What is your meta-language?

Did you ever ask yourself, how could I pass my knowledge and my experience to someone else? In the current speed of innovations and agility, it is quite a challenge to transfer knowledge. Making an online course is not for everyone, and telling what you are doing is not sufficient for real knowledge transfer. Here is another approach that I can recommend.

When the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) had a break on a beach in Italy, in 1963, he composed a new piece called “Plus-Minus”. It was a piece of music of a totally uncommon kind. Instead of just notes for musicians to play, “Plus-Minus” contains a completely new graphical notation. The notation was never used afterwards, not by him, not by anyone else: a unique one-time composition. At a closer look, it turns out to be even more unique.

copyright Universal Edition

“Plus-Minus” is the result of a retrospective. Stockhausen must have asked himself, at that time in 1963 at the beach of Palermo, looking back to the 42 compositions he had made since 1950: how do I compose, what are the structures I use, and how could I have others make new compositions based on the same structures? In other words, what are the structures of my own musical thinking?

A set of instructions meant to make a score

Plus-Minus is not only a different notation, it is not even a regular music composition. Plus-Minus is a set of instructions meant to make a score. It is a meta-composition: it is a score for a composer to make up his own composition based on the instructions by Stockhausen. A unique piece of art in the post-war period that inspired many.

I have always found this an inspiring idea. It is a designer’s idea, not only valuable for composers and musicians but for every kind of designer, be it art, engineering or organisation design. It is a way of reflecting on one’s own way of working and make it reproducible for others. Everyone could ask herself: what are the structures of my own thinking, and how can I express them in such a way that everyone else could make her own version out of it?

Expressing these structures in a meta-language can be challenging.

Meta-languages must conform to two principles

Meta-languages must address a non-meta-language that can be understood by the target group. Stockhausen e.g. refers to music notes, his target group being musicians. A meta-language for IT programmers should refer to computer language concepts, a meta-language for information architects should be information concepts, a meta-language for furniture designers should be furniture constructions.

Meta-languages must define ranges of freedom for deliberately chosen aspects. Stockhausen refers to a “musical sound” in Plus-Minus and leaves the decision of what sound (musical instrument) this should be completely free. The structure, however, of how these sounds are repeated during the piece are dictated more strictly.

Meta-languages are quite common in IT, where programmers and architects define “domain languages”. Meta-languages could be applied in a much broader context, however. Also, UX designers, service designers and information architects could define their own meta-language.

A beautiful advantage

Defining your meta-language is a form of reflection with a beautiful advantage: it enables others to use your thinking structures in their design. You need some practice, but it is a very effective way of transferring your deeper knowledge and experience to others.

So, what is your meta-language?

Alcedo Coenen
Enterprise Architect with an M.A. in Musicology

Some inspirational links:

Ming Tsao about Plus Minus
Plus Minus No. 14 (video)
Original score available at Universal Edition
Music Thinking Framework with SCORE as one of the cues

Performing the Sounds of Empathy

This is about performing the sounds of empathy at the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam 2019.

On the 10th to 11th of October, the Design Thinking Conference powered by the DesignThinkers Academy Amsterdam was held in the Tobacco Theatre in Amsterdam.

The Conference

Is it possible to see things with different eyes‘ is the central question of the conference with a focus on empathy. And that’s why all actors (there are no ‘speakers’) are bringing very personal perspectives to share with the participants from all over the world. The MC of the two days was Author, educator, speaker, community builder, consultant, comedian and friend Adam Stjohn Lawrence.

Among others, we learned from Esther Thole about slime mould and how these organisms recognize each other’s signals, process them and respond. Stefan Van Der Stigchel talked about the importance of taking breaks and our unwillingness to take time for ourselves without a ‘square device’. That’s why he gave us the opportunity of 20 minutes of mind-wandering. Kalwant Bhopal led us through a provoking journey about empathy, identity, intersectionality and ‘white privilege’. With these perspectives plus a lot of interactions during the lunchtime and the buddy moments, the participants of the conference were off to the breakout sessions.

