First remix: Conductivity samples used by London composer

London-based composer John Morrison has used the conductivity meter sound recordings from The Matter of the Soul, available on Github under CC-BY-SA 4.0 license, as inspiration for his beautiful piece The Realities We Play. You can hear the characteristic rise and fall of the instrument throughout this haunting work, and most clearly at the very end.

This is the first time to my knowledge that the samples have been reused by another musician, an important step in the morphing and dispersal of The Matter of the Soul’s online identity, central to the work.

Première: The Matter of the Soul | Concentration

Performance at Spektrum, Berlin on Saturday 3rd March 2018
During Alien Organs, part of the Sonic Vibrations series, curated by Alfredo Ciannameo

Oceans are drastically changing. Seawater is less salty, and is becoming more acidic. The crisis in our seas is intrinsically linked to humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. We release carbon dioxide into the air, causing temperatures to rise and ice to melt, we use them to make plastics, and we burn them to move ourselves around.

Two of my works specifically addressing these issues were shown at Spektrum, Berlin earlier this month when I debuted Concentration the first performance from my Arctic project, The Matter of the Soul, next to the Coral Empathy Device.

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The performance,The Matter of the Soul | concentration, with live video from Hiroshi Matoba, is a sonic exploration of acid crystal immersion. By controlling acidity and salinity, scientific instruments scream their truths about the consequence of changing oceans.

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The Matter of the Soul is an ongoing work comprising musical performance and sculptural installation to engender empathy for dispersal and transformation in the Arctic region. During a residency on the ship the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, sailing through the Canadian High Arctic, I made field recordings of the acidity and salinity of Arctic waters using hacked pH and conductivity meters. I have used these recordings, along with my hydrophone field recordings, in a composition that accompanies a live performance where I play the hacked scientific musical instruments by manipulating their physical environment with acid, crystal alkaline and salts. Forthcoming artworks from The Matter of the Soul are a sculptural installation and a longer musical composition with live performance focussing specifically in three-parts on the process of dispersal and transformation in the Arctic.

The Coral Empathy Device was exhibited along with the performance. This artwork is an experiment in interspecies empathy, aiming to create a conversation between humans and corals under anthropogenic influence. It explores differences in the way we perceive the world, and translates between a coral’s physical experience in its native marine environment, making its experience understandable to a human in their native terrestrial environment. Worn over the head, the device is driven by hydrophone recordings from the marine environment and DIY chemistry investigations into microplastic pollution near Norwegian coral reefs.

 

Works created with support from:

Piksel Festival, NYU Shanghai Gallery, Programme for Creativity and Innovation NYU Shanghai, Mono Shop, Friends of SPRI, Bonhams, One Ocean Expeditions, Polar Museum, Chemistry Department, University College London, and Cultural Institute at University of Leeds

Performance supported by:

Musikfonds and Re-Imagine Europe

 

Aspriation for Respiration – Belljar (SAMS_001)

Belljar is the second work in the Width of Air series, which interrogates the act of data collection and measurement in the context of climate change and environmental damage. Like Snowglobe, the first work in the series, Belljar was realised as part of my work in collective Stereotropic Anecdota, alongside Tom O’Dea.

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Like Snowglobe (MSMS_001), Belljar has a “scientific name”, Shanghai Air Monitorin Station_001 (SAMS_001). For the purposes of the Width of Air concept, it is important that each piece appears on first impressions to be a valid scientific experiment in the public realm. As such, the installations and the work around them exist under the umbrella of research carried out by the Stereotropic Anecdota Department of Environment.

Belljar is a site specific work, a response to the Shanghainese modes of coping with severe environmental damage in the form of air pollution. The piece is a bonsai tree living inside a bell jar, placed outside on a main road in Shanghai. Inside the bell jar, an air quality sensor measures the air pollution, relaying the information live online to the Department of Environment website and to a display alongside the miniature tree.

When I arrived in Shanghai I immediately had a strong physical response to the air pollution – I found it hard to walk outside, I was continuously deeply coughing, I felt exhausted, my eyes were sore. I quickly donned a mask, as many other Shanghainese residents do, and sought respite in buildings with air purifiers. I, like so many others, was creating safe microenvironments within which to exist as a coping mechanism for the city’s extreme pollution.

