Time will tell what the Berwick already knows...

nathalie miebach's blog

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Musical Notation Notes

general info about graphic scores: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphic_notation

"In the late forties and early fifties it became clear that there is a correspondence between time and space. And music is not isolated from [space], because one second of sound is so many inches on tape. That means that the old meters of two, three, and four are no longer necessary, that space on a page is equivalent to time. Therefore, I began doing graphic notations, and those graphic notations led other people to invite me to make graphic works apart from music. And those led me in turn to make musical scores that were very graphic."

-john cage

and 'eye music': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_music


Reading List

(from email correspondence 10/12/08)

Hello Bonnie & Nova,

In all the enthusiasm to finally have a chance to begin sharing with you what's been ticking in my head, I forgot the most important part - the observation journal I have started for this project. I have also started building a sculpture, based on the data I have already collected here. I'll bring all that on Tuesday. IF Bonnie's studio situation works out (did you get my last email?), I might make that my Berwick studio for the residency.

My reading list of late has included:

Emergence - Stephen Johnson (about complexity theory)
Simplexity - Jeffrey Kluger (about complexity theory)
Sync - The emerging science of spontaneous order - Steven Strogatz

Also love the following books:

Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman (non-fiction / fiction)
The German Lesson - Sigfried Lentz (fiction)
Anything by Samuel Becket or Jean Ionesco or Bertholt Brecht (drama)
The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell
The World Without Us - Alan Weisman (what if we all disappeared from earth, what would happen to this planet...fantastic book!)
Field Notes from a Catastrophe - Elizabeth Kolbert (non-fiction, great book on climate change)
The Weather Makers - Tim Flannery (non-fiction, climate-change)

I also have a weakness for detective novels, which replace TV for me.

I have this list of people I carry in my mind with whom, if I could, would like to have a beer with. Obviously this isn't realistic, since some of them are already dead. But, nonetheless, they intrigue me for one reason or another and would love to hear them speak. Many of them are not artists and even those who are, don't necessarily make art I like. It's more their thinking that I find interesting:

Agnes Denes - her drawings on thoughts and equating the evolution of thoughts to the ways crystals grow.
Matthew Ritchie - the way he uses his paintings and writings to construct a cosmology that infuses religion, science and fiction
Bill Viola - the guy is just so damn articulate about life and it's a pleasure to hear him talk
Johannes Kepler - famous mathematician and devout believer in God. His spherical model of the universe is unbelievably beautiful!
Leonardo Da Vinci - I want to sit next to a river with him and have him explain to me the turbulence of water.

On Tuesday, I will bring you both copies of Steve Reich music as well as the article I mentioned by Peter Galison called "Data Scatter into Images, Images Scatter into Data". I'll also set up some stuff in my studio area for folks to look at - notebooks, sculptures, things in progress.

