Tribal Futures

Social theorists predict that traditional units of society such as
the family are becoming less dominant, and instead - elective, tribal groupings are on the rise.

The Tribal Futures project undertaken by Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art over a 4 week period, and in collaboration with Vodafone, enquires into the changes technology will make to our behaviour in groups - both mundane and extreme. It proposes design interventions to support, subvert and celebrate our tribal connections.

Royal College of Art


Group musical collaboration can be a powerful and cathartic experience, but it also a daunting one for those unfamiliar to it, particularly where improvisation is involved.

Inspired by the fluid self-choreography of Starlings, I wanted to see if their methods of improvisation could become some kind of model for our own.

One thought was that if sound could be translated visually into some kind of flock, it could perhaps do two things: Firstly, allow the performers creating the sound to see sonic relationships spatially, and so create new ways of reacting off each other in improvisation, a little like the birds themselves do. Secondly, it could emphasize the safety in anonymity a group provides, by translating your sound into something else and visualizing it very much as part of a greater whole. I felt that these factors could contribute to creating an environment particularly conducive to musical play and experimentation, even for the uninitiated.

From here, I have explored the idea of an online space which allows anonymous participants to perform in a public musical improvisation from the comfort of their own computer.

The proposed site translates your voice into an animated bird which flies according to the sound you create for it. For further anonymity and safety in the ‘Flock’, the user’s voice is translated into an instrument of their choosing. The audio and visuals generated from this are simultaneously projected into a real space, thus creating a kind of ‘bridge’ between the experience of the solitary singer and of a spontaneous public group performance.

  •  Could flocking be used as a model or map for improvisation and collaboration?
  •  Translating voices into the Flock…
  •  The proposed site: Virtual gatherings shift the traditional parameters of the physical group such as time, space and proximity to others, and perhaps in doing so offer more anonymity than physical ones, these factors make them ‘safe’ places for play and exploration.
  •  Some questions: If each performer hears everyone else as instruments, would they each feel like the leader? How would the sound you choose to represent yourself with change the nuances of communication? Could (or should) a virtual choir ever have the same degree of presence as a physical one?

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