I now have meetings arranged with my scientist partners at the University of Aberdeen and coding/data specialist Shelly Knotts in Newcastle. If all goes to plan I’ll have a provisional sonification model up and running by the end of May. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to come out of my meeting with the scientists. Having made many assumptions, as a non-scientist, it’s almost a certainty that the simple notion of predicting climate change tipping points will turn out to be a mass of statistical probabilities, from ‘highly likely’ to ‘as likely as not’, all subject to controversial and vigorous debate and disagreement between experts. But one thing I do know about science is that it’s about hypotheses, many of them ad hoc hypotheses, rather than facts and certainties. And here I can meet the scientists on the sea ground because as an artist I work from the same methodology. I welcome uncertainty. If someone sidles up to me at an installation and tells me the science is all wrong I’ll invite them on board the project as a stakeholder. At least I’ll have taken a position.

As part of my campaign to network and to make people aware of my project I visited a talk/exhibition in Edinburgh, organised by Creative Carbon Scotland, on a project by Canadian artist Sean Caulfield. Firedamp is series of large scale prints, dystopic, oneiric, based it would seem on the artist’s experience of the Alberta tar sands. Sean participated by Skype from Edmonton, talking to a group of about thirty people. I realised very quickly that this kind of work can act very efficiently as a catalyst or a forum around which people might share values. I began this project partly out of frustration at submitting to a relentless data assault. I don’t know what to do about climate change, yet I do know that if we do nothing the consequences will be catastrophic. So I’ve been moved to respond within my means, as an artist. I don’t want to send people away even more frustrated at yet another rendition of the futility of the human condition faced with climate change. Later on I’ll come to my own ideas about how events might be built around an exhibition .

Other recent contacts include agencies with specific interest in data, ecoarts organisations and a local Community Energy group whose representative answered a question that had been bothering me for some time. The final phase of this project will be the production phase and for that I’ll be seeking out sponsors. The last think I want is to take money from a renewables company who also happen to do some oil and gas on the side, or a wind farm company who ride roughshod over local communities. So I’ve learned that the way around this minefield is to go to the ethical investment banks and similar institutions, who will point me to the kind of potential sponsor I want to engage with.

I’ve been delighted to hear that my proposals to present papers/posters and realisations of the work-in-progress have been accepted at two conferences in the summer: Sound + Environment 2017 at The University of Hull (https://soundenvironment.net) and Balance- Unbalance (A Sense of Place) produced by i-DAT in collaboration with the Sustainable Earth Institute and Art and Sound at Plymouth University. I envisage that these will afford excellent opportunities to test and evaluate the work in a critical environment.



I’d like to sign off on this project with a final blog entry. The funding from a.n has taken me on a very fulfilling journey of discovery as I identified and began to carry out the necessary research. It allowed me to spend time with a team of cryosphere scientists, an environmental artist/curator and a data and programming specialist. Were it not for this initial funding it’s unlikely that I would have been able to seek additional support and the project might well have slipped away. The face-to-face meetings and ongoing correspondence have set the project up more robustly than I could ever have imagined. I began with a simple concept – to map historical CO2 and glacier ablation data to rising and falling frequencies respectively. As this initial model took shape, I attracted further support from Creative Scotland, allowing me to establish new partnerships and extend the project’s depth and range. At this point I moved to a testing and evaluation phase. The first model was tested and evaluated at Sound + Environment 2017 hosted by The University of Hull in July.

I then changed tack and developed a second model based on an understanding of indigenous knowledge as data. With advice from Giancarlo Toniutti, a linguist specialising in Arctic rim languages, and from anthropologists at The University of Aberdeen, I learned how to pronounce short passages from longer stories and myths relating to environmental knowledge, broadly speaking. Four passages in the native languages, their English translations and four ‘authoritative texts’ from the UN climate change literature make up the core of the work. A short draft excerpt can be auditioned here: https://soundcloud.com/james_wyness/i-have-wrapped-up-my-shin-bone-draft-excerpt

A longer work is currently in-progress, to be realised with versions for quad (4-channel), stereo, headphone and live performance. This second model was tested and evaluated at Balance/Unbalance 2017 hosted by The University of Plymouth in August.

