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AIS³ – Astroparticle Immersive Synthesizer³

A sound laboratorium by Tim Otto Roth in cooperation with the IceCube Observatory

AIS³ is a walk-in light and sound installation consisting of 444 spheres, distributed over a volume of 8mx8mx7m. AIS³ stands for "Three-dimensional Astroparticle Immersive Synthesizer". Beeing pronounced [aiskju:b] it recalls the name of the worldwide largest particle detector: IceCube. This instrument of superlatives is the biggest observatory for a very special sort of elementary particles originating from the depths of space: the neutrinos. Quite recently, IceCube has discovered energetic cosmic neutrinos. With these messengers from far worlds, a new window to the Universe has been opened. In 2013, the journal "Physics World" highlighted IceCube's discovery as "breakthrough of the year", a title which one year before was given to the discovery of the Higgs boson. AIS³ sonifies the weak interactions of neutrinos with IceCube translating the detector array of a size of a cubic kilometer hidden in the depths of the ice shield of Antarctica into a walkable sound and light sculpture.

The translucent loudspeakers represent together with its electronics and RGB-LED's a sensor segment of an IceCube detector string. Here an especially manufactured acrylic sphere with a diameter of 10 cm houses two high power miniature speakers covering a sound field of almost 360 degrees. 444 of such units are wired and do hang like pearls on 37 strings from the ceiling, so each string with its 12 speakers joins several sensors in the ratio of 1:10. The idea is to represent semi-live data from IceCube which means to use data from IceCube as soon they have been transferred from Antarctica to DESY in Germany. The major difference between a soundscape and a visual representation is the aspect of immersion: The visitor gets the impression not to stand before the detector (vision) but feels more to be bodily immersed into the action of physical processes and to explore it by walking through the detector space. Having a very different access to spatio-temporal data by audition, the basic idea of this project is to find an audible representation for these events of energetic interactions in space, but at the same time it is a novel psychoacoustic experiment placing physically hundreds of loudspeakers in a 3 dimensional space.

The project will premiere in collaboration with DESY Zeuthen on 28 August 2018 at St. Elisabeth in Berlin/Germany (till 16 September). Further presentations will follow up in Munich, the Ludwig Forum Aachen and abroad.

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AIS² Blog - recent posts

Working at the South Pole

about the wonder of fresh breakfast eggs at one of the most remote outposts of civilization

posted by: Martin Rongen at 1 February 2018


IceCube is the weirdest telescope of the world! Instead of light, X-rays or radio waves it detects neutrinos. Neutrinos are tiny, electrically neutral elementary particles which extremely rarely interact with matter. For instance, a thumbnail is crossed by about 60 billion of solar neutrinos per second, but only a dozen of them react with an atomic nucleus when propagating all through the Earth. However, these "ghost particles" are transmitting unique information about the cosmos: Due to their feeble reactivity they can escape the densest cosmic objects, where light is trapped and cannot directly leave.

Scheme of IceCube

IceCube consists of 5160 light sensors which are frozen deep into the 3 km thick ice glacier above the South Pole. In total they cover a full cubic kilometer of ice. The sensors record the tiny light flashes which are generated in the rare neutrino interactions. In 2013, the IceCube team discovered cosmic neutrinos of very high energy. The Journal Physics World ranked this discovery as the 'breakthrough of the year'. However, the arrival directions of these neutrinos seem to be uniformly distributed across the sky; so far, no clear individual source could be singled out. That could change rather soon, since more and more data will provide a better sensitivity. Then, the blurred landscape of the neutrino sky will be charted in detail. Eventually, gravitational wave astronomy, acknowledged with the 2017 Nobel Prize, will be flanked by another new tool: neutrino astronomy. Lots of cosmic secrets are waiting to be deciphered…

Immersion – right in the middle of the things

The movement of sound and coloured light in AIS³ translate the measurements of the IceCube Observatory and immerge the visitor literally in the physical processes. By this way everybody can make in the walkable environment the sensuous experience, that a continuous shower of invisible elementary particle passes out bodies without noticing it.

Eventdisplay with he most energetic neutrino event propagating through the detector array.

Light becomes sound – particle physical harmonics

A trace of subtle light flashes is registered by the detectors of IceCube, when a certain type of elementary particle passes the depths of the ice. The distribution in space and the intensity of these traces give information on the origin of the triggering elementary particle. AIS³ not only redraws these traces by the means of light, but in translates the varying energies in tones of correspondent pitches. Here the compositorial interest focuses energetic schemes underlying the particle interactions. The resulting relation of tones reveal a special but odd harmonics.
By this sonification the environment creates a new access to the data. The coexistence of light and sound makes apparent the major distance between a soundscape and pure optical representation. Vision can locate relatively well individual events in space, but the "bigger picture" and its simultaneousness can be perceived much better by audition. Last but not least, the sonification bears the potential for the scientist to experience his own experiment in a new way.

Psychoacoustic laboratory

But AIS³ offers even more than a new access to scientific data. The 444 loudspeakers are physically distributed in the space. This allows an extraordinary sound space experience, which differs considerable from classic multi-channel systems of a cubic or hemispheric shape. Tones travel in space and recompose locally to different sounds. By this way each visitor experiences a unique sound space, which can be explored like an instrument by moving in.


#LightArt 'Our new light art installation relies on data from the ice cube observatory at antarctica!' - Tim Otto Roth at the symposium 'The Future of Light Art':

— ZKM Karlsruhe (@zkmkarlsruhe) 9. Februar 2018

Press images

Simulation with the spatial arrangement of the 444 illuminated loudspeakers in St. Elisabeth. Image: imachination projects

From the viewer's perspective: Simualtion of AIS³ in St. Elisabeth, Berlin-Mitte. Image: imachination projects

For IceCube related images see the DESY media database.