See you Tuesday,


Data Interpretation - Musical Notation

The analogy to music became an almost immediate realization. What I was looking for was a vocabulary that would allow me to dig deeper in exploring these nuances and idiosyncratic way of understanding weather. Two aspects of music, in particular struck me as having qualities worthy to explore and integrate into sculpture. First, there is the physicality of musical performances of large orchestras. The peripherals awareness a musician has to perform is very akin to the peripheral reading you do while you record weather data. When a musician plays his notes, he/she is also looking at the conductor for tempo as well as being aware of his/her neighbors. When I am using my instruments to collect temperature and barometric pressure, I am also looking for clues within the physical environment that would indicate some visual evidence of that relationship. In addition to the physical awareness of the players on stage, there is also a temporal awareness. Each player enters and exists the orchestral piece at different parts and even in different tempos. Rather than one instrument (or one sculpture, to draw the analogy back to sculpture) playing the entire piece, the musical composition comes together through this interplay of different instruments.
The second interest in music has to do with musical notations. A composer can dictate the cadence, loudness, even flavor of a note through symbols that are written within the piece. In weather, 25 mph wind does not always feel the same way. When the ground is frozen on the beach and the top layer of sand is loose, the kernels of sand will bite, sting and slash your face. It becomes impossible to see and the only way to advance is to turn your body against the wind and walk backwards. When it is a southern wind, a 25mph wind can bring the warmth of the south with it. When the wind blew from the North on Cape Cod at 25 mph, it became impossible to bike to the beach with my equipment, as wind gusts would literally throw me into sand dunes.
To follow my analogy with music, I began to look for actual music that would feel akin to the way I would imagine music to reflect the interaction of weather. One of the first composers that I looked at was one I have been listening to in my studio for many years: Steve Reich.
Steve' Reich's Music for 18 Musicians is an example of what some of the qualities are that remind me of the interaction of systems in weather. The whole piece is based on pulses that are based on the tempo of a human breath. The clarinet and the human voices dictate that rhythm, while the other non-breath instruments follow it. After a few rehearsals, the whole piece can be played without a conductor, after which the clarinet becomes the lead instruments for tempo. During the different movement, different instruments become the leader of a new phrase, each change in rhythm or melody being introduced through the metallophone. The whole piece is thus an interplay of different instruments, in which each becomes the leader at some point, while also being tempered by the timing of the human breath.
When I started looking at the notes, I was struck at how similar weather data interacts. Sometimes it is the wind which becomes the leader of the systems, when everything else seems to react to its force and power. Sometimes it is a drastic drop in barometric pressure that defines most clearly the environment changes, such as the way birds fly or the way sound travels over water. Other times it is temperature that comes to the foreground, when the first frost on the ground announces a change in season. Steve Reich's piece is also an analogy to weather behaving like an ‘emerging system, in which individual systems react and influence neighboring systems' behaviors, producing larger regional weather patterns that emerge further to influence global weather trends.
The fact that this piece's tempo is based on a human breath is also a great metaphor of what it actually feels like to observe weather on a daily basis. Over time I am beginning to realize that the most insightful moments I have in interpreting weather don't come from staring at accurate numbers I download from a NOAA satellite, but from empirical data, based on my own subjective interpretations of weather. It is when I draw direct relationships between what I record and what I actually observe, that I get glimpses of understandings. Weather observing takes a lot of disciplines and forces me to, in a sense, stop my daily activities everyday for 10 minutes to look up at the sky and notice the clouds. You can't record the movement of clouds without standing still. I stand, I breath, I notice, I record.
A more appropriate example of what might approximate the disjointed way I experienced weather in Omaha would be Steve Reich's City Life. In this piece, recorded sound bites of city life are interspersed with instruments. At times the rawness of city sounds takes over and seems to squash the instruments, other times they seem to work in tandem, and yet other times the instruments drown out the city noises.
My first attempt to translate all these new thoughts sprouting in my head came through in Urban Weather Prairies - Symphonic Studies in D Minor. The piece translates data collected in Omaha, Nebraska, during a 2-month period (May /June 2008), while I was an Artist in Residence at the Bemis Center. I chose to translate the data I collected in the format of an orchestra as a way to more truthfully articulate the somewhat idiosyncratic way I was making sense of my daily weather observations. In this piece, each sculpture and wall piece tells part of the story, with the entirety of the piece coming together through the larger behavioral patterns that slowly emerge over time.