Overt he summer of 2017, in discussions with the scientific partners Matteo Spagnolo and Brice Rea, the disappearance of Arctic sea ice was identified as one of the clearest indicators of warming in the polar regions. My third model will therefore contrast data from 1980 (when records began) with projections looking forward to 2080. Two scaled and synthesised pitched sounds represent the levels at 1980 and 2080 respectively. A third sound, a falling glissando, creates a timescale by sweeping from high to low between the upper and lower data points.

The fourth model is at a very early stage and will look much closer to home by comparing pollution levels from semi-rural Southern Scotland with levels in Scottish cities. At the moment I’m looking at particulate matter, PM2.5, or possibly NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) as indicators. My aim here is to work with local and national data to create a near real-time permanent installation sited in the Scottish Borders or, given the more forthcoming collaborative potential, with partners in Dumfries and Galloway. The idea here is to rely less on the ‘big data’ of global phenomena and to look more closely at relatively clean environments wherever possible, at how such environments can be sustained through, for example, progressive transport, food production and housing policies. Another area of interest here is that of river levels, whose data, as with pollutants, is relatively accessible as a real time stream in various packets. I want this model to work both as a permanent and a travelling exhibition and have started on this with the assistance of Old School Fabrications in East Lothian who are currently designing a listening pavilion. The basic hybrid design will reference existing or imagined climate change research stations as well as the architectures of indigenous Arctic-rim communities. Inside will be a bench for up to six people, loudspeakers, headphones, acoustic treatment and interpretation. I want eventually to realise some versatility in the design of the structure so that it will adapt easily to a range of indoor and outdoor environments.

Finally, working closely with Dumfries and Galloway-based filmmaker/artist John Wallace I’m looking at how best to design public engagement. Over time I want the the project to serve as a catalyst or forum around which people can gather to share values and discuss matters relating to climate change and adaptation. Public or social engagement here is understood as a complex methodology (involving fresh or unorthodox insights, unruly truths, eclecticism, openness, collaboration) where knowledge from individual, collective and institutional bases is absorbed by the artist, then creatively reimagined, reframed and recontextualised to produce innovative work. I want to enable and facilitate new levels of awareness and understanding, new attitudes, emotions, values and behaviour towards climate change and adaptation, enlarging ecological and social contexts.

Regular updates on the project can be had at


Audio will be updated regularly at


Partnerships supported with Professional Development funding from The Artists Information Company, April 2017

Jan Hogarth, environmental artist and curator

Shelly Knotts, producer of live-coded and network music performances

Matteo Spagnolo (glaciologist, Reader in Physical Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK, Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, USA ) and the Cryosphere and Climate Change Group at the University of Aberdeen.


Mama, “Ge, bi ei kaptasiemi see weisiteize.

Ulile wendei, ulini bagdiiti, uli, bäsa edelegeini.

Grandmother (replied): Well, I have wrapped up my shin bone. I scraped it and wrapped it up into various parcels.

Throw them around.

Throw them in the water, so rivers and creeks appear.

When you throw in a pool, a lake will appear.

(from Udeghe folk tales (Siberian tungus))


Satamaŋainaq’aa agralutik,

siguŋaiqtaaga naguatun manna.

From out at sea there, they went westward,

and the ice had stopped forming.

(from “Ugiuvangmiut Quliapyuit / King Island Tales”)


I’ve expanded my understanding of climate change data and of data in general with respect to environmental knowledge and adaptation strategies. My new perspective considers knowledge about climate change partly in terms of scientific data, partly as understood through historically validated oral narrative and myth and partly as a field subject to speculation, assumption and prejudice. This ‘porosity of approaches to knowledge’ (Julie Cruikshank) and the possible incommensurability of scientific and oral narrative sees the latter as open-ended, a model for opposing authoritarian speech (Mikhail Bakhtin), a form of knowledge which constrains and hold things together, a counterweight to the quantitative pressure of modern knowledge. I’m interested the kinds of knowledge that we find embedded in oral narratives and how this knowledge contrasts or conflicts with scientific data.

