Common Grounds Installation View

Type of project: Fellow research project

Published: 2022

By: Kerstin Ergenzinger & Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari

Websites: Kerstin Ergenzinger

Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari

Sono-Choreographic Collective

Tobias Grewenig

Julia Boike

Contact: Kerstin Ergenzinger

Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari

Common Grounds

An artistic-scientific, collaborative project exploring methods for listening, sensing and understanding climate change from an embedded perspective by taking novel approaches for performative sonifications of data through the theatrical apparatus.

Die Polarregionen der Arktis sind die Gegenden der Erde, die sich am schnellsten erwärmen. Trotzdem das Thema Klimawandel in der Öffentlichkeit angekommen ist und sich bereits durch häufigere extreme Wetterereignisse bemerkbar macht, ist es immer noch schwierig, sich damit auseinanderzusetzen oder darüber zu sprechen. Der Klimawandel vollzieht sich in einem räumlichen und zeitlichen Maßstab, der viel größer und langsamer ist als unsere menschliche Wahrnehmung. So bleibt er für viele nur eine unzugängliche, drohende Gefahr.

Unsere Klang- und Lichtinstallation nutzt das Theater als konzentrierte Umgebung, um eine gemeinsame Basis zu schaffen, die zum Zuhören einläd. Indem sie das Wetter und das Klima der Arktis in Klänge übersetzt, ermöglicht sie den Zugang zu diesen Phänomenen als physische und sensorische, musikalische Erfahrung und eröffnet eine besondere Hörperspektive

Im Inneren von Lab02 spielt eine artifizielle Klangumgebung einen 20-jährigen Datensatz mit stündlichen Wettermessungen ab, der auf dem Svalbard-Archipel in 78° N erhoben wurde. Diese Daten werden durch verschiedene von uns entwickelte Sonifizierungsmethoden hörbar gemacht und bilden einen polyphonen “Chor”, der diese 20 Jahre in einem einstündigen Loop komprimiert.

Für die Umgebung bieten wir eine Karte an, die mit einem Audioguide verbunden ist, der Ihnen bei der Navigation durch die verschiedenen Stationen und Klänge helfen wird.

Common Grounds ist ein künstlerisch-wissenschaftliches Projekt und wird von Kerstin Ergenzinger und Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari vom Sono-Choreographic Collective in Zusammenarbeit mit Tobias Grewenig und der Permafrost-Forschungsgruppe unter der Leitung von Julia Boike am Alfred-Wegener-Institut Potsdam entwickelt.

The circumpolar region of the arctic is the fastest warming place on earth. While finally acknowledged by the public, and already felt as more frequent extreme weather events, the topic of climate change still remains difficult to engage with or talk about. Operating on a spatial and temporal scale much larger and slower than one we could percieve, it is for many just an inaccessible, looming threat.

Using the theater apparatus as a focused environment, our sound and light installation establishes a common ground for listening. Translating the arctic’s weather and climate into sound, it allows access to this phenomena through a physical and sensorial musical experience, opening up a special listening perspective.

Inside the Lab02, an artificial sonic environment plays through a dataset of 20 years of hourly weather measurements, recorded at N 78° in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. This data is rendered audible through various sonification methods we developed, forming a polyphonic ‘choir’ that compresses these 20 years into a single hour loop.

Inside this environment you are offered a map, connected to an audio guide that will help you navigate the different stations and sounds.

Common Grounds is an artistic scientific project and is being developed by Kerstin Ergenzinger and Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari of the Sono-Choreographic Collective in collaboration with Tobias Grewenig and the Permafrost research group led by Julia Boike at Alfred-Wegener-Institut Potsdam.

Common Grounds is an ongoing artistic-scientific project looking and listening for ways in which climate research could be mediated, disseminated and communicated through art making.

Until now, its main directions of inquiry included development of:

  • Forms of mediation of weather and climate data sets.
  • Tools and software for sonification of metrological and environmental data.
  • Storytelling methods to narrate this research and communicate its finding in an engaging way
  • Principles of sonifying climate data as an immersive musical experience in a specific location, adaptable to diverse surroundings and conditions.

