The Lights Which Can Be Heard

The Sun, My Father (2022)
Synaesthetic installation
Aluminium, Quartz, Custom-made LED light
Installation view - Biennale des Imaginaires Numériques
© Pierre Gondard

The Lights Which Can Be Heard is an artistic research project on the sounds of the Northern Lights, long witnessed by various indigenous communities in the Arctic. Despite the numerous testimonies, the Western scientific community denied their existence for decades until some hypotheses about their origin began to surface in the 1950s, which are still subject to debate today.

Among the different theories, some think that the observ- er/listener can perceive in their environment the natural VLF (Very Low Frequency) radio waves produced by the Northern Lights. Some natural elements, such as minerals or crystals, would act as receivers and transform the electromagnetic radio waves into the audible, acoustic spectrum.

Without rejecting any of them, this is the one that caught Sébastien’s attention for his project. Despite successful recordings following a three-week residency in Andøya, Norway, Sébastien realised that the VLF waves emitted by the Northern Lights are becoming increasingly difficult to per- ceive due to anthropocentric activity. Drowned by artificial signals, these natural radio waves are bound to disappear from our perception.

Inspired by this unique context and in continuity with his previous work, Sébastien approached this ongoing debate from different angles: indigenous, poetic and scientific, giving voice to each stakeholder while incorporating his own vision. The result is four interconnected works at the intersection of visual and sound arts, technology, science and ethnography, which allow the audience to perceive the sounds of the Northern Lights while preserving them in the light.

Magnetic Fluctuations (2022)
Real-time generative sound installation
In collaboration with Rob Stammes (Polar Light Center)
Make Noise shared system + LED screen
Installation view - Biennale des Imaginaires Numériques
© Sébastien Robert


— Co-produced by Plateforme CHRONIQUES CRÉATIONS with the support of Région Sud, the city of Marseille and the French Institute in Paris, coordinated by SECONDE NATURE and ZINC. In partnership with Les Méjanes - Bibliothèque et Archives Michel Vovelle

— With the financial support of Stroom Den Haag, DICRéAM and Fonds [SCAN] Auvergne-Rhône- Alpes

— With the intellectual support of the Royal Library of the Netherlands, Tromsø Geophysical Observatory, Fiona Armery (University of Cambridge), Rob Stammes (Polar Light Center) and Harald Gaski (University of Tromsø)

— With technical support from Tony Rolando (Make Noise), Lucien Nicou (design + production), Leandros Ntolas (light + optics), Pim Kerssemakers (metalwork) and Mark IJzerman (software)

— Research commissioned by STRP Festival, initiated during the Arctic Wave residency (Andøya, NO) under the artistic supervision of Jean-Emmanuel Rosnet.