if we do nothing (towards the creative sonification of climate change data)

James Alexander Wyness (UK)

jimmy2@wyness.org : http://www.wyness.org

Anthropogenically driven changes in the environment take place every day and have done so for centuries. The approaching dangers of relatively recent acceleration in such changes are comprehensively documented. It is predicted that the effects of such changes, if we do nothing to modify our collective behaviour, will be to cause widespread and irreversible damage to physical, biological and human managed systems. These effects will be felt differently by different populations in different climatic zones. In describing the project if we do nothing this poster illustrates my research and practice in response to aspects of the causes and effects of climate change, in particular tipping elements, by creating accessible immersive sound installations which sonify meaningful data-sets. I am working alongside three partners: one with advanced programming and data networking skills in the synthesis language Supercollider; the Cryosphere and Climate Change Group at Aberdeen University, for advice on the selection, interpretation and presentation of static and real-time data sets, as eventual raw material for the sonification models; a partner with extensive curatorial experience. I envisage initially producing installations which responds to static data sets whilst simultaneously laying firm foundations (partners, research, funding strategy) for an eventual permanent fixed installation.


My proposed poster serves as a project description. I see this project as an artistic endeavour which bridges data and the understandings of non-scientists vis-a-vis climate change. It sets out to open a knowledge portal that allows people to understand more clearly some of the implications of this complex field, investigating the creative sonification of data that reflect climate change, for example glaciers/ice sheets mass balance and more generally sea ice extent. 2017 will see the research, modelling and testing of new sonification ideas and techniques, the presentation of public outcomes, the establishment of new partnerships and in-depth evaluation and feedback across all activites – in developing my work conference presentation and publication will be significant, hence this proposal. Altogether these will lay foundations for an eventual innovative fixed permanent installation which interprets and sonifies real-time data.

My idea is conceptually simple and responds to ‘sense of place’ by creating a site where listeners will be invited to feel the results of climate change by apprehending accessible sonic representations, which nonetheless offer second-order complexity and tension as the sonic medium interprets ‘tipping elements’ – global warming, rising CO2 levels or ice sheet diminution. I will exploit sound’s advantages, as a phenomenological reality in itself, soundover-sign, felt somatically, over certain forms of visual media. For example, selected tipping elements (temperature, ice levels) mapped from a given date up to the predicted tipping point (if we do nothing), are scaled appropriately. Shifting frequencies, perceived as pitches, would indicate rising temperature or diminishing ice cover. As tipping points approach, the frequencies reach inaudibility at higher and lower thresholds, descending/ascending beyond perception, though sound might still be felt (as vibration) and differently so for individuals, mirroring how climate change will be experienced differently by populations around the planet. Thus the listener engages with two complex sounds (ie not sine waves) having a strong fundamental frequency, recognisable as shifting pitches. The interaction of such sonic shifts produces artifacts and perturbations, eliciting further interest in the sonic medium, offering analogies with chaotic systems. A more ‘horizontal’ signification might interpret species loss or biodiversity reduction by mapping to the density of sonic events over given time-scales. Complex noise-based timbres might effectively represent various chaotic conditions as tipping points pass. Data scaling ensures that sonifications are meaningfully mapped to critical fields appropriate to the order of human perception and attention – eg, one hour representing the next 10 years (if we do nothing, if we intervene positively), several hours representing the past 50 years until now. A pre-industrial date, when conditions were considered to be ‘balanced’, might be represented by a single pitch bifurcating as changes take place over years, scaled to the listener’s temporal order. Different timbres might represent several fields as climate change analogues drift towards worst-case scenarios.

Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

Today Upcoming Events

No upcoming events for today

15 Next Events

No upcoming events for today