Context of this workshop
In 2017, Clare Cooper introduced Liquid Architecture to an experimental design process in futuring practice which is called “backcasting” – working backwards from the desired future, to our present moment. Groups brainstorm ideas based on the future they collectively imagine, and those ideas are distilled into concrete, achievable steps. It’s as imaginative as it is practical; best of all, it’s empowering.
We invited Clare to explore this process with us through a sound-and-listening lens.
And we were thrilled with the experimental pedagogical space it opened up. Across three workhops in November and December 2017 with Clare in Taiwan (in Tainan, Taipei and, again, Taipei), Liquid Architecture and Clare together have devised a format for a feminist-focused futuring workshop, and now we want to do it in Melbourne!
We feel that this workshop’s polyphony (everyone’s voice in its own unique texture), and open, generative process – and Clare’s generous and spirited leadership – embody the themes and ideals of “polythinking”.
The workshop is led by Clare Cooper. One of Australia’s leading improvised musicians, Clare is also a designer, organiser and community activist. She co-founded Frontyard, a radical social space in Marrickville for community arts and skill sharing.the voices
Betty Apple (Taiwan)
Bree Turner (Melbourne)
Bridget Chappell (Melbourne)
Bruce Mowson (Melbourne)
Danni Zuvela (Melbourne / Gold Coast)
Libby Harward (Quandamooka / Gold Coast)
Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe (Melbourne)
Will Scott-Kemmis (Sydney / Melbourne)
Head Futurist: Clare Cooper (Sydney)program
Step 1: Introduction; and What does the future sound like?
The group assembles in The Oratory. We anticipate 40 or so attendees and have made provisions to scale up if numbers are drastically higher.
This is what might happen.
*Please note – this is a guide only – the actual proceedings may differ. We will work with you to communicate how that happens ahead of time, and guide you every step of the way.*
Clare introduces the central concept of “listening to the present – 30 years from now”. Speaking from the year 2048, she offers an example of what the future sounds like to her.
For instance, she can hear many languages thought to be extinct or endangered back in 2018, which have been recovered through momentous public effort - the introduction of the great school language program reforms of the 2030s which ensured that every child is multilingual and culturally literate.
Or she can hear the sounds of many trees moving in the ocean breeze, and is grateful they were saved from the ravages of clear-felling by community action in 2025 which outlawed overdevelopment near the sensitive coastal fringe.
Following her introduction, Clare explains how the afternoon is going to proceed – with breaking into small groups for intimate discussions, kicking off with everyone’s individual reflections from 2048, then facilitator introductions, and creative groupwork, reporting back, and finally to backcasting from the future we want to hear.
Step 2: Explaining the Questions Format
Clare explains that each group will work with a question relating to sound and listening in the future, and will together brainstorm possible answers to the questions. Groups will decide where these notes could be placed on a double axis running from Listening to Sounding, and from Public through to Private. (See axis diagram on butchers’ paper in image, below).
NB: Questions for each group will be worked out ahead of time with Clare, Danni and each facilitator, based on the facilitator’s interest and subject area. Facilitators in Polyphonic Social 2018 may choose to work with one of the questions below, or come up with new questions based on their interests that open up rich conversations with an array of tactics and responses.
Step 2.1 Futuring Beyond Technology
Clare will explain how, in a radical pedagogical experiment like this, de-emphasising technology can make a much greater space for the social – because if we are just waiting for an invention, this both relinquishes our agency, and, to a degree, our responsibility. “Someone else will just invent it” is not a solution to social problems.
She may talk about how techno-dominance possibly reflects the structuring role of science fiction on our consciousness, and how “occular-centric” this tendency is - precisely why a socially- and sonically-focused approach can be so radical and open up new possibilities by challenging the participants to use their imaginations in new ways.
Clare may gently encourage us to bear in mind, wherever we are tempted to come up with a technological “answer” (usually involving the implantation of a chip, etc), we might want to try take that one step further to consider the social implications of the invention. What could we achieve with better education? Could consultation and engagement bring a the solution we want to hear? What policy changes might be needed to achieve this? How can we affect public consciousness in the span of an individual’s lifetime to move in the right direction to achieve the sonic future we’re imagining?
Step 2.2 Facilitator Intros
Clare briefly introduces the facilitators to the whole group, rules of the safe space, and volunteers/interns assist to guide the audience into small teams of 4-6 people. (To consider – pre-assigning groups with questions like Brandon Labelle’s Paper Piece – Secrets, where participants are given sheets of paper with actions written on them).
Step 3: Grouping
We then assemble in our groups. Each group is facilitated by a leader with a different skill set to provide a multifaceted leadership for futuristic thinking.
