[aiskju:b] is just an invitation to dream – Robert Barry on the “space age of music”

Robert Barry during his lecture @Lufo Aachen

A single speaker of the sound laboratory AIS³.

A space traveller in the world of music touched down on 12 September at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen for an evening talk: London based writer and composter Robert Barry did put the audience on board to lift off to very special sound spheres.
The late middle ages were the starting point for Robert Barry’s excursion into the history of acoustic immersion. According to modern reconstructions selected churches and sacral building were especially constructed at that time to establish a special liaison between space and sound. Until early modern times the church kept this monopoly on the spatialization of sound. The situation changed in the course of the 17th century when the first commercial concert hall opened its doors to the public. This sort of profanation of immersive acoustic environment was finally topped by cinema in the 20th breaking the boundaries between stage and audience. The founding moment is the creation of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” by the end of the 1930s. The orchestra is virtualized by being recorded with up to 33 microphones. A multi-channel loudspeaker systems gives the audience the impression to sit in the middle of the orchestra. Finally the “space age of music” was initiated nine months after Neil Armstrong made his footstep on the moon: At the Expo 1970 in Osaka Karlheinz Stockhausen realized a 360 degree immersive environment positioning the audience in the centre of a spherical architecture stuffed with loudspeakers. In this acoustic space age Barry locates also [aiskju:b] as an “invitation to imagine other worlds and spaces”.

Robert Barry is an English writer and composer based in London. He has written music for film, for contemporary dance, and for the club and his book The Music of the Future was published by Repeater in 2017.

[aiskju:b] Setup & Update @ Ludwig Forum für internationale Kunst in Aachen

The presentation of the sound laboratory [aiskju:b] in Aachen is in a certain sense a back to the roots: In summer 2018 Tim Otto Roth mounted and tested the installation with a team of young scientists around Prof. Christopher Wiebusch from the III. Physics Institute B of the RWTH University Aachen. A week ago this project team did set up and optimized the sound sculpture at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen.

Assembly of the rigg as made-to-measure: The truss needs to fit excactly to the support structure in the ceiling to achieve the maximum height of 6.50 metres.
Simon Zierke updates the firmware of the network electronics allowing a massive speedup of data transfer.
First test of the new firmware – everybody is happy how smooth and fast it performs.
Physicist and artist: Martin Rongen and Tim Otto Roth observing the first light test.
Use your ears: Marc Klinger testing the speakers.
Lift off for AIS³ – last checke of the speaker strings.
“LuFo” trainee Greta inspecting the sound laboratory.

Just a look back to summer 2018: For several weeks the team of master and phd students got together in the “dance saloon” of the physics department and later in an old industrial to mount the speakers and to test the entire installation. “Without the marvellous commitment of the team around Christopher Wiebusch [aiskju:b] would have never been ready for the premiere at St. Elisabeth in Berlin by the end of August last year!” corroborates Tim Otto Roth. The RWTH team not only managed the mounting of the 444 speaker spheres, but they improved the software and realized the transfer of event data from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South pole. Martin Rongen and Lasse Halve are the specialist for the data transfer and the python scripting. Marit Zöcklein, Jan Audehm and Marc Klinger are team members since the very beginning taking care about the mounting of the speakers. In summer 2018 they realized in collaboration with DESY Zeuthen guided tours for school classes in Berlin. As core team members they did setup also the second presentation in Munich.

Team work in Summer 2019: Together with Tim Otto Roth the young scientists on 6 and 7 August 2019 assembled the installation at Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst. Similar to the past setups the collaboration went off without a hitch. Just after one day the installation did start operation. This summer we welcome Philipp Muth as a new team member, who regrets, that he couldn’t join the initial creation of [aiskju:b] due to a knee injury. Apart from the assembly at the Ludwig Forum also a new soft- and firmware was implemented: Simon Zierke, who is just completing his Phd thesis in experimental physics, improved the script implying an incredible speedup of the sound and light processing. The museum staff and curator Dr. Christian Haring are amazed. “I have never seen that space like that before” expresses enthusiastically co-director Annette Lagler.

Outlook: On 5 September 2019 at 7 PM the opening of [aiskju:b] will take place at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen. Now the young physicists look forward not only to show the work very soon too their friends and relatives, but they will also offer guided tours together with art historians and special programs for school classes. Even the enthusiasts having joined the presentations in Berlin and Munich, the show in Aachen will offer a new experience not only due to the system’s speed up: In the upcoming week Tim Otto Roth will work with the installation and arrange brand new compositions, which will premiere at the opening.

July 12, 2018: Neutrinos as messengers from a gigantic galaxy – another “falling wall”?

High-energy neutrino detected with IceCube on September 22, 2017. Credit: IceCube Collaboration
Christian Spiering, former spokesperson of IceCube, at the South Pole in 1996. Image courtesy of Christian Spiering.

Four billion years ago, our solar system and Earth still in their infancy, a neutrino was emitted in our direction by a huge galaxy with a supermassive black hole in its center. It eventually arrived at Earth on Sept. 22 last year and was recorded by our IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole. The energy of the neutrino was extremely high – 45 times higher than that of protons in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Coincident with that event, gamma-ray astronomers observed that this galaxy (named TXS 0506+056) was in a high state of activity. The probability that this coincidence was just accidental came out as only 1:1000. A clear proof that this galaxy is a neutrino source? Not yet: sometimes even things with small probability must happen! The really thrilling story followed when we scanned through all the data taken since 2009. For a period of few months in late 2014/early 2015, we observed a clear excess of a dozen neutrino events from the direction of TXS 0506+056. And the chance probability for such an excess is only 1:5000!

In my life, I have seen several walls falling, politically and scientifically. The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was clearly the most overwhelming event for me personally.  It happened just one year after I had started working in the field of neutrino astronomy. Next came the discovery of a diffuse flux of high-energy extraterrestrial neutrinos with IceCube in 2013, named the “breakthrough of the year” by the journal Physics World. “Diffuse” means that the arrival directions seemed to be spread uniformly over the whole sky, with no preferred direction indicating an individual source. And now the first evidence for exactly such an individual source!

Is this another “falling wall”? We don’t know yet for sure. The chance for such an observation just by accident is tiny, but it’s not below a millionth yet. This is the limit from where on the notoriously skeptical physicists call an observation confidently a “discovery”.

Neutrino physicists need stamina. The next activity outbreak of a galaxy might be observed very soon – and possibly be recorded not only by IceCube but also by neutrino telescopes just under construction. And only then, eventually, we will know that a new branch of astronomy has been born!  September 22, 2017 was just the exciting start.

Working at the South Pole

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

PAX boarding LC-130 Hercules. © Gwen de Wasseige/ IceCube/ NSF
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. © Gwen de Wasseige/ IceCube/ NSF
Resting on the IceCube array. © Gwen de Wasseige/ IceCube/ NSF
IceCube laboratory. © Gwen de Wasseige/ IceCube/ NSF
Weather scroll. © NSF

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.