Humans and machines that can generate sound

This text is part of the text “Rebooting Humanity”

(The German Version can be found HERE)

Author No. 1 (Gerd Doeben-Henisch)


(Start: June 14, 2024, Last Modification: June 14, 2024)

Starting Point

Since September 2015, I have been repeatedly trying—both theoretically and practically—to understand what sound art really is; what is sound? What does it do to us? One consideration led to another; between them were real experiments and live performances. There were also long periods of ‘standstill’…. At a sound art concert on June 11, 2024, at Mousonturm in Frankfurt, something clicked in my mind regarding a fundamental question, and suddenly the uniqueness of ‘collective human intelligence’ in confrontation with so-called ‘intelligent machines’ became somehow newly clearer to me.


This post on an associated blog is about people and machines that can generate sound.

The trigger was a sound art event at the Mousonturm in Frankfurt am Main on June 11, 2024.

Here comes the translation:

A Hint from a Friend

Following a tip from Tobias (PiC, Xerox Exotique, …), I made a trip yesterday to the sound art event #090, organized by Xerox Exotique at the Mousonturm in Frankfurt am Main.


SKETCH: Mousonturm, a small event area to the right of the entrance with a small stage. Some participants are highlighted. Detailed information about the event can be found on the XEROX EXOTIQUE website (

What to Talk About?

A sound art event like this offers numerous starting points for discussion…

Since the beginning of Philosophy in Concert (PiC), I have been driven by the question of how to situate soundscapes in the life world of people so that they do not seem like ‘foreign bodies,’ somehow ‘detached’ from the process of humans on this planet, but as a ‘living part’ of this very real-dynamic process made visible.

At concerts based on written music (scores…), it all revolves around the sets of symbols that someone has produced, which others convert into sounds, and perhaps about the person who holds the ‘office of the interpreter’ and tells other implementers how they should convert. The ‘typically human’ aspect may then be recognized in the ‘background of the notation’, in the way of ‘converting’ or ‘interpreting’, and then the effect of the sound cloud in the room on the people who sit, listen, and experience various emotions…

How much of the human process is revealed in such a form of event?

There is almost never any talking, and if there is, what is there to talk about? About one’s own feelings? About the technical intricacies of the written? About the skill of the converters? About the beauty of a voice? Yes, it’s not easy to integrate the sound event into the life process… and yet, it affects somehow, one remembers, talks about it later, may rave or complain…

The Hidden Human

Let’s briefly change the context and dive directly into the current global euphoria many people have over the new chatbots, which increasingly fascinate more people in everyday life, products of ‘generative Artificial Intelligence’ (chatGPT & Co).

The algorithms behind the interface are comparatively simple (although the global deployment is due to impressive engineering). What fascinates people in front of the interface is ‘how human the algorithms appear in the interface’. They use everyday language just as ‘we humans’ do, ultimately even better than most of those who sit in front of it. And — almost irresistibly — many see, because of this language and the accessible knowledge ‘behind the interface’, not a simple machine but something ‘profoundly human’. What is ‘human’ about this appearance, however, are the words, sentences, and texts that the simple algorithm has compiled from millions of documents, all of which come from humans. On its own, this algorithm cannot generate a single sentence! It lacks fundamental prerequisites. The ‘actual’ wonder sits in front of the ‘apparent’ wonder: it is we humans, who have, are, and represent something that we are barely aware of ourselves (we are ‘blind through ourselves’), and we marvel when simple algorithms show us what we are… ultimately like a mirror of humanity, but most do not notice; we get excited about simple algorithms and forget that we ourselves are exactly this wonder that has produced all this, continues to produce… we become blind to the real wonder that we ourselves are, each of us, all together.

Collective Intelligence – Collective ‘Spirit’…

In the case of algorithms, the term ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ has been used for a long time, and more moderately, ‘machine learning (ML)’. However, the concept of intelligence has not yet been truly standardized, even though psychology has developed and experimentally researched interesting concepts of ‘intelligence’ (e.g., the ‘Intelligence Quotient (IQ)’) for humans for about 120 years. The communication between psychology and computer science, however, has never been very systematic; rather, everyone does ‘their own thing’. Thus, precisely determining the relationship between ‘human intelligence (HI)’ and ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ has so far been quite difficult; the terms are too vague, not standardized. Moreover, it is complicated by the fact that the ‘actually impressive achievements’ of humans are not their ‘individual achievements’ (although these are important), but everything that ‘many people together over a long time’ have accomplished or are accomplishing. The term ‘Collective Human Intelligence (CHI)’ is in this direction but is probably too narrow, as it’s not just about ‘intellect’ but also about ‘communication’, ’emotions’, and ‘goals’. Unfortunately, research on the topic of Collective Human Intelligence is still far behind. The focus on the individual runs deep, and then in times of artificial intelligence, where individual machines achieve remarkable feats (under the premise of the collective achievements of humans!), even the study of individual human intelligence has fallen into the shadow of attention.

