Installation and visual art

The Lights Which Can Be Heard – Le dernier son des aurores is a research and creation project about the sound of the aurora borealis, which has long been witnessed by various indigenous communities in the Arctic. Despite the many accounts, the Western scientific community denied their existence for decades until some hypotheses about their origin began to surface in the 1950s, but are still debated today. 

Some believe that the natural VLF (Very Low Frequency) radio waves produced by the aurora borealis can be perceived in the observer/listener’s environment. Some natural elements (minerals or crystals) would act as receivers and transform the radio waves (electromagnetic) into the audible spectrum (acoustic). Without rejecting any hypothesis, it is this last one that caught Sébastien’s attention for his project. 

Despite successful recordings following a three-week residence on Andøya in Norway, Sébastien realised that the VLF waves emitted by the aurora are increasingly difficult to perceive because they are more and more drowned out by artificial signals. They are therefore bound to disappear. Inspired by this unique context, and in the continuity of his previous work, Sébastien is currently developing a body of work around this research, which will allow the audience to perceive the sounds of the aurora borealis while preserving them in light.

Andøya, Octobre 2021 © Sébastien Robert
Lofoten, February 2022 © Sébastien Robert

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Sébastien Robert (FRA)

Sébastien Robert 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.

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. Sébastien graduated with honours from the ArtScience Master between the KABK – Royal Academy of Artand KC – Royal Conservatory of The Hague in 2020, where he now lives and works.

Credits & mentions

Originally commissioned by STRP Festival

Creation realized in coproduction with the platform CHRONIQUES CREATIONS, supported by the DRAC Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the Région Sud Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the City of Marseille and the French Institute in Paris

With the financial support of Stroom Den Haag, DICRéAM, Fonds [SCAN] Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie

With the intellectual support of The Royal Library of the Netherlands, The Tromsø Geophysical Observatory, Fiona Armery (University of Cambridge), Rob Stammes (Polarlightcenter), Harald Gaski (University of Tromsø ), Hans Ragnar Mathisen and Matti Aikio

With the technical support of Lucien Nicou (design + production), Leandros Ntolas (light + optics), Pim Kerssemakers (metalwork), Mark IJzerman (TouchDesigner) and Zois Loumakis (hardware + software)

Under the artistic supervision of Jean-Emmanuel Rosnet

Initiated during the Arctic Wave residency (Andøya, NO)

Partner: Les Méjanes – Bibliothèque et Archives Michel Vovelle