our fingers

Nausica Manzi

I was standing before an orchestra playing the musical composition of contemporaneity: a melody mixed with humanity and digitality with a frenetic but profound rhythm, shamanic chanting, and primordial music – the algorithm.


Clouds of incense swirled in the air like thoughts in the minds of those present. Motionless pupils of some icons pierced the dimness that immerged that place. Delicate, yet strong hands gripped ropes and small wooden hammers that generated the deep sound of bells and chimes. It was a dance of spirits among the visible and the invisible, marked by a rhythm that drew souls like inebriated bacchants from a god and that, like during a purification ritual, unconsciously transformed them.  

I was in an Orthodox church in Russia, and I was listening to the traditional sound of the bells, but without knowing it, I was standing before an orchestra playing the musical composition of contemporaneity: a melody mixed with humanity and digitality with a frenetic but profound rhythm, shamanic chanting, and primordial music – the algorithm.

As a strategy consisting of a finite sequence of instructions useful for solving a given problem, the algorithm is a mathematical and technological tool, it is the basis of the logic of software development.  Going beyond its usual meaning, however, it evokes a spiritual dimension that encompasses the coldness of a mystery instilling fear as well as the warmth of a sonorous depth that cradles individual souls.

Technologically speaking, algorithms have become the masters of humanity: they reduce time and distance, simplify certain processes, improve quality, and broaden horizons and future hopes. Simultaneously, however, algorithms make the flesh of powerful fragility that distinguishes us from them fall into oblivion. 

Trying to give a new and personal interpretation to the linguistic origin of the term, ‘algus’, in Latin means ‘coldness’, while in Estonian ‘beginning’, thus the ‘origin’, the ‘primordial’. The algorithm is, therefore, a primordial rhythm, the music of the origin of the universe and of humanity itself. It is the cold root of all that is. At this point, it is worth focusing on these two characteristics that emerge: coldness and musicality

First of all, the musicality of the algorithm recalls the philosophical concept of the ‘musica universalis’ which, from Pythagoras, through Kepler and his investigation and definition of precise laws, to the in-depth studies in the contemporary era, is a theory that considers the universe as inhabited by sounds that are imperceptible to the human ear, but that exist in the form of waves that can be translated into harmonic-mathematical concepts. “Such grandiose movements could not take place in silence”[1];

 so the planets, constellations and all the elements of the entire solar system, as they move, represent the keys on that immense piano known as the universe. A fragile and powerful musical instrument, today composed of ’emoticons’, ‘likes’ and control systems, notes with different pitches but that together create a constant and mysterious melody, which envelops and influences the life of humanity itself. 

This connection extends through the second characteristic of the algorithm, which derives from its Latin linguistic root: coldness. Coldness represents the finiteness of mathematical and technological instructions, but at the same time it is the image of the primordial, enclosed in a liberating breath during purification rites or in the movement of the wooden mallet with which, by rhythmically striking the axis of the bells, one starts playing the ‘semantron‘. A traditional Russian sonata, formed by chimes of enticement, sharing, life and death. Without this “cold” dimension, there would not be the warmth of the delicate and imperceptible music of the piano-universe that shakes our hearts.

The algorithm thus becomes a contemporary and technological shamanic rite, and the penetrating sound of Russian bells that is given in the form of notifications and screens that are always on; the image of an entire and complex musical composition of the ‘piano-universe’, which awakens the soul and makes it dance like a bacchant in ecstasy. 

Who plays this grand piano that generates the ‘algorithm’ composition, a mixture of coldness and musicality, of humanity and digitality? It is played by a unique pianist: the self of each and every individual, interpreted as the coordination of the various functions of the organism. They are components that are present since birth and that, through the impact with the outside world and cognitive development, gradually become complex, diversified, and multiplied. 

In this contemporary age, the self of each individual turns out to be a shaman who, in a purification rite, imposes their hands to mediate a beyond that can radically transform reality; additionally a Russian bell-ringing monk who, through his finger movements, produces the melody of life’s rebirth, forgetting itself. 

So, how does this algorithmic, imperceptible but transformative music of the universe influence human beings? Through the individual’s fingers

Digitalilty in fact stems from the Latin term ‘digitus’ meaning digit, or more specifically, ‘that which is related to fingers, thumbs or toes’, and we are constantly typing on keyboards, tapping with our fingertips on icons that give us receipts or documents, holding smartphones in our hands as if they were a lifeline during a shipwreck, and thus we constantly play the universal piano. Yet, we are unaware of this, because we have forgotten the ‘musica universalis’, the revolutionary sound of the Russian semantron, the transformative power of the shaman’s hands, the human root behind the digital algorithm. In fact, digitality pertains, above all, to the human body: it is a technique of the hands’ movement and the result of an inner wave generated from a mind that, actively thinking, elaborates, contextualises, verbalises, and moves the fingers and, thus, the actions in the world: “all the love of the world on my fingertips” [2].

A love that generates algorithmic existential music to be rediscovered and brings a technological as well as a linguistic and ethical dimension: in fact, while observing the ability of brilliant pianists or even thinking about sign language, hands can speak and reveal a radical beyond, which is the same sound of Russian bells that awakens souls and makes them dance. For the pianist, a Russian shaman and bell-ringing monk, it is evident how the mind needs the body, and the body needs the mind. It is for this reason that humans need digitality and vice versa. Only in this way do they find themselves to be complete, mathematical, and spiritual composers of love algorithms who are able to transcribe the score of a humanity to be reinvented.

[1] Translated by La Livella’s translator directly from Cicero, Somnium Scipionis, VI book based on De republica, ch.18.

[2] Translated by La Livella’s translator directly from Giovanni Allevi, La musica in testa, Superpocket, Milano 2010, p.106.

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