Arctic Immersion - Peter Fee

April 18, 2019
Calit2 Auditorium

Arctic Immersion is an audiovisual experience that strings together an acoustic soundscape of an Arctic Ocean environment, data from historic ocean and climate observations and abstract graphics generated from natural materials to produce a captivating and moving experience of rapidly changing conditions at the top of the world.

With the advancement of acoustic technology, biological oceanographers are now able to record underwater sound continuously for years at a time and in many places around the world. With the help of computers we can detect and identify individual sounds in years of recordings from one location or many, but no person could ever listen to them all. We learn many things about what sounds animals make, when they are present seasonally in different areas, and even some aspects of their lives like mating, but we can never actually hear what that environment sounds like through time. We listen to minutes of the sound, maybe hours or days. We listen to and study the sounds of particular animals, but we haven't been able to truly 'hear' the underwater world.

This curated “Arctic Soundscape” allows us for the first time to hear a full year underwater at a location far offshore in the Chukchi Sea, north of Alaska. We hear days as seconds, which carry us through weeks, months, and seasons, through ice formation and consolidation to breakup and open water, and through the migrations of whole populations of Arctic animals like bowhead whales and belugas. We can 'hear' storms and winter winds come and go. With help, we may be able to recognize with our ears all the Inuit seasons of ice and snow and melt and open water--there are at least six. For much of the year, this location is as inaccessible to most of us as the surface of our moon. In 365 seconds, this soundscape carefully reproduces a year of underwater recordings, the changing ocean background noise, and all of the things in it, which create the acoustic environment.

We can hear a year in one lonely part of the Arctic Ocean.


Peter Fee, Audio Artist
Piecing together soundscapes to be appreciated by an audience that expects high-fidelity media, Peter Fee carefully engineers each environmental recording to preserve its original quality. Understanding the parameters of a sound’s quality - such as dynamics, articulation, and timbre - Peter was influenced by Victor Wooten’s book, The Music Lesson. Micro adjustments to the placement of acoustic sources in a soundscape was influenced by zen tai chi taught by Stephen Kow that emphasized sensitivity of the environment’s rhythm. A notable experience: Peter lead a group of people in tai chi along the lapping waves of Lake Mendota when a waterfowl passed overhead and its wings were beating at the same tempo as the people’s arms. Peter Fee earned his B.S. at the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin where he also studied Jazz guitar. He earned an M.A.S. in Climate Science and Policy from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UCSD where he worked with the Whale Acoustic Lab to understand and utilize raw acoustic datastreams. Peter Fee currently teaches math, science, and music at a high school in Madison, Wisconsin.

Josh Tonies, Visual Artist
Josh is an artist and professor who works with drawing and the moving image. His work centers around temporary ecological studies that take form as animation, environmental painting, works on paper, and book arts. He is a lecturer on record at University of San Diego and UC San Diego, teaching courses in film, video art, animation and studio arts.

Josh Jones, Ocean Acoustics Expert and Soundscape Artist
Josh is a graduate student researcher in Biological Oceanography at SIO. He earned his B.S. in Environmental Systems from UC San Diego. His research focuses on Arctic marine mammals and real-time detection and tracking of whales using passive acoustic monitoring.

Madeline Hamann, Science Advisor and Artistic Collaborator
Maddie earned her B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate studying Physical Oceanography at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Professionally, her work is focused on how the smallest scales of motion in the ocean (turbulence) interact with and feed back on the climate system as a whole.

Catherine Qiu
Catherine is a visual art undergraduate at UC San Diego. She is creating the realistic animation including the beluga whale for Arctic Immersion.