Step 4: Icebreaker – What I hear in 2048
We start with going around the circle, to hear from everyone in the group about their concept of the future in 2mins or less. Everyone is responding to the same question: “What does the future you want to be a part of sound like to you in 2048?”
Starting with everyone’s voice – even before formal intros – sets an experimental, performative and imaginative tone, and right away gets us listening to each other.
Step 4: Facilitator intros
Facilitators introduce themselves, their interests, philosophies and practice. They may “backannounce” the story from 2048 they told in the icebreaker in relation to the the future they want to be a part of.
Step 4.2 Group intros
We go around and introduce ourselves in an informal way.
Step 4.1 Explaining each group’s question
We then move to introduce the angle of that particular group - the unique question that they will collectively respond to.
Each group has a big sheet of cardboard with an axis their question in large letters written at the top and different-coloured block of Post-its and felt tip pens to write their concepts on.
Facilitators show and read the question aloud several times, emphasising different words and taking their time to accommodate different learning styles. Facilitators emphasise that we are experimentally brainstorming, there is of course no correct answers except those that this group comes up with.
Facilitators reiterate that we will come up with concrete and/or fantastical suggestions to respond to the question, and place them somewhere on the axis.
Step 4.2: Collective Brainstorm
Brainstorming – groups have about an hour to respond to the question. Facilitators and group members help to summarise people’s shared thoughts to fit on a single Post-it note as a statement. The group decide where on the axis each point should be placed (arguing about placement is half the fun! Most concepts suggest multiple pinpoints).
Facilitators keep the discussion going, help ask questions to draw out everyone’s thoughts and contributions, and make sure everyone feels included. Facilitators also offer their own perspectives based on their interests, skills and observations from time to time.
Step 4.3: Distillation
During the brainstorming, Clare, circulating, reminds groups to start sifting through their responses to nominate their top 5 answers, and a reporter to work with the facilitator to report their findings the larger group when we reconvene. Clare is vigilant about the 10-minute, 5-minute and time’s up milestones and facilitators help to keep things to time.
Step 5: Reconvening
Led by facilitators and escorted by interns and volunteers, the group reconvenes as a whole. Facilitators and reporters come to the front with their posters which feature all the thoughts on Post-its, and a list of the 5 top points their group came up with (give or take).
Step 5.1: Reporting back
Spokesfolks report back with a brief explanation of what went down in their group, starting with reading out their question. They then summarise just the top 5-6 points raised during their session (not the whole lot or we will be there all night!). These are aggregated by Clare and helpers with a view to possible actions for the final backcasting session.
Step 6: Backcasting
This is perhaps the most important part of the workshop and it is the essence of experimental, feminist futuring practice. In contrast to traditional futuring, which relies heavily on forecasting, in the service of capitalism’s hunger to predict the next big thing, backcasting begins with the future we want to inhabit.
We will ask ‘what are the concrete steps or actions we could take to get to this point, and roughly when in the 30year period could we plot those’?’
In this action, Clare skilfully draws together the responses of the participants with space for interjections and interventions from the audience. We have a solid go at futuring through these concrete steps.
We end up with a diagram of a process from the present today to the future we richly, collectively imagined we could be experiencing in 2048 in our conversations that afternoon, and we let the reverberations continue.
* NB After the workshop, materials will be compiled and shared with participants, along with some documentation, the following week, to allow the ideas to reverberate even further!
Questions drawn from previous futuring workshops with Clare Cooper + Liquid Architecture for potential use in Polyphonic Social 2018:
- HOW IS LISTENING BEING USED AS A SURVIVAL SENSE IN 2048? (Consider how we attune to different environments and the role of silence as a tactic)
- HOW ARE WE CHOOSING WHO HEARS US AND WHO WE LISTEN TO IN 2048? (Consider political power exchanges, decolonising listening, surveillance, permission and consent)
- HOW IS SOUND USED TO CONNECT US IN 2048? (Consider solidarity, social resonance, constructions of identity, language restoration)
- HOW DO WE SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF NATURE IN 2047? (Consider education, traditional knowledge, sub-and ultra-sonics, anthropocentrism and the anthropocene)
- HOW DOES SOUND INFLUENCE SEXY TIME IN 2048? (Consider attraction, pornography, power, gender, place)
- WHAT IS BE THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN 2048? (Consider what we consider “music” in the future)
We acknowledge the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Taungurong, Dja Dja Wurrung and the Wathaurung people of the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the land in which this event takes place, and we recognise that sovereignty was never ceded. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.partners