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AIS³ – Astroparticle Immersive Synthesizer³

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

444 spherical loudspeakers hang on thin wire ropes in the empty hall of the St. Elisabeth church built by the German architect Schinkel. The loudspeakers do not emit sound and light all at once, but sometimes eruptively from a centre, while at other times sounds meander through the room like a soft wave motion. Developed by Tim Otto Roth, the sound laboratory is based on data collected at IceCube, the neutrino observatory at the South Pole. Visitors can move freely among the loudspeakers hanging on 37 strings and thereby follow the movement of the "ghost particles" in the room.

[aiskju:b] adopts the form and arrangement of the sensors in the Antarctic ice. 12 spherical loudspeakers hang on each of the 37 strings, creating a walk-in sound and light installation distributed over a volume of around 8m x 8m x 7m. Recent data from the IceCube experiment is fed into the installation, whereupon the measured energies are translated into coloured lights and sounds that fuse into different timbres, depending on one's position in the room. The goal is not only to provide both laypersons and scientists with a novel approach to physics research, but also to establish a new interdisciplinary art practice: AIS³ is at once an artwork and a fundamental experiment in psychoacoustics, turning the room itself into a sound generator in which the visitor becomes immersed.

The project is on show in collaboration with DESY Zeuthen from 29 August - 16 September 2018 at St. Elisabeth in Berlin/Germany. Further presentations will follow up in Munich, the Ludwig Forum Aachen and abroad.

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Working at the South Pole

posted by: Martin Rongen at 1 February 2018

For a physicist, having worked for years on improving the understanding of an experiment and its underlying models, it is actually a dramatic situation to be able to touch in situ the hardware that generates the data. Working on IceCube, situated at the Geographic South Pole, it is a particularly surrealistic adventure. Depending on the weather, mechanical issues with the planes and scheduling constrains, the journey from Europe via New Zealand and the Antarctic logistics hub McMurdo can take anywhere from four days to two weeks. Once at “the Pole”, you feel struck by the strong contrast created of  a fossil fuel-driven outpost of civilization (single rooms, spacious laboratories & recreational rooms and three warm meals a day) clashing with the harsh conditions of one of the coldest, driest and most remote places on Earth. The absurdity of this situation is probably best exemplified by the cult-like status surrounding fresh breakfast eggs and the sadness that ensues when none are available after a week without flights. IceCube is a unique experiment using the deep glacial ice which has accumulated over the last 100 millennia and it’s outstanding optical properties as a detection medium for a particle physics experiment. With the over 5000 sensors frozen about 2km deep in the ice, the only reminders of the experiment are small islands of bamboo flags marking the location of each drill hole as well as a small server-room building in the centre of the instrumented area. As such it takes quite a leap of imagination to appreciate that one is standing on top of nearly 3km of ice, with about 3000 particles being detected and stored per second. After working on “the ice” for three weeks, we are now heading home. This is a moment comprising an ambivalent mixture of feelings: The anticipation to come home, the sadness to leave this remarkable place and the anxiety as the small R&D telescope we deployed will hopefully survive the grueling winter to gather the required data.


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IceCube is the weirdest telescope in the world! Instead of light, X-rays, or radio waves, it detects neutrinos. Neutrinos are tiny, electrically neutral elementary particles that only interact with matter in extremely rare cases. For instance, 60 billion solar neutrinos reach each square centimetre of the earth's surface every second, but only a mere dozen react with the nucleus of an atom as they pass through the earth. However, these "ghost particles" provide us with unique information about the cosmos. Because of their low reactivity, they are capable of escaping even the densest cosmic objects, whereas light can only escape them indirectly.

Scheme of IceCube

IceCube consists of 5160 light sensors that are frozen deep into the Antarctic ice shield at the South Pole, covering a full cubic kilometre of ice. The sensors register the tiny flashes of light that occur in the rare case of a neutrino interaction. On this basis, the direction and energy of the neutrinos can be determined. In 2013, the IceCube team managed to provide the first ever proof of high-energy cosmic neutrinos – a discovery celebrated as the breakthrough of the year by the journal Physics World. However, the directions from which the neutrinos arrived seemed to be distributed evenly across the sky: the IceCube researchers found no evidence of an individual source. This is exactly where the latest findings break new ground. They are the first step to a precise cartography of the neutrino sky. Hence gravitational-wave astronomy, which won the Nobel prize in 2017, will in future be joined by neutrino astronomy as an important research field in physics.

Immersion into an invisible nature

Tim Otto Roth's installation constitutes a sound space that be can be grasped as a form of land art expanding into the cosmic-acoustic realm: a hybrid between approaches such as Bernhard Leitner's research into the spatial motion of sound, and elements of land art such as those found for example in Walter de Maria's project Lightning Field. Visitors immerse themselves in a nature that is invisible, hardly tangible. As the motion of light signals measured at the South Pole research site is scaled down into a visual-acoustic representation, visitors become aware that they are subject to cosmic processes they usually do not perceive.

