Townsend Book Chat: Polartides

Thumbnail Professor of New Media and Art Practice Greg Niemeyer is the Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM). His research focuses on the critical analysis of the impact of new media on human experiences. In 2013, Niemeyer created “Polartide” in collaboration with Chris Chafe (composer and director of Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics), Perrin Meyer (sound designer, Meyer Sound), and Rama Gottfried (sound artist and graduate student in Music and New Media).

“Polartide” is a participatory work exhibited at the Maldives Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale using sonification of rising sea water levels from four islands (Kerguelen, Maldives, Venizia, Reykjavik) to inspire awareness of the effects of climate change and remind us that notes of distress can also be melodic. This work places two different fluctuating data sets—sea levels and stock valuations for oil companies—in conversation with one another. Utilizing the digitized tones of buoy bells linked to sea levels (and the corporate jingles of oil companies), “Polartide” signals the growing threat of global climate change and encourages us to understand data in a new way—by listening.

For this Townsend Book Chats, Carillonist and UC Berkeley Ph.D. student Tiffany Ng will present the first ever participatory Carillon concert from Sather Tower. For this concert, the collaborators connect polartide.org to a realtime score for the Carillonist, so that people interacting with the polartide website will determine the sounds played from Sather Tower. This way, the Carillon reclaims some of its original purpose as a community semaphore, and the simulated bells of polartide.org are replaced with real bells. To participate in the concert, visitors are invited to gather by the steps of Stephens Hall precisely at noon with polartide.org in their smartphone, tablet or laptop browsers.

After the concert, Professor Niemeyer and the collaborators of “polartide.org” will speak briefly about the work, and then open the floor for discussion.