Mixing dialogues and sonic exploration in a musical jam

Sonic Assembly is one of Polisfonia's workshop formats, developed in collaboration with the designer Enrico Tarò. In this article you will find a summarised version of the format and some sound examples. For an in-depth description of the format, you can consult this pdf, which can also be downloaded at the bottom of the page.


The aim of the workshop is to encourage reflection and dialogue on political words/concepts using sound production and music as a medium. The format is designed to be performed in public space and with voluntary, free and random participation of people, but can also be performed in more specific contexts and with more specific groups of people.


Because talking about political issues is often difficult, or boring, or it’s difficult to find people to exchange with, or they are always the same. To create an opportunity for exchange, dialogue and fun. To experiment with an uncommon but very creative meeting practice. Because occupying a space and creating a small community, even if only for a short time, makes us active participants of a place’s life and can give us the opportunity to re-imagine or re-discuss it.


By politics we mean the way people living in societies make decisions and act, consciously and unconsciously. All the practices and relationships that allow people to live together in groups such as tribes, cities or countries are therefore political. It is a broad definition but it allows us to understand that everything we do in a social context is political. 

Outdoor public space (parks, squares, streets, gardens...)

2~3 hours


>15 years old (the experience is usually deeper with adults)

People randomly attracted to the workshop or more specific groups (e.g. inhabitants of a certain place, school class, members of an association, ...)



  • Understanding and speaking the local language
  • Sonic/musical experiences (e.g. listening to music, playing instruments, singing, experimenting with sound...)
  • Reading and writing
  • Drawing


  • All of the above 
  • Attention and empathy towards people
  • Open, inclusive and non-discriminatory attitude
  • Strong listening skills
  • Experience in moderating workshops
  • Knowledge of several languages

MATERIALS (checklist)

  • A3 or A4 paper
  • Pens or markers
  • Scissors
  • Musical instruments (the ones that you can gather in the context you’re in)
  • Natural or domestic objects that can be used to produce sounds
  • (sticks, stones, leaves, books, bottles, rubber bands, ...)
  • Books, newspapers, texts, quotes on political/social issues  (optional but recommended)
  • Towels or pillows  (optional but recommended)
foto: WS / Asia de Lorenzi


The Sonic Assembly is a format that includes 4 main phases following an introduction:

  1. Generation and/or choice of themes
  2. Translation of the chosen themes into sound
  3. Discussion and deepening
  4. Musical jam using sounds and themes as a reference

The four phases can be carried out in a linear (recommended for the first execution), cyclic or mixed fashion (recommended if the format is executed with open/casual participation).


The aim of the introduction is to make the participants feel comfortable, to get to know each other and to explain the activity they are going to engage in. The ideal introduction can vary a lot depending on the context and the group. 
Some useful aspects of a good introduction

  • Creating an environment where people can feel comfortable
  • Greet participants in a friendly way and try to get to know them a little
  • If people do not know each other, encourage them to introduce themselves and have a little exchange with each other
  • Explain the purpose and the course of the workshop in a summarised way
  • Depending on the context, provide "warm-up" or "getting to know you" activities for the whole group


In this phase of the workshop, the aim is to define themes with which the participants feel a certain resonance and to start reflecting on them.
The key question in this phase is: 

"What political issue is particularly close to our hearts at the moment?"

Example of introductory questions in the self-managed version of the workshop

A theme can be a single word (e.g. "rent", "identity", "democracy", ...), but also a whole sentence (e.g. "It is unfair that women earn less than men for equal work."). Themes can be generated collectively on the spot or decided beforehand by the moderator. In both cases, books, newspapers, texts (including music lyrics) and quotes on current political issues can be of great help to draw inspiration from.

Each participant can generate one or more themes, and take notes in written and/or drawn form on a sheet of paper provided. In order to allow a more multi-faceted and in-depth reflection later on, it is possible and useful (but not necessary) to agree on one single theme shared by the whole group.

If desired, the theme can also be decided beforehand by the workshop moderator.

Once the theme(s) has been defined, each person is give time to reflect on them independently.
Supporting questions:

  • What feelings does this word/phrase convey in your opinion? 
  • What associations or thoughts arise in you when thinking about this word/phrase?

The first phase ends without a discussion. At this point each participant has ideally reflected on one or more themes and taken notes in written or drawn form.

foto: WS / Asia de Lorenzi


The second phase is aimed at obtaining a sonic version of the sensations that the participants feel towards the chosen themes.
The key question in this phase is: 

"What sounds would you use to express the feelings the theme conveys to you?"

It is important that each person has the opportunity to try and experiment with different instruments and/or sound objects. The sounds produced do not necessarily have to be 'pleasant', on the contrary, an explorative and free approach should be encouraged, there is no right or wrong. In this phase, the person(s) moderating the format can, if necessary, support the group by explaining how the instruments work, making them try new ones and stimulating their curiosity. After trying out the available instruments, each person has the task of finding sounds that he or she feels are similar to the feelings experienced while thinking about the chosen theme(s).

