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The Whole Earth Chanting with RADAR and Nabihah Iqbal

Posted on: March 10th, 2020 by libby

Libby will present a new collaborative work The Whole Earth Chanting with musician Nabihah Iqbal (Ninja Tune) on 28th April in Emmanuel Church in Loughborough. The piece was commissioned by Loughborough University's contemporary art programme Radar and part funded by Arts Council England.

‘The Whole Earth Chanting’ uses the power of voice, sound and music and the intimacy of performance to explore new expressions of belonging and collective identity between humans and non-humans - a post-human spiritualism, entangling human perception with the material world. During the performance, musician Iqbal will respond to chants generated by artificial intelligence, which was trained on data ranging from Gregorian Chanting to the humming of equipment in the quantum physics lab. As religious chants blur with football fans’ singing, birds and Iqbal's voice, the boundaries of categories through which we usually understand the world are dissolved, creating a transcendental journey enabling the ‘other’ to enter and transform.

Artificial intelligence is typically used by big technology companies and governments to categorize and label, in order to sell us things and to control us.  This inevitably embeds societal biases and unequal power structures within the code, putting certain groups at risk of prejudice and people and nature at risk of (even greater) exploitation. The Whole Earth Chanting subverts this use of machine learning.  Rather than separating and dividing, the algorithm creates its own hybrid sounds by weaving together seemingly disparate categories. 

The non-human ‘chants’ in the work were decided upon by finding matches between their spectrogram and a visually similar one for human chanting. The repetition of chanting, mirrors the act of creating a data set for AI - around 2000 copies of an individual chant are needed in order for the machine to learn that sound. 

The artificial intelligence algorithm and Iqbal's voice and instruments, (re)arranges, (dis)orders, (re)combes the material utterances of the human and non-human worlds, such that elements composing and informing what we know and who we are, the script to which the self is subjected, can be broken. 

Chanting moves us outside or beneath the culturally known and activates possibilities of discovering a self that is constituted by a plurality of human and non-human relationships. The reordering and blurring of reality by the artificial intelligence algorithm and Iqbal highlights how boundaries between things are temporary and their differences emerge only through relations.

Theologist Rudolph Otto stated that the breach of ordinary perception occurs through encounters with the numen praesens, the “wholly other” - an object whose nature, transcends the known, breaks the boundaries of the conceivable and provokes in individual or collective encountering it, unique types of emotions. The release of emotion through the repetition of chanting therefore gradually disentangles the audience from the cultural scripts they usually perform.

Through emotion and identification with both human and non-human voices through the ritual of chanting, engagements and actions to embrace the “wholly other” are made.