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CULTURAL ROOTS OF GLOBALIZATION > ART & CLIMATE CHANGE > E-INTERVIEW OF ANDREA POLLI
   



E-interview of Andrea Polli
by Julien Knebusch


[For more information about Andrea Polli’s works, please visit : http://www.andreapolli.com/]


-----Original message-----

From: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2007 16:07:32 -0400
To: Andrea andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Subject: Re: E-interview

Dear Andrea,

I thought we could maybe start this dialogue by questioning our own dialogue with scientists in the field of climate change ? What for specific difficulties do you encounter in this dialogue ? in the case of N and Heartbeat for example.

You may always reply by asking me to develop my question or by explaining me why this question doesn't seem relevant or interesting to you. This would always develop and deepen the dialogue.


-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2007 22:48:09
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

Great, I'll take a stab at this, maybe you'll spot something of interest to discuss further.

The first real collaboration I did with a scientist was 'Atmospherics/Weather Works' which was a sonification of two historic storms that passed through New York City. I met my collaborator, Dr. Glenn Van Knowe, during an art/science symposium at the Annenberg Center in Los Angeles. I told him about my earlier work creating algorithmic music using chaotic attractors (specifically the Lorenz attractor) and he told me about how the Lorenz attactor was one of the earliest weather models of the movement of air molecules and how since Lorenz's work, weather models have become vastly more sophisticated. So, we both wanted to hear what the latest models might sound like, and chose to try a hurricane and a winter snowstorm. I secured a venue for the presentation of the work, Engine 27 in NYC, a space with an excellent 14-channel sound system and we planned to model the storms at 5 different elevation levels. One of the interesting questions that came up was just when the storm started and when it ended. In a sense, when did the storm become an 'object' to be presented in a gallery? We finally ended up making an arbitrary decision to present 24 hours of the strongest storm activity, 24 hours that was compressed into 5 minutes.

In terms of other difficulties, I think it's important to point out that difficulties can also come from the 'art' side. The NYC tech art scene at the time (and today too) seemed to be obseessed with the idea of real-time interactivity and I had to explain to the curators why it wasn't possible to model the storm in real time on the computers in the gallery (the reason was that the weather models are hugely complex, accounting for several systems across the entire earth and Glenn spent weeks tying up severeal high end computers modeling the data for the project). The complexity of the model seemed to be less interesting to the gallery than the concept of doing everything in real time, and I felt much more in tune with my scientist collaborator than the gallery for a while during the development fo the project, although the gallery ended up being very happy with the final result.

Working with Glenn taught me a lot about meteorology, but I was still very naive. I learned a little about climate change and asked him about doing a project with me related to climate. Then I learned that the field of weather research and the field of climate research are very separate, and that I would need to find a climate expert for my project. Both weather and climate experts use models, but one big difference is the resolution of the models. Since weather scientists are modeling short term events, like storms, their models tend to be very high resolution around relatively small geographic areas, while climate scientists tended to use lower resolution models since they are modeling climate change events that happen over longer time periods. However, the climate scientist I started to work with, Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, the leader of the climate research group of NASA goddard institute, had just completed a study of climate change effects on NYC that used one of the highest resolution climate models ever used before. The reason? Because climate change events were starting to be seen happening in much shorter time scales, so higher resolution models were necessary to study them. Working on Heat and the Heartbeat of the City taught me about all the different sectors that can be affected by climate change, and although the project doesn't address it, I also learned at that time about the connection between the increase in the intensity and frequency of storms due to global warming. It seemed like these two separate fields were starting to converge before my eyes due to more rapid climate change!

