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Singing Tunnels - pic Håkan Lidbo
An interview with Håkan Lidbo and a look at his work
by Anastasia Niedinger

Håkan Lidbo is a formidable creator, viewing opportunity for play at every turn. Specialising in awakening our senses and developing tools for spontaneous collaboration, his portfolio contains a variety of auspicious innovations including sonic games for the blind, and in a particular show of ergonomic thinking, the transformation of urban spaces into musical instruments.

His work exemplifies the cross and inter-disciplinary ideation uniquely bountiful to Music Tech Fest. Because despite its apparent abundance on the MTF stage, convergence of disciplines remains a novel route for public and private sectors.

Big Beat Drum Machine - pic Håkan Lidbo
Political, economic and educational paradigms are ageing, making arguments for an upheaval in methodology and disciplinary convergence as prevalent as ever. ‘Creativity’ and ‘disruption’ have become popular soundbites within almost any given industry.

Take advertising. In a climate of high content turnover, companies and non-profits face unique challenges to overcome high levels of digital noise. In search of effective anchoring, brands and NGOs are taking to consider the ‘real world’ and the connections we seek out within it.

Where experiential communication is concerned, Håkan’s scope of vision is exemplary. In generating collaboration by its users, Håkan’s projects overcome the linearity of one-way, singular messaging, enabling users to actively learn and even create.

Yellofier Music App - pic Dirk Eedingloh
More than a novel tactic by brands, the inclusiveness of tools like Håkan’s makes the methodology a promising avenue for non-profit, education and social sectors.
Multisensory Music
Far-reaching applications for cross-disciplinary thinking are already making themselves known. Last year, Imogen Heap’s gestural mi.mu music gloves received global media attention, while in a milestone for accessibility by way of hybrid engineering, John Kelly - member of disability specialists and interdisciplinary community Drake Music - and his electric guitar, were showcased in September by The British Council in a video that included footage with Kris Halpin at #MTFBerlin.
Increasingly, synthesis of disciplines is emerging in behavioural and therapeutic arenas. Expert in gamification Jasmine Idun Isdrake is pioneering in her field, developing play-based “empathy generators” for rehabilitation and schooling, and advocating the importance of a new discipline: ‘story architecture’, to steer modern day gaming.

Preempting an interdisciplinary climate, in 2015 Finland’s Department of Education also pushed its progressive learning agenda further  -  teaching a portion of its syllabus as phenomena from multiple disciplinary perspectives, (WWII for example, is taught as combination of mathematics, geography and history).

Beyond experimentation, disciplinary integration can reframe the world around us. and when it comes to socio-economic sectors, scope for diversification of methods seems clear.

But what about artistic institutions typically deemed ‘imaginative’ in their own right?

Even in the arts, creative inertia is attributed by practitioners to technological legacies and processes steeped in tradition, and resultantly, interest in disciplinary breakaways such as: inter, multi, trans and even anti-disciplinarianism – is on the rise.

I asked Håkan if agencies paid to know “the next big thing” have awoken to a more far-reaching approach, how his ideas are born, and whether it is time for one of the most omnipresent creative establishments - music - to re-evaluate its goals.

When do commercial brands approach you and why? e.g. Electrolux, Yello, T-Mobile, Arla

Brands approach me when they want something made outside of ordinary disciplinary boundaries. My work is known for its use of new technologies and harnessing sound in new ways. A lot of my work is about exploring what music can be except what it already is, and extracting music from unusual sources.

The reality in Sweden is that companies have little experience collaborating with artists or innovators. When it comes to experimentation with different mediums, I hope more companies realise they don’t have to underestimate their customers when communicating their brand.

“A lot of my work is about exploring what music can be except what it already is, and extracting music from unusual sources.”
How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process no matter what I’m making is very much the same. I start by imagining how a concept or object should look, feel or sound, with no clue how to get there. Whether its independent or collaborative work, I often begin by visualising my ideas but very rarely plan how they should materialise.

I may spend time experimenting and drafting with physical models made of clay or paper, or breadboard prototypes. And often these experiments fail. The effect I had hoped for may not transpire, or the prototype simply doesn’t work.

Having worked in many different disciplines: music, art, film, radio, events, books, apps, theatre, museum installation, art in public spaces, games, robots, and so on - I have made many different kinds of failures. This is probably my greatest strength.

“I have made many different kinds of failures. This is probably my greatest strength.”
Giant Midi Controller (Inflatable) - pic Tracy Redhead
Is the term ‘non-linear thinking’ significant to you? If so, how?

