Brandon Farnsworth

Process and Protocol is a hybrid online and in-person festival exploring how experimental music intersects with Web3 and blockchains, organised by the Berliner Gesellschaft für Neue Musik (BGNM). A series of five commissions to musicians and composers is supported by two panel discussions, a concert, and a workshop during the opening weekend, as well as three newly-commissioned essays published in collaboration with MARCH: a journal of art & strategy. The festival’s name comes from the fact that for both BGNM and the artists, this intersection of art and tech has been a learning process. Because of this, we are interested in together sketching a protocol, a first set of procedures, thoughts, and experiments for ourselves in this new creative world.

The past two years have been a digital trial by fire for experimental music, which before the pandemic had increasingly been emphasising the importance of live concerts. During pandemic-induced lockdowns, basic streaming of concerts and festivals was a bare necessity for experimental music to exist at all. But the uncertainty of changing restrictions, combined with many people’s unfamiliarity with both working online and competing in the online attention economy meant that these events were mostly functional affairs. Now that gathering is again possible, many want to hastily put those days behind us and focus again on live concerts.

But what if instead we embrace the specificities of digital technology? More importantly, what if instead of getting “back to normal“ (that very stale phrase) and going straight back to live events, we try creating new communal experiences that integrate digital technologies in new ways?

Process and Protocol attempts this. Collectively stuck at home during the pandemic, a piece of our collective fascination has become beguiled by what happens on our screens (for better and for worse). Experimental music has a societal responsibility to reflect on and engage with these societal changes. This is why this project has chosen to engage with a technology that is new to us and still unexplored in experimental music.

Arguably two of the biggest developments in the digital space during the pandemic period have been the explosion of interest in blockchain technology and NFTs in 2021, as well as the rapid advancements in AI. Process and Protocol focuses on blockchains and their direct democratic promise of a new era of the internet that puts ownership back into the hands of individuals. However looking at our commissioned works, AI’s haunting spectre also appears repeatedly: AI is leaking into our project on blockchains, a testament to how influential it has been on the possibilities for artistic creation.

What fascinates about blockchains and Web3 is the intense interrelationship between its technological developments and the digital cultures that have developed around them. NFTs and various blockchain projects have promised to be a new, ostensibly more just mode of digital distribution, as well as mainstreamed a whole new genre of digital images. They have also cultivated this allure of grand payouts for artistic work during a period when artists have had very few other avenues for income.

The ideological aspect of blockchains however normalizes conflating the commodity value of art with its artistic value, marketizes social interactions through tokenomics, and promote a culture of casino capitalism. Their emphasis on ownership and property are also arguably antithetical to music’s ultimately multiply-mediated and transitory existence.

Rather than repeat these talking points for and against, Process and Protocol has aimed to experience these contradictory currents first-hand. Fully rejecting or embracing current technological and social developments would be uncritical and artistically dull. Instead, Process and Protocol takes a different route, getting its hands dirty in this uncertain new terrain. It mucks about, and in doing so helps us learn not just about Web3, but also about ourselves as experimental musicians and the society we currently inhabit.