NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ISAE-Supaero-Perseverance Rover's SuperCam Records Wind on Mars
01_Lia Mazzari--Whip Cracking Air Onto Conrete Buildings_London Southbank_Wind Study_2021
02_Benjamin Parry--Blocadia Brexit_English Channel Horns_Liverpool_Wind Study_2021
03_Vidisha Fadescha--New York_Wind Study 2021
04_Folly Ghost--Hot Air_Berlin_Wind Study_2021
05_Saso Puckovski--Ljubljana_Five Minutes of Error [N45°58'6.43'' E14°25_55.601__Wind Study 2021
06_Alksandar Ordev--Vetar_Skopje_Wind Study_2021
07_Dolphin Club--ir-Riħ_Valletta_Wind Study 2021
08_Robert Jack--Vento_Palermo_Wind Study_2021
Ella Finer and Flora Pitrolo
Start: 01/05 16:45 UTC+1
An Acoustic Commons Study Group
Curated by Ella Finer and Flora Pitrolo
Acoustic Commons Study Group: Wind Study
Curated by Ella Finer and Flora Pitrolo
We invite you to study the acoustic off-grid with us as an atmospheric commons—with the wind that is always off grid, even while harnessed “as an elusive assertive material force” (Finer, 2012) for the electrical grid we rely on to power our connections across distance.
For this Acoustic Commons Study Group, on the occasion of Soundcamp #8, we will create a grid across eight cities with a network of composer-respondents and their eight winds: a windrose to help us navigate these times, hyperlocal and interplanetary at the same time.
Wind Study took place at 16:45 UTC+1 on 1st May 2021. The Wind Study live stream played eight wind tracks with the live winds of London and Palermo between them. The eight wind tracks are archived on this page.
For more on the Acoustic Commons Study Group see the ACSG Wave Study 2020 project page.
London — Mars — Palermo
Ella Finer and Flora Pitrolo
This essay, London — Mars — Palermo, is made up of two voices at a distance passing through the otherworldly sonic in order to communicate. The piece Wind Study is made up of eight records of winds. Initiating a chain of invitations from the cities we are based in — London and Palermo — we have asked for records and let each artist interpret this invitation according to their own aesthetic and geographic positionality.
Four certainties haunt this invitation: that the wind is too abundant for anyone to own; that the wind is always off-grid, distorts the record and evades our earthy structures; that in the moment of its occurrence the wind is never still; that what we hear in the wind is always different and yet forcefully always the same.
Our resulting commons of the wind is the impossible schematisation of an impossible wind rose that moves across landscapes in unorderly ways:
London > Mars > Liverpool > Mars > New York > Mars > Berlin > Mars > Ljubljana > Mars > Skopje > Mars > Valletta > Mars > Palermo
Between London and Palermo, Mars is the sound we return to: the unearthly sound of wind we have in common and that holds the mid-point. Between the 8 cities composed into a wind rose for Wind Study, we return instead to the live soundscapes of London and Palermo, moving between the two: we substitute Mars with our own cities, holding space for our invited artists, constituting a midpoint between us all and grounding our invitation in our sonic space. We put our own sonic space in common in the service of our eight-way communication.
On 22nd February 2021, NASA shared an audio document that for the first time captured the sound of wind blowing on Mars, recorded by the Perseverance Rover. Now that for the first time we can hear the wind from Mars, it sounds familiar — it’s outside the window, it’s uncannily earthly, intimate.
Before the Martian wind was heard on Earth, it was seen — from images taken and beamed back by the 2005 Spirit Rover. Like an errant ghost in the landscape kicking up the dust into a devil of its own making, the Martian wind looks like so many supernatural fantasies — because so silent? Because so far away? Because in black and white, and oddly anthropomorphic?
The cosmic weather looks more distant than it sounds, the wind feels more remote in image, even as we find familiar shapes for it to fit — to make it make sense on Earth, as on Mars.
The monitor-grey smoke trace of the Martian wind becomes the animated alien of another world — muted, it becomes something resembling a body because it moves and changes shape, because it appears to follow a path. And this detail — of our bodies outside and removed from the windy subject — is key: we see the wind, we are not in it, or of it. We are not caught in the dust swirl of a Martian storm, but witness to it. We are at distance, removed at least twice –– once by the camera and again by the 22 light minutes that, at their furthest distance, separate Earth and Mars.
Since March 2020 — while we have lived at a distance, in the same and different cities — we have been sharing with each other images of the astral and atmospheric phenomena visible to us both: crescent and full moons, foggy mornings, clear sunsets, planetary conjunctions. As we all have lived locked in our cities and apartments across the world, we have watched and listened to the unearthly; we have never touched each other; we have found solace in the otherworldly shapes and colours of what is off-grid; we have communicated through signals in the night.
And as we write now, an Earth year on (and 22 minutes) we see the pink moon — another celestial mid-point in the arc spanning our two cities. London — Mars — Palermo. We have closed the distance by looking out, and up, and finding the sight we both see in this vast hemispherical theatre. We have closed our distance by night-watching the interplanetary distances we both share in. The documents of Martian wind do something else though. These details beamed back to Earth offer an altogether different reckoning with scale and with what a recording of the elemental does to the distant subject.
While the image kept us at a distance — caught up in a game of resemblances between our body and the ghost, our landscape and that of Mars — the sound brings us, brings it closer. The Martian wind reaches, touches us. The striking sonic likeness to our winds on Earth is one part of it; the bodily encounter with the sound document — with the record — is another.