In June 2017 I delivered a paper and installed a climate change sonification model at the Sound + Environment 2017 conference at the University of Hull. The conference was a gathering of many of the leading figures in the field of sound art research and practice, with a particular focus on art and science collaborations. With excellent technical support from some of the students and technical staff, I installed a first test and evaluation model of if we do nothing in their very new and shiny state-of-the-art studio.

I set up pairs of loudspeakers at three stations around the room, with chairs facing, then created a social space in the middle. This offered visitors some variety in how they might listen to the work and created a space for discussion. This first model, a mapping of rising CO2 and glacier ablation (falling ice mass/area) from 1880- 2050, runs for approximately 30 minutes. I looped the piece every hour, leaving time for reflection and debate.

The conference was running paper sessions in parallel, along with multiple simultaneous installations, concerts, keynotes and other events, so the pattern of visitors was erratic. At one point I had about 20 people in the space, probably near capacity, then most people had to dash to some other event. Although this was a testing and evaluation event and obviously subject to the conditions of a very busy conference, in production I’ll need to think very carefully and consult with partners on programming, duration, managing the public engagement and so forth. Nonetheless I had a good number of visitors, many of whom stayed around to give feedback and talk through the many issues around climate change and adaptation.

On the creative side creative I need to make some decisions on the synthesis of the two glissandi (sliding tones). I kept the volume very low throughout and this worked very well as it drew people in and suited the atmosphere of the room. But I’d have been hesitant to boost the volume because it’s clear that creating a sound which will remain reasonably pleasant in the region of 15kHz will be a challenge. I had some interesting feedback on this and will make some adjustments overt the summer.

My paper, which I was constantly reviewing in the light of new research, was well received and I wait to hear if there are intentions to publish.

I’m now working on a second model which involves a study of the oral histories of indigenous Arctic communities, comparing and contrasting their environmental values and adaptation strategies, expressed through song, myth and stories, with the methodologies and findings of climate change scientists and regulatory bodies such as governments. My idea is to synthesise selected recorded texts spoken in the native languages (by me – I have a specialist on board to assist me with the pronunciation), then digitally transform the sounds, mapping the transformations to data, drawn either from climate change science or from the social sciences. I’m aiming to test and evaluate this new model at the forthcoming conference Balance-Unbalance 2017 A Sense of Place (http://balanceunbalance2017. org) to be held in Plymouth from 21-23 August. I’ll also be presenting a poster at the conference and will take advantage of whatever publication options become available. Opportunities are being explored through the Balance-Unbalance relationship with the Leonardo journal, published by The MIT Press and Ubiquity: The Journal of Pervasive Media, published by Intellect Ltd.

Finally I’ve been invited to realise a headphone installation of one of the models at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23, November 2017). For this I’ll need to establish a technical or support partner in Bonn or nearby so if anyone out there has any connections in West Central Germany please let me know.


Today I sat down at the Sage in Newcastle with Shelly Knotts, a coding and data networking specialist who’s assisting me with sound synthesis and data interpretation, the last-but-one piece in the jigsaw before testing and evaluation. Our aim was to take two collections of climate change data, edit and scale the data points, plug them into a provisional synthesised sound model, then refine this sound and finally make a second contrasting, slightly different sound.

The first sound, a rising glissando (which slides upwards through the data mapped as frequencies) represents CO2 levels from 1880 – 2050, reaching inaudibility as the tipping point is reached, i.e. if we do nothing by 2050 we’re in dire trouble. The second, a falling glissando, is mapped to the falling glacier volume of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier, again reaching inaudibility as the putative tipping point is reached at 2050.

This is a complex business so I left Shelly to do her work, auditioning and commenting where necessary. I understand enough of the programme Supercollider to work with a range of options and we agreed that the best approach would be to have a modular piece of code where I could select or modify elements according to the needs of the final work, for example the duration of the installation might be stretched or compressed.