Common Grounds Audio Guide Map

Future presentation formats may include time based performances and events, as well as installative and fixed forms, such as:

  • Documentary theater piece, staging the complexity and polyvocality of the connections between climate research and its implications. Using dramaturgy and stage to take audiences through intricate stories of sensing, scaling and navigating along the climate system and its changes. We see a great potential in using such a format as a vehicle to bring into awareness the kinds of paradigmatic shifts and deeper forms of adaptations our society must undergo.
  • Guided concert, exposing gradually the different elements of these sometimes complex sonifications. Such a concert would render audible the different connections between sensed data and its implications through sound and music.
  • A participatory audio-walk, relating the immediate environment of the listeners to the arctic and connecting them through stories, hence making the scale of these places feltable in a new way.
  • A listening workshop format in which this data is experienced and studied more deeply in a non-staged time, acknowledging the fact that even though we find data sonification to be very affective, it might also be experienced as quite subtle or difficult to access.
  • A multichannel sonic, sculpture and light environment. Taking the scientific research and test station as references it is a physical and sono-choreographic model of the arctic site that sonifies climate-data through custom made instruments. The installation includes an audio guide connected to a map that narrates to the visitors, who are invited to become part of the installation and of what is being heard at their own pace and rhythm.

The latter option is a direct expansion of the environment presented at the Open Lab at the Dortmund Theater in June ‘22. Having worked on this particular sono-choreographic environment we can imagine it taking different forms and tailed to different environments. Depending on the context of the specific site, it could be installed in an indoor gallery or hall as well as outside. In such a case, we would use transducers to activate and excite existing elements in a built or natural environment, blending the sounds from the arctic data with the natural sound of that place.

There are also broader questions that came up through this process regarding the idea of art-science collaborations. In a way, the gaps in language, expectations and methods are apparent in every step we have taken and are very worthwhile foci for future artistic investigation. As artists, we work without black and white, in the gray, with speculation and indecisiveness, vagueness and not knowing. Having embarked on an artistic-scientific collaboration on such a crucial topic we were also faced with the fact that the artistic way of working could be seen as opaque from the outside. As the work that is needed to be done around the climate crisis involves all parts of society and requires our civilisation to broaden our imaginative horizon, we find this topic of arts-science dissemination - communication and differences to be a very important one to have. And we feel that Common Grounds is a platform that has just begun such conversations and would be more than happy to discuss further lines of flight for them.

Common Grounds Installation View

An annotated Glossary

As a way of communicating our process and findings, this glossary presents key concepts and terms we encountered through our work, bringing together scientific, as well as artistic voices.

Its main scientific sources are the IPCC Glossery from the Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, marked by a ° sign 1), and a scientific article by Prof.Dr.Julia Boike and the permafrost research group on Energy and Waterfluxes, marked by a sign 2).

The annotations to some of the entries are mostly by Kerstin Ergenzinger and Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari and are marked by a ^ sign.
Other sources are marked by a * sign together with their name.

The upper surface layer of seasonally freezing and thawing ground is called the Active Layer. The range in temperatures and water and ice content of this active, upper surface layer of seasonally freezing and thawing ground determines the biological and hydrological processes that operate in these areas.
Active Layer, skin of a frozen body

 Bayelva Active-Layer Sensor Setup

The fragilely frozen body of this ground is covered and protected by an active epidermis. The skins’ layers absorb and store the energy of the warming atmosphere. Thawing and refreezing it is not only continuously changing its structure and potential properties (see Volumetric Liquid Water Content) but also slowly expanding in depth. Shifting the zero line of the permanent freeze. Inside the sono-choreographic test site of Common Grounds, which is an experiential, immersive model of the Bayelva research site, the active layer is present in the form of an 1 ½ m high tripod tower. It gives place to 5 layers of tensed tracing paper membranes that are put in motion by a chain of exciters transducing the sonified frequencies of the soil temperature measurements in different depth and their connected volumetric water content records. The layering mimics the spatial relation of the probed soil profile placed inside the arctic ground. The paper membranes amplify and filter the sonified data stream and give rise to a highly localizable and fragile sonic presence. The top and the 6th layer out of foam board at the base of this sonic sensor tower represents and gives voice to the connected snow depth. ^
In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.°
Adaptation across scales and depths
In the more than human systems that we are, that we are embedded in, we constantly adapt. Our gut microbiome adapts to recent food intake, our genes to the changing environment, perhaps even to our life experiences. How apt are we to plan deeper adaptations to effects on scales we cannot sense? To what extent will these adaptation processes change who we are and how we run things? Will sensing the scale of change motivate us to adapt better? Faster? Stronger? ^.
The fraction of solar radiation reflected by a surface or object, often expressed as a percentage. Snow-covered surfaces have a high albedo, the surface albedo of soils ranges from high to low, and vegetation-covered surfaces and the oceans have a low albedo. The Earth’s planetary albedo changes mainly through varying cloudiness and changes in snow, ice, leaf area and land cover. See also energy balance.°
Albedo in the high Arctic area of the Bayelva research station