That led me to doing a real-time project with the help of artist Joe Gilmore and meteorologist Dr. Patrick Market of the University of Missouri, N. N. takes real time daily weather model data from the north pole and real time images and presents a 4 channel sonification and visualization of the information. Technically, the project makes use of a custom plug-in I developed with the help of artist and programmer Kurt Ralske after I learned about incompatibilities between the software I was using and the way the scientists created the model data with their programs. We first presented this piece as part of a festival commission and the show was scheduled to open in April. One difficulty we had was that the webcam we were grabbing in real time from the pole, positioned by the NOAA, is only there in spring/summer and the date it is deployed depends on the weather conditions (can the ships get through the ice to position the camera, etc.) We did our tests towards the end of the previous summer and expected the camera to be up in time for the opening in April, and it was a bit stressful waiting for it to be deployed. Luckily the weather accomodated our project and we were able to run the piece live! :)

Right now I'm in a similar situation, I've been funded by the NSF to do a project in Antarctica during the austral summer, which is so exciting, I can't wait, but I don't know exactly when I will be going there because of the same situation. It's interesting, though, being so dependent on the weather and the weather models that the scientists are using. I think that's something special about really diving in to this kind of work, that being involved with the weather and climate is full of uncertainties.

-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Wen, 14 Mar 2007 03:27:24
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

- why exactly Glenn Van Knowe, for example, accepted to join you in "Atmospherics/Weather Works" ? Did he had a direct scientific interest in your work ? Or was it main curiosity ?

I think in general the scientists that I have worked with have been intrigued by the possibility of experiencing their data in new ways. There is a movement related to the sonification of scientific data, and a lot of information about work in that area can be found at icad.org, the site for the international community of auditory display, a group that holds an annual conference and posts papers online. In the 90's ICAD was commissioned to write a position paper about sonification for the US National Science Foundation, and this document, which can be found on their site, really does a great job outlining the actual historical uses of sonification and imagines possible future benefits to scientific research.

In my experience, atmospheric scientists have been very open to the idea of sonification and one of my collaborators, Dr. Kuoying Wang of National Central University in Taiwan explained to me that he thought the reason for this openness has to do with the widespread use of visualization in atmospheric science. Scientists working today have seen a radical transformation of the field in their lifetimes due to visualization. Dr. Wang said that today it would be impossible to do his work without visualization. Sonification, he believes, could become just as important in the future.

In part, this is why my sonifications are modeled after the real world soundscape and not like many sonifications that are modeled on music. Although music is present in the contemporary soundscape, human understanding of the world through listening is primarily formed through the soundscape. I also find musical convention very limiting and the sonic palette of the soundscape to be infinite.

- what was your personal interest in sciences and especially climate and weather sciences ? What exactly interested you in these sciences ?
Weren't there other means/possibilities for you to address climate change, without working directly with climate sciences ? Did you thought about such possibilities ?

In the late 80s and early 90s I was fascinated by the images of chaos. I was interested in computer programming, mathematical formulae and algorithms and created many programs of chaos. I created several algorithmic music compositions based on the Lorenz attractor because I thought (naively!) that a mathematical formula that could create an interesting and beautiful image should also create interesting and beautiful music. I was interested in sound as abstraction and in recursive algorithms that seemed simple but had complex results.

The Lorenz attactor was the initial subject of conversation between Dr. Van Knowe and I, and my interest in weather and climate evolved from there. I never set out to do a project about climate change, and actually, when I started it was a much lesser-known topic than it is today. I learned by intereacting with the scientists to create the project. I guess that's what often drives the work, finding something out that is interesting, shocking or surprising to me, and then wanting to help to communicate that information in some way.

I have thought a little about why I have been drawn to working with atmospheric scientists, it's not a conscious thing for me, but I think it's the same reason I am drawn to working in sound. Both sound and air seem very abstract to me, mysterious, invisible and ephemeral. Neither has a clear beginning or end, or a defined shape. They are intertwined, sound is formed out of air, air movement creates sound, it's impossible to separate the two. The human experience of sound and weather is similar, we are surrounded by both, creating an experience of always being at the center of the experience. In this way, I think the experience of sound and air has a quality of the infinite. Or, by experiencing and understanding both one might somehow become closer to the infinite.

-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 15:15:10
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

- I am not quite sure to well understand your distinction between sonifications modeled after the real world soundscape and others modeled on music. Maybe you can just explain me in a few lines this passage a bit further ?

This is important and I hope I can convey it, it's one of the main parts of my PhD thesis! I've been really interested and active in the global acoustic ecology community, mainly the WFAE (world forum for acoustic ecology) that formed out of the World Soundscape Project started by Murray Schafer and others in the 70's. It's an interdisciplinary movement of people who explore, document and analyze the natural and man-made sound environment. It has been so influential (well, AE along with advances in recording technology, music concrete, film, etc.), that now what is defined as 'music' includes a lot of soundscape material (field recordings, soundscape structures, etc.) so it's difficult to really make a distinction between music and soundscape.

