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Ackland Art Museum installation "Cryoacoustic Orb" imitates noises from nature

Of all the noises in nature, the sound of ice melting is not the first that comes to mind.

“Cryoacoustic Orb” at the Ackland Art Museum explored that sound in ways that commented artistically on environmental issues.

Jonathon Kirk, of Chicago, and Lee Weisert, who is a music professor at UNC, created this sound installation Sunday at the museum.

Kirk said a broader meaning can be applied to the installation.

“Ice melting is a global phenomenon,” he said.

“You hear about Antarctica — all the ice shelves cracking and melting. But once the ice melts, like this ice here, it’s silent.”

Many people stayed at the exhibit for hours as the orbs and their noises evolved over time.

“For some reason I thought (the orbs) would be bigger,” said Will Robin, a graduate student at UNC.

“But it’s a really cool idea. I think it’s fascinating.”

Two specially designed orbs of ice were placed over glowing heat lamps, with hydroponic microphones descending into both of them.

The result was a transcendental amplification of the ice’s melting that could be heard and watched in real time over the course of the afternoon.

Weisert and Kirk said they were originally inspired while recording the sounds of underwater life.

They purchased hydroponic microphones that could be used underwater and visited a frozen pond near Kirk’s home in Chicago, attempting to hear what it really sounds like underwater.

They said they noticed some of the most interesting sounds were not just the fish and other pond life, but the noises created by the cracking and moving of the ice.

Kirk said he and Weisert were struck by the beauty of the ice’s amplified cracking and melting and wanted others to be able to experience it.

“When you put ice into soda or something it cracks right away, but the only way you can hear that is if you put your head right against it,” Kirk said.

“It’s sort of chaotic and random. So what we’ve done is install hydroponics to amplify that for everyone to hear it.”

The pair created a similar installation in Chicago in the fall of 2011 before bringing it to Chapel Hill — and they said they hope to continue experimenting.

Weisert said it took the pair some trial and error before figuring out exactly how to set up the installation.

“First we tried glass, but of course water expands as it freezes and the glass shattered,” Weisert said.

“The ones (we use now) were manufactured in Arizona, and made out of polycarbonate. We wanted it to be visually appealing as well.”

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Viewers had the option to either listen to the noises amplified throughout the room or try on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones — an element Kirk said was new to the installation.

“I thought the headphones would give it more of the feel that we’re going for,” he said.

“That you’re actually inside the ice as it melts.”

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