A lot can go wrong in the making of ‘new’ things, during production or in the interpretation of the work by audiences. Over the years, I’ve realised it’s absolutely necessary to remain completely flexible about this process  -  including a willingness to re-evaluate the end result. As an independent artist, I experiment for the sake of innovation instead of profit.

I’m not very interested in methodology or analysing the creative process. To me, even to neuroscientists; how new ideas emerge, where creativity comes from, why some people have it and others don’t, is still a mystery. I regard my work as a constant exercise in creativity and ideas. Each idea is fertile soil for the next. You’ve never had your best idea  - it’s always waiting for you somewhere in the future.

“Each idea is fertile soil for the next. You’ve never had your best idea  - it’s always waiting for you somewhere in the future.”
Have you had much contact with or exposure to the creative industries (e.g. advertising, branding agencies)? If so, have you observed methods of ideation you deem inefficient or constrained?

People I meet in agencies are extremely qualified. However, most have had some sort of education in communication and advertising and are formed by that education. Many have encountered similar lectures on methodology of thinking, applying these as a means for ideation. As a result, there exists a family of ideas typical of the industry; these are not what I would call truly artistic, or innovative.

Is non-linearity more important now than it was before?

Broadly speaking, humans are hardwired to think linear, using a collection of references and knowledge to build a model of the world. However, I believe we are evolving into a species capable of handling thousandfolds more information and volumes of ‘new’ knowledge than just a couple of generations ago.

The world is dividing into those who can only imagine as far as they can see  - and those considering the implications of globalised information to predict the future. Unfortunately when it comes to education, even within schools dedicated to media and advertising, there is still no subject titled “Imagination” to steer us forward. If I were to found a school, it would be “The School of Imagination”.

“The world is dividing into those who can only imagine as far as they can see  - and those considering the implications of globalised information to predict our future.”
A lot of your work requires physical interaction by the audience with an idea or object, or collaboration with one another. Could you explain why this interactivity is so important?

I want to give as many people as possible a glimpse into the magic of playing music with others. It’s an experience far beyond communication with language. By making interactive installations which force people to collaborate, I hope to provide visitors an insight beyond the intellectual.

My projects use unexpected physical exploration and fun as an attempt to open visitors’ minds to new thoughts and ideas, or in other words, an insight. When I’m exposed to art that really touches me, I’m forced to re-evaluate my beliefs and I leave finding myself slightly changed. I might not be able to put into words my experience but I feel richer.

Most things we learn in life we learn by physical experience, not by theory. You can read a book about riding a bike but to mount a bike is the only way to learn. To me, physical interaction is the most effective way of offering true insight to audiences.

Would you ever call yourself an anti-disciplinarian?

If an anti-disciplinarian breaks the boundaries of known disciplines, then I am very much so. Often, I come up with new ideas by thinking “what would happen if I mixed A with B?”  - A and B being concepts that have, traditionally, nothing to do with each other.

I once built a bar which allows guests to create music using their drinks. Alcohol and music are known as a great combination  -  yet the two remain separate phenomena simply happening in the same place, at the same time. With the help of technology, guests became composers, using their own drinks as musical instruments.

I’m inspired by avant garde thinkers like John Cage, who experimented with separation of phenomena like dance and music in his ballets. By disconnecting the causation between them he could observe the two simply existing at the same time, in the same place.

Looking at the world and how things are connected or not connected, is one of my favourite ways of coming up with new ideas.

“Looking at the world and how things are connected or not connected, is one of my favourite ways of coming up with new ideas.”
What is your favourite aspect of MTF? Where do your demonstrations belong within that aspect?

MTF is important because it is explores the outer limits of music.

Take love songs  - the 4 minute verse-refrain-verse-refrain-bridge-refrain format will soon be replaced. Most songs only retain this format thanks to old technology. Since the late 1800s popular music has coexisted with the success of the phonograph, a device which only caters to short recordings. Despite the end of a 100-year long era of music distribution on plastic, most songs still retain the same format, length, and subsequently style.

Technologies explored and developed at events like MTF constitute a platform for the future of music distribution and in turn, composition.

“I see my work as an inspiration to other inventors, who too, want to explore what music might be, except what it already is.”
Constituting a malleable glue for unifying practices, music offers an effective gateway to cross-disciplinary innovation. Opening itself to a range of new sources, the reinterpretation of input-output systems applied within music offers a template to other arts.

Håkan and his peers at MTF are shaping a unique standard of ideation that the creative economies arguably lack. With format types increasingly merging: augmented reality, video sculpture, transhumanism  -  the capacity to comprehend alternative dynamics between users, objects and machinery is becoming increasingly valuable.

MTF returns this year with new concepts and events – timely gatherings for the imminent evolution of media, music and art.