Hydrophone dipped in aquarium with Red Ogo algae. Bubbles shown in real-time as they release from the filaments and produce ringing sounds
Algaphon aquarium setup shown here with custom lighting, Sea Lettuce algae in water and dipped grounding plus hydrophones
Sea Lettuce photo captured in the moment just before bubble release during photosynthesis. These bubbles don't follow a straight path when released. Instead the shaking is translated into a circular movement as they move upwards thus producing a shaking sound
A visitor shown here recording their sounds during an offline showcase. These voice recordings are queued to an active aquarium and played over the aquariums after conversion to light radiation.
Screenshot of online live stream played around the world, as the visitor audio recordings were processed through aquariums and algae photosynthesis bubble response played.
Screenshot of partial email response received by a visitor after their bubble response recording to their input has been completed. Photo shows response in algae time as well as in human time inviting visitor to reflect on the differences between them and other organisms
Please describe the concept of your artwork in 2000 words.
Urban environments and manicured nature, with no sight unseen of native organism diversity, have led to forgotten evolutionary histories and a reduced understanding of ecosystem relations. The aquatic plant biosphere especially bears a collective amnesia from the humans of its evolutionary roles. It wouldn’t be erroneous to use ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in the context of the biosphere of aquatic plants. While the contributions of these early species have been tremendous to shaping higher plants, they haven’t received a lot of focus in their role from non-scientific communities.
Our work refocuses the attention on algae species and re-flects on the role of these species in climate change in specific coastal regions, through very specific micro-capabilities. We were first inspired by algae sounds recorded underwater in the bay and river waters at the East Coast (East River / Hudson River) and West Coast (San Francisco Piers, Sausalito, Point Reyes) areas in the US. These microalgae traditionally form and release oxygen near their macroalgal filaments. When this oxygen is released, the relaxation of the bubble to a spherical shape creates a sound source that ‘rings’ at the Minnaert frequency.
These natural soundscapes across the ocean and the bays are now varying and are more erratic than ever due to ocean acidification and rising temperatures. When a habitat is transformed by human endeavor in some manner, it shows in its voice over time. Our motivation was to create a system that communicates such ambient biological sounds about hidden/submerged information in our ecosystems
We manifested this by first recording tank-based passive acoustic experiments with the algae Salicornia gracilaria and similar species. Our project, Algaphon, is a hybrid (online interaction interface + offline macroalgae aquariums) installation, Algaphon, makes such marine algae sounds evident to a wider public domain, especially as a result of their direct action, and invites the audience to critically reflect on the role of underwater aquatic life in our ecosystems. The audience was invited online (worldwide) and offline (in New York and Linz) to record their audio messages during a major art festival. These visitor audio messages were then converted to light variation scenes and played over active aquarium.
Bubble variations occur as a result of PAR variations over an aquarium. The algae audio bubbling response, recorded via hydrophones, was live streamed on our website during the full duration of the exhibition. Each algae response, occurring as a result of user input, was saved locally (~45min audio/visitor input) and also sped up to a min long audio. Because of the queued nature of responses and long response duration, the visitors do not hear an immediate response. The audio response is sent in two modes, in algae time (~45min) as well as in compressed time (~1min), over email.
When the user receives the response, the note also invites them to think of the difference between human action and ecological reaction time difference, as well as to think of time scale between humans and non-humans. During the showcase, we received recordings from around the world, from Arimastsu (Japan), Stugggart (Germany) to Boulder (U.S.) and everywhere in between. People receiving the email responses processed from an aquarium posed a moment of attention for them to pause and understand what it means for their action to through a natural system. While the recordings were as vivid as ‘Do you ever wonder what’s like to live on the land?’, ‘Live long and prosper, the responses were as colorful and posted by twitter and other social networking sites by our visitors.
The significance of Algaphon manifests from the algal relations with marine ecosystems, where environmental contamination often stimulates algae growth. Making such algae photosynthesis audible will in turn help us understand the extent of activities in urban/wild environments over a short and long-time spectrum. In the recent years, as we close the gap between technology and our own understanding of biological functions, Weiner’s hybrids become ever clearer where ‘machine parts become replacements, integrated or supplemented’ to an organism’s body image. While industrial revolution largely taught us synthesis of artificial materials and processing of silicon, recent advances on biology are providing us with methods that will be enable properties of bionic materials that are yet to come. In that context, it is essential for us to understand biological functions of nature around us by piecing them into units similar to how we study our own human body.
Please describe the concept of your artwork in 2000 words. （EN）
Algaphon is a hybrid installation wherein algae bubbles that ring at minnaert frequency near algal filaments are rendered audible through a hydrophone. Our setup (Fig 2.) comprises of an aquarium (10-20 gallon capacity), programmable LED lighting (5500k, 80-100W) mounted at a distance of 10-12” from the water surface and macroalgae species in the water. Normal maintenance routine is carried out for the algae such as keeping steady water flow using wavemaker, maintaining 73-76F temperature and dosing micronutrients such as NO3/PO4/Fe/Mg. Standard 12h on/off lighting routine was followed during the duration of this exhibition. When the light is turned on, algae photosynthesis produces oxygen that gets dissolved in water. After 2-3 hours of light being turned on, dissolved oxygen levels reach a threshold following which algae starts producing bubbles as a result of local supersaturation of oxygen in water.
We replicated this aquarium setup in three cities: New York (Two 20 gallon aquariums with Sea Lettuce, Red Ogo and Burning Bush), Tokyo (10 gallon aquarium with Sea Let-tuce) and Linz (10 gallon aquarium with Caulerpa Prolifera). We designed an online interface where users can record an audio message, that is converted by a stepwise thresholding method into Photosynthetic Radiation (PAR) values and relayed to an active aquarium. We found through prior experiments that average time for our macroalgae species to fully respond to light (with frequent observable bubbling) change was 450s (~8min). Consequently, a 3sec audio waveform translates to light variation duration of ~2700 (~45min). Based on this we limited the audio input from each user to a maximum of 3 seconds to eventually manage the number of recordings/visitors. We connected each of our aquarium set-ups to an online web interface and rotated the active aquarium based on time zones.
The audience was invited online and offline to record their audio messages during a major art festival. These visitor audio messages were then converted to light variation scenes and played over an active aquarium. The bubbling response from the algae is recorded over hydrophone and packaged into email that shows visitors two version: 45mins version in the algae time and another 1min version in the human time time. The response recordings were archived and made available to the public for everyone to hear the recordings and differentials between each due to visitor input.
Your OfficialURL (Website, Instagram, Facebook)
Please describe how your work relates to the theme of the special prize.
One of the biggest challenges of our time is for humans to really understand how does a human action propagate through another complex natural system? What is the difference between human and ecological time? How do we democratize underwater sounds to bring them to a human collective awareness?
We designed an hybrid online-offline installation called Algaphon, wherein algae bubbles that ring at minnaert frequency near algal filaments are rendered audible through a hydrophone. The installation comprises of aquariums in Tokyo, New York and Linz, each with different species of algae. The aquarium lighting is connected to participatory action -- Online visitors leave a voice dialog that is translated into photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) variations in a remote aquarium. The algae bubble response to this human speech is then recorded and emailed back to the visitor for them to engage in a reflective dialog with algal species.