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Warnecke Wonders on the Sounds of Human-Computer Interaction

Pierce Warnecke, assistant professor of music production, technology, and innovation at Berklee's campus in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Jochen Voos

In little more than a decade, futurist Ray Kurzweil believes, computers will be able to mimic human intelligence, and a few decades after that, he predicts their cognitive abilities will surpass ours—a potential event he refers to as "the singularity." While scientists, ethicists, and others wonder what our world will look like if or when this happens, Pierce Warnecke, assistant professor of music technology at Berklee, wonders this: what will it sound like?

In partnership with German Public Radio, and with a Berklee faculty fellowship, Warnecke set about exploring this possible future soundscape through a 50-minute piece he calls “Functional Mating Calls,” partly inspired by Kurzweil’s idea.

“It’s basically about an imaginary universe where there are machines and living things that are trying to communicate or understand each other or not, or ignore each other,” says Warnecke, who teaches at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, as part of the master’s degree program in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation.

What developed was a composition Warnecke describes as a “compendium of all sorts of sonic communications,” including animal sounds, human speech, and electromagnetic sounds emitted from devices that blend to simulate a conversation.

“Part of the piece, because it’s based on language, will have kind of a babel part where there will be many, many different languages sort of running around, and at first you’ll understand chunks of conversation, but slowly it will escalate into a gibberish of a bunch of different languages mixed together,” he says.

Listen to the intro to “Functional Mating Calls:”

From Installations to Live Experimentation

Warnecke came to the project after years of working in experimental sound. He graduated from Berklee in 2007 with a major in music synthesis (now called electronic production and design) and began working in Marseilles and Lyon, France, on the technical side of large, digital public art installations.

After doing this for a couple years, he decided to focus more on his own creations. He and his wife moved to Berlin, Germany, where musical exploration is vibrant. “The scene in Berlin turned me on to a lot of experimental and improvised music—a lot of people pushing the envelope and trying different things out,” he says.

There, Warnecke got to know the curator of an experimental arts program on German Public Radio. He asked Warnecke to submit a few ideas for an upcoming show and “Functional Mating Calls” is the result of that request.

In the fall of 2015, a few months after German National Radio asked Warnecke to submit some ideas, he took a faculty position at Berklee’s campus in Valencia and started looking at the fellowship. He received it in April 2016 and spent part of this past summer recording at Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm, Sweden, and at Funkhaus in Berlin.

The full piece will premiere as a live performance on January 17, 2017, at Berghain Kantine in Berlin for a yearly Dada event called Art’s Birthday. It is expected to air on radio during the event.

“There are certain things that wouldn’t necessarily—sonically—make a good CD, or make a good album, or make a good performance,” Warnecke says, but he adds that radio has a history of being “a place for experimentation.”

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