 Bayelva Station in early spring

The West Spitsbergen Current, a branch of the North Atlantic, warms this area to an average air temperature of between 17.0 and 3.8 C in January, and from 4.6 to 6.9 C in July (18-year period: 1 August 1993 to 31 July 2011; Maturilli et al., 2013). It also provides about 400 mm of precipitation annually, which falls mostly as snow between September and May…The seasonal snow cover in Arctic permafrost regions insulates the permafrost surface for many months of the year and has an important effect on the thermal regime of permafrost…Changes in the duration and quality of the snow cover are changing the albedo and its energy balance, the relationship between incoming solar radiation, outgoing radiation of all types, and temperature change .
The regions north of the arctic circle currently beyond N 66°33′49.0″. * Regions with permanently frozen ground are located further north in the high Arctics between N 70 - 80°. ^ The Bayelva research site at the west coast of the Svalbard archipelago is located at N 78°55’24’’. Another site maintained by AWI is on, Samoylov Island at N 72°22’ Ω.

* Wikipedia
Ω Permafrost research website operated from Alfred-Wegener-Institut Potsdam

See also Bayelva

The gaseous envelope surrounding the earth, divided into five layers – the troposphere which contains half of the Earth’s atmosphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere, which is the outer limit of the atmosphere. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (78.1% volume mixing ratio) and oxygen (20.9% volume mixing ratio), together with a number of trace gases, such as argon (0.93 % volume mixing ratio), helium and radiatively active greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) (0.04% volume mixing ratio) and ozone (O3). In addition, the atmosphere contains the GHG water vapour (H2O), whose amounts are highly variable but typically around 1% volume mixing ratio. The atmosphere also contains clouds and aerosols. °
Concepts of Atmosphere
…But if, for the meteorologists, the atmosphere belongs to the world of insentient nature, for the aestheticians it was placed unequivocally on the side of human consciousness with its feelings, sensations and perceptions. Thus the two atmospheres, of meteorology and aesthetics, straddle the familiar divisions between nature and humanity, materiality and sensoriality, the cosmic and the affective…*

* Ingold, Tim. 2015. The life of lines.

Whether a pedagogical category, a funding scheme or, at best, a transdisciplinary methodology, art and science dance around notions of action and interpretation. Making art in relation to making science opens a plethora of questions regarding the approaches, strategies, techniques and practices under each of these paradigms. And especially at their contact point, where the empirical meets the speculative, we are faced with the gaps of terminology, prior knowledge and expertise (or lack of). Coming as artists to this conversation we bring our hearts and minds poised to be open yet critical, intuitive yet thorough, curious and imaginative. But in order for the magpie to dance with the raven they must agree on rules of the game. Hence, what began in 'Common Grounds' as a given task to sonify a data set, grew up to encompass an investigation into what this meeting could even be? As it surely means more than the raven putting on a white lab coat and making nice artworks based on visits to the magpie's lab, there is an invitation here for a more profound interaction and exchange. One that reflects on our own artist’s patterns, omissions and deaf spots, and in turns critiques and asks about the fundamentals of science making ^.

 Freezing sounds experiment in AWI's Climate Chamber

A research site at the west coast of the Svalbard archipelago, located at N 78°55’24’’ and operated from the Permafrost research group of Julia Boike at Alfred-Wegener-Institut Potsdam. The detailed record of hourly environmental data since 1998 serves as a base for Common Grounds' tangible sonification research and experiments^.

