The Matter of the Soul

#Arctic #dispersal #migration #melting #ice #culture #oceans #digitallife #music #climatechange

Premiere at Howard Assembly Rooms
Performing the Première of The Matter of the Soul | Symphony

The Matter of the Soul is a musical and sono-sculptural work exploring human empathy with the process of dispersal in the Arctic.

Limited editions: BUY / DOWNLOAD from Kat Austen’s Bandcamp.


30th July to 17th August 2018
Part of Polar Encounters at:
Bonhams Art Gallery
101 New Bond Street
W1, UK

More images available at nk productions on flickr.


The Matter of the Soul | Symphony was premièred at Howard Assembly Rooms, Opera North in Leeds.

The movements biphasic and concentration have also been performed at Music Tech Fest Stockholm, Headlands Centre for the Arts, San Francisco. concentration, an acid crystal immersion exploring changing acidity and salinity in our oceans as a consequence of climate change, premièred at Spektrum, Berlin in March 2018.

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The Matter of the Soul is an exploration into engendering empathy in humans with dispersal in the Arctic region through new media artwork combining music and installation.

The project began with the Artist in the Arctic residency, aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, is supported by Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute (University of Cambridge, UK), Bonhams, and One Ocean Expeditions. Its continued development is the topic of my Cultural Fellowship at the Cultural Institute, University of Leeds. Scientific equipment has been donated to the project by the Chemistry Department, University College London, and hacked with initial support from Monoshop Berlin (Simon Schäfer).


In greater depth

The Matter of the Soul is a sound, sculpture and performance work. It focusses on the difficult problem of emotional engagement with climate change, and aims to engender empathy in humans with the process of dispersal and transformation in the Arctic region. The work draws an analogy between human migration, the movement of water from ice to ocean in the Arctic and changing identity online. 

The musical compositions for The Matter of the Soul are based around field recordings of the different acidity and salinity of Arctic waters using hacked pH and conductivity meters. These properties of the waters vary depending on the melting of ice that increases the amount of fresh liquid water in the Arctic. Thus, measurement of these properties, and the taking of sounds from these measurements, captures the way that climate change is affecting this fragile region. 

The focus on dispersal and transformation in the Arctic is not limited to ice and melting, however. Human activity is intrinsically linked with climate change and change in this region. As such, the compositions also include samples from interviews with visitors to and inhabitants of Baffin Island and Resolute, exploring the impact of human movement on the region’s culture and individuals’ identities, and reflecting on the environmental changes interwoven with this process.  The raw material and compositions from the project will be released online under CC-BY-SA 4.0, with a call for others to remix the work’s identity as it travels the internet.

Read more: Food and home in the Arctic: Arctic Notes 1This fractionation of our being: Arctic Notes 2 & 3Exploring dispersal

Digital dispersal

Fundamental to the project is the use of The Matter of the Soul media by others constituting its dispersal and changing identity online.

First use of The Matter of the Soul sounds by London composer John Morrison

The raw sounds are available at The Matter of the Soul on Github

In the outside world

DIY Science podcast interview

World Water Day

On the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute website

The Matter of the Soul at Soundworms Ecology Gathering, The Agosto Foundation

Interview and preview of The Matter of the Soul recordings on Datscha Radio, 27th August 2017

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Playlist The Matter of the Soul – interview and raw recordings preview on Datscha Radio, as part of Biotopes in Future Perfect, 27th August 2017

(files for raw recordings also on Github):
1) An interview with Nakinga Nakashuk Interview1_NukingaNakashuk_roughedit.mp3
2) A recording of sonified pH measurement from Frobisher Bay pH1_FrobisherBay.mp3
3) A recording of sonified pH measurement from Beechey Island pH2_BeecheyIsland_resolves.mp3
4) A recording of sonified conductivity measurement from open water Q_Conductivity2_OpenWater.mp3
5) An interview with Gyu Oh the curator at the Iqaluit’s Museum Interview2_Gyuaudiocrop.mp3
6) Smoke City – Underwater Love
7) dEUS – Disappointed in the Sun
8) Jesus Jones – The Right Decision

Datscha Radio blog on The Matter of the Soul (and other projects)

One Ocean Expeditions on Facebook


“Sounding Dispersal as a Route to Empathy with the Changing Arctic” (2019) Leonardo Music Journal, 29, 3-7.