Finding a Way Through the Feldgang

Feldgang Explorations

The first time I heard the term — Feldgang — I scratched my head. I had no clue to what it was, and it was Terry Elliott who used it to as he captured a walk on his farm.

Since then, I have seen Terry use the term quite a bit, from the wandering and noticing and documenting of the world via #smallstories and CLMOOC (and its various offshoots, like a community annotation read of The Art of Is happening now) to the way he plunges into books and texts with artistic annotations and doodling to surface ideas that might otherwise have been lost or unnoticed. It encompasses writing, reading, annotation, art and remix.

Way back in a piece from 2013 still archived via NWP’s The Current, he wrote about the art of the Feldgang, citing Otto Scharmer’s work on leadership, Theory U. Scharmer uses “feldgang” in this analysis, stretching the original meaning of the word from “field walk” to something larger and smaller, all at the same time.

Terry’s Original via The Art of Is

 

Kevin’s Remix of Terry

 

Scharmer, in a 2003 piece called The Blind Spot, notes, too, his childhood days on his family farm and the walks he and his father took to notice nature, and changes underfoot on the farm, and he writes of extending this Feldgang approach as a social observation concept that forces a pause in the world:

Very much in the same spirit, this study is a about a field walk across the social fields of our contemporary society. And just as we did during the Feldgang, once in a while we will stop and pick up a little piece of data that we want to pay closer attention to in order to better understand the subtle textures, structures, and principles that are involved in the evolutionary dynamics of social fields.

So, go on: plunge in with the world, and record your observations. Notice the fields. Surface the ideas. Step back and see. A Feldgang is a moment where observation and reflection come together, the quiet, a pause in the noise of the day.  We all need more of that, and less of the other.

Peace (listening for it),
Kevin

 

 

 

Sometimes, a walk …

Nature Trail Feldgang WalkA walk in the woods with your eyes wide open sometimes leads to a wonderful collection of photos, and a deeper look at nature. Here, I gathered up into a collage some of what I noticed yesterday in our nearby woods as a feldgang/learning walk with a camera lens ready (and a dog waiting patiently each time for me to finish up so we could keep moving along the paths).

Peace (what we see),
Kevin

 

Do Algorithms Dream of Improvisation?

Here is a convergence of two texts in a feldgang — first, a shared reading of The Art of Is with other CLMOOC friends and then, an article in this week’s The New Yorker by Hua Hsu entitled “Machine Yearning.” In The Art of Is, I am in a place in the text where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch is exploring improvisation and mistakes, and how one (mistakes) often lead to the other (improvisation) to make art. In The New Yorker piece, Hsu focuses in on artist Holly Herndon’s work to create music through a computer-generated voice program she calls Spawn, training it to sing to Herndon’s music on her new album, PROTO.

Hsu then connects Herndon’s work with computers and algorithms to some other movements on the music landscape, including rapper Lil Nas X’s successful maneuver to manipulate the algorithms of pop music charts to create “Old Town Road” (an analysis of top charted songs led the making of this song) and it, of course, has reached the top of the charts.

Further, Hsu notes that a company called Endel is now developing music created only by algorithms to “personalize” a space or environment that, according to Hsu, take ” … into account everything from their (listener) heart rate to the weather and thje time of day.” Endel got signed to Warner.

And Hsu notes that jazz pianist Dan Tepfer is releasing a new album soon called “Natural Machines” in which he plays duets with computer algorithms, in which the algorithms, according to Hsu, are “… designed to respond to his improvisations, producing a more dynamic range of sound than his two hands could make on their own.”

Huh. So, now connecting what I have been reading in the magazine piece to what I have been reading in The Art of Is, a question that keeps popping up into my head is this:

Can algorithms improvise? Will they be able to improvise? What will that mean?

Or is this one of those fault lines between human and machine, where improvisation is an art form that is truly and only human — something that draws from the heart, soul and mind? Or is that statement my own naive thinking, and machines will, if not now then soon enough, come to to learn how to be improvisational machines, creating art in the moment with no pre-programmed instructions? And if so, will we be able to tell the difference?

I’d like to think the first is true — that improvisation is a skill only humans have — and that we will be able to hear and recognize an improvisational solo by machine (Computer vs Coltrane? Saxophonist wins every time … right?) but I am less and less confident on that declaration as the years progress and I see projects like these unfolding.

What do you think?

Peace (I wrote that myself),
Kevin

 

It’s There In the Mistakes Where the Real Art Might Happen

Book nibblers

I’ve been reading, with other CLMOOC friends, the book, The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch, in an annotation site called NowComment, which has allowed us to engage with the text and have conversations together in the margins.

I reached a section last night about mistakes and improvisation, and how mistakes fuel creativity, but also, how so many people are taught to fear mistakes, how they avoid mistakes at all costs, and how many experience shame when things go awry (partly due to our education systems that teach failure vs success as a zero sum game).

