The Matter of the SOul | COncentration

Kat Austen

Thanks to human activity, oceans are drastically changing. Seawater is less salty, and is becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and death. "The Matter of the Soul | concentration" is a sonic exploration of acid crystal immersion, sonically exploring the impact of changes in Arctic ice. By controlling acidity and salinity, hacked scientific instruments scream their truths about the consequence of changing oceans.

"concentration" is the first composition from my Arctic project "The Matter of the Soul". "The Matter of the Soul" is a sound, sculpture and performance work. It focuses on the difficult problem of emotional engagement with climate change, and aims to engender empathy in humans with the process of dispersal and transformation in the Arctic region. The work addresses both physical changes in idea and cultural changes in the region of the Arctic. It draws an analogy between the melting of water from ice to ocean in the Arctic, human migration and changing of identity online. The composition of "concentration" is based around field recordings of the different acidity and salinity of Arctic waters using hacked pH and conductivity meters. These properties of the waters vary depending on the melting of ice that increases the amount of fresh liquid water in the Arctic. Thus, measurement of these properties, and the taking of sounds from these measurements, captures the way that climate change is affecting this fragile region.

The focus on dispersal and transformation in the Arctic is not limited to ice and melting, however. Human activity is intrinsically linked with climate change and change in this region. As such, the compositions also include samples from interviews with visitors to and inhabitants of Baffin Island and Resolute, exploring the impact of human movement and migration on the region’s culture and individuals’ identities, and reflecting on the environmental changes interwoven with this process. The raw material and compositions from the project will be released online under CC-BY-SA 4.0, with a call for others to remix the work’s identity as it travels the Internet.

I began “The Matter of the Soul” during my Artist in the Arctic residency with Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute last year. During a residency on the ship the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, sailing through the Canadian High Arctic, I made field recordings of the acidity and salinity of Arctic waters using hacked pH and conductivity meters. I am continuing its development during my Cultural Fellowship in Art and Science at the University of Leeds’ Cultural Institute, in collaboration with researchers from the Priestley International Centre for Climate.


Kat Austen is a Berlin-based artist who creates new media installations and music. Her work focuses on interrogating the boundary between what we think of as the self and others. Her work redefines and enriches our relationship to the environment, with a particular focus on climate change and the oceans. She holds positions as Cultural Fellow in Art and Science at the University of Leeds, and Teaching Fellow at Arts and Sciences BASc, University College London. She has exhibited widely in galleries that include Bonhams Art Gallery, London; Palazzo Ducale, Genoa; Kuehlhaus, Berlin; Pixel, Bergen and WAA, Mumbai. See more here.