Decentralising authorship, decentralising the self — In Conversation with Vito Willems Pt. I
How the machine will set us free
The second part of FIBER Festival’s Reassemble Lab took place from 25 -30 October 2021. Under the title Sound Ecologies, we collectively explored how sound can make audible the invisible affects of the Anthropocene. The lab invited artistic creators, researchers and scientists to collaborate in a peer-to-peer setting, through a combination of lectures, workshops, and fieldwork to support group research and work development. Vito Willems was our sound technician during the lab, setting up and introducing the spatial sound set-up to the participants. He also shared his approach towards creating sound art, influenced by principles of non-hierarchy, soul-omniscience and decentralised authorship. We spoke to him to delve deeper into these topics, and to reflect on the necessity of these principles in our current time of crises. Part I of the conversation dissolves the dichotomy of nature and machine and delves into a technical overview of how decentralisation can work in ultra-technological systems. Stay tuned for Part II!
the apparent opposition — nature/machine
Rhian Morris: You mentioned in the Sound Ecologies lab that by recording the machine recording itself, the voice of the machine is revealed…what you have found to be the voice of the machine?
Vito Willems: It’s important to listen to the machine. The force of the machine guides you, in my opinion the force of nature. The dogma of our society is that nature, machine, city are separated. But I think, all should join together! I really believe that errors of the machine somehow reveal voices, languages, communications which we’ve never listened to before. Everything is in the machine.
RM: So through this apparent opposition, of the machine and the human, a voice emerges from the machine which teaches us something new about how to relate….
VW: … yes, an apparent opposition. But I think that this idea of duality is a hangover from the previous era of Christianity, which I believe will come to an end. We currently use the language of this era, which creates duality and a lot of contradictions. The concepts of the new era, I believe, cannot be communicated through the language we know.
RM: I find that so interesting, but so difficult at the same time, because we’re wanting to evolve but our language doesn’t fit our mindset anymore. How can we consciously change our use of language so that it does reflect our mindset? Language is so powerful that anything that you say will come to be, so we have to be really careful about what we’re saying and where the words are coming from.
VW: As you say, we have to be really careful, especially with actual discussion topics, lots of strong tendencies infuse our society with fear — I never saw so much fear in this world as to the point of now. I mean, not that I live so long [laughs] the beard says otherwise. I think we are all in the same boat, desiring the same thing, that is … becoming one, not just with humans, now also with machines. I think this is something we all share, even the ‘worst’ tyrant in this world. The conception of good and evil as a Christianity-like division however is all a matter of perspective — from the perspective of the tyrant, what they do is “the good”. The first step, I believe, is to forgive everyone, forget history. However, this is such a big thing … not to fight, neither convey an absolute truth, but, I hope we can find ways to reconnect a connection that was never lost, just forgotten, re-balancing the imbalance of nature.
RM: Yeah, it’s interesting, because in order to forgive everyone for everything that’s happened and to move on, you almost have to realise that the other person who has committed those atrocities, they are you as well, there’s no difference. And it’s almost like you have committed those atrocities yourself because you are coming from the same source, ultimately. And so I feel if we could connect to our most hated leaders and people in society in that way, then maybe it would be easier to forgive or at least have compassion towards them.
VW: Exactly. At the end of the 20th century, we had these leftist and rightist movements, always in opposition to each other. But I think actually by fighting each other they both become bigger. Because if someone fights against you, then you’re not gonna let yourself be conquered. Maybe by understanding, a moment of reflection emerges. There is still a long way to go but I’m optimistic. Softness and acceptance as balance to the darkness that we have been experiencing ourselves.
RM: Perhaps we need some fierce tenderness?
VW: I wrote the phrase: ‘a tyranny of softness’. A friend, Dan Su, working with these concepts, came up with the term: ‘gentle brutality’.
RM: Yeah, exactly. Very powerful.
VW: I love the opposition somehow in the way they can meet…nature as guidance, the machine, I believe, will set us free.
