In this essay, I will elaborate on Augury, an artistic project that draws inspiration from ancient methods of perceiving and predicting atmospheric events, with a focus on utilizing weather data as a foundation for sound. By employing sonification techniques, the project aims to enhance our ability to connect with the elements of wind and natural radio. This endeavor finds its roots in ancient practices, such as augury, where individuals relied on animal senses, and symbolic objects for weather divination such as in scrying, where people would look into obsidian mirrors to perceive beyond what is evident. By emphasizing listening as a means of sensory perception, the project bridges the gap between traditional knowledge and contemporary technology. The project refers as an allegory to the augury birds to the self-made weather stations used in the installation to gather data from wind patterns, air pressure, and humidity levels, which are used in the sound installation as materials for creating sound. This way, the data generates sonic elements that represent different facets of weather phenomena. Augury thus serves as a means of reconnecting with ancient weather sensing methods while embracing modern technology. Through active listening, participants can immerse themselves in the intricate soundscapes of wind and natural radio, fostering a deeper connection with the ever-changing dynamics of the natural world.
Sensing The Weather, Prediction Of The Weather, Weather Sonification, Augury, Scrying, Divinatory Technologies.
In this essay, I will delve into the primary sources of inspiration for Augury, an artistic project rooted in ancient techniques used to sense and predict atmospheric phenomena. This artistic practice seamlessly merges art and technology, mythology and science, attempting to deepen the understanding of ancient practices exploring perception beyond human capabilities, and the significance of certain objects in weather divination. As a result of this understanding, the project explores the use of weather data as the foundation for generating an immersive sonic experience, based on sonification techniques to enhance our perception and connection with atmospheric elements such as wind and natural radio.
This project serves as an example of bridging the gap between traditional knowledge and contemporary technological advancements, particularly through a transdisciplinary approach. The installation Augury serves as a means to reconnect with a form of attentive listening that appreciates the intricacies of the weather. This is achieved by configuring remote sensing technologies following rituals of divination and atmospheric sensing, approaching meteorology from a perspective of deep time1. The emphasis on listening acts as a conduit for our sensory perception of weather, allowing for the integration of three dimensions of knowledge: situated2, embodied3, and mediated4. Each dimension plays a crucial role in sensing and perceiving the weather, and when combined through audible experiences, it is expected that participants of the installation can augment their listening and attune to atmospheric events. This connection with the atmospheric processes is also meant for expanding an ecological bond between technology, nature, and culture5.
Participants of the installation are provided with the opportunity to attune themselves to the intricate melodies and rhythms of wind and natural radio, fostering a profound connection with the natural world and its ever-changing dynamics. This immersive experience cultivates a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complexity of the weather6. The installation also offers the chance to interact with datasets and live streams obtained from the surrounding area near the exhibition space, enabling an engagement with technologies shaped by the ancient practices of weather sensing and divination referenced in this project.
The utilization of weather stations in this project draws inspiration from the ancient divination practice known as augury, where the behavior of birds was observed to anticipate future events, and to make state decisions upon political and public life in Ancient Rome (Roger 2005; Lehoux 2012; Driediger-Murphy 2019). Similarly to the birds in Augury, these weather stations are employed as “informants” who gather data as intermediaries, providing remote status of the weather to understand the surrounding condition when it's further processed through sound. In other words, these stations take on the role of emissaries, sensing the atmosphere, beyond human sensorium capacity, and feeding the installation to autonomously produce sound.
The weather stations are equipped with several essential components to capture and process atmospheric data: first, four electret microphones arranged in a Cartesian position, enabling them to detect wind direction by averaging the predominant peak of the signal across them, however, these are also unwantedly triggered by ambient sounds such as city noise which is perceived as wind, in future iterations of the design this could be improved by being gated by another type of sensor. In addition to the microphones, the weather stations feature a digital barometer, which measures air pressure, and a dust-particle sensor, which detects and quantifies the presence of particulate matter in the air. These stations provide crucial data points for understanding and interpreting the atmospheric conditions at a given area surrounding the place where the exhibition is displayed.
To facilitate the transfer of sensor data, the weather stations employ long-range radio modules7. These modules enable the seamless transmission of data from the weather stations to the user interface or main computing system. This data transfer mechanism ensures that the captured atmospheric information is effectively communicated and utilized in the generation of sound or visual representations within the installation. By combining these components, the artwork creates a comprehensive system for capturing, processing and translating atmospheric data into immersive auditory experiences.