However..., for me the main thing is that I'm influenced by the soundscape as much if not more than by music and that I definitely don't limit my palette to traditional instrumental sounds. In fact, I don't usually use instrumental sounds at all (unless you count voice), and am much more interested in building new sounds using the data. For example, I'll start out with white or pink noise and use the data to 'carve' the sound into a shape. The data is not only affecting the pattern of sounds but the actual sounds themselves.

- Am I right, if I interpret you personal evolution from the late 80s until nowadays also as an opening to the world ? Weren't the frame of computer program and mathematical formulae a limitation to integrate your observations and experiences of nature within your artworks ?

Hmm, that's a nice way of putting it, but the process wasn't independent of changes that were happening with technology. In a way computers opened to the world at the same time. The mathematics of chaos was the beginning of that, the first time people saw computers creating really naturalistic looking forms using algorithmic models. Then those models just got better and better at describing the natural world that they have now become the way we understand major aspects of the natural world. Like Dr. Wang said, without visualizations it would not be possible to do meteorological science today. But it's still limited and kind of dangerous. If visualizations of computer simulations are accepted as reality, it could limit our understanding of the world because a visual, even an animation, is a massive simplification of reality. That's where things like sonifications and other ways to perceive data become really important. If nothing else it makes people question the visualization as 'truth'.

In terms of process, it's important to have a process that integrates real world experience with data interpretation, and not just for artists. Several of the scientists I have met and worked with also have the need to observe phenomenon in the real world, whether that's 'storm chasing' a tornado, flying above a hurricane to observe the structure, or measuring sea level rise along the banks of New York City's rivers.

- You said that being involved with the weather and climate is full of

uncertainties but that you are also facing a certain number of "external" requirements : for example, to deliver an "object" to galleries or to choose to work between high or low resolutions models.

I was wondering whether you also had to define "a priori" the nature (climatic or atmospheric) of the event you were working on, or did you discover it through your artwork ? For example, when does the perception of a storm becomes the perception of a climate change event ? In other words, can an art of climate change be something else that an "illustration" of climate change ? and become a sort of "presentification" of climate change ?

Yes, that's something I'm really interested in now with the real time sonifications and visualizations.

For the storm sonifications, there was already a lot of data and a lot of analysis, so although we didn't know exactly what it would sound like, a lot was already known about the data. That was an advantage, because the final result could be really high resolution and detailed.

For the projected summer climate project, the most conservative model was chosen for outputting the data, but it was obvious that there were going to be a lot of changes, a lot of increased heat in summers. The structure of those sonifications was actually also based on a kind of narrative that came out of the impacts assessment the climate research scientists did. One thing the impacts assessment found out was that consecutive days over a certain temperature were exponentially damaging. Three hot days spread out over a month was bad, but three days in a row was really bad. Power plants would get drained and people would not be able to withstand the heat. So the sonification was programmed to get more intense based on the number of consecutive days. Dramatic results for the projected climate were pretty much guaranteed because we knew more hot days were predicted.

The real time work is different, but also problematic. This kind of 'long time' work doesn't fit with the way people experience artworks. No one can stand in front of a piece for 10 years to listen to how, for example, climate in the arctic has changed, even though in climate terms that's a really short period of time. So, for those projects it would be interesting to somehow work out a more long term process, maybe online, maybe a permanent installation in physical space. Joe and I have been showing the N. piece for 2 years now, and have data for 5 years, and we have recently recorded a 40 minute sound work that interprets the data from the last 5 years. Those kinds of approaches can work well.


-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2007 22:55:56
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

I also think the idea of real world experience and data interpretation is very important.

- Could you please explain me what a "white" or "pink noise" is ?

White noise is a sound consisting of the full frequency spectrum, in other words all frequencies of sound exist together in white noise. You could think about an equalizer that has knobs that will boost or limit various frequency bands, and imagine that white noise has all those frequncies up to the maximum level. It sounds like the static we hear when the television or radio is between frequencies. Pink noise is a kind of filtered white noise that is more listenable, but still contains a full frequency spectrum.

