The Laboratory of Future Sound / Futurofono
A speculative futures lab for an innovation program in the Baltics
The travelers in this experience were the crew of Baltic Artists 2.0 in Development– an artist management and innovation programme by Musikcentrum Syd (Malmö, Sweden), Music Estonia (Tallinn, Estonia), Tak Brzimi Miasto (Krakow, Poland), and Music Export Ukraine (Kyiv, Ukraine).
The program takes place through several events: Sweden kicks it off in November 2021, then Kyiv, Tallinn, and Krakow.
For their first event, the crew – consisting of music artists and managers – wanted to imagine their future as a network where they would share knowledge, resources, and expertise, and since more gatherings were coming in just a few months, they needed a really short time travel in person.
Their design goals for their first event were
- To see the future of themselves as a network via artifacts and interactive–shearable prototypes,
- To make a container where to place ideas to implement later,
- To be creative together towards being open to the unknown in the music business environment.
This was our most comprehensive project in 2021, where we designed a full-on laboratory that could be assembled at any of the future events – in person or online –, as well as a prototype that could absorb ideas where to draw from later.
Part one: The Laboratory of Future Sound
This laboratory was born as the collective fiction to explore; it is focused in sound given the crew’s background. This is a laboratory that lives in the universe of The Time Travel Agency and emerges every time the entire crew gets together and needs to work on something new. In order to reach it, they have to have a common goal to explore related to collaboration.
Multiple scenarios inside the fiction would be created depending on the crew and future events. For instance, the next event (concieved around the theme of contemporary music business models) could focus on coming up with artifacts that imagined solutions of exactly that.
Part two: Futurofono (the prototype)
The crew’s second goal (”a container with ideas to implement later”) was prototyped into the Futurofono–a mixtape machine recording and playing ideas for each other.
Futurofono is used by wearing a callibrating instrument around the neck, then typing the invention from the Laboratory (includes Title, What it solves, How it works), and recording the text. To finish, participants must also record a wish (in the language of their choosing) related to the future of their network.
Futurofono is accessed by plugging to its broadcasting link on any device, and then falling asleep to any recording.
The Time Travel Agency’s The Optimistic Computer conducted an interview with the crew about their experience. Here is the transcript:
T.O.C: Hi time travelers, welcome to the laboratory of the Time Travel Agency.
I'm The Optimistic Computer and today we are going to dive into one of our latest speculative experiences: The Laboratory of Future Sound.
The travelers that took part in this experience were a crew from Musikcentrum Syd, an artist management and innovation programme. Those travelers wanted to imagine their future as a network and develop a container for future ideas.
With the help of our favorite laboratory technician, I asked them some questions…
T.O.C: In The Laboratory of Future Sound, you had a chance to see yourselves in the future. What did you feel making these discoveries together?
MARCUS: The keyword for me is the word “play” that enabled us to go into this play mode. It was a long time ago that I played without thinking of the sort of outcome that would come out. Just playing was so liberating. When you allow yourself to play, and to play for real, totally free from expectations, you just play for the sake of it. It is a very important thing that we can bring into the Musicentrum. We also focused on the ending outcome, a product, a service, and the play was leading something [of it].
You open up a space to go in, for all of us, and to forget about the everyday. It was also a bit about who we were as well, we didn’t know each from the beginning. By doing all these exercises in the future we got to know each other quite well.
T.O.C: Which was your favorite future (or artifact, or idea) from what your crew came up with?
ASTRID: In the end it was all these perspectives that were interesting. I think it [the workshop] opened up and clarified our perspectives. A very obvious one for us was the isolation, which is the root for this project. We work isolated and we need to work together, so that was a perspective that is how we are not going to be in the future. That is the future! And we only touched that, like yes, we need to work on that. How?
MARCUS: We had the spaceship, which I'm very proud of. We put all the qualities from the workshop we had with Jocelyn. And in the middle of the planet there was this problem scenario that musicians and managers came up with, and the solutions around them. If we can merge them somehow, I think we will have a new concept. There were quite strong qualities that we can apply to the organization like the idea of “perfect instability”. How would that concept translate into our organization? I think we can pull them into our real world.
T.O.C: What made you feel to discover that your crew cares about isolation, lack of motivation, and support to learn and fail?
