Issue 01 / W.I.E.R.D.
“A sky empty of angels becomes open to the intervention of the astronomer and, eventually, of the astronaut.”
- Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy, 1969
The project W.E.I.R.D. by Venice-based musician Nicola Privato is generated by a bot that turns Twitter messages into a musical score. All live tweets that contain a specific keyword are automatically downloaded by the bot, affecting the score in different ways. Hence, its structure and content remain undefined until the end. 'Uncertainty' is the central term of the first of the three movements, followed by 'emergency' and 'identity.' W.E.I.R.D. is meant as live performance with video streaming. The first two parts were recorded in the first half of 2020, midst the heavy outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in northern Italy. ‘Identity’ was recorded during the second wave of the pandemic in November 2020. Privato plans to perform the full project with piano electronics and spatialized sound both on- and offline in 2021.
The choice of the keywords is influenced by Zygmunt Bauman's Liquid Modernity (1999) and is an attempt to address some of the main issues of modern society. W.E.I.R.D. especially questions the space between the individual and society, but also between the prerogatives of the artist and those of the audience; the role of creativity as a collective resource and synthetic experience rather than an individual asset of the performer.
I will also describe how these nonreligious risk narratives are contested and politicized. As nonreligious people speculate about a future in which they believe there is no god or afterlife, their perceptions of the “riskiness” of modernization often clash with religious-based risk narratives. Using nonreligious transhumanists as an example, a growing movement of people who are seeking to extend human lives and “hack” evolution with technology, I show how these contested conceptions of existential risk are shaping important debates about more this-worldly risks like climate change, genetic modification, artificial intelligence, and political polarization. And I argue that scholars of risk need to pay more attention to perceptions of existential risk and uncertainty, as they are key factors in how risk narratives are produced and politicized in modern contexts.
Change is a crucial concept in Bauman’s work and implies the continuous aging and substitution of technologies, ideas, values, and experiences for new ones that again turn immediately old after. W.E.I.R.D. is as liquid as the society it tries to mirror; the changes in sound and structure of the music can be dramatic. For instance, I activated Uncertainty a few times during these months. In February, it worked more or less as in the video sample, but in April, it was basically unreadable. The number of tweets contained the word ‘uncertainty’ were so high that the composition changed at a pace that would not allow the musician to follow.
There are also sensible variations based on the time of the day the program is activated, which has to do with the title I chose for the work. W.E.I.R.D. stands for Western-Educated-Industrialised-Rich-Democratic. The acronym represents a specific social group, the one having access to social media, with a particular education and social status, and an uneven demographical distribution in different time zones and spoken languages that cause variations in the frequency of tweets.
In my general concept of the work, the interaction with the musician is a key element. The way the score changes affects how the performer will read it, probably causing mistakes or misinterpretations, which are very much welcome. It is the experience of the audience that will put together the final work, by freely combining the score and the performed music with the textual content of tweets they will choose to read among the flow displayed in front of them.
Being educated in classical flute and jazz guitar, Nicola Privato received a degree in jazz music at the Conservatory of Trieste in 2010. As an independent musician and founder of the JPC Quartet, he collaborated with numerous national and international musicians and played at festivals like Veneto Jazz, Palermo Jazz and Villa Celimontana Jazz. In recent years he moved from mainstream jazz language to research into music, composition and technology, aiming to broaden the boundaries of real-time interaction. His work is characterized by involving the audience, systems of data and events into the performative practice through the use of digital platforms and modular synthesizers. His work was commissioned, published and performed nationally and internationally in the UK, Brazil, Korea, Italy, Canada and Australia among others.