A lively installation in the UNC’s Memorial Hall reinvents and redesigns the science of sound


Rafael Lozano inhibitor: Atmospheric memory | UNC Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill | Thursday, Dec 2nd – Friday, Dec 17th

The memorial hall looks different now. For the past three weeks, a team of approximately 60 local and international engineers, technicians, and programmers have worked 13-hour days Monday through Sunday, laying over 40 miles of Etherlink cable to thousands of interconnected devices. In doing so, they are transforming the theater into an immersive, experiential, pop-up technology museum that allows visitors to re-conceptualize, recreate, and, perhaps most importantly, play with the science of sound.

but Atmospheric memory, Canadian-Mexican media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation that fills the Memorial’s lobby and auditorium (as well as stage and backstage spaces that are normally closed to the public) is more than a bold collection of 25 interactive exhibits, the different ways of visualizing the invisible world of audio and human language.

Carolina Performing Arts commissioned the work with the Manchester International Festival, where it premiered in 2019. It is a detailed study of the social and environmental implications of an arcane theory known by Charles Babbage, a 19th-century English mathematician and engineer known as the “father of the computer.”

In his Ninth Treatise on Bridge Water, Babbage noted that every time people speak, certain turbulences are created that send breath and sound waves into the air. If a computer could track and calculate the trajectories of all these waves and displaced molecules, Babbage said, we could possibly reconstruct them and reproduce the voices of everyone who has spoken in the past.

If that were possible, the air could, in Babbag’s words, “become a huge library, on the pages of which is forever everything that man has ever said”.

“It’s about the idea that the atmosphere is not neutral and is possibly trying to tell us something,” says Lozano-Hemmer. “I found it attractive that it is a place of remembrance and that our biosphere is the perpetual place of our voices, our songs and our worries. Because nothing was lost in Babbag’s world. “

After Lozano-Hemmer first presented the concept that voices from the past can be fetched out of the air using technology, as a romantic-utopian idea, Lozano-Hemmer began to probe its ramifications beyond lost loves and extinct languages.

“One day he thought we could rewind the atmosphere and find evidence of wrongdoing, such as slave owners getting away with murder,” says Lozano-Hemmer. “The atmosphere has gathered all the evidence so that they can be brought to justice in the future for their crimes.”

At a time when handheld media were sometimes the only documentation of racist violence, “these recordings can help social justice issues through this remembering,” notes Lozano-Hemmer.

But the combination of technology, voice, and memory has a darker side. Atmospheric memory investigates this too.

“I say that I work with technology, not because it is new or original, but because it is inevitable,” notes Lozano-Hemmer. “Our relationships, our wars, our economies, and our politics are all mediated through these devices. But do we want to end up living in a society that remembers everything? “

In Atmospheric memory, Lozano Inhibitor notes the degrees we’re already doing. An Amazon Alexa is halved in its Cabinet of curiosities Exhibition revealing the eight microphones that “pick us up at all times”. The speech recognition software in his Cloud display The exhibition is from Google, whose algorithmic, AI speech-to-text transcription services “are trained by all of our voices and always talk on an Android phone”.

His Zoom pavilion, recognition, and Stand in it Exhibits call for awareness and critical use of these technologies as images from surveillance and facial recognition software using machine learning are displayed in large fonts on 15-meter screens around the audience.

“We live in this Orwellian moment in which everything is collected,” says Lozano-Hemmer. “And this is increasingly becoming a source of abuse, especially in autocratic governments.”

An even more catastrophic form of the past remembered in the air can be found in other exhibits, including Flight projection.

According to Lozano-Hemmer, Babbag’s greatest atmospheric memory is by far contained in the airborne pollutants created by the industrial revolution that he automated.

“I come from Mexico City, where over 10,000 people die every year from the toxicity of the air. We breathe 421 parts per million of carbon dioxide. In the history of the planet no one has breathed this concentration, ”says Lozano-Hemmer. “Climate change is not a future scenario; we are already in. We know we are living in an extinction event where every three minutes a different species is permanently disappearing from the planet. “

In Flight projection, The words of international environmental journalism – and local news like a report on the relaxation of UNC Chapel Hill emissions standards for its coal-fired power plant – are literally blown away by human interactions in the auditorium.

Lozano-Hemmer notes that most large-format immersive exhibitions invite viewers to “dream and see things that you already know and like,” Lozano-Hemmer views art more as a nuisance.

“The Zapatistas used to say their slogan was’ We ask you not to dream; we ask you to wake up. ‘ Works of art that I like shake me into an awareness of something I haven’t seen. It makes invisible phenomena material and tangible. “

As you admire the 23 Atmospheric Memory exhibits that fill the lobby, auditorium, stage, and backstage areas of Memorial Hall, don’t miss these:


Those 3,000 two-inch cubes dotted around the seats and aisles in the Memorial Hall auditorium? They are speakers, each of which plays a different sound channel (including around 300 species of insects and 200 different birds). But what if the atmosphere repeatedly from a single channel (watch out for the lit LED of the active speaker) to all 3,000 at the same time? At some point “the cacophony sounds a lot like rushing water – because water waves use most of the frequencies in all of nature,” says Lozano-Hemmer.

then the atmosphere gradually turns the chaos back to another single channel. “It’s that real voice exercise. How can we listen better in this massiveness of the sound? “


Think of something that you would like to see go away. Speak his name into the exhibition intercom. Then watch the word fade in on a wall-sized grid of 1,600 humidifier atomizers that spell it out in ghostly water vapor before disappearing as the micro-mist dissipates moments later.


To be clear, the plastic-lined paper bag in this exhibition doesn’t hold the last breath of avant-garde accordionist and composer Pauline Oliveros. It’s only the last to be taken after the composer’s death in 2016 as a medical ventilator sucks its contents in and out through a rubber hose. Ten thousand times a day – the normal rate for a body at rest – the ventilator partially empties the bag before breathing it back in, in a sinister simulacrum of a human lung.

“We originally made it as a biometric portrait in order to capture this impossible essence, a person’s life force,” says Lozano-Hemmer. “But when she died, it completely changed the piece. It became a monument. “

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