nmiebach's orchestra

Data Collection - Rural vs City

B. Data Collection cont.

From the very beginning of this transition from working in a rural setting (Cape Cod) to a city, I was struck at how the initial blindness of unfamiliarity of entering a new environment never really left me. The car-centeredness and my personal hang-ups about that, were part of this prejudicial blindness, I am sure. But it was more than that, as I recognize this same phenomena when I am in Boston. It’s almost like weather is hidden, harder to detect within a city environment. True, there is the physical distortion of the buildings and surfaces that create these UHI (Urban Heat Islands) which trap heat above cities. But the blindness is deeper than that.
For one, there are less visual indicators of seasons within cities. On the Cape, the seasons have a smell in the air, a feel of the wind, taste and visual quality that is unmistakable and impossible not to notice. The harsh, winter winds that bite into your face as you fight your way to the water’s edge, mixed with the strange fishy smell of the seaweed are all right in your face. Daily subtleties of weather articulate themselves much more visibly in an environment that is defined largely by the natural world. In the brick, concrete-filled land of Urbana, those indicators are either less visible or simply non-existent.
This blindness, I felt I was always carrying around with me, was only lifted on occasional moments, when weather actually became an almost physically, tangible phenomena rather than the silent background I occasionally witnessed as I lifted my head and peeked at a bit of sky between the skyscrapers. What these occasional bursts of visibility did was create a very idiosyncratic way of learning about weather. Reading weather felt more like a series of bits and pieces, in which various impressions about different aspects of the phenomenon behaved like puzzle pieces of a larger whole.
And it is this idiosyncrasy that really began to intrigue me as a sign that I was actually beginning to understand weather in a more profound way. Sometimes understanding something deeper actually has to go through a phase of not understanding it, in order to allow ideas and perspectives to re-shift their parameters through which you view them. I felt like this shift in approaching the data – not as a series of numbers that have to be explored in a set, but as a series of seemingly disconnected understandings that as a whole make up the larger phenomena called weather. Or at least my understanding of weather.

Data Collecting - Bemis

Weather Suits for Cities – Stage 1, Omaha, Nebraska

A. Data Collecting:
I had the chance to give this project a first run in Omaha, NE, during a 2-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Omaha is a typical example of the horrors of urban sprawl found in the western part of this country. Omaha couldn’t have been more different than being on the Cape. Having no car in such a car-saturated, car-centric city was a strange reality to begin my project.
For all that I felt was wrong with the urban development and the over-dependence on the car (a sort of bus system did exist, I should say), Omaha was a perfect place to begin addressing the question: How is weather experienced in a city? How is it contextualized in the daily chores of Omahans? Is the reality that we live in a human-induced age of climate change baring any relevance to that daily interaction and understanding of weather? When does a person living in Omaha actually notice weather, aside during the commute from the burbs to the office and the lunch hour where workers seem to eagerly escape from the frigid AC- environments inside?
I decided to begin the project by doing the only thing I could do, which was go outside and walk the streets. Everyday, I would program my weather equipment to measure weather in intervals of 30 seconds or so as I explored this new environment. As I was walking around, I would look for weather beacons, stationary objects that indicate some sort of visible reaction to the weather (ex: flags or trees). When I came back from my walks, I sketched out maps of the routes I had taken, what I had recorded and, most importantly, what sort of thoughts, observations and questions popped up in my head about weather as I was walking.
However, I soon found that this approach had some problems. Given that I was one of the only pedestrians around and given that I had weather equipment dangling from my sides, it didn’t take long for the cops to take an interest in what I was doing. I realized that in this day-and-age, walking around in any city with visible equipment invariably invites other connotations I don’t want the work to go towards. I’m not interested in this ‘portable weather device’ to be a platform for a performance nor to even invite that kind of interpretation.
The second thing that came up was the lack of a constant in the data I gathered. My data interpretation is always a partnership between my own observations which are compared and added to data I get from local weather stations. For this partnership to work, there has to be a level of consistency in my own data collecting – be that in form of a stationary place where I record data everyday or in taking the reading at the same time everyday. The problem with these walks was that the data was too locally specific – interesting in bringing up thoughts and ideas, but not useable in comparing it with data from local weather stations. In other words, I could only use the numbers to understand a very locally, specific, tiny weather phenomena with no useable numbers to connect to larger data, which would help me see my local observations as part of a larger context.
The third problem had to do with finding reliable weather beacons. Weather beacons are visually manifestations of the cause-and-effect of weather. Visual clues that function as an entry point into the larger, hidden system interactions that make up weather. The most obvious weather beacon is a flag, for example. While Omaha is awash with American flags, each one of them would be blowing this way or that way, responding to local wind turbulence. I, therefore, couldn’t use them to measure the actual wind direction. Aside from flags, I had problems finding other weather beacons. On the Cape, I used sound, bird behavior, wave height and current to help me ‘read’ visually the effects of weather. I hope that in time I will find more of them in an urban environment, so that I can begin to use the actual, physical environment more directly to read weather.
Despite these problems, there was something these walks brought that no weather instrument could. Much of weather observing feels to me like a type of ‘listening’ rather than actual looking. Part of that has to do with the fact that weather is completely invisible – the things you do see are merely reactions of a system that makes up weather. You see the branches of a tree swerving, as a result of wind currents flowing through it. This ‘listening’ comes about after spending a lot of time in an environment in which you notice more and more things. Your mind begins to differentiate better and better what sort of elements are constants, what are the occasional freaks and what are the real oddities in an environment.
After this initial start, I made a few changes to the data collecting process. I set up a permanent weather station on the roof of the Bemis Center. It was high enough to be able to see a good chunk of sky as well as giving me visibility to some of the highest flags in Omaha. Data was collected twice a day. I also continued my walks through Omaha, which were used as a way to mentally contextualize the information I gathered from the roof.