“Mistakes” in improvisation are hard to define, but people recognize when something works and when it doesn’t. — from The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Nachmanovitch suggests otherwise, arguing that the possibilities of art also emerge from places where things are imperfect or gone awry but that finding the art in the mistakes requires your ear to be attuned to the possibilities emerging from the unknown, from the mistakes. This is embedded into improvisation, he suggests, and I agree.

For this is how I write songs. I start at a place where I know I will begin (common chords and common patterns) and then listen for my fingers fumbling on the fretboard of the guitar, knowing that sometimes, something happens — and I need to expect the unexpected, and use the mistake for a new path forward. In those moments, I am often scribbling lyrics like a madman, to capture the idea before it gets away from me.

In my rock and roll band, on my saxophone, when I am soloing, as improv, this, too, is what happens — I often don’t know where I am going with my playing on solos, and sometimes, my fingers take me in a direction that is, well, news to me. This nearly always sparks some internal panic known only to me, Making a mistake in a gathering with other musicians, particularly with a live audience in front of you — that’s tricky business, and stressful, and exciting, too. I’ve learned to trust myself in this high wire act, though. I trust I will know where to go even if I am not aware of it as I’m thinking on it.

Thinking on this concept of mistakes, I wrote a poem for the margins of our shared reading experience …

On Making Mistakes

No one ever noticed,
for more than the second
it takes one to forget,
the perfect song:
the magic of listening
to remember resides
in the blemishes —
the transposed chords,
the slightly off-kilter
phrasing, the slip of the
voice, the chipped reed, the
spit-filled tube, the broken
drumstick, the snapped piano
string, the panic that produced
something to ponder
when the music’s echoes
have since long been over

Peace (where the path goes, follow),
Kevin

Making is a Verb: Musicking with The Art of Is

Musicking with The Art of IsThere’s a whole section in the book some of us are reading together in NowComment, with annotation conversations unfolding, where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch (in The Art of Is) explores the division of the world into nouns and verbs, emphasizing the forward motion of doing things (verbs) as opposed to merely observing things by breaking them down into parts (nouns). He uses music as his example, noting that the word “musicking” would be a way to encompass the act of making music, often with others, and being creative.

I wondered how I could use the text itself for a way to inspire a new piece of music, to put Nachmanovitch’s idea into motion. I wanted to be musicking within the words of the text. After mulling it over, I decided to use the book title — The Art of Is — and the book subtitle — Improving as a Way of Life — and the author’s name — Stephen Nachmanovitch — as a means to gather chords.

The image above explains how I went about making my song — I only sought existing chords as I read (so, as Wendy asked elsewhere, I did not convert other letters without chords into something else … I just ignored them) and created three distinct sections: title, subtitle, name. I did keep the sequence of chords intact, however, so that in whatever order they were, that’s what I had to work with. I took the liberty of adding minor chords where it would make sense of the structure and sound.

I then went into the Garageband app on my iPad, and began to compose over the course of the afternoon, improvising and experimenting as I went about it.

First, I created drum tracks and worked with the bass, adding some guitar riffs, and then finally, layering in some of the world music instruments. I was slowly adding pieces, and then removing them at the end, to create a sound version of our annotation efforts (OK, this may be a leap, but not for me). For the most part, I think the song works, unfolding itself against the rhythm beat, and certainly, it is a piece of distinct music connected to and inspired by the book (if only in my mind).

You are welcome to remix or download or do whatever you want with the track from Soundcloud.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Buried in the Feldgang: A Poem from a Quote from a Book from an Idea

Quote: The Art of Is

I am forever overlapping
you; your notes cascading
upon me; where shadows
loom, you hold the light

We meet in the middle,
at the bridge – at the break –
at the moment of unexpected
surrender to the moment of
story and song

I am melody: nothing, but
for the harmony that spans
its wings beneath

Note: this is a #smallpoem, written in the margins of a community feldgang, with this line as anchor:

“Making art, whether you do it solo or in a group, derives its patterns from everything around us, in an interdependent network.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is

Others have been leaving poems, too, in the book we are reading together in NowComment, and finding them in the margins of the text is a beautiful moment — a dance along the contours of Nachmanovitch’s ideas, made visible for shared experiences.

Peace (along the margins),
Kevin

Digging Ever Deeper Down into The Art of Is

Book nibblers

Terry has us tunneling into the book The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch, a book with the tantalizing subtitle of “Improvising As A Way of Life” that caught my attention. The introduction has my attention, for sure, as Nachmanovitch weaves in the concepts of improvisation to all sorts of ideas — music, art, text, collaborations, etc. I like the scope of it.

We’re inside NowComment as an annotation space (contact Terry if you want an invite), I am working to make art out of my reading experience. The comic above is a play on Terry’s invitation on Twitter and Mastodon, about “nibbling” at the edges of the work.

