The Sound of Climate Change
Is climate change audible? The artist and researcher Kat Austen has undertaken an expedition to the Arctic and made the melting of the ice perceptible through a sound sculpture. For this, she also used pH meters from METTLER TOLEDO.
Climate change is one of the major challenges that humanity faces today. However, scientific facts have little influence on how we perceive global warming and its associated risks. Musicians and artists have long been trying to draw attention to climate change. Some examples are the "Live Earth" concert marathon in 2007 and the pianist Einaudi playing his Steinway grand piano on a floating platform in the Arctic. The underlying idea of using music to move hearts is age-old. Recently, it has even developed into a new genre: sonification (i.e., turning data into sound). This means converting measurement data into sound. Kat Austen, a British artist who lives in Berlin and holds a doctorate in chemistry, has dedicated her work to this art form. She has succeeded in making climate change an emotional experience through sonification.
Research expedition to the
Canadian High Arctic
"The polar regions are among the areas of our earth that are the most affected by climate change," says the new media artist. "The perishing of the Arctic ice, therefore, seemed a fitting theme for my work." Thanks to an artist-in-residence program at the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, she was able to join a two-week research expedition to the Arctic. "Sound and music affect us emotionally," says Austen. "So my idea was to turn the changing chemistry of the Arctic waters due to melting ice into sound."
To hear the melting ice
But how can changes that we usually cannot perceive be made audible? As the glaciers melt, more and more dissolved carbon dioxide and organic matter are washed into the Arctic waters. As a chemist, Austen knew that this changes the acidity (pH) of the water. "The chemistry department at University College London gave me several METTLER TOLEDO pH meters for my research expedition," Austen relates. "I used this equipment during the expedition to conduct experiments and to collect water samples." Using "circuit bending," a creative musical art technique in which electronic devices are short-circuited to create sound effects, she was able to convert her abundant measurement data into sound.
"When the pH meter takes a measurement, the resulting change in voltage is audible as sound," Austen explains. "If the proportion of dissolved carbon dioxide and organic matter in the water changes, this alters its pH, and so the sound also changes." The artist combined these sounds with those of traditional instruments to create a sound sculpture, the four-movement symphony, "The Matter of the Soul". With her "Wasserklang Orchester" (Water Sounds Orchestra), she performs the symphony at events and workshops around the globe. The water samples she brought back from the Arctic are always part of her performance.
Learn more about Kat Austen, her work and upcoming projects, here.