Collecting Thoughts from Omaha

(from email correspondence 10/5/08)
Hello Nova and Bonnie,

I just reread my proposal I wrote for you when I applied to the Berwick. The intentions have not shifted, but the approach I am thinking of now is flavored with a tiny bit more wisdom and perspective based on my experience in Omaha at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.
The kernel of curiosity that fueled the initial project on Cape Cod and that has now translated itself into this newer project I am developing with you is still the same. Rather than narrowing down to anything specific, let me articulate some questions that have remained the starting points and loyal partners throughout this project: What is weather? What does weather mean/how is it understood in this day-and-age of human-induced climate change (yes, I am convinced this is not some cyclical oddity, but the result of our own doing). How is the meaning of weather contextualized in an urban environment? How does one measure weather in a city?
Countries with the highest per-capita use of energy also happen to have the highest concentration of urban population. In the USA, nearly 80 percent of the population lives in/or near an urban center. While weather happens everywhere, it is experienced differently in a city. It begins with the way weather is being reported to urban dwellers. Weather reporting is focused completely on the human species, the car and how snow, rain, or wind will impact the daily commute. For someone who has spend the last 2 years observing seasonal changes in nature by recording air temperatures, the arrival of certain bird species and noticing the ocean's winter current eroding the beach, I am struck by this very different approach in understanding and contextualizing weather changes in an environment. Aside from the occasional snowstorm that causes havoc on the roadway,  weather seems to retreat into the background in an urban environment. The urban infrastructure creates another difficulty in recording actual weather data as buildings can influence the temperature, pressure and wind conditions from one block to the next, creating a phenomenon called Urban Heat Islands (UHI). A series of mini-weather phenomena happening in different parts of the city can accumulate and distort the weather pattern over a city significantly - causing precipitation or smog that further affects the way we experience weather in a city.
And yet, I wonder, if weather remains this illusive element within the city, in which most of us live, how does the reality of Climate Change actually affect us? How do we as urban dwellers form an understanding of it? Does the very nature of Urbana create an artificial barrier between feeling the real effects of climate change, allowing it to remain an abstract phenomenon one watches on a DVD? Or will it become a much more sobering reality in our own backyard the way it already has on Cape Cod.
Addressing the question of weather and how it is understood in the context of recent development in Climate Change is an entirely different experience on Cape Cod. Here, the attitude towards the changing environment is flavored by much more sobriety, brought about by hundreds, even thousands of years of constant changes. Looking at aerial maps of the last 200 years of Cape Cod, you can quickly see how drastic and quickly erosion patterns and movements constantly sculpt the edges of the land. However, when you spend some time with any of the locals who live there year-round, they will not only point out to you that things have always changed, but that these recent changes are different. Beach erosion is more aggressive than ever. Seals are washing ashore with bacterial diseases associated with warmer waters for which they have not build immunity towards. Never-before-seen migratory birds are appearing. Temperatures are warmer than usual. The kind of changes only a person who has seen this land through season after season would notice.
If these things are happening on Cape Cod, they must also be happening in Boston. But where does one go to notice these things? Where does one go to record and try to understand the subtle changes in weather which are part of a larger shift in climate?

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