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Andrew Hodges
Category: Improvisation


I've been giving some thought to those internet 'surveillance' and 'tracking' revelations (known as PRISM) which appeared recently in the press and internet blogs and wondered whether our experience in working with sound and its power to transform had any impact on the effects on society of these undemocratic state-sponsored behaviours. 

Surveillance and tracking is about groups and networks as much as it is individuals. It's more about who you know, and who your friends know. It's about patterns and interconnections. We all live in our little bubble of relationships, our 'Cocoon' if I can put it that way. Surveillance merely tracks our bubbles. The argument is that "if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to fear".  Well of course that's obvious isn't it? This means that we could all act as if this 'surveillance' wasn't taking place; in effect, be oblivious to it. After all, it's only meant to catch 'bad people' so that doesn't mean us, of course. (Does it?)

As for tracking if you use Google it apparently benignly tracks your patterns of behaviour on the web because it wants to know what you 'like' so that it can, as it puts it, increase the relevance of the links/ads with which they serve you. Sounds good, doesn't it? But is there another slightly more unintentional side to it which could have significant negative consequences in the future?

Many of you involved in SoundWork will be aware of 'entrainment' when working with groups. Entrainment is how we tend to 'synch' ourselves to each other in an improvisation. When we are in a state of entrainment the group feels as if it's working to common purpose, we feel in alignment and there is a general feeling of well being. Dr. Rod Paton refers to this as the 'true Holding Form'. The improvisation feels as if it's taken on a life of its own. 

However have you noticed that once you're 'in the groove' (so to speak) it's a devil of a job to get out of it?  'Why', I hear you ask, 'would you want to get out of this state of entrainment?' Well, there's a certain point which you may have experienced, where the state ceases to be sublime and begins to feel 'stuck', almost as if the group has acquired a kind of dependency on this 'far-out state'. You begin to realise that creativity is being stifled and change is needed. But what do you do? The group 'likes' what it's doing.  It's happy to feed itself with what it's enjoying. It doesn't want to change.

You could play a note that's not in keeping with the entrained state but that requires considerable courage because you are at risk of either damaging dependency on the group's sublime 'drug' or looking a bit foolish because you 'played a wrong note'. Alternatively you could try to break the rhythm but this can be seriously upsetting. Or, you could do nothing...

Doing nothing potentially means giving up the requirement to act purposefully, to cease to take risks, and relinquish creativity.

In improvisation work we are encouraged to risk playing the so-called' wrong note. But this is not easy. With any luck we might play one 'by accident'. But actively choosing? That's a tough one for anyone.

How is this relevant to surveillance and tracking? Think about the Google tracking example. By tracking where you go on the internet it hopes to provide relevancy. But I would argue that is potentially a dangerous form of entrainment.  Effectively it offers you a mirror of who you are (or seem to be). It can't offer anything new. It only offers what you already 'like'. It wouldn't want to break the pattern because it's commercially processing things it wants to sell you.

Can you see where I'm going with this?  Of course, I hear you say, I can always break the pattern. But can you? It's a bit like an addiction. How many times have you heard someone say, "But I can always give it up!" 

It's early days as far as humanity's use of the internet is concerned but I wander what it's going to be like in 20, 30 or 50 years from hence?

Are you walking blindly towards an entrained society rather like the future human experience depicted in the film 'The Matrix' (1999)? 

Are we sleepwalking towards some form of mental 'oblivion'?

What do you think? 

Is there something in this? Do we need to be concerned or is there nothing to be worried it?  

If we are, what's the antidote? What risks do we need to have the courage to take? How do we break the entrained pattern? Or should we just carry on with things as they are and ignore it? 

Email me your thoughts to me at and we'll publish the responses on Sound Forum.

Posted: 28 Aug 2013 By:

An entrained society is, I believe, an inevitability – because people want it.

In the absence of the vast populous knowing who they are or what they are for, their over-riding imperative is to belong, to feel safe, to be part. Entrainment provides this.

This is not a good thing of course, but I feel it to be an inevitable part of the wheel of life, which in due course will deliver us to a better place, via a worse one first. I came to this conclusion after returning recently from Dubai. A repressive, beautiful, uneven, ordered, dark, safe society. It occurred to me that when freedom becomes the freedom to lie in the gutter, as much of Western society does, then it is a freedom that cannot be maintained for long.

Richard Abbot - The Hermitage Development Centre. Established 1983

Posted: 29 Aug 2013 By: Jenni Roditi Jenni Roditi

Andrew - I haven't read the whole of your article in detail - but I scanned it and got an impression you were exploring a problem inherent in entrainment in sound work - somehow people getting stuck in this.... the reluctance to put in a 'wrong note' to shake up the vibration and bring people back to some kind of tension - that diversifies the oneness and gets people of out stuck-ness... Diversification has to be a good thing.

The rightness of wrong notes when placed in a musical space that accepts tension/ polarities and are what reveal a unified space - when the chemistry is working and the tension climaxes into release.

A unified space without contrast and tension - is like looking at a white painting in a white room.... forgive me for not having time to read all you write word for word - but having scanned your article - this is the thought that I was left with - so I thought it was worth at least jotting it down - in case it has some resonance for you. The trouble is working with tension in music is that it is less appealing to the healing world... Jenni - however I feel that without it we can get lost in too much oneness - which is a fine line between moronic and aligned. Friction creates sparks - which lights the fire - we need all the elements - earth air fire water and ether. j

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