Perhaps commonism is most effective when it works like the wind: invisible, odorless, but nonetheless sometimes strongly felt, chilling. Pushing against reality, shaping reality without pushing oneself to the forefront, without even claiming any right of ownership or ego. (Nico Dockx and Pascal Gielen, Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real. Amsterdam: Antennae-Arts in Society Valiz, 2018)
When we first heard the wind from Mars we felt close: close to it — this other world — and to each other. To listen to the wind on Mars is to be touched by it and through receiving its vibratory affects, to be close at a distance. The audio recording puts us in the weather, rather than removing us as spectators to the spectacle. Could the recording do anything else? — What were we anticipating Mars would sound like? Something as audibly strange as the sight of moving Martian dust? A different frequency? Listening to the Martian wind we are more than witness to the record, we are of it, it is in us, we touch the landscape, we begin to apprehend an interplanetary dimensionality, an acoustic commonality.
This unearthly Martian wind reminded us — in its uncanny acoustic resemblance to the earthly winds we live with — how an acoustic commons can manifest across cosmic expanses of time and space; how listening to the Martian air moving is to hear and apprehend what Tim Ingold calls “the weather world” (2007) at the scale of the Universe.
A temple for the weather world, the octagonal Tower of the Winds (Athens, 50 BC) was built in marble. As a meteorological station for measuring time with wind, water and sun, the tower was an ancient time-piece that not only turned the elemental into usable information, but gave bodily form to the eight wind gods — the Anemoi — in a frieze surrounding its eight sides. The Wind Tower, with its gods each facing the direction of the wind whose name they bore, shows something of how the human desire to survey wind — literally to over-see it (while mapping it onto place, direction, bodies) — inevitably makes the wind an ever more intricate, even elusive, subject. Here, while we write of the wind — to bring what is a complex matrix of currents, fronts, pressures, directions, speeds in common — we do so with an awareness of the diversity and plurality of the wind that is always the winds: those winds that are not common to all, those with specific geographies, directions, those with devastating force. How many winds in the wind?
Images of the wind can reduce what is energy into common signifiers: winds often appear as contained subject, a graphic gathering of what is always more than that which is made visible. The Ancient wind gods appear variously as gusts of billowing cloud, as horses, or winged men from whose mouths issue radiating lines, intent and direct. The wind we see will often make the shape of other things — of a dust and smoke apparition, a small line of fires, a will-o'-the-wisp — because we apprehend what the wind has made out of the matter it moves. It becomes visible when moving things.
A wind rose is a schematisation of a geographical area’s eight major winds (and sometimes further winds and quarter winds, always in eighths), arranged into the shape of a rose. It betrays a human desire to order the unordered, to tidy up what messes up our hair, our thoughts. To find our way at sea, in the dark; to lick our finger to discern what the future might hold. It is a testament to a quest for catalogation, for study, and for design. The earliest one to have reached us dates from 1375, and can be found in Abraham Jacques’s Catalan Atlas. It lives in Paris, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
A rose wind might be blowing right now over Cairo. It might be howling through the buildings and the swerving streets, covering the warm Spring earth in pink sand which the next rain will deposit in the gutters from the dusty cars and our next shampoo will reveal on the shower's tiles. It will move, it moves. It will self-schematise like the swallows, swallowing our continents in migratory patterns marked by strange movements of invisible surprise and solidarity. I will send you a text message in Berlin and ask you how the weather is. You will send me a video from Malta and I will know we are together. I will imagine you standing in a field in Ljubljana with your scarf pulled up high under your nose.
A rose wind might be blowing right now over Mars; we will think of images on our TV screens of Japan and the American Midwest. We will dress it up in the colours of Cairo, or Bolshevik Red. We will give it a woman’s name, from A to Z, and begin again. We will try to treat it like a phone book but we are blown over, all the time.
And as soon as named, gone with the —
The record of the Martian wind plays on Earth, through tiny speakers. The relative scales of/in this playback gives us pause to consider the channels by/through which we hear another planet’s atmospheres. The moon landing was televised — now we can hear the winds of Mars on our phones. As if we were calling in, or the wind calling us.
Wind only makes sound when it passes through or comes into contact with an object — what we hear, then, in the wind, is a description of its environment. In this way the wind is a document of the time and place it moves through; as the displacement of air from one place to another — like the wave moving water, the wind is a record of its transit and matter in motion. It moves the earth, dispersing seeds, pollen and insects; carrying dust over oceans, carving rocks into new shapes. Nearly imperceptible — the sound we hear shuffles around the recording microphone — as it describes the environment, the wind describes the technology it gets inside. Because this is what wind does so well — it makes the presence of a microphone known, it discloses the act of recording as something happening. Because recording wind is not only to record the sound of it, but the force of it: its velocity audible as blow, howl, roar. Wind can be measured by ear.
On the record it is interference. The wind roar overwhelming the subject, rendering inaudible.
“I can’t hear you! Where on Earth are you??”
I’m on Earth, somewhere, on the same planet as you. I speak but you can’t hear me through the speakers. All my phonemes cut and clip; but description, after all, is rendered unnecessary, and positionality matters less and less. I am on Earth somewhere, and to hone in on a disturbance carries some kind of liberatory élan: my love is like the wind. We are together in an ecosocial dimension which is teaching us something about nature and our place within it. You can’t hear me because you can only hear the sound of this process happening.
With thanks to Grant Smith for the reference to Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real. Amsterdam: Antennae-Arts in Society Valiz.