Sébastien Robert
Electronic evocations
of sound's reality
Video 15'05"
Sébastien Robert (1993. Nantes, FR) is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher who develops a practice at the intersection of visual and sound art, technology, science and ethnography. Most of his projects revolve around a research cycle, You're no Bird of Paradise, through which he explores disappearing Indigenous sonic rituals and cosmologies. This centuries-old knowledge of the world is under threat due to complex and intertwined technological, societal and ecological issues. Beyond simple documentation, yet not an ambitious ethnographic archiving project, he aims to translate these immaterial resources into long-lasting tangible works of art made of materials that echo the traditions of the communities encountered and the geo-specificities of the territories explored. In contrast to the current recordings mediums (f.e vinyl, tape, digital files), which format is standardised and whose lifespan is limited, Sébastien develops alternative ways to materialise part of this heritage by bringing different physical and time scales to our perceptions. Months-long of remote work punctuated with in-situ field research give birth to various artistic projects, whether in the form of installation, performance or artworks, refined in their use of materials. Through his work and research, Sébastien searches for possibilities to create an engaged and expanding artistic dialogue between non-western perspectives and new technology while questioning our perception of our environment and highlighting the epistemological diversity of the world we inhabit. As an integral part of his research, Sébastien participated in various artist residencies such as Arctic Wave (Andøya, NO), Into The Great Wide Open (Vlieland, NL) and Valley of the Possible (Curacautin, CL) and he gave lectures at institutions such as the Arctic University Museum (Tromsø, NO), the ITMO University (Saint Petersburg, RU) and the HEAD - University of Art and Design (Geneva, CH). Sébastien has recently exhibited his work at Rokolectiv (Bucharest, RO), MU ArtSpace (Eindhoven, NL) and Global Seed Vault (Svalbard, NO) and has performed at various internationally recognised festivals such as Rewire (The Hague, NL), Organik (Hualien, TW) and Mirage (Lyon, FR). Sébastien graduated with honours from the ArtScience Master between the KABK - Royal Academy of Art and KC - Royal Conservatory of The Hague in 2020, where he now lives and works.
Field recordings made on the island of Andøya during the night of the 11-12 October 2021

'Electronic evocations of sound's reality' is the first iteration of Sébastien Robert's ongoing research 'The Light Which Can Be Heard'. The video takes as a starting point 147 quotes from various surveys* undertaken in Canada, Norway, England and Russia since 1771, in which the sound of the Northern Light is described in the words of various Indigenous and local communities living in the Arctic. Their expressions stand out in their diversity, their onomatopoeia characteristic and their convergence in describing a phenomenon witnessed at various locations and times.


Despite the many accounts, most of the Western scientific community completely denied their existence for decades until some hypotheses about their origin began to re-emerge in the 1950s, which are still being debated 70 years later. Some believe that the VLF (Very Low Frequency) radio waves they produce can be perceived in the witnesser's surroundings. Some natural elements would act as receivers and translate the radio waves to the audible spectrum, from electromagnetic to acoustic waves.


By juxtaposing these words with his recordings of VLF made in October 2021 in Norway, the artist proposes an entry point to this ongoing debate. The absence of images and the minimalism of the video allow the audience to immerse themselves in this unique sonic & poetic universe. Does he/she/they associate the descriptions with the sounds? He/she/they are now part of the conversation.

*Sources

— Hearne, S. A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772. Toronto: Champlain Society's Edition, 1911
— Capron, J. R. Auroræ: Their Characters and Spectra. London: E. and F. N. Spon, 1879
— Tromholt, S. 'Norwegian Testimony to the Aurora-Sound'. Nature 32. p. 499–500. 1885.
— Chant, C. A. 'The Audibility of the Aurora'. The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 17. p.273-284. 1923
— Silverman, S. M. and Tuan T. F. 'Auroral Audibility', Advances in Geophysics, 16, p.156-266. 1973
— Mustonen, T. Inuit and Chukchi Star lore: Reflections on Ursa Major, the North Star and Northern Lights. Snowchange Co-op. 2016

Credits - The Lights Which Can Be Heard

Research project commissioned by STRP Festival

With the financial support of Dispositif pour la Création Artistique Multimédia et Numérique (DICRéAM), Mondriaan Fund, and Stroom Den Haag.

Initiated during the Arctic Wave residency programme

Under the artistic supervision of Jean-Emmanuel Rosnet

With the support of Njål Gulbrandsen (Tromsø Geophysical Observatory), Fiona Armery (University of Cambridge), Rob Stammes (Polarlightcenter), Harald Gaski (The Arctic University of Norway), Hans Ragnar Mathisen, Matti Aikio.