Leuchtende Flächen strahlen mir in den Sinn,
jeder Ausschnitt ist für sich bedeutungslos.

Formen erscheinen mir durch Erinnerung,
mit der ich das Gewirr ertaste.

Die Idee der Ferne ist niemals fern,
sondern immer hier.

Dort bist du für dich
mir hier.

This is a post about collective action.

But let’s rewind to the beginning.

Bacteria are weird birds: instead of having a specific audible call that allows them to identify members of their own species — “Me! I am here! I am me! I am here!”—bacteria emit and receive an identifying chemical which tells them whether enough of their own kind are in the same place, in which case they can justify spending energy on individual action which translates into collective action (this is called “quorum sensing”, see video below).

One chemical for an entire species.

Within such a group, in and through their chemical language, they are all the same.

Human language is incredibly complex. Why would we need such a complex mesh of meaning to identify ourselves and identify others? We could also ask the question in a way that puts us in a more passive position: what justifies such complexity for the purpose of being identified, being made visible, audible to other participants in the medium of language, more or less consciously and intentionally?

One answer might be that identification is only one function of language and so you wouldn’t expect its complexity to be justifiable solely by that.

But consider the implications and consequences of identity rephrased not just as a superficial label, but as a characterization of who we are, how we relate to others, what trajectory we are on, who we share experiences with, what we want to work towards: by that meaning, it becomes difficult to draw a boundary around identity and separate it from aspects of life independent of it.

When I say, through my varied elaborately assembled audible or visible sculptures, strings of words, signs: “this is me, I am here” and, through the responses I receive, I feel seen and accepted: that is a connection, a first step towards acting together.

Birds find each other over long distances. “Come over here!”

Bacteria team up for collective action when they’ve reached a sufficient density. “We are many.”

And humans?
How do we act collectively?

Sometimes a hurt psyche doesn’t need the soothing touch of harmony bathed in rainbow light; sometimes what it needs is to have its particular shape and configuration matched by a relentless, shrieking thunder repeatedly covering up the seedling of hoping for release until through acceptance it grows strong enough to break through the ceiling, growing within, through, out of, and beyond it.

What I look for in a conversation, apart from just being together, is shared discovery, a collaborative extending, shifting, reshaping of our worlds, like putting two hands on a piece of clay, yours and mine, entering into a dialogue with it through the touch of our fingers, but instead of fingers and clay, there is only a complex web of traces we know how to follow, paths we know how to tread, up until the point where a step in a direction is suggested to us from the outside, the other, whose web we are given selective access to as a source of undiscovered associations, new paths that are neither mine nor yours but ours.

An excuse can be a sponge soaking up potential.
“I wasn’t really trying as hard as I could.”

An excuse can be a way of hiding yourself from your own view.
“I wasn’t really into it that much anyway.”

An excuse can be an inner contradiction.
“I wasn’t myself.”

With excuses we find ways to reject and at the same time justify what is and what was. If there is something that shouldn’t be, a suitable excuse can deflate the differential. By identifying a cause as an excuse, the effect becomes legitimized, rationalized, naturalized. “It may not be nice, but at least it makes sense.”

Saying goodbye to excuses can be painful.
“I really tried. And yet, I failed. I wish I hadn’t tried quite as hard. Then at least I would have an excuse.”

Allowing ourselves to care about some things, and especially some people, deeply, to leave no room for excuses, raises the stakes. What previously may have seemed like a game or a dream we could just exit and dismiss as insignificant becomes inescapably real. Real tensions, real failures, real successes, real satisfaction, real connection, real acceptance and acceptedness.

By growing out of excuses, we become able to open up to others.
“This is me. I am here with you. I care about you. I support you. I want you in my life. I want us to be real.”

Goodbye, excuses.

We know that sound is pressure fluctuations over time. And we know that a vinyl record is a translation of pressure fluctuations over time into space. As the needle moves through the grooves at a constant speed, sound is reproduced in time.

Now imagine a special room in which air pressure at every point in space is controlled so precisely that you can walk through it and hear a sound. You can walk faster to hear the sound speed up and become higher pitched, backwards to hear it backwards. Stop and you hear nothing: you just experience the particular air pressure at that point in space.

A physical installation of air pressure fluctuations in space.

A sound installation.

Reflecting on my 15-year-old self with the concepts and experience I have now, it seems to me that I was drawn to drumming because it felt abstract, because the meaning it constructs can’t be translated into any other form.

Drumming is physical. Drumming (and this is no coincidence) is emotional expression in the same way dancing is: not reliant on words, or even symbols. On the surface, drumming divides time, but underneath, it creates space for the body to be in time, and time for the body to be in space. Even the simplest of phrases, a single hit repeated at regular intervals, creates space for bodies to be: here, here, here, here. Add the most minimal variation and you get movement: left, right, left, right. Bring in differentiation of frequency ranges and you bring awareness and mobility to hips, shoulders, ellbows, hands, finger tips.

Drumming helps a body be grounded without becoming immovable. It helps a body be here without getting stuck in an anxious memory of being here. We can be here while also going forward, forward in time. Here, here, here, here. Drumming is an interactive reminder of the fact that going anywhere with intention and awareness is only possible because our being here is itself dynamic. Being here is movement.