ASTRID: What I really liked about it was that we went outside, it was raining and cold and we were standing there asking ourselves what our biggest problem was, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of something like a lamp post. Well, our biggest problem was that we can’t talk to each other. So to solve this we imagined a lamp post and then we pictured a bird sitting on the strings between two lamp posts... that actually wasn’t the solution but the solution was to touch the strings. So are we, as an organization, the ones who need to touch the strings, over and over again? Are we the ones reminding you that you are not alone? I think it was nice to see that this is something all organizations end up with, it’s like we are an island and we try to connect. As soon as the string stops shaking, you forget that you have friends, so we have to touch it and touch it. That is something that is one of our main solutions for a future network. That was a good finding for me when it comes to our experience.
TECHNICIAN: So after changing your perspective and putting yourself in the shoes of something very far from you – like a lamp post – you have been able to find a solution?
ASTRID: Yeah. I’m not sure we changed perspectives, we still are in that isolation perspective, but we suddenly got an active solution for how to treat the solution. We can actually start pinpointing. But it was the discussion about isolation that brought this. And also if we hadn’t had the lamp post, how would we have solved it without the strings? It would have been something else, two stones. So sometimes when you go into these scenarios it's a chance that you get a good metaphor that actually shows something.
MARCUS: I think you unconsciously mirror your own reality in the solution. I think it was a good exercise for all our participants to show them that this way of thinking is what it’s all about.
T.O.C: The laboratory ended up not being only for your crew to go into the unknown– you yourselves as team leaders went into the unknown with the process. How was it?
MARCUS: Well, it was interesting to me because I tried to analyze the structure [of the process]; What are we doing now, and What is this for? My facilitator brain went on, so to speak, and I really saw that the others were very happy to play and discover new things. For me, I’ve opened this can of experience before but I forgot about it and now I had to open up again. It was so much fun and I think we really learned a lot. I learned a lot from this playing experience and what playing is about for real.
TECHNICIAN: And how was it to work with the uncertainty that this process brings with itself?
ASTRID: On a project manager level I’m just looking at the clock and also if we are landing on something that has enough value. That depends on us, and also if people go to that level to see the connections. So that’s a little bit shaky to not know. Also, if there are skeptics will we win them over? It’s my big responsibility to motivate everyone. But I mean we asked for this, this is the only way to go into innovation and the future, going through play. But it’s always scary when you don’t know.
MARCUS: Yes, the whole process has been very intuitive, and we didn’t know if it was going to work. I think we were a little bit playing with fire, but Astrid loves chaos! And of course we had to go through this and now we did, and I’m also very proud that we trusted everyone. We were working with surprising elements and that’s how you can enable really creative outcomes.
T.O.C: Why should teams (and especially new teams trying to achieve something together) try the speculative process?
I think one important thing is that we get structure junkies, chaos junkies, artists. You should listen to the pitching we had online before this workshop, when everybody talked like an Excel sheet [about themselves]. So what this process is really doing is putting everyone at the same level, it’s like going back to the sand box with kids. You get everyone back there, even those who are Excel sheets and the creatives, they end up at the same level, and from there they can start talking. To me that is one important thing.
MARCUS: It’s what I said from the beginning– the importance of play, because it opens up all the possibilities that you have closed when you think through certain structures. You force yourself to open up in play. If you want to play you have to play real good, you can’t play poorly. You have to play and believe that you are playing. I think that play is the way forward for this society, for teams and for organizations, as well as for structured people.
ASTRID: Also, that play is not measurable, we can’t really measure it, we can’t say if it’s good or bad. I think it's something we need to get back to, because we live in an extremely stressful society, and we are artists!
TECHNICIAN: How do you think teams or organizations would benefit from this process?
MARCUS: It’s a catharsis for organizations that are very reliant on structures and manuals or do very administrative work. It could be very cathartic to go through this drying machine and come out on the other side, wrinkly but with new perspectives. Because when you have usual workshops you say, Oh, you’re allowed to think very freely, your ideas should be very crazy, but you have to do this in a process. You can’t just say “think crazy” [to people], they have to be really accustomed to think crazy, big, or out of the box. Also it was nice to play and not to solve a real problem.
ASTRID: It was great! We are happy!
Special thanks to Carolina Wiehe Welroos from Musikcentrum Syd for her support on artifacts production and communications, and to Niklas Gyberg Ivarsson for added photography.