Transfer or Interpretation?

This LASERZurich will feature three researchers that will cross-pollinate their research by presenting this exciting and controversial topic. Dr. Nigel Helyer, (sound sculptor and writer), Prof. em Dr Andreas Fischlin (Climate Scientist Systems Ecology at ETH Zurich) and Matthias Vollmer (Architect and photographer from the Architecture Department, ETHZ). The discussion will be moderated by Prof. em. Dr. Jill Scott.


In this presentation and Salon entitled: TRANSFER or INTERPRETATION? three speakers address and compare the potentials of sound art, audiovisual perception of landscape and environmental science to speak to the public about Climate Change and the problematic debate around it. Data sonification is being used to evoke the sounds of a climate in crisis and there are many sound-art alternatives to direct data sonification. How factual and local should the message be and is visual information necessary? Is revealing the existence of these changes a form of climate change resistance?



Anthropogenic climate change is real and hitting home as direct measurements, innumerous observations from impacts, theoretical understanding of physics and other sciences, and models overwhelmingly and consistently show. When sound and visual arts consider the true reasons behind Climate Change, they might play a big role and if done well perhaps even with significant impact. In my presentation I will make some inputs on above aspects with the goal to trigger discussions on how to best address the climate change predicament. Why does climate change continue to be heavily debated despite all solid and robust knowledge as spear-headed by IPCC? That knowledge is denied and “Alternative facts” are tenaciously claimed by a small (in USA <10%), yet explicit minority, which currently happens to include the president of the USA. However, (i) Unmitigated climate change will likely destroy any humane civilization; (ii) Given this threat current policies contrast sharply with what is needed, since we face still wide-spread hesitation to embrace fully the urgently needed policies, and this despite the fact that all governments have principally agreed on those policies in Paris at the COP21 in 2015; (iii) This climate change predicament together with research results from a wide range of disciplines indicates that any reduction of this contrast is not only to be found within many scientific debates; (iv) Well informed political actions and well informed artists with a thorough and honest dialogue on risks and the values at stake, may contribute to progress on resolving the climate change predicament.

Andreas Fischlin

Andreas Fischlin is Professor Emeritus for Systems Ecology at ETH Zurich, background Biology and Systems Theory. He has researched ecosystems in a changing climate and has published numerous scientific works. He taught at ETH Zurich and University of Zurich systems ecology and computer science and played a leading role in the design and formation of the novel Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich. He has worked in various roles within IPCC, which made him a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize as awarded to IPCC in 2007. Representing the science community, he has participated since 1999 in all UNFCCC negotiations and served herewith also as Co-Facilitator of the Structured Expert Dialogue, which contributed to a new science-policy interface informing the Paris Agreement on international climate change policies. As IPCC Vice-chair WGII he is currently busy in preparing the next IPCC Assessment Reports, in particular the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. He is also an active musician.


Under the Icecap is a long term art and science collaboration between the artist and marine scientists at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, at the University of Tasmania (Hobart). The raison d’etre of the Under the Icecap project is to explore the Antartic environmental, social and political issues that are currently transforming our biosphere and to experiment with radical means of expressing ‘hard’ scientific research as creative works that can render this knowledge as a broad form of cultural discourse. The byline of IMAS is “Turning Nature into Knowledge.” The Under the IceCap project supplies a second line “Turning Knowledge into Culture” encapsulating a powerful Art&Science synthesis and simultaneously raising the expectation but also the risk of the endeavor. The primary aim is to produce a third term; creative works that fuse scientific and artistic disciplines, which are compelling and affective but simultaneously works of scientific utility, hopefully tapping into both sides of the brain! Our key focus is the relationship of the environmental knowledge generated from Antarctic bio-logging data with the Anthropogenic changes in the biosphere and the ability to effectively render this knowledge in the public sphere.

Dr. Nigel Helyer (a.k.a. DrSonique)

is an independent sculptor, sound-artist and writer who has forged an international reputation for large scale sound-sculpture installations, environmental public artworks, museum inter-actives and new media projects. His practice is interdisciplinary, linking Art and Science, or more accurately Poesis and Teche in a strong embrace of the environment, manifest as a range of complex works that form a nexus between art, community and ecology.


The glaciers in the Swiss Alps, once formed the landscape that we live in and remain a central element in our perception of the Alps – as ‘wild’ nature, aesthetic experience and natural resource. Rapid ice melt has been profoundly shaping the alpine region in recent years. It has become an omnipresent and tangible phenomenon, and an iconic symbol of ongoing climate change. Encountering one such colossus of ice, we aim to examine the glacier terminus, the point where the ice surfaces from beneath the snow. By coming in direct contact with the ice, we searched for traces of movement over time and to understand the spatial characteristics of this landscape. Over the past three years, the Chair of Landscape Architecture, Professor Christophe Girot and students of ETH Zurich have been documenting the melting landscapes of the Morteratsch glacier region, using analogue photography as well as submersible contact microphones. The impressive sounds of the moving ice mass contrast with the eerie silence of the black and white pictures. Together, we investigated its topology, depth and surface in a new way. How is light and its reflection influencing the perception of space and body and how can the visual impression change out point of view? Sound recordings with contact microphones connect us with the acoustic body of the entire glacier, unveiling the close and distant sounds of ice, snow and water. What are the possibilities of spatial composition with photography and sound on the subject of a large structure in the landscape? We followed this idea of communicating space from the moment we took a picture and a recording. When we returned to the Morteratsch Glacier in June, we found the ice melting, moving and collapsing, transforming the place into a loud and threatening environment.

Matthias Vollmer

is an architect and research associate in the MediaLab at the ETH Zurich. After completing his degree in film studies at the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK), he pursued a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture at the ETH. His research examines the relationship between architecture and landscape through audiovisual media, including laser scan technology, film and analog photography. He is also co-founder of SCANVISION (, an ETH Spin-off in the field of 3D-measurement and visualization and co-founder of the architectural office Atelier Schweizer Vollmer (