this excited surface
Jane Grant (Art & Sound, Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK)
this excited surface is a site specific sonic artwork for camera obscuras. The work will be sound-based, a spoken narrative that poetically interweaves astronomical histories, science-fiction and desire interwoven with live sonification of solar activity. The spoken narrative will address the listener in the observatory with tales of longing, of other worlds and the impossibility of fixedness.
The ionosphere is a skin of electrons and electrically charged molecules and atoms (ions) that form part of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere. The ionosphere is created largely from the action of radiation from the Sun, yet it also protects us from this radiation. Disturbances of the ionosphere are caused by solar flares and the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles that interfere both with the ionosphere and the magnetosphere. The ionosphere is coupled with the magnetosphere and lies above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Areas of the ionosphere adapt and change according to which part of the Earth is facing the Sun. On the night side of the Earth one layer disappears almost completely with other layers reducing in size only to be reformed by the Sun’s radiative action.
The ionosphere is never static, but a fluctuating, mutable surface or skin around the Earth. The ionosphere straddles a seeming division between the Earth and the Sun, the warmth of our atmosphere and the cold of space, yet is also punctured by solar events that sometimes cause storms and sub-storms in the ionosphereric and magnetospheric system. The ionosphere is an interface, the gatekeeper of radiation, the skin of the world. Every 24 hours the ionosphere expands towards the sun, is at its peak at noon, excited by the interaction and retracts in the darkness. It is a form of dynamic longing.
The psychologist William Gibson writes that ‘at the interface between the medium and substances are surfaces. Surfaces are where radiant energy is reflected or absorbed, where vibrations are passed to the medium, where vaporization or diffusion into the medium can occur, and what our bodies come up against in touch.’ (Gibson 1979:23)
Listening to space weather
Much of the electromagnetic activity in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, which comes from solar or ‘terrestrial’ atmospheric activity, exists the frequency band of 5kHz (5000Hz) often called very low frequency. This is within the ‘radio frequency’ part of the electromagnetic spectrum such that a signal can be detected with a radio aerial. This also means that when the signal has been detected and amplified we can listen to it as much of it is within our range of hearing. For this excited surface a relatively inexpensive space weather detector would be installed at the observatory to stream live sound via headphones at the location. Heightened solar activity would be heard as increasing sound, solar flares as a very specific violent events and as our world turns on its axis and we move towards darkness, the surface layer of the ionosphere retreats, no longer stimulated by the sun, back towards the Earth. In this excited surface, violent solar events will overwhelm the spoken narrative.
The interaction between one or many bodies and the effect that things have upon each other is very much an ongoing aspect of my work. In Cosmicomics, the writer Italo Calvino inhabits many scientific ideas by employing a shape-shifting anthropomorphic character, Qfwfq, who allows us to experience a big bang, the formation of crystals under the Earth, the forming of planets, the beginning of matter. The narrative of this excited surface will be desirous, a narrative of moving towards and retracting from the cyclic interaction of two bodies. Both the experiencing the sound of solar activity alongside the narrative will allow participants of this excited surface to inhabit the mutable and ever shifting nature of our Earth’s atmosphere.
Longing is always more desirous at a distance. It is intriguing that in order to observe the Sun, early astronomers needed to look away from it to examine its manifestations, whether spots on its surface or an orbiting celestial object. It is believed that Anaxagoras used a bowl of oil to study solar activity using the reflective surface to form a mirrored image of the Sun and in doing so created the image of its darker doppelganger looking up from the Earth. And, once the telescope was invented, the Sun was projected onto a surface affording a smaller and less blinding image to study at length. Even whilst capturing these impressions through mirroring or projection, they remained transitory, fleeting, the only manner of fixing them was by hand, through observation and recording, drawing and notation. The celestial occurrences emerge as a triangulation of the event, the eye and the hand. The phenomena of light and matter filtered through the lens of the telescope and the eye to form an image in the dark visual cortex at the back of the brain, where motor neurons relay the information to the hand.
The camera obscura allows people in dark spaces to observe others, things and objects far away, that move toward, only to disappear, or retract. The circular viewing dish of the camera obscura is a virtual space, a miniature world and self-contained image that cannot be fixed. The spoken narrative in this excited surface will be something between poetry and story, it will speak of the dark interior of the camera obscura, sealed off from the outside world, as a form of longing or loss, of something fleeting, that cannot be grasped, it builds and unbuilds connections and interactions between the intricate system of the sun and earth and that of human desires.
this excited surface draws analogies of gravitational or magnetic attractions and repulsions, to that of human desires. Desires that often cannot be looked upon directly but can be countenanced obliquely or at a distance, desires that are cyclical and continual, a never ending of expansion and retraction and loss.
this excited surface is installed in the Camera Obscura located at Seymur House in Devonport. A shuttle minibus service will be available on Wednesday morning. See the Eventbrite booking above.
Jane would like to thank Jay Auborn and Suvi-Eeva Äikäs at DBS for his sound design, Andy Bone for his voice over and Matthew Pontin at Fotonow for his generosity and time.
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.
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