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

Light becomes sound – particle physical harmonics

At the same time, the distribution of acoustic sources transforms the room into a synthesizer that blends tones into site-specific sounds depending on their duration and distance from each other. What is unique about AIS³ are the hundreds of acoustic sources installed in the room, offering an immersive corporeal experience that other procedures cannot equal. The simultaneous translation of pitch levels into coloured light guides listeners along a complementary path to a sound experience whose tonal elements could not be so accurately located by a merely acoustic approach.
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. The installation renders both selected data records by IceCube and live data transmitted from the Antarctic. When it comes to composition, the processing of IceCube data is informed by Tim Otto Roth's interest in the spatialisation of sound and in alternative physical scales that go beyond the twelve-tone system. IceCube lets different processes reveal themselves as cascading motions or spherical 'explosions.' The recorded energies are by no means arbitrary; they are related to one another in specific ways. These are weaved into physically determined micro-tonal sound movements in space – a Music of the Spheres for the 21st century.

Records from the center of the installation (headphones recommended):

detector noise (v4)

neutrino tracks

detecotr noise (v3)

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.

Premiere in August 2018 in Berlin

Exhibition opening:
Tuesday, 28. August 2018, 7–9 p.m.

Ort: St. Elisabeth | Invalidenstr. 3 | 10115 Berlin
registration | admission free

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of lectures curated by the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchroton DESY in Zeuthen. In addition, leading experts from the sciences and humanities will gather for a tow-day symposium on September 14 and 15, 2018, to discuss the relationship of "Physics and Art(efact)."


Ort: Villa Elisabeth | Invalidenstr. 4a | 10115 Berlin
without applicaton| admission free
contact: aiskjube[a] or 033762 7-7201

August 30, 2018, 7 p.m.
Black Holes and Neutron Stars: About Gravitational Waves, Kilonovae, and the Creation of Heavy Chemical Elements (lecture in German)
Prof. Harald Pfeiffer, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, Potsdam

September 02, 2018, 5 p.m.
Nutters, Newbeats and Neutrinos:
Tales on the Weirdest Object of Particle Physics
(lecture in German)
Dr. Christian Spiering, DESY, Zeuthen

September 12, 2018, 7 p.m.
All Good Things Come from Above: The Mystery of Cosmic Radiation(lecture in German)
Prof. Karl-Heinz Kampert, University Wuppertal

Symposium Physics and Art(efacts)

Ort: St. Elisabeth |Invalidenstr. 3 | 10115 Berlin
registration | admission free

Symposium Physics and Art(efacts)

Ort: St. Elisabeth |Invalidenstr. 3 | 10115 Berlin
registration | admission free
14 & 15 September 2018

[aiskju:b] is the expression of a special liaison of physics and art. In occasion of the premiere in Berlin, a transdisciplinary symposium will take place asking for the relationship of artefact and nature and focusing implicitly upon the relation of the arts and physics (and its neighbouring disciplines). Here the symposium traces the physical dimension artists and scientists are confronted with – speaking the material and embodied quality of artistic and scientific experiments.

The programm is online now. You find it here

Accepted speakers (talk & panel): Peter Bexte (professor of aesthetics, Academy of Media Arts Cologne), Charlotte Bigg (science historian, Centre Alexandre-Koyré Paris), Horst Bredekamp (professor for art history, HU Berlin), Wolfgang Ernst (professor for media archaeology, HU Berlin), Rolf-Dieter Heuer (vice president Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, former CERN Director General), Heike Catherina Mertens (program director Hatje Cantz, former director Schering Foundation), Helga de la Motte-Haber (musicologist (em.), TU Berlin), Thomas Naumann (physicist, DESY), Hans-Peter Nollert (physicist, Univ. Tübingen), Christian Rauch (physicist, director State-Festival Berlin), Robin Santra (head of theory group Center for Free-Electron Laser Science, DESY), Gereon Sievernich (curator Hauptstadtkulturfonds and former director Martin-Gropius-Bau), Friedrich Steinle (Professor for History of Science & Technology, TU Berlin), Jol Thomson (artist & film maker, University of Westminster, London).
Conference chairs: Christian Spiering & Tim Otto Roth

Further information soon.

Registration on


20 September 2018, Auf sinnliche Tuchfühlung mit dem Kosmos, by Ralf Burgmaier, Badische Zeitung

3 September 2018, "Nachgefragt" bei AIS³: "Es gab Rückschläge, aber dann haben wir es geschafft. Interview by Carolin Mackert, Kulturförderpunkt Berlin

29 August 2018, Meditative Lichtinstallation: In der St.-Elisabeth-Kirche trifft Kunst auf Wissenschaft, by Ingeborg Ruthe Berliner Zeitung

28 August 2018, IceCube - Kunst und Wissenschaft, by Thomas Prinzler RBB inforadio

press pictures:

For pictures in print quality please click on the correspondent pictures. You find captions and credits in the picture's meta code.

For IceCube related images see the DESY media database.