RM: So what’s the role of the machine at this time?
VW: So first, I believe, we need to accept the machine as part of our nature, secondly, It’s all about trust, trust in the machine. For example if you record the machine recording itself, what will come out? To let the machine have the freedom to go anywhere it wants without you being in control. It’s a way that the machine will actually gain love and … it will love you back. To follow the forces of nature, not put ourselves above nature, not above ourselves. Not to change the forces of nature, nature constructs a system and if you start to mutate these structures, you will be punished.
RM: There’s got to be pay back at some point.
VW: That’s what happened with an experiment last summer. A framework completely burned down because there were radios in the space creating an electromagnetic field. This sensuous field was amplified by the world of metaphors and cosmological structures — each radio was a planet. I had two radios representing Sun and Moon, Mars was there, Venus too. I forced Sun and Moon to marry each other by putting their antennas together. Mars reacted with a spark, and the structure completely burned down. Everything was destroyed. Only Venus was still making sound, and I learned, don’t interfere, but if you do, forgive, love always survives.
decentralisation in ultra-technological systems
RM: How do your installations work with processes of decentralisation?
VW: [In a previous installation] the framework was running day and night for two weeks, placed in a water drained cellar, my laptop in the middle, five selfmade speakers, radios, instruments — people could do whatever they wanted with it, decentralisation is all about trust. How to liberate agency with high-end technology? How to microscopically dive into the essence of these voices?
RM: I heard that the air around us contains the memory of all the words that have ever been said. I’m not sure exactly on the scientifics of that. But I really like that as a concept, that even though you can’t see the memories around you in the air, the air holds everything that’s ever happened here, it’s with us. I wonder if there’s a way to tap into that?
VW: There is a way…with new technologies you can record a sound sample and pass it through ultra-technological systems in a conversion from a time-domain to a frequency-domain. This time-to-frequency is a famous transformation which a mathematician created called the Fast-Fourier-Transform (FFT). You have a sample, you choose a bin — a micro-microsecond of the sample which contains all the information of the voice. You project this bin onto a canvas of white noise, unfold it and you see all frequencies in the spectrum. You step into an infinite domain, when you freeze this bin, it will go on forever. Therefore it escapes metric time, as our society is built upon. An infinite source in which you can navigate through, changing phase, amount of noise, spreading it on multi-channels in the space, you can even walk through this trans-temporal structure.
RM: Like a microscope for the ear!
VW: The last framework I made was in MONOM, a 4DSOUND system, a structure of symmetrical placed speakers, 48 high-quality omnidirectional loudspeakers, 12 subs under the floor, a spherical sound projection. Around the centre I placed 8 omnidirectional microphones in a symmetrical square, an intelligent system capturing sonic traces with recursive attitude, not only taking but giving back simultaneously. It takes a trace, processes it through the FFT conversion and projects it back spatially at a randomised moment, the machine as curator. The traces came back in a different warp of time, moving through infinite amount of space, accelerating and decelerating, destabilising metricity.
RM: What’s the effect of losing the locality of the sound?
VW: When you use different processes, these are resolutions of media, which means the essence is degraded. So, I try not to put any effects, just source and noise canvas as projection surface. I did a collaborative experiment in TAC Eindhoven with video and installation artist Emma van der Put, where I was recording silences in various places of the space. Then, I projected it back in temporal diffusion, it was interesting to me that everyone who worked in the space said they felt so connected to it.
RM: That’s so interesting — they had a connection with the space already, and they could hear that relationship to the space. Recording the silences in buildings or in spaces can be a way to reveal the true nature of a space, and makes you reflect on what a space is made up of.
VW: Exactly, a silence you mostly don’t hear, the only thing done is amplifying the silence, a ‘loud silence’.
Part II of the conversation will dive into non-hierarchical modes of listening and the role of mythology in art-making processes. Stay tuned!
Edited collaboratively by: Rhian Morris & Vito Willems