I then made this comic on my first reading start, trying to reframe the cover of the book as a piece of art and trying to explore the strange wording of the book’s title.

Comic reading

I’ve also been writing poetry — some of it found right inside the book —

found poem inside The Art of Is

Who knows where this improv will lead … following threads takes faith that the unraveling leads to understanding.

Peace (inside, outside, beyond),
Kevin

 

Sarah Spelunks CLMOOC

Clmooc by Sarah

I’ve been interested over the past few years to hear/read/follow bits and pieces of the academic research that my friend, Sarah Honeychurch, has been doing for her Phd work in Connected Learning and the CLMOOC community, and she has just shared some of her draft both at her blog and with an open invite to annotate her work via Hypothesis.

As she notes:

CLMOOC is a highly connected, non-hierarchical community of lifelong learners with an ethos of social justice who support each other and learn through creative play.

I made the word cloud above by gathering the words of her thesis statement. And played with the cloud, too.

More words in a cloud

I am intrigued by Sarah’s gathering of ideas around these elements of CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration — which was envisioned and launched by the National Writing Project, and then supported by Educator Innovator, and which now continues to move along with members leading the way).

  • Connected Community
  • Communicative Conversations
  • Creative Collaborations

Lots of C’s!

But those phrases capture what I consider the spirit and essence, and underpinning, of the CLMOOC gathering spaces. See the new CLMOOC Planet for a gathering of RSS feeds to get a feel for the flow of CLMOOC. And look at the CLMOOC Muses page to see how many active people are still loosely connected with each other.

I’m diving into her post via community/collaborative annotations. See you there?

Peace (in shared words),
Kevin

 

More Play in the World of Words: Tinkering with Text Animation Apps

Playing with Words: Animation Apps(Created in the Plays app)

I am still tinkering around with different apps that animate words. This week, I explored the apps Plays, MOTT and then came back to Legend (re-found in the Google Play store after it disappeared but not found anymore in the Apple App store). None of these fit exactly what I am looking for but some come close enough to have fun with. Some of these examples here are riffs off others work (Terry, in particular) and others are just isolated word play or riffs off my own poems. I explored some others in an earlier post.

Playing with Words: Animation Apps(Created in the MOTT app)

(Created in the Legend app)

Playing with Words: Animation Apps(Created in the MOTT app)

Playing with Words: Animation Apps(Created in the Plays app)

Playing with Words: Animation Apps(Created in the Plays app)

(Created in Legend app)

Peace (in the movement),
Kevin

Words, Image, Texts and Google’s Generation of ePoetry

“You are invited to donate a single word.”

This is how it begins. An invitation to write. It knows my weakness.

“Your word will be instantly incorporated into an original two line poem generated by an algorithm trained on over 20 million words of 19th century poetry.”

Call me intrigued.

I arrive at this Google experiment (privacy hackles, dutifully raised) in poetry via Terry entitled Poem Portraits, and so I dig in, and learn that it is a collaborative poetry that is “ever evolving” as people add words and Google’s AI system culls through a myriad of texts it has in its data banks. They call it “An experiment at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration.”

As you add a word (my donated word: Harmonize), it uses your contribution to generate new lines of text, adding to an ever-expanding ongoing poem collaboration between human and machine. The AI asks for a selfie (but you don’t need to do one to add a word), and this is where I paused but then decided to do it and go further.

I had seen Terry’s, and then Sarah’s, and then Charlene’s, and then Sheri’s, and the fact is, I was still intrigued by the mix of poetry, text, words and collaboration.

AI poem-portrait

The result is your word, and the words of your part of the poem, projected and mapped on your face, so that you become part of the poem. (Who knows where all those selfies go .. I suspect it becomes part of Google’s facial recognition data base. I’m sure I am already in there, but I would not likely bring students to this kind of poetry experiment).

I wanted to do more with the photo that gets generated. When you get to this step of your poem on your face, you can also read the larger, collaborative, AI-generated (with your word now added) unfolding on the page (You can access the scrolling poem without participating if you stop before adding a word).

So, I relocated my poem-selfie into the mobile app Fused, and began to layer in some visual static, working to deliberatively create a sort of fuzzy overlay of the selfie poem, as a means to represent some discomfort with how I willingly gave my image to Google.

Then, I wrote a short piece of music in Thumbjam, keeping the idea of my word — Harmonize — in mind, and working to layer three different musical sounds that work in harmony, and a bit of disharmony, too.

Finally, I took all of those pieces into iMovie and wove the media together, with a vocal reading of the text that filters across my face as part of my stanza of the poem.

The result of my playing is the video above … which starts as AI machine but ends with me, the pesky human, taking control of the image and poem again. (Or so I imagine).

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

PS — this is how Terry played with his results, calling it his “ghost”