How do we get out of this impasse?

Sound Art as a Case Study?

I hadn’t attended a sound art concert in many years. But there were still memories, various aspects swirling through my mind.

The tip from Tobias catapulted me out of my usual daily routines into such a sound art event at the Mousonturm on June 11, 2024, at 8:00 pm.

As I said, there is a lot to talk about here. For a long time, I have been preoccupied with the question of the ‘collective’ dimension in human interaction. The ‘synchronization’ of people by algorithms is nothing unusual. In a way, humans have always been ‘standardized’ and ‘aligned’ by the prevailing ‘narratives,’ and the rapid spread of modern ‘narratives’ and the speed with which millions of people worldwide join a narrative is a fact. Most people (despite education) are apparently defenseless against the emergence of ‘narratives’ at first, and then very soon so strongly ‘locked-in’ that they reproduce the narratives like marionettes.

What role can ‘sound art’ play against such a backdrop? Sound art, where there is nothing ‘written’, no ‘central interpreter’, no ‘converters of the written’, but, yes, what?

That evening, the first group, ‘Art Ensemble Neurotica’, seemed to me to most broadly illustrate the profound characteristics of sound art. In the two following solo acts, where the individual performer interacted with sound they themselves produced, the special dimension of sound art was also present, in my view, but more concealed due to the arrangement.

In the case of Neurotica: Four people generated sound, live, each individually: Dirk Hülstrunk (narrator) – Michael Junck (digital devices) – Johannes Aeppli (percussion) – Guido Braun (strings & conductor). Each person on stage was a ’cause’, equipped with instruments that allowed all sorts of sound effects. There were no written notes; there hadn’t been a real rehearsal beforehand, but some arrangements (according to Guido).

Anyone who knows how diversely each individual can generate sound under these conditions can imagine that this seemingly infinite space can give rise to tension about what will happen next?

Describing the totality of sound that emanated from the four performers upfront for 45 minutes is nearly impossible in detail. At no stage did it seem (I exchanged views immediately afterwards with Roland (incorrectly identified as Robert in the sketch) next to me—we didn’t know each other, it was a coincidence we sat next to each other), that one sound source drowned out or overwhelmed another; everything appeared side by side and intertwined in a somehow ‘fitting form’, appealing and stimulating. Patterns from all four individual sources could be recognized interacting with each other over extended phases, yet they were supple, changing shape. Effects like volume shifts, echo, reverb, distortion, etc., did not feel out of place but seemed ‘harmonic’… giving each source a ‘character’ that combined with the others to form an overall impression…

Can such an arrangement of sounds be taken ‘purely abstractly’, detached from their creators? Could software generate such a complex sound event?

While the listener initially hears only the produced sound and might not immediately decide from this perspective whether it matters who and how this sound is produced, from the perspective of creation it quickly becomes clear that these sounds cannot be isolated from the producer, from the ‘inner states’ of the producer. Ultimately, the sound is created in the moment, in the interaction of many moments inside each individual actor (human), and this individual is not ‘alone’, but through his perception and many jointly experienced sound processes, each possesses a ‘sound knowledge’ that he more or less ‘shares internally’ with others, and thus each can bring his current inner states into a ‘dialogue’ with this ‘shared sound knowledge’. It is precisely this inner dialogue (largely unconscious) that provides opportunities for complex synchronizations, which an individual alone, without a shared history of sound, could not have. The resulting complex sounds are therefore not just ‘sound’ but are more manifestations of the internal structures and processes of the creators, which as internal meaning are linked with the external sound: Sound art sound is therefore not just sound one hears, it is also fully a kind of ‘communication’ of ‘inner human states’, spread over various collaborating individuals, thus a true collective event that presupposes the individual but extends far beyond in the happening. In this form of distributed sound art, the individual can experience themselves as a ‘WE’ that would otherwise be invisible.


So, I now have this strange feeling that participating in this sound art event has led me deeper into the great mystery of us humans, who we are, that we have a special dimension of our existence in our ability to ‘collectively feel, think, and act,’ which somewhat liberates us from ‘individuality’ towards a very special ‘We’.

While a soundscape is ‘authentic’ and as such not ‘underminable’, ‘narrative spaces’—the use of language with an assumed, but not easily controllable potential meaning—are extremely ‘dangerous’ spaces: assumed meanings can be false and—as we can see today on a global scale—are predominantly wrong with correspondingly devastating consequences. Moving in distributed sound spaces has its ‘meaning’ ‘within itself’; the ‘Self in sound together’ is not underminable; it is mercilessly direct. Perhaps we need more of this…