The integration of weather stations, including microphones, a barometer, a dust-particle detector, and long-range radio modules, facilitate a multi-dimensional exploration of atmospheric phenomena. This exploration is achieved through an interactive sonification, where each dynamic is translated into different sound layers that can be experienced simultaneously (Hermann & Hunt 2005). These weather stations not only provide valuable insights into the atmosphere but also represent a mediated form of knowledge. By extending our perception through a combination of technologies, they enable us to sense and comprehend emergent processes and fluid transformations within natural environments.
In line with Katherine Hayles's concept of Non-cognitive Cognition (2017), these technical systems imbue our atmosphere with meaning by employing somatic markers such as chemical or electrical signals that align with their operational principles. Leveraging the cognitive capabilities of computational media, these systems adapt to the changing environment of the atmosphere. Furthermore, considering the agency of ubiquitous computing sensing systems, as discussed by Mark B. Hansen, is relevant in this context. These systems can catalyze sensation on a finer timescale than human perception, operating according to non-biological technical protocols (Hansen 2013), their
micro-temporal operations might have the potential to facilitate attunement to atmospheric processes.
By combining technological advancements and computational protocols, the installation opens up new possibilities for understanding and engaging with the complexities of our atmosphere.
As an artist-researcher with a background-origin in Mexico, in the global South, I was interested to bring into this project the myth of Tezcatlipoca, an Aztec deity of great significance, as closely associated with providence, divination, the night winds, hurricanes, and obsidian stones, the unconscious, among other attributes (Spence 1925; Young 1985). The name Tezcatlipoca itself translates to "smoking mirror" in the Nahuatl language (Paddock 1985; Hicks 2008). In the context of this installation, the concept of the smoking mirror is symbolically represented through the inclusion of mist and smoke machines. Around the 16th century, obsidian mirrors and divinatory practice were transported from Mexico to Europe, and named scrying, referring to a kind of liminal perception through observations into obsidian mirrors as mediums (Ackermann & Devoy 2012). In Europe, scrying was popularized in occultist practices by the Elizabethan magician, astrologer, and mathematician John Dee (Whitby 1985).
Within the installation Augury visitors have the opportunity to interact with obsidian pieces and a mirror that is connected to mist and smoke machines. By touching fragments and a mirror made of obsidian, visitors activate the release of a fine mist and smoke-like effect in the exhibition room. This visual representation serves as a metaphorical embodiment of the smoking mirror associated with Tezcatlipoca and Scrying. The smoke also creates a sense of atmospheric dynamics inside the exhibition space, where one is able to visualize its turbulence as a dense cloud. As an extra visual element to the smoke, LED lights create flickering effects such as thunder-light, and other kinds of lightning moods which accompany the other multisensorial elements in the installation.
The inclusion of these elements not only introduces a situated way of knowledge of Aztec deity and their association with divination but also creates an intimate and sensorial experience for the participants. By engaging with the obsidian pieces and the mirror, visitors physically and metaphorically connect with the concept of Tezcatlipoca as the smoking mirror, blurring the boundaries between ancient mythology and contemporary artistic expression through technologies.
While considering the specific cultural background from which scrying emerges, and valuing the animistic tone attributed to symbolic objects to enhance human senses. This divinatory practice is considered a situated type of knowledge of the weather. Moreover, I consider it relevant to look into scrying concerning the notion of Ethnocomputing as a study field proposed by Ron Eglash, interested in reviewing culturally located ways of computing abstraction (Eglash 1999) which provides an understanding of the cultural dimensions of computing in an ample diversity of artistic and cultural artifacts (Tedre and Eglash 2018). Similarly, Cosmotechnics, a notion proposed by the philosopher of technology Yuk Hui, is interested in examining art and science initiatives from specific sociocultural contexts outside Western modernity (Hui 2019), which “could reveal new sensorium beyond the utilitarian manifestations of technology” (Hui 2021).
