines audiovisual and hybrid media with conceptual and immersive installations or performative interventions, often including organic matter and living organisms. Using interdisciplinary methods, she questions the relationship between humans and their environment. theresaschubert.com
Portrait © Rytis Seskaitis / Images © Theresa Schubert
Check rmitgallery.com for confirmed exhibition dates.
GATEWAY TO ANOTHER WORLD Reinhard Kleist interviewed by Gabriele Urban
REINHARD KLEIST IS ONE OF GERMANY’S FINEST GRAPHIC NOVELISTS AND HAS WON SEVERAL AWARDS WITH HIS ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHIES OF ELVIS, JOHNNY CASH AND FIDEL CASTRO. HE TRAVELS THE WORLD PRESENTING HIS ART IN DRAWING SESSIONS TO LIVE MUSIC AND IS NOW HOPING TO VISIT AUSTRALIA, TO TOUR THE HOME COUNTRY OF THE PROTAGONIST OF HIS MOST PROMINENT WORK, NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME .
KULTUR: The main characters in your biographies are usually no longer alive. With Nick Cave you chose to tell the story of the life of a “living legend”. Wasn’t that quite a challenge and how did you approach it?
role of every artist, including my own role. Namely, the artist as the creator of worlds and characters.
REINHARD KLEIST [RK]: It was very inspiring but at the same time it was pretty problematic. On the one hand, I had the privilege of working directly with the object of my biographical endeavours, on the other hand I had the urge to do the most ambitious book project in my career. This put me under so much pressure that at first I had great difficulty in approaching the story. I didn’t just want to list supposed facts from Nick Cave’s life from A to Z, I wanted to tell the story of his relationship to his work. So, in the end, it not only became a biography, but also a reflection on the
RK: Right at the beginning, Nick told me his opinion about the project. He said he wanted it mythical and free spirited, and not just adhering to the mere facts. However, my first attempts to create a script were more conventional, just retelling the biography within changing frameworks. I translated it and sent it to him. In response, he just politely snubbed it completely. It took me a long time to finally understand which direction I had to take. At some point we had a very nice phone conversation where he told me: “As a cartoonist you can do everything. There
© Reinhard Kleist
KULTUR: Tell us how it was to work with Nick Cave.
are no limits.” He said I could even shoot him to the moon! So, that’s exactly what I did. I thought about letting his biography be told by some of the characters from his songs and his novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. And towards the end of the book they would all get in touch with him. When I was pretty much done with the script, I just continued working on it on my own. On the one hand I had to deal with the rather complicated structure of the story myself, and on the other hand there was a terrible accident involving his son which happened during this time, so I didn’t want to bother him with my project. When I was basically finished with the book we met in his studio in London where he was busy recording his album Skeleton Tree. We sat together on the couch for an hour and he looked at all the pages and listened to my summary of the story. In the end he was very enthusiastic and also wrote a very nice little text for the book, where he praised it for its bizarreness. KULTUR: Can you please describe the creative process, as you transform an idea into a book?
KULTUR: You travelled to Cuba and learned Spanish to prepare for your graphic novels Havanna and Fidel Castro . I think that you did a very good job in capturing the world in which Nick Cave grew up in. How did you manage to “immerse” yourself into Australia? RK: Just by listening to Nick Cave’s music. Unfortunately, my trip to Australia has been postponed for the time being (due to COVID-19), so “diving” into the country is not yet possible. I had already made some plans for what I wanted to do in Australia: events with musicians including my favourite Australian band Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, I’d contacted other people that I wanted to meet and I had looked at some trips, away from work, like to the Great Barrier Reef. I’m still interested in coming to Australia, even if the trip has been postponed for the moment. KULTUR: You not only write graphic novels about musicians (including a current work on David Bowie) but you also love being inspired by live music when you draw. Tell us about those live-drawing concerts. RK: The idea of the “Live Drawing concerts” is that I create a sketch for each song that the musicians perform. The sketch illustrates the lyrics or the mood of the song. I start sketching from the first note and end with the last. The songs can be those of Nick Cave, David Bowie or Johnny Cash, but I’ve also drawn to completely different music genres, such as traditional music from particular countries, speed-folk, pop, rock, classical or experimental music. I’ve even drawn to the music of a female choir in Sri Lanka and I have also accompanied a scenic reading of a novel (from Ray Bradbury). The creation of the drawings is recorded by a camera and projected behind the band. Music and drawing are meant to be
© Reinhard Kleist / Photo Steffen Vogt
RK: With this book, after the script was more or less in place, I started to turn the scenes into image sequences. I made very quick sketches of the individual pictures and arranged them on the pages so that you could already read the picture sequences together with the speech bubbles. That way I sketched the whole book through. When I was satisfied with it, I started to draw the final pages in pencil. I always do that in one go. Then I started over from the beginning and do it all in watercolour. Finally, the entire pages were scanned and processed on the computer, and the speech bubbles and texts were added.