The important thing is that they contain such a wide frequency spectrum, so if you apply various kinds of filters to the noise, for example a band pass filter, you can isolate frequencies and create a lot of different kinds of sounds. Imagine, for example, the sound of a bowed violin. If you look at the sound wave for that sound, there are several frequencies represented. There is the main frequency but also harmonics that make up the timbre of that sound. So, the authentic sound of a bowed violin is made up of several frequencies. You could, in theory, 'sculpt' the sound of the bowed violin from white noise by removing all the frequencies except those that the bowed violin contains.

That's kind of the idea in my reductive process, although I think of it more like wind harmonics, the noise is the sound of the unfiltered wind, and the data is some kind of 'architecture' through which the wind blows and is shaped.

- Please develop your thought of the following sentence : "the data is not only affecting the pattern but the actual sounds themselves".

OK, so using the violin example again: you could turn weather data into a score for a violin concerto and play that score on the computer using sampled or computer modeled sounds of a violin. No matter how the sounds were arranged, it would always sound like something played by a violin. Or, instead you could take the data and have it affect the sound waves themselves, not knowing what kind of instrument (if any) the result will sound like. My work does both, the data is very dense, so that it can both affect the quality of the sounds and the arrangement of the sounds.

Re the opening to the world, i'm very interested in the issue of integrating real world experience in data interpretation. If I understood you well, N. (where does the name comes from ?)

N. (pronounced n-point) is just a representation of North, the North Pole/Arctic as the northernmost point. It's also a little play on words, 'n-point' sounds like 'end-point' implying the end of the world or the end of time.

- Juxtaposition of real time sonification and a condensing of time (5 years into 40 minutes), that is a "near real time sonification".

Yes, that's true. The real time work we like to think of it as a kind of 'remote sensing' system.

- How do you integrate real world experience in your other climat/weather artworks (Atmospheric Weatherworks, Heartbeat) ?

This is why being involved with acoustic ecology and the natural and man-made soundscape is so important to my work. I'm interested in sonifications that share qualities of the real world soundscape. Although people don't always realize it, (especially in urban areas people tend to try to tune out the soundscape) the soundscape has a strong effect on our understanding of our environment and quality of life.

So, I am playing a little with trying to create a kind of data soundscape that uses qualities of the real world soundscape to convey information. Acoustic ecologist Bernie Krause has done some really interesting research, for example, analyzing soundscapes and how they indicate the health of a natural environment. A data soundscape that indicates an unhealthy environment could draw from Krause's research and recordings.

- Will you have a different approach in your next project in Antarctica ?

I'm very interested in the soundscape in Antarctica and in particular the 'keynote' (Murray Schafer uses this term to describe the part of a soundscape dtermined by its geography, it's the sound on top of which all other sounds are built). Since there is very limited wildlife and people in Antarctica, I wonder if the keynote, that is usually inaudible in populated areas, could be heard and what it sounds like. I'm interested in the kind of 'otherworldly' aspects of Antarctica but aternatively in how the data being collected could be communicated on a very human level.


-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2007 19:04:54
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

Good to hear from you.

- Re your sound artworks, I was wondering what for data exactly you use (and if you are doing choices on the date your work on ?).

The data depends on what is available and what makes conceptual/design sense for the project. In the case of the storm work, we had 9 variables related to weather and we ended up using 5. The decision came out of practical concerns (what would sound the best) and scientific concerns (which are the most important to communicate according to the scientists)

In other cases only one or two variables are available so those are what I work with (for example in the NYC climate project we had temperature and precipitation only)

Time series data in my experience is the best to use for sonification, as opposed to geographic location data, although I have used both.

- Also, what for choices you had to make to transform the data into sound ?

Any parameter that can be changed in the sound wave is available: loudness, pitch, length, timbre (i.e. filtering), reverb, granular synthesis, eq, etc.

- If I am right you didn’t used instruments for your artworks, did you ?

I would say that the computer is my 'instrument', and sometimes I use voice (my own or I work with a vocalist), samples of instrumental sounds of all kinds, and sometimes improvise with artists who use other instruments (invented or traditional).

