The glacial body is an organism like our body.

Sergio Maggioni

Listening to the Glacial Body: A Sound of Extinction | Sergio Maggioni

Sergio Maggioni is an Italian sound artist who investigates the auditory relationship between man-made and natural elements.

He abandoned urban life and returned to his origins in the northern Italian village of Bienno, in the Alpine valley Valle Camonica. In 2020 he conceived an experimental scientific and artistic research project aimed at monitoring the implications of climate change on Alpine glaciers, titled A Sound of Extinction.

We interviewed him to reveal his understanding of glacial bodies through sound as a medium.

How has your journey into understanding the spectrum of sound brought you closer to nature?

With the project A Sound of Extinction, we have obtained up to now 9,180 hours of recorded sound coming from the inside and from the surface of the Adamello glacier, creating a unique database of its kind that is constantly updated.

This allows us to listen to the alphabet of every single instant of the most intimate part of the glacier’s life. It is an extraordinary occasion that gave me the idea that the glacial body is an organism like our body.

The connection between soundscape and landscape is of great importance. How can we utilize sound as a medium to heal ourselves and the ecosystem?

The first sense we develop when we are in the womb is touch and after a few weeks it is hearing, two interconnected perceptive elements, less developed than sight and linked to primary actions. 

During the use of the “sound ablation” installation, which recounts 24 hours of melting activity on a glacier, we experienced how the sound and scientific data we are collecting are extraordinary tools for making the public understand the current problem. Being able to listen through a multi-channel system with the relative temperatures to the recordings of the powerful sound phenomena that are released in the hottest hours that can even reach 17 degrees at an altitude of 2800 meters, listening to these sounds creates a very strong emotional experience that goes straight to people’s bellies and becomes a medium of awareness towards glacial bodies and hence a progression towards healing.

What inspired you to create A Sound of Extinction? Did you feel your connection to the Alps deepening while creating this project?

I come from Valle Camonica, an Alpine valley in the center of the Alps where the Adamello glacier is located, the largest in the Italian Alps. Since I was a child I have been lucky enough to visit the glacier and when I learned that within a few decades, it will probably become extinct, it created a strong sense of sadness and concern in me.

At the same time, the desire to help communicate the problem through an artistic and scientific project of experimental research entitled A Sound of Extinction was triggered. The initiative aims to investigate the implications of climate change on Alpine glaciers through sound analysis. The project is in collaboration with various universities, institutions and is composed of a team of professionals from different fields. Since 2020 we have carried out a series of expeditions on the Adamello glacier aimed at installing sophisticated bioacoustic recorders capable of recording – 24 hours a day for months – the sound and temperatures in the different points of the glacier. The data collected is allowing us to support scientific research, through the drafting of a scientific paper with the University of Brescia, artistic research, and dissemination. In recent years, we have created a series of installations and participated in international festivals, including the latest Ars Electronica Festival 2022.

What we found is that the sound of the glaciers goes straight to the emotions of the viewers, activating the sense of urgency towards the subject.

As an artist and sound researcher, what are your thoughts on noise pollution? Is it a subject that intrigues you?

I’m sensitive to this issue; certain frequencies generated by anthropization in certain contexts greatly affect the quality of life. Even though I live in an alpine valley, the sounds coming from the bottom of the valley between factories and road traffic are unsustainable. I believe that the population is not informed enough about the risks that excessive exposure to noise pollution entails. I think this topic could be an inspirational theme for awareness projects.

Which natural sound is your favorite and why?

I think the sound of water is something magical, the sounds formed from a single drop, to the stream, to the waterfall, are the testimony of life. On the other hand, its essence, which is equivalent to silence, is the absence of life, this is the dramatic poetic vision upon which “un suono in estinzione” is based.

What does oneness mean to you?

Oneness is something we find when we let go of the harmful part of our ego, when we can push it away we are able to unite with everything around us.

Visit the artist’s website for more.