The second phase ends when each person has experimented with the sounds and found the ones that are closest to their feelings. Ideally each participant has found at least one instrument with which they feel comfortable.

Example of sound experimentations in the self-managed version of the workshop
foto: WS / Asia de Lorenzi


This part of the workshop aims to trigger a dialogue on the generated and/or chosen themes using the sounds produced as a support.
The key question in this phase is: 

"Why did you choose this sound?"

Each person is asked to share their sound(s) with the group without commenting on them. The group is asked to express what feeling they think the sound might convey, before the person explains why they chose it. The person is then asked to explain their choice and a dialogue is moderated from the response.

Some aspects that would be useful to touch upon at this stage:

  • The personal motivations of each participant regarding the relevance of the topic
  • Whether the same motivations are also relevant to the rest of the group and in what way
  • Actions or practices that can be adopted to deal with the given issue in daily life

During the dialogue it is important that the moderator takes notes on what has been said. Other people can also be involved in this process by asking them to take notes on the aspects that struck them most or that they feel are close to their own experience.

At the end of the dialogue, a relatively in-depth reflection and exchange on the chosen themes will have taken place and many interesting aspects will have emerged and been noted down on paper. This concludes the third phase.

foto: WS / Asia de Lorenzi

PHASE 4 - MUSICAL JAM [30/40min]

The aim of the last phase is to catalyse the dialogue and the sounds produced in music, and to conclude the workshop in an energetic and fun way. It is a less structured and more flexible phase than the others where the central question is: 

"How can we set to music what we have been talking about?"

At this point people are free to play, sing and engage as they please. This works best when some of the participants have previous musical experience but setting up a jam is easier than it sounds even with inexperienced people. At this stage, the sounds produced earlier and the notes taken will serve as a base for creating music and lyrics. 

Ideas for starting a music jam:

  • Produce the previously experienced sounds at the same time, creating a soundscape
  • Do a modulation exercise from silent to loud (each person produces a sound that is at first as quiet as possible, gradually increasing all together until it is as loud as possible and vice versa)
  • Follow a common rhythm (each person follows the rhythm with an instrument of their choice and gradually add melodies or other sounds)
  • Play a simple melody repeated cyclically, adding other instruments as you go along
Example of modulation to start a jam in the self-managed version of the workshop

Ideas for writing lyrics:

  • Combine sentences written in the notes of various people in one single text
  • Use sentences previously written as they are, without elaborating them
  • Write rhyming sentences (helps to make them more musical)
  • Experiment with word games (helps to make the experience more enjoyable)
  • Write a "manifesto" of principles/values (helps to shape a collective view on the topic)

Suggestions for combining lyrics and music:

  • Simply read the text over the background music
  • Focus on a meaningful sentence and try to express it by singing it with different rhythms and/or different melodies
  • One person sings a sentence and the others repeat, then it's the next person's turn
  • Each person takes turns singing or speaking a piece of text to the music

The musical Jam is a collective action that can vary greatly depending on the specific context and the people involved. However, when approached with active involvement and mutual attention/listening it is an extremely rewarding experience. The most important thing is to immerse yourself and go with the flow!

Example of texts read on a sonic background in the self-managed version of the workshop
Example of rap initiated during the jam in the self-managed version of the workshop
foto: Andrea Righetto


Choice of location
The choice of the place where the format is held can have a strong political significance. What might it mean to occupy a place of specific interest to a community, a place usually abandoned, or a place usually used for other purposes? 
Transforming these places through a Sonic Assembly, even if only temporarily, can help to generate a dialogue about the places themselves, to imagine a different use for them in a convivial and creative way.

Choice of theme
The central themes of a Sonic Assembly can be many and very diverse. Regardless of the context in which the format takes place, it is essential that the people participating can relate to the theme(s) addressed. 
If it is decided to "impose" a theme then it is critical to ensure that each person recognises its importance and necessity, otherwise addressing it may not be desirable. 

Type of participants
What themes will emerge if the group of participants is random? What if it is the inhabitants of a single building, a school class, a group of friends, the members of an association, a work team,...?
The Sonic Assembly can be adapted to different contexts, experimenting with different types of participants can be a very interesting practice.

Advertise the workshop
If you decide to run the workshop in the public space and with casual people, it is a good idea to advertise the event both online and offline, maybe through existing local organisations and/or personally involving people who might be interested. Having a small initial base of people participating is very useful for attracting others.

Audio recordings
As the format has a strong sonic component, it can be useful to record the whole session to keep track of it. During the Polisfonia events we used an amateur audio recorder (zoom h4n), but also a simple mobile phone will do. The recordings made can be a valuable tool for documenting the experience and providing further input for subsequent dialogues.