The pollution is a consequence of high usage of motor vehicles in the city, overlaid on China’s baseline pollution from factories and power stations. These activities have brought the country great wealth, but at a cost. Each year loses 6.5% of its GDP to air pollution related health problems in the workforce, and that’s without even considering the longer term problems associated with children’s development in highly polluted environments. The air pollution is a product of aspiration – for economic growth and for personal wealth in the case of car ownership. The creation of microenvironments is a product of the aspiration for respiration.

There’s a socio-political element to this – the pollution creates a common problem, but one that only the well-off can afford to avoid. And with the health and developmental impacts of air pollution, it is likely to increase inequality in a country where the top one percent of households holds one-third of total assets. Yet, Under the Dome, a documentary by journalist Chai Jing that explores the impacts of this pollution, was censored in China just 3 days after its release in what one colleague dubbed “the largest act of censorship in the history of humanity”.

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Stereotropic Anecdota has responded to this dark irony by creating Belljar. The bell jar’s use as a piece of scientific equipment to create discrete atmospheres where small animals would suffocate is captured in the piece, with echoes of Sylvia Plath’s tormented cry for help. The bonsai’s tranquility is highlighted and juxtaposed against the micro-environments we each create in seeking purer air, but the tree is separated from the viewer – evoking a fragility and otherworldliness.

At first glance, it seems to be another valid scientific experiment. The piece is etched with its name and the message “Do Not Touch” in English and Chinese. And just below, the live digital display which tells us not the air quality index – Shanghai’s ever present measurement – but instead the air purity. But who is this purity for? Who can enter the bell jar?

What is the point of measuring the air inside the bell jar if no one can experience it?

Belljar (SAMS_001) is a work by Stereotropic Anecdota (Kat F Austen and Tom O’Dea) at PCI NYU Shanghai and NYU Shanghai Gallery. With thanks to Christian Grewell and studio assistants Shelby Firebaugh and Dylan Crow.

 

 

 

Not waving but globally drowning

When did Stevie Smith’s drowning man realise he had been much too far out all his life? Just as the waves lapped over his head the final time, as his final breath bubbled up through the chill water?

We are a drowning world. Arctic ice is diminishing year by year. If it all undergoes a phase transition, London would be entirely submerged, and all the levees in Holland wouldn’t save the Netherlands. It’s D-x, but we don’t know xxactly which breath we are on – not quite our last, not yet.

We chatter about it.

Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter
Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter

We run campaigns for action about it, increasingly galvanised by activity online – think The Future, Occupy, 350.

But despite all this chatter, we do little to ameliorate climate change. While some flat out deny climate change, they are just a vocal minority. Most of us know that our actions – burning fossil fuels, deforestation, consumption of resources, global trade, flying – all add together to a future global catastrophe. Yet we fail to act – both in global policy decisions, and in our daily lives. Life now is too good to want to change it for the sake of tomorrow.

There is an unseen consequence to our online activity. Computers use power. Making them requires mining, fabrication, shipping. Communications cost carbon. According to the comically named Tweetfarts: “The energy it takes to send a tweet generates .02 grams of CO2.1 With 500 million tweets sent daily2, a total of 10 metric tons of CO2 are emitted per day.”

It can’t be denied that the online chatter raises awareness. The next step is action, for if we fail to act, isn’t all this activism actually adding to the problem rather than helping fix it?

Water is key. Not only is it an impending threat, it is also ironically also a diminishing resource. Alongside the threat of submersion, London faces a drinking water crisis of gargantuan proportions: by 2050 the city will be 350 million litres of drinking water in deficit – if it’s not already an urban sea bed. And water itself – or at leas our use of it – adds to the problem. In 2009, five percent of US carbon emissions were down to treatment, transport and use of water by humans. That’s the equivalent of 62 coal-fired power stations.

Tiny icebergs float in a bath. Tiny people huddle together as the ice retreats under their feet. Some will certainly drown. Those unfortunate enough to be on the smallest iceberg are the first to go.

The melting is now inevitable, but there may be a chance to slow it down, buy a few more precious minutes. Their fate scrolls above them. Like Tinkerbell, if only enough people make enough noise their existence might be saved – for just a little while. Maybe long enough. Show you care.

Floating. Floating. The sky was blue, the waves lapped around his toes. Life was good, no need for change. The current carried him further, the tide rose. Perhaps if he’d realised sooner he might have swum ashore.