Friday, November 25, 2011

My Favorite part of TEDx Amsterdam: The making of the "living brain"

Amazing performance and idea by the Dutch National Ballet and beautiful photos by Jan Jaap Heine

Alan McSmith: Time to get in touch with your wild side

For every ten of those Mac worshiping, crackberry addicted, Starbucks weekend worker bees, there is always someone who makes noise of living simply, living deeply, living…period. Modern life is defined by this antithesis; the romanticism of nature rises as we get more technologically dependent and removed from the workings of the daily struggles for sustenance. We immerse in nature temporarily and dwell deeply in concrete worlds; we prefer to be unfamiliar with nature and familiar with the city, our daily landscape that we navigate through. But every once in a while we are called upon to pause, to pay attention, to reflect by physically and emotively experiencing the environment that nurtures us, with a hope that we will realize why it needs to be nurtured in turn. Alan McSmith, a nature guide who has worked for 25 years in the wilderness of Africa and an advocate for environment conservation, is one such soul. His talk starts with the audience surrounding a digital campfire on the stage screen, transporting us to the dark and mysterious spaces of the Kalahari desert. We are taken on a journey through nature, as we put on our blindfolds and listen to his words: feel the wind going through the trees are out of your comfort zone ...a leopard is heard at a distance ...baboons ...the leopard and the baboons become your fear ...are you afraid of losing control? ...resist the temptation to lift the blindfold feel the sunshine on your legs, your belly and eventually much to your relief, you feel the sunshine on your face’ve done it! The audience looks like they’ve come out of a hypnotic state, opening up to his message about nature as a way of life. He wryly remarks, “you by now have figured that my office is slightly different from yours,” and goes on to talk about how our connection with nature, regardless of where we live, will keep us rooted and stable. He has given each of the members a stone to hold onto, a humble reminder of the bigger picture, “whenever you feel threatened by a baboon in a boardroom for instance, the stone will bring you back to this point.” McSmith hopes that we strive to create a balance, that of human innovation with humility towards nature. As we know, this is rarely looked at as a balance but rather competing principles as modernity has pushed us to make difficult decisions and we have often chosen the path of paying the price with nature. It seems like an inevitability that social development and the wilderness are in conflict. Yet what would happen if we felt this was not an option and that nature was a necessity for keeping our humanity, would we innovate differently? McSmith calls us to experience the simple living that the wilderness challenges us with, knowing that its often easier to hide behind the complex meanderings of the social web. Remember the Walden Pond experience of the 1800s where Henry David Thoreau decided to live with and within nature to reclaim his humanity? “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Naiveté to some, inspirational to many, we occasionally get a strong social voice that pushes us to explore what it means to get in touch with our wild side. McSmith extends this tradition of seeking and thinking as he states, “wilderness is more than just a place, it is a way of life!” CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO OF TALK ON TEDx AMSTERDAM website:

Baby Mozarts within us all?

Who doesn’t love ‘Baby Mozart’? A multimedia edutainment, this musical toy lures parents with the promise of opening up their child’s latent creativity and spatial-reasoning. In fact, the popularization of music within the cognitive domain has pervaded our day-to-day lives as we see this as a means to healing and a balm for many other afflictions such as autism, Alzheimer's disease and disabilities that result from stroke. Part of this attraction is perhaps in its primal status as it serves as a listening stimulus with seemingly transformative powers. Across cultures it appears that peoples’ pleasures and sense of well-being are tied to their passion for music. Yet, can we authoritatively say that we all have musical predisposition? Are we just little Mozarts waiting for the right stimulation to tap into the well of our primitive and latent musical nature? Are we all somehow born with a beat to our steps? Apparently, there’s no point denying it…regardless of who you are or where you are from, we are all born musical. While babies from Germany seem to cry differently from those in France, says Dr. Henkjan Honing, the KNAW-Hendrik Muller Chair of Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam, they share the essential ability to identify music elements, even at that stage. He says that we are indeed musical animals and the more important question is rather on what makes us so. He subjects the audience to a series of sound experiments on testing our listening skills. As predicted by Dr. Honing, we lived up to the expectations of being the typical adult prototype who have somehow lost our skills to a degree and yet demonstrate some common agreements on sounds and musical tones. He exposes us to music snippets, baby cries, and even ropes in an audience member to sing the pop song “Staying Alive.” The TEDhead volunteer delivered to the delight of the audience, with the right high tempo and pitch for this song (that Dr. Honing jokes is perfect for heart patients). Dr. Honing claims that this proves his theory on how common our skills of listening are and how effortlessly we recall pitch, tonal variations and other more primal characteristics of music listening. So, the average Joe can indeed pleasantly surprise you (including that drummer who lives above your floor) with his musical expertise. Dr. Honing remarks that these are events that should be seen as less anecdotal and more evidence for the fact that we are indeed innately oriented and attuned to music. So how controversial is this claim about believing that we share the mental script for basic appreciation of music? What happens when this claim starts to encroach on the finer acts and the high cultural realm of music performance? Will there come a day when we will also argue that we can all be Mozarts and that this music genius is but a common talent that is waiting to come through with the right stimulus? TO VIEW THE VIDEO FOR THIS TALK, CHECK THE TEDxAMSTERDAM SITE:

Grey Matter: People Matter: Launching the ‘Living brain’

Sheer poetry through the hokey pokey! The launch of TEDxAmsterdam by the Dutch National Ballet compels us to emerge, engage, and enter with our left leg, right leg, and oh all of our senses! Ballet artists enter the stage and their seemingly random movements are shown from above behind them, allowing us to see how chaos slowly but surely comes together, becoming the sensible as well as the sensational. And what a way to represent the TEDxAmsterdam theme of 'human nature!' After all, what comes to mind when we speak of ‘human nature’ are notions of being organic, raw, and spontaneous. Yet, when grappling with what constitutes as being human in this current time, we have become more and more preoccupied with significant alienations that occur around us. Crisis looms and reminds us of our vulnerabilities from the possible euro meltdown, techno-hackings to the continuous struggle for political freedoms across the Middle East. The brain takes over, rationalizing, segmenting, dissecting; often churning out clinical solutions to human problems. But then we are surprised when, for instance, bank bailouts are met by OccupyWall Street movements…comfort zones are threatened and forcibly redrawn. This year, TEDxAmsterdam immerses us within the ‘human nature’ theme and fittingly has launched with this specially choreographed rendition of this theme by the Dutch National ballet. Along with dance2film (Altin Kaftira & Mathieu Gremillet), Ernst Meisner and Grand Sujet at the Dutch National Ballet has pushed the envelope, bringing the dancers to reproduce the complexity of the human brain in ballet form on stage. Perfectly symbolic, the dance takes on the deep sense of order within spontaneity, brings intimacy through structure and form, and creates an underlying pattern through a seemingly chaotic orchestration. We see the deliberate curling of the feet within this brain composition, with the heads and bodies overlapping and curving to take on the shape of the brain. At some point, the numerous dancers lose their status as people and become a unified person on stage, a composite whole, a living brain. This performance is not just live right now but is being digitally captured through The Netherland’s most creative minds from ballet, film, photography, interactive, design and communications. They have joined forces through the WE ARE Pi, an assembly of 100 professionals to bring to life a series of ‘living brains’ for this event. The production process apparently started with a question from WE ARE Pi to dance2film, whom have a strong history of dance film production – “Is a human brain made from people possible, has it ever been done before, and can you help us make it happen?” This poetic movement and dance creation serves to extend these brain waves across the room here at Stadsschouwburg to across physical and cultural borders in visual and interactive form. As we experience this magic, we are reminded of what TEDxAmsterdam intends to be, an intellectual journey that is woven with emotion, synergies, inspiration, community and creativity, and where the human being is central to this world of ideas and action. Now, that’s what its all about! CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO OF THE PERFORMANCE ON THE TEDx AMSTERDAM WEBSITE:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Here we go again! TEDx Amsterdam mania and fanaticism renewed

Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, I am still a hardcore TED groupie. Okay, I did not spend all of last year crossing the days off the calendar but did engage with tremendous foreplay - the communication process building up to next week’s TEDx Amsterdam event. Creating the profiles of this years’ speakers to release to the press flirted with my senses, compelling me to look them up on Wikipedia, YouTube and other digital platforms, consuming them voraciously in their presentation style and novelty of their ideas. Almost started to stalk some of them on Twitter but my saner part was kind enough to remind me that I really don’t have much in common with Computer-mediated Epistemology or Musical Cognition in the long run. Ah but that is why this event, a gathering of artists, designers, scientists, architects, technologists, and activists is so unusual and addictive – the adrenaline rush of immersing into unknown territories and specialties with just one common thread –ideas worth sharing and worth pursuing. As an academic used to being surrounded by the usual suspect fellow scholars, this is refreshing and indeed how I believe new ideas often truly emerge.
This year will focus on the theme of “human nature” and will kick start with the “living brain,” the Dutch National Ballet rendition of the human brain through dance form. I also did not know until a few days ago while creating Jim Stolze's profile, the founder of TEDx Amsterdam, that he is the European ambassador of TED and that he did this fascinating study about how the internet positively impacts happiness. Also I have to admit, I am morbidly curious of Tinkebell, a controversial Dutch artist best known for handling animals in her work where she actually made a handbag from the fur of her cat. In the age of the YouTube cat video fandom, this is rather hard to get away with!
And what has changed with our communication team since last year? Well, it will be an exciting reunion as we have digitally engaged much through this year and will be nice to bond in our Press Corner again. Rumor has it that we have special lap pillows to not burn our thighs off with our laptops. Also, not sure if this year Fokke and Sukke can tease us on being Mac heads as I will be breaking the chain with my run of the mill PC due to a certain incident involving drowning of my MacBook Air with a bottle of water.
Evidently some people one may argue, do not deserve to be part of the Mac Commune but I do feel liberated though from the cult with my 'damn if I care' laptop. What is definitely an exciting new intervention is working with Louise Fresco, a former UN director and sustainability expert to come up with the days’ summary of good ideas and happenings. All in all, same place, same time, round the clock idea immersion from 9am to 9pm...the promise of a supreme high is just around the corner!