- My last question would be : do you feel belonging to a tendancy in art ? Do you feel comfortable with categories such as "Ecoart", "Sustainable Art" or "Art of Climate Change" ?

I don't know really, sometimes I call myself an electronic or digital media artist, and I've been interested in the idea of 'ecomedia' and would consider calling myself and ecomedia artist. I think the term eco art is pretty well established and am interested in it although the term doesn't imply the use of media technology so much. Using technology gets in the way of honestly using a term like 'sustainable art;, I mean electronic media art is so dependent on the grid and the ways in which the technology is manufactured is not green at all. I'm not sure if there are enough artists working with climate change issues to call it a movement right now, but maybe in the future.


-----Original message-----

From: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2007 12:57:49 -0400
To: Andrea andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Subject: Re: E-interview

Dear Andrea,

Thank you very much for your interesting message. I attached you a link about an article published in a British newspaper you might be interested in : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/

0,,2042370,00.html

I would have two further and general questions :

- How would you describe that (weather and climate) sciences and technologies have modified your sensitivity and relationship to climate ?

- Is climate and weather in art history of interest for yourself and your work ? Are you starting or already engaging in (critical) dialogue with the way climate was approached in art history ?


-----Original message-----

From: andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2007 22:13:11
To: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Subject: Re: E-interview

Hi Julien;

Thanks for the message and the article. I agree with the assertion that government shouldn't be involved in determining the goals of art, but have to say that instiutions have always done this. The church funded public art throughout history and now corporations fund popular art (film, music and television) that not only promote corporate ideals but sell products. Art that needs resources to be made will always be beholden to those structures that provide the resources. The difference in this article is the belief that there is a kind of 'pure' art that is free of those constraints. I guess I would like to believe that such an art can exist, but I'm skeptical (or maybe the right word is cynical ;)

On to your questions:

- How would you describe that (weather and climate) sciences and technologies have modified your sensitivity and relationship to climate ?

One of the first meetings meteorologist Glenn Van Knowe and I had was in a beautiful park in upstate NY. While we sat and talked after a picnic, we looked up at a beautiful arrangement of clouds in the sky. Glenn proceeded to tell me about the different phenemenon that could cause the types of clouds we were seeing. To me, knowing this information, the complex processes that created the visual phenomenon, made the clouds a hundred times more beautiful to me.

Some people talk about not wanting to know the science associated with nature, they say that knowing this ruins the spiritual experience of nature, but I don't find this to be true for me, especially in the case of atmopsheric phenomena. There are so many complex factors, so many precise conditions that need to be true for any particular phenomenon to manifest, such a delicate balance, and knowing a little about the balance adds to the magic.

So, I could say that working with atmospheric scientists has increased my sensitivity to and appreciation of climate. In terms of my relationship to climate, again knowing more about how the chemical composition of air can have such a serious effect on climate has made me much more sensitive to my personal footprint.

- Is climate and weather in art history of interest for yourself and your work ? Are you starting or already engaging in (critical) dialogue with the way climate was approached in art history ?

I have been interested in this, and more generally in environment and landscape in art history. I have been interested in how science and art have intersected in this area historically and how artists have possibly provided documentation of atmospheric phenomena (Munch's 'Scream' possibly presenting the effects of the Krakotoa eruption for example). I've also been interested in weather records kept by the Chinese emporers in the distant past and how these are useful today in analyzing how global climate has changed. I don't know if there is any connection, but I would be interested in investigating how the arts intersected with this Chinese weather record-keeping if at all.

Thank you for this interesting interview. I will be going to Antarctica to work with some climate scientists in December.

Yours;

Andrea


-----Original message-----

From: Julien Knebusch julien_knebusch[@]yahoo[.]fr
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2007 07:57:01 -0400
To: Andrea Polli andrea[@]andreapolli[.]com
Subject: Interview

Dear Andrea,

I would like to thank you a thousand times for your kindness and the time you took to reply to my questions. I found our dialogue very interesting.

Thank you again for your cooperation and help! I hope you are fine and well.

All the best,

Julien.


[For more information about Andrea Polli’s works, please visit : http://www.andreapolli.com/]



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