The installation incorporates copper-traced designs on the obsidian mirror and pieces. These traces serve a dual purpose as both decorative elements and functional components. They are connected to a touch sensor system, which allows for visitor interaction. When participants touch the areas on the mirror or pieces where the copper traces are present, the touch sensor system detects the contact and activates specific data sets associated with different days of data collection. This activation triggers the production of different soundscapes and modulates existing audio compositions, resulting in an immersive and interactive auditory environment.
The integration of copper traces and touch sensors not only adds visual appeal to the installation but also facilitates a tactile and engaging experience for participants. By incorporating these elements, the installation encourages active exploration and empowers individuals to have a direct influence on the auditory output, creating a personalized and immersive interaction with the artwork.
In terms of sound generation, the weather data, including wind direction, barometric pressure, and dust-particle measurements, is sourced from the four weather stations. These measurements are averaged and utilized as weighting factors to modulate a collection of wavetable-controlled oscillators, filters, and envelopes programmed in a Pure Data patch that diffuses sound across 4 to 8 speakers. This combination of components collaboratively generates dynamic and generative soundscapes that respond to the atmospheric conditions captured by the weather stations.
The incorporation of touch-based interaction and sonification techniques in this project underscores a kind of embodiment of atmospheric knowledge. This aligns with the artistic methodologies of Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening, which emphasize the use of integrated technologies to expand human perception and deepen our connection with natural phenomena (Oliveros 2005), much like the focus of this project.
This part of the process is still in development, but its association with the other elements of the artwork is essential. As development progresses, this aspect will contribute to reinforcing the meaning of a more-than-human perception of our atmosphere, which is already suggested by the divinatory practice of Augury.
The phenomenon known as the dawn chorus, which occurs in the upper atmosphere during the early hours of the day. And it is characterized by the emergence of atmospheric natural radio or electromagnetic signals that resemble the melodic singing from a flock of birds. This type of sound is often associated with the transition from night to day. During the dawn hours, the ionosphere changes its electrical properties due to the variation in solar radiation. This, in turn, affects the propagation of electromagnetic waves through the atmosphere (Meredith 2019; Khan 2013).
This essay provides an overview of an ongoing interactive installation that draws inspiration from weather-related sensing and predictive practices. It aims to establish connections between three distinct types of knowledge, fostering a heightened sense of attunement to the ever-changing dynamics of the atmosphere. By combining sensing and predictive practices in this hybrid ensemble, the installation seeks to cultivate a deep and intimate understanding of atmospheric conditions, contrasting with visualizations of weather data that do not necessarily require simultaneous embodiment, situating, and mediating.
The proposed arrangement of objects, interactive systems, and atmospheric processes merges ancestral and modern knowledge of weather. This exploration aims to forge a profound connection with our natural environment by incorporating different approaches to detecting and anticipating weather dynamics: as humans, as technical systems, and through symbolic manifestations of the more-than-human.
Following the initial iteration of this project8, it becomes evident that there is a need to experiment with more reliable wind detection systems and fully implement real-time data interactions using remote weather stations. Additionally, the next stage of development should incorporate the concept of the dawn chorus with the rest of elements, interweaving it with the notion of divinatory practices involving birds and atmospheric processes. Furthermore, exploring recent techniques of artificial prediction based on modeling available weather data would be a valuable addition to the conceptual framework presented.
Augury was produced at the RIXC Centre for New Media Culture with received funding for residential visits from the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture to establish the project “RIXC Art Science Residencies”. Light design in the installation was created by Anton Filatov, and the 3D renderings for promotional materials were made by Rodrigo Cid Velasco.
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In the Archeological sense of the Deep Time of the Media by Siegfried Zielinski.↩
In the style that Donna Haraway refers to in her essay Situated Knowledges, considering as heterogeneous accounts of the world or culturally embedded manifestations.↩
Also referred to by Haraway in the same text, but here I am considering it as non-linguistic, common sense empiricism through one’s sensorium, and mainly as an affective experience.↩
In this case, I consider technology-based mediations, such as ubiquitous computing systems.↩
This kind of triad is defined by Jussi Parikka as media-nature-cultures, I replace media for technologies, to align with weather-based or remote sensing and ubiquitous computing.↩
See Janine Randerson’s Weather as a Medium 2013.↩
These are also commonly known as LORA modules.↩
Exhibited at RIXC gallery, in the framework of the Art+Science residency, Riga, Latvia. May-July 2023.↩