 Bayelva Station View

A small speaker element consisting of a magnet and coiled metal wire that is able to translate electrical signal into acoustic vibration without a membrane. These speaker elements that put attached material in motion and transform them into resonating and amplifying membranes and bodies are also called transducers or exciters. A bone conductor is often used in motorcycle helmets or other environments where sound should not be propagated through the air, but rather through a solid medium. Our bone conductors are connected to custom made mounts and are passing their vibration to stretched sheets of tracing paper, giving the emitted sound a somewhat 'papery' feeling^. Bone Conductor Telescoping Arm prototype

See also Paper

The term used to describe the flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g., as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon in biomass, and carbon dissolved in the ocean as carbonate and bicarbonate) through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, terrestrial and marine biosphere and lithosphere. In this report, the reference unit for the global carbon cycle is GtCO2 or GtC (Gigatonne of carbon = 1 GtC = 1015 grams of carbon. This corresponds to 3.667 GtCO2) °.
Most permafrost is located in the Arctic, where frozen organic carbon makes it an important component of the global climate system. Despite the fact that the Arctic climate changes much more rapidly than the rest of the globe, observational data density in the region is low. Permafrost thaw and carbon release to the atmosphere are a positive feedback mechanism that can exacerbate global warming. This positive feedback functions via changing land–atmosphere energy and mass exchanges .

 Detail from Freezing Sounds experiment

See also Permafrost

Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.°
Condition of the atmosphere at a particular location over a long period of time (from one month to many millions of years, but generally 30 years). Climate is the sum of atmospheric elements (and their variations): solar radiation, temperature, humidity, clouds and precipitation (type, frequency, and amount), atmospheric pressure, and wind (speed and direction). To the nonspecialist, climate means expected or habitual weather at a particular place and time of year. To the specialist, climate also denotes the degree of variability of weather, and it includes not only the atmosphere but also the hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and such extraterrestrial factors as the sun*.

* ​​Britannica

See also Weather

Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.’ The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition and climate variability attributable to natural causes°.
How to form a relation to the changing climate?
Even after decades of awareness, the topic of climate change still remains difficult to engage with or talk about. Taking place on a spatial and temporal scale much larger and slower than our human perception, it is for many just an inaccessible, looming threat. One needs to make an emotional leap and willingness to think quite abstractly in order to truly connect with it as a phenomenon. Perhaps it is so because the thing we call climate lies beyond our perceptual scale. And yet it is a very real thing. Scientists study it and construct models that try to anticipate its behavior, but eventually we all can only actually perceive the present weather. Hence, maintaining a relation with the climate must rely on our imagination. If climate is what we anticipate and weather is what we perceive, we could view the climate as accumulative behavior of lots and lots of weather. Perhaps a good starting point for such leaps could be a sincere acknowledgement of the ways in which we are embedded in the weather. With its elements to which we expose or protect ourselves from, weather affects and shapes us, in every aspect of our lives, in every single moment. Everywhere and all the time. How hot is it right now? How humid? How clogged is your nose? How moist your skin? Listen to the constant exchanges between yourself and your surroundings. Imagining begins with observing that begins with attention. It is probably true for any relation, in any size and speed ^.

See also Scale

Common Grounds installation view

It is the common that we want to address - as a society, as a polis, as demos plural, as what is still left from the ideas of global citizens and as members to the species that must move away from the center of the stage if it wishes to survive as a civilisation. This common refers also to the commonality shared between artistic and scientific ways of engaging with the world. Working with time based media that foregrounds sound, our offering hopes to be a welcoming host, a gastgeber to all, initiated specialists and non-specialists alike ^.
1. Factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.

2. Information in digital form that can be transmitted or processed

3. Information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful *

* Merriam-Webster

See also True to data

 Bayelva dataset visualisation Bayelva software instrument GUI

Under construction ^
An ecosystem is a functional unit consisting of living organisms, their non-living environment and the interactions within and between them. The components included in a given ecosystem and its spatial boundaries depend on the purpose for which the ecosystem is defined: in some cases they are relatively sharp, while in others they are diffuse. Ecosystem boundaries can change over time. Ecosystems are nested within other ecosystems and their scale can range from very small to the entire biosphere. In the current era, most ecosystems either contain people as key organisms, or are influenced by the effects of human activities in their environment °.
… ecology is in here and not out there… ^
The relationship between incoming solar radiation, outgoing radiation of all types, and global temperature change .
The balance between incoming, stored, transformed and outgoing energy. All incoming energy of our habitat earth is solar energy. This solar radiation is shortwave radiation. Ultimately, all of outgoing energy is radiated in the form of longwave radiation back into space ^.
Under construction ^

 Common Grounds installation detail

The estimated increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) averaged over a 30-year period, or the 30-year period centered on a particular year or decade, expressed relative to pre-industrial levels unless otherwise specified. For 30-year periods that span past and future years, the current multi-decadal warming trend is assumed to continue °.