The Breakout Session

Xenia and I were invited to do a music thinking breakout session. The objective was to engage half of the conference (about 70 people) in a breakout workshop, let them learn and reflect about the things they heard and make a performance all together after the last actor to end the day with a big bang.

We stretched the conference theme with the music thinking interpretation of ‘with different eyes’ to ‘with different ears‘. After two minutes of silence, we let the participants think about what the sounds of empathy could be and engaged them in duos to discuss what empathy really sounds like. Then we asked them to transform this finding in something that they could reproduce with their voice, body percussion or something else.

The duos then shared their sounds in a sextet formation and made a musical score of this pattern. Parallel the prompters were instructed how we would do some kind of conducting theses scores and how we could bring this all together at the end of the day one. Look at the beautiful scores the teams made.

The Scores

Here is an excerpt of the performance, made with a steady ‘backstage camera’.

The Performance

Excerpt of the Performance during the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam

After the performance together with the whole conference, there was a lot of energy in the room.

Besides talking about what exactly the sound of empathy might be, there were also discussions about ‘what is a musical score or composition’, ‘what is interpretation’ and ‘what is improvisation’, ‘how can you scale small groups into bigger groups’ and ‘what is the difference between initiating, conducting and prompting’.

The one-hour breakout was organised with the four steps listen, tune, play and perform of the Music Thinking Framework and we touched four of the six cues: EMPATHY, SCORE, AGILITY, and REMIX.

Christof Zürn

Next steps

There are many ways to use Music Thinking for meaningful collaboration in your team or organisation, please contact if you have any questions or a challenge.

Open training: How to use music thinking for your team or organisation

How to use music thinking for your team or organisation

At the moment we are planning a new open course. The training will follow the basic line of our workshop: Meaningful collaboration with music thinking and therefore will explain in little theory and also with some exercises on how to use music thinking in an organisation.

You will learn new workshop tools and also get a copy of the Music Thinking Jam Cards

As a special, we will also talk about how the Dutch Cooperative Faebric used Music Thinking, the framework and the jam cards for a change project at the Dutch Railways.

This one day course is also suitable for in-house teams. Interested?



‘The Sounds of Empathy’ at the Design Thinking Conference

the sounds of empathy

For the third time, we will facilitate a Music Thinking breakout session during the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam. This time we call our session The Sounds of Empathy.

Like previous years, the conference has the subtitle ‘through different eyes‘ and the focus on empathy. Instead of definitions, tools and showcases, the conference focuses on inspirations to question oneself, debates getting further, perspectives outside the comfort zones, all in togetherness and positivism, and with a bit of lightness.

Picture from the 2018 breakout session

The Sounds of Empathy

During the breakout session, we will touch all six cues of the Music Thinking Framework, starting with the Empathy cue. Empathy is the cue to change. It starts with listening.
In the workshop, we go on a quest to find sounds of empathy. We share the sounds, make a short interactive composition and perform it at – and together with – the conference.

Empathy

Last years sessions
If you are interested in the Music Thinking breakout sessions of previous years, you can read about the breakout session of 2017 on the CREATIVE COMPANION blog and read about the breakout session of last year here on musicthinking.com

Music Thinking Workshop for communication experts

In May we did one-day music thinking workshop for a very energised team of about 22 communication experts in a great venue in the black forest of Germany.

We started the day with some Music In You by letting the participants write down and cluster their favourite songs + artists. These songs are also put together in a Spotify Playlist.

After a short introduction to Music Thinking and the Music Thinking Framework, we continued with an individual Serendipity Lab exercise with the Jam Cards.
The findings from the results were first discussed in duos, after which the discussion was brought further and iterated upon in quartets that were based around one of the six cues of Music Thinking.

