There is a great place out on Pier 17 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, right across from the Exploratorium that I’ve discovered recently. It’s called Swissnex and it’s adjacent to the Swiss Consulate; it’s actually part of Switzerland. Swissnex is a gallery and art space fostering swiss artists, scientists and thinkers. I got the opportunity to work there with my dear friend Juanita Schapfler-Miller, who now lives in Switzerland and works as a “science storyteller.”
She created Climate Garden 2085, which presents Climate Change in a “full body” immersive experience. Within the Climate Garden, there are 2 greenhouses containing plants from the Bay Area. In one of them, Juanita created the conditions of the environment that would occur under the restrictions imposed by the Paris Accord. In the other, there is an identical collection of plants that recreate the climate if we abandoned the Paris Accord and did nothing. Visitors can walk into these spaces and feel the difference in temperature, observing the effects of the different climates on the plants.
The Climate Garden explores how the Northern California ecosystem will change over the next few decades. It focuses on the concept of “solastalgia,” a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change. Environmental changes in the natural environment of the Bay Area will have consequences for all types of inhabitants, human and otherwise, and the Climate Garden encourages visitors to come to terms with the discomfort that these changes cause.
In order to draw visitors into this natural environment that was built within a pier warehouse in San Francisco, Earprint created an immersive soundscape using a multichannel speaker installation to provide various environmental sounds. These sounds, like trickling water, fog horns, and bird calls, are placed to make visitors feel like they are standing in a redwood forest.
The sounds in the exhibit were drawn from early Earprint work with the Oakland Library of Natural Sounds. In the early stages of my career, I collected natural and environmental sounds from all over the Bay Area. These sounds are put to use in the Climate Garden, drawing together decades of Earprint work. The sounds of the fog horns, for example, evoke a specific period of time before the San Francisco air driven fog horns were replaced by electronic horns. These haunting fog horns serve to show the ephemerality of sound, creating an emotional impact that I like to call “sonistalgia,” or the feeling of sadness evoked by sounds of the past.
I also coined a new word to describes the feeling evoked by sounds of the past. “Sonincholy” which is the melancholy feeling we have when missing sounds or music, feeling a minor mood, or experiencing emotionally haunting sound qualities. Another word on the other side of the spectrum is “sonindipity” which is the joy we experience when hearing sounds that are naturally occurring but create an orchestra and a kind of symphony of chance in sound. All of these qualities are present in the sound design for the Climate Garden exhibition.
Earprint was proud to engage in this excellent collaborative opportunity with Juanita Schlaepfer-Miller. The Climate Garden is extraordinarily forward-thinking and sets the stage for conversation about climate change that is very intimate and impactful. As a “science-art” experiment, it engages in the type of storytelling experience in which Earprint specializes- one that uses technology to empathetically connect humans to their environment.
**Special thanks to Meyer Sound for the use of 4 UP-4XP speakers and power supply and Sennheiser for the use of headphones for the exhibition. The Exploratorium also contributed sound equipment and 4 Genelec speakers.