Although it might sound a bit dull to the reader this is actually a very exciting part of the project, not to denigrate the preparatory work in any way, but to hear the result of years of research and months of collaborative preparation is most fulfilling. Very soon, when the final bits of code are assembled by Shelly, I will have two robust contrasting ‘musical’ electronic timbres, engaging in themselves and able to offer presence at reasonably high volumes. Additional richness comes in the form of ‘natural’ variations programmed into the sonification model, i.e. Co2 levels (annual) and glacier diminution, which I’ve taken to be a 50 year cycle, though please correct me if I’m wrong – the scientific papers are somewhere above my pay grade so I had to extrapolate what I could within my means. These periodic movements will be perceived as ‘wobbles’ or a slow pulsation in the rising and falling sounds.

One of the interesting aspects of this project has been the discussions I’ve had with various people about the optimum duration for such a sound installation which will involve the two sounds clearly separated and played over full range loudspeakers. I’ve decided to test and evaluate a piece of 30 minutes in total, to be scheduled as such at various upcoming events (as opposed to running on a loop all day). The work will have a 2 minute introduction in which the two tones hold a unison at 774Hz,  the (geometric) mean of 40Hz and 15kHz (which we’ve taken as upper limits of the average human hearing), before separating and following their respective paths. There will be a spoken introduction, to be decided upon, but this will most likely position the work within the wider context of old and new environmental values. At the end of the piece the ‘tipping point’ tones will be sustained for a final two minutes before fading to silence. More than one person has expressed the view that 30 minutes is ‘very long’ or even ‘too long’. For what or why wasn’t made clear. Some people, in their early twenties or younger (i.e. younger than me…) have suggested a duration of about five to ten minutes because ‘who would want to listen to something thirty minutes long?’ This is interesting to me because it tells us something about the current trend towards grazing and snacking with respect to musical bytes and because it lays out a challenge – is there indeed a place in the world for sound works which set out to engage the listener for more than a few fleeting minutes? Is it old-fashioned to want to behold or contemplate a work of sound art which requires concentration and commitment? Let’s find out – as someone who doesn’t accept transient cultural orthodoxies or assumptions I do love a challenge.

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Having ploughed through several scientific papers I’ve made my decisions with respect to the data I want to use for a preliminary sonification model or, if you prefer, the narrative. Though ti’s obvious now, I hadn’t realised that CO2 data from ice core samples goes back literally to the year dot, and then even earlier. There’s been some interesting visual work with these large cloudy, frozen cylindrical time machines which might be worth investigating for future collaborations.

Anyway I’ve decided work with a timescale from 1880 to 2050. The earlier date is as pre-industrial as I can go and is also when records start for glacier monitoring. The choice of 2050 is based on the fact that if we don’t sort ourselves out by then the game’s over.

The data for the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland shows an unimaginable ice volume loss during the period in question. The scientists look at the forward projections with a number of highly sophisticated models so I trust these projections to be as accurate as possible.

Projecting forward from 2017 to 2050 for CO2 levels we can follow a number of scenarios to estimate the data. The most pessimistic (or is it realistic?) if we do nothing, or as they say in the community, ‘no action’, shows levels of CO2 so great that devastating tipping points will occur across several climatic areas. Sorry to be so negative folks, but we all need to take a serious look at our behaviour with respect to fossil fuel consumption, and we need to lobby politicians so that the issue becomes more important than an footnote to a party manifesto in the hope of sweeping up ‘the green vote’.

But all this lies at the heart of my project. Having become frustrated at the torrent of data hitting my screens every day I took some comfort from Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ in which she decided to respond to her sense of frustration, within her means, by researching, writing and delivering a positive response to a range of climate change matters. Although I’m presenting some fairly dire scenarios my hope is that a sonic representation will invite a deeper more transformational reflection, and that I’ll be able to wrap the outcomes of this project, at the production stage when I exhibit the eventual sound installations, in  socially-engaged events where the work functions as a catalyst or forum around which people will gather to share values and discuss personal and collective responses to climate change.