After the lunch break, we did a Paper Creativity Session to introduce the participants to the concept of leadership and followership by practising the basics of creativity:listen, guide and support.

Eventually it was time to get back to the quartets and to REMIX all the gained knowledge. We closed the day with 1 minute performances by each quartet. A lot of smiling faces and an energised team afterwards: What a great energetic Music Thinking workshop!

From Serendipity Lab to Idea Rap

In April we did half-day music thinking workshop for an international think tank that stands for ‘brands with a conscience’. The idea was to generate new ideas for the celebration of their 20th anniversary in 2020.

The main materials we used was the Jam Cards and the overall music thinking framework.

First, they diverged using the Serendipity Lab approach. After that, they worked in duos’ and quartets to create a long list of ideas. Then, instead of just presenting the ideas, the members acted like a music group and wrote the lyrics in co-creation and then performed a short Rap to give the ideas more spontaneity and emotions.

Here is a short video that shows the whole process and spontaneous creativity.

For more information on the Medine Group and Brands with a Conscience: http://medinge.org/

How to scan Spotify codes and use the sonic triggers on the Jam Cards

Spotify Codes offer a brand new way for users to share and discover the amazing content on Spotify. It’s as easy as taking a picture.

As you might have noticed, the Jam Cards have such a Spotify code on the bottom left corner.

How to play the sonic trigger of a Music Thinking Jam Card:

  1. Open the Spotify app on your phone or tablet
  2. Go to ‘search’.
  3. Click on the ‘camera icon’ on the right side of the ‘search field’ at the top of the screen.
  4. Scan the code.
  5. Listen and enjoy.
  6. Tip: Close your eyes and use headphones.

 

What are the Music Thinking Jam Cards

An inspirational card set for changemakers, pattern recognisers, innovators, transformers and natural collaborators. The Jam Cards consist of 38 inspiration cards and six cue cards. All inspiration cards have a keyword, a visual and a sonic trigger, a trigger question, an inspirational quote, and six cues that connect with the Music Thinking Framework. You can use the cards from a strategic point of view, knowing what you want or need and a serendipity approach open to everything that will happen.

 

Order the Music Thinking Jam Cards

You can order the jam cards via your local bookstore (worldwide) and have a nice chat with the people there and try the cards right away, or just buy them directly at BIS Publishers.

Yes, you can also find them at Amazon.com, Amazon.de, and Bol.com

 

Hello World, this is the Music Thinking Blog!

Now is the time for a blog about music thinking.  Since the new music thinking website went online, there is a lot to share, and so we decided to start a blog about everything music thinking. We will share updates about workshops, programmes, new templates, tips and tricks and you can read all the 38 stories from ‘Behind the Cards’ – the background thoughts about every inspiration card of the Music Thinking Jam Cards.

 

October 20th


From 20 October we will (hopefully) post every week a ‘behind the cards story’. A story about the thoughts and inspirations we had while designing the cards; some background information, chit-chat or just exciting information about the inspirational quotes (mostly from musicians), the picture on the front of the cards we call visual trigger and the sound example, we call sonic trigger.

Why 20 October? Well, this will be the release date of the Music Thinking Jam Cards, they will be available from this day on and I just checked Wikipedia who else is born on this day and there are some excellent musicians that share the date: Composer Charles Ives, pianist Jelly Roll Morton, Estonian bagpipe player Aleksander Maaker, American singer-songwriter and banjo player Grandpa Jones, saxophonist Eddy Harris, guitarist Wanda Jackson, Croatian soprano Dunja Vejzović, Japanese singer Michie Tomizawa and rapper Snoop Dog.
O.k., it is also the day that Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed, and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines died in the crash. But hey, let’s be positive because Elizabeth II also opened the Sydney Opera House after 14 years of construction (the opera house, not the queen).

So hopefully you are excited as we about sharing and if you have some ideas, inspirations or requests (which card should be first) please let us know.