See also Climate Change

Arctic warming
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 Common Grounds installation view

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 Common Grounds Audio Guide Map

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Descriptions of plausible future world evolutions, describing the characteristics, general logic and developments underlying a particular quantitative set of scenarios. Narratives are also referred to in the literature as ‘storylines’ °.
…is always under construction… ^
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 Common Grounds installation view

Soil or rock and included ice and organic material that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years°.
Defined as ground that has remained frozen continuously for 2 years or more .
under construction ^
Polyphony is a type of musical texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony, or a texture with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords, homophony. *
Polyphonic Practice
Unlike in seeing, while listening we can maintain the individuality of the lines even when several of them are heard simultaneously. In music such a texture is called polyphonic, and we think it is a very appropriate sounding tactic to think through and about multi-dimensional data. Furthermore, musically polyphonic textures could be listened to as a metaphor for life in ecosystems – different voices coexist and fuse while keeping their individuality, creating a unified whole that is inherently difficult to control. Here lies the fundamental connection to the urgency of the climate crisis. As climate is a phenomenon that is not operating at human scale, the intangibility of the planetary scale is a main human problem that prevents us from adequately addressing it – we are simply not sensing how urgent it is. ^

* Wikipedia

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Bayelva station sensor array

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Common Grounds installation view

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Water stored in the soil in liquid or frozen form. Root- zone soil moisture is of most relevance for plant activity. °
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 Bayelva dataset as raw audio

'Sounding' out the grounds, rather than seeing, because as the world is fully mapped optically and we are saturated with tyrannic imagery, it is the sonic spectrum that is still available, allowing us to make-felt the planetary scale we address. The scale of the ear is larger than that of the eye and speakers are larger than screens. ^
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Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen, or Spitzbergen, is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. North of mainland Europe, it is about midway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. The islands of the group range from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. The largest settlement is Longyearbyen.*

 Svalbard site aerial image

* Wikipedia

A change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems. °
A change could be heard
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The process of changing from one state or condition to another in a given period of time. Transition can be in individuals, firms, cities, regions and nations, and can be based on incremental or transformative change. °
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 Common Grounds installation view

A state of incomplete knowledge that can result from a lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. It may have many types of sources, from imprecision in the data to ambiguously defined concepts or terminology, incomplete understanding of critical processes, or uncertain projections of human behaviour. Uncertainty can therefore be represented by quantitative measures (e.g., a probability density function) or by qualitative statements (e.g., rejecting the judgment of a team of experts) (see Moss and Schneider, 2000; IPCC, 2004; Mastrandrea et al., 2010) °.

See also Adaptation

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The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt°.

How could we become witnesses of abstract and remote phenomena that affect and transform the foundations of life but are beyond the scales of our human perception ? How can we connect and both emotionally and analytically transgress the distance we keep ? See also scale, adaptation ^
The process of changing from one state or condition to another in a given period of time. Transition can be in individuals, firms, cities, regions and nations, and can be based on incremental or transformative change. °
State of the atmosphere at a particular place during a short period of time. It involves day-to-day changes in such atmospheric phenomena as temperature, humidity, precipitation (type and amount), air pressure, wind, and cloud cover. Most weather occurs in the troposphere, but phenomena of the higher regions of the atmosphere, such as jet streams, and geographic features, most notably mountains and large bodies of water, also affect it*.

* Britannica.
See also Climate

A state of existence that fuels various human needs, including material living conditions and quality of life, as well as the ability to pursue one’s goals, to thrive, and feel satisfied with one’s life. Ecosystem well-being refers to the ability of ecosystems to maintain their diversity and quality. °


Common Grounds installation view

Listening is worlding and being embedded in the world, sympathetically resonating with it.
Making it and being made by it in every oscillating cycle
Meanwhile, for more info or inquiries, please write us at 'at'


kerstin.ergenzinger 'at'

IPCC, 2018: Annex I: Glossary [Matthews, J.B.R. (ed.)]. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 541-562, doi:10.1017/9781009157940.008.
Julia Boike et al.: A 20-year record (1998–2017) of permafrost, active layer and meteorological conditions at a high Arctic permafrost research site Bayelva, Spitsbergen
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