perceived as one performance by audiences. At best, it’s like a music video that conveys the mood of the songs. These live performances, which are often organised by the Goethe-Institut, have already taken me to China, Sudan, Indonesia, Ukraine, Vietnam and several other places. In Berlin I even have a house band The Good Sons with whom I have done many gigs.
IT IS A FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY FOR ME TO PRESENT MY WORK IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONTEXT, LIVE ON STAGE SURROUNDED BY WONDERFUL MUSICIANS. I SOMETIMES FEEL LIKE A ROCK STAR MYSELF!
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Artbook and Nick Cave Mercy on Me © Self Made Hero / Portrait Photo Wolf-Dieter Tabbert, © Carlsen Verlag
KULTUR: Why do you think the combination of a biography and a graphic novel is so powerful? RK: I think that an illustrated biography can offer more than just the mere facts. It can convey a feeling for what has happened in a person’s life. I want to draw the reader into a story in such a way that they forget they are reading a book. Rather, the should feel they are inside the story so they can cheer with the characters and experience history for themselves. They should be able to actually feel what it was like when Castro passed laws in Havana or what it was like when Johnny Cash played in the Folsom Prison. That’s my goal. KULTUR: These days there is a lot of discussion about the application of artificial intelligence in the arts. Could you imagine using AI tools in your work rather than just brush and ink? RK: A lot of my colleagues now mainly work digitally, on the iPad or with a Wacom tablet. I don’t know whether this can be called AI as such. I add colour to my drawings on the computer or edit them a little. Drawing with brush and ink is my priority though. I need the feel of the paper and colour on my hands. Recently, I was sent an article about an AI programme that had analysed the drawings of my book The Boxer. The pages were scanned and analysed by AI in regards to the characters’ facial expressions. This only worked to a limited extent. On the one hand, the AI system simply could not recognise some faces and their expressions, on the other hand it failed due to stereotypical parameters that had previously been entered. For example, the equations “darkened image = negative action” and “light image = friendly action” are not always correct. Life is not that simple. Fortunately, understanding a story requires more prerequisites like feelings, life experience, memories and associations. When we read a story, we interpret a lot of our inner world into it. That’s what makes it so fascinating. A book is not just a stack of paper but a gateway to another world.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS : Filled with visual delights, this record-sized art book is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Nick Cave’s wide-ranging career as a storyteller, musician and cultural icon.
NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME : Kleist tells the singer’s story from two perspectives, from the standpoint of friends and companions and from the angle of the protagonists in his lyrics. He also covers the most important stations in Nick Cave’s life.
REINHARD KLEIST is an award-winning graphic novelist who calls himself a “Berliner by choice”. In his multi-faceted work he interweaves biographical details of real-life characters with fantastic and surreal elements. He has released more than 20 books and many have been translated into English, French and Arabic. He is currently working on a comic about the life of David Bowie. reinhard-kleist.de
UNCOVERING THE UNSPOKEN Robyn Archer
THE EUROPEAN EXCHANGE IS A NEW EDITION OF GRIFFITH REVIEW, AUSTRALIA’S LEADING LITERARY MAGAZINE. CO-EDITED BY NATASHA CICA AND ASHLEY HAY, THIS EDITION TRACES THE DYNAMIC SOCIAL, INTELLECTUAL AND ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN THESE TWO PARTS OF THE WORLD. KULTUR PRESENTS AN EDITED EXTRACT FROM SINGER, WRITER AND DIRECTOR, ROBYN ARCHER.
