Somewhere In the Universe It Rains Diamonds (Aether)

2021

As stars die they send out cosmic rays, which bombard and pass through us invisibly. The installation Somewhere In the Universe it Rains Diamonds (Aether) makes them visceral. Inside a glass sphere the cosmic rays appear as wisps and streaks - vapour trails through mist. But they produce boneshaking sound. Sound derived from inside the body - the artist’s voice, itself passed through a medium of digital processing and then removed from the mix, leaving behind its own sonic vapour trail.

The piece is comprised of a bespoke cloud chamber and a live camera feeding images to an image recognition model trained on thousands of previous images of cosmic rays labeled with one of five types of particle. When it recognises one in real time it triggers the corresponding sound - one of the first five notes of the circle of fifths: CGDAE, setting the volume to the level of certainty the algorithm has in the categorisation. For ones that it is especially certain, over ninety percent, it saves an image, which is speculatively listed for sale as an NFT on the Ethereum marketplace OpenSea.*

For millennia, we’ve looked to the skies to make sense of our lives. The Ancient Greeks added Aether to the four earthly elements to explain the unseen forces pulling and pushing the cosmos, Aristotle positing that the heavenly bodies were glass spheres full of it. More recently scientists have theorised that when stars collapse they fuse into massive diamonds, and that exoplanet atmospheres turn carbon into diamond rain.

As the world locked itself down, our lives became increasingly digital, and we’ve been looking just as searchingly to technology for meaning as we have to the heavens. We’ve heard tell of untold millions in digital aether, or Ethereum, out there, and just as we dream of diamond rain in the cosmos, we imagine NFT’s in the cloud. The irony in both is that just as diamond shards falling from the sky would tear us apart so too might the financial and ecological losses from a speculative bubble when it pops.

*Listing NFT's on OpenSea mints them off-chain and they move "on-chain" only when purchased. The energy required for supporting transactions on the chain releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. I’ve purchased carbon offsets in case of any sales.