Soon after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I was invited to perform in a film called Solidarity Song about the German composer Hanns Eisler, the most enduring of the musical collaborators who worked with Bertolt Brecht. We were recording in a clapped-out warehouse in former East Berlin, and with a day off shooting, I hired a BMW and sped off down the autobahn in the direction of Magdeburg. I had visited and worked in East Berlin several times before, but prior to the Wall coming down, had been warned not to mention that my mother’s side of the family came from Tucheim, a small agricultural village between Berlin and Magdeburg. Now, with the new opportunities that reunification offered, I turned off the freeway and soon saw at the entrance to this little town a very familiar image. The plough that dominated its village emblem was something I instantly recognised from the handpainted display plate that sat on top of Mum’s kitchen cabinet in suburban Adelaide. I asked the one man I saw in the street, “Gibt es hier Wohlings?” (“Are there any Wohlings here?”). “Ja, ja” he replied, “viele Wohlings!” (“Yes, yes, many Wohlings!”) and gave me directions to the right house. The afternoon that followed was filled with Sekt (sparkling wine), cake and a surprise. I glimpsed a copy of our family history as soon as I was invited inside, pointed out where my mum sat on the family tree — and me — and all was confirmed: we were distant relatives. That afternoon I learnt many things in the warm and generous company of my relatives — about the former East, and what they felt about the changes that reunification had bestowed on them (the freedoms) and taken away from them (social security; no return of their land; the devastation of their agricultural economy). But the most revealing moment was a brief conversation about Helmut, a brother and an ex-teacher, now retired to the Rhine District. Helmut was the one who had kept up the most consistent contact with one branch of the Wohlings in Australia.
My mum’s father had run the punt between Cadell and Morgan in South Australia’s Riverland, where blocks of land had been granted to World War I veterans. Mum always told me that the boys up the river didn’t want to volunteer for World War II because they feared their fruit crops would go to ruin. My conversation with the Tucheim relatives touched briefly on the fact that Helmut had been shot down over England during that war. On the drive back to Berlin it dawned on me: while Mum and Dad had been serving in the Air Force and the Army, this distant relative — who bore my mother’s maiden surname — was part of the Luftwaffe (Hitler’s Air Force). I couldn’t have been more shocked. Australian post-World War II propaganda had been so effective, in terms of what it didn’t say, that for almost fifty years it had never occurred to me that the reason the boys upriver didn’t want to go to war was because they would have been shooting their own distant cousins. On the one hand, I had learnt in Australia to be a credible and successful performer in the wholly European performing traditions of Britain and Germany — especially the German repertoire that commented on the pre-conditions and realities of World War II, and subsequently through my devotion to classic European cabaret, including the traditions of Paris and Vienna too. On the other, I had been wholly unaware of the deeper implications within my own family of a war that split Europe and had seen Australia side, albeit understandably, against Germany. All of us, especially me, have so much to celebrate about our continuing appreciation of and very powerful links to many aspects of the European tradition. But that moment in the tiny village of Tucheim warned me to be ever alert about what isn’t said, and to question and explore beyond what appear to be cultural givens.
Griffith Review: The European Exchange also features contributors from Sanja Grozdanic, Mitra Anderson, Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung, Anna Haebich, Christian Thompson, Irris Makler, Christos Tsiolkas, Julienne van Loon, George Megalogenis, Hans van Leeuwen, Arnold Zable, Lee Kofman and Stuart Ward. Griffith Review is delighted to present this edition with ANU as its publication partner. griffithreview.com
ROBYN ARCHER is a singer, writer, director, artistic director and public advocate of the arts, mainly in Australia, though her reach is global. She is an exponent and a champion of music theatre and the classic European cabaret tradition, and is always writing in various forms from songs to shows to essays, articles, speeches and verse. Robyn is also known for her own writing, including political songs in shows like Pack of Women and Kold Komfort Kaffee.
[B] [A] Commemorating 30 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall, erecting an original piece in front of the Goethe-Institut in Sydney © Goethe Institut, Photographer: Jochen Gutsch [November 2019]
[B] Mohammad Reza Mortazavi performs at Darwin Festival © Darwin Festival, Photographer: Elise Derwin [August 2019]
[C] KinoKonzert The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with original live soundtrack by Ashley Hribar at Chauvel Cinema, Sydney © Goethe Institut, Photographer: Byron Martin [March 2020]
[F] [D] KinoKonzert Der Golem with original live soundtrack by Lucrecia Dalt at QAGOMA, Brisbane © QAGOMA, Photographer: Marc Pricop [June 2019]
[E] Jota Mombaça performs at the Goethe-Institut for the Biennale of Sydney © Goethe Institut, Photographer: Wesley Nel [March 2020]
[F] D.A.F. perform live at Melbourne Town Hall for Melbourne Music Week © Melbourne Music Week [November 2019]
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