In Sonorous Plein Air

Proposal to the Currents New Media Festival 2019
Outdoor Installation /Projections Category

Project Team (correspondence): Joel Ong, Wendy Tremayne, Dan Tapper

Project Title: In Sonorous Plein Air

Currents Application2019 

Both wind (in the environment) and breath share a common neglect. These quotidian and often overlooked aspects of everyday life offer profound metaphors for life. The project In Sonorous Plein Air explores the intersection of planetary rhythms and psycho-geography, relying on daily wind and solar patterns to activate and define the performative aspects of the piece.


The project, a new collaboration between sound artist Joel Ong, conceptual artist Wendy Tremayne and visual/sonic artist Dan Tapper is envisioned to be an installation–performance where an aerial vesicle filled with air is heated by the sun to the point of elevation (without fuel nor helium). This vesicle is tethered to ground (tent pegs, weights) and connected to 2 elements:

  1. a simple digital assemblage of parametric speakers and LED lights driven by a solar powered, lightweight microcontroller (Raspberry Pi Zero).
  2. A large 10ft humanoid made of bent wire and black cloth that will float and flap in the wind almost as though walking or drifting over the land.


At dawn, heat from the sun causes the vesicle to rise. Throughout the day, the sun powers the sound and visual elements. These are driven by air sensors and environmental monitors attached and transduced by the microcontroller. At dusk the cooling air causes the vesicle (and humanoid) to set, and signals the end of the performance.


A 30-45min sound performance is envisioned everyday at dusk with improvisatory electronic sound along with the ceremonious ‘setting’ of the piece.
















Proposed Layout


2 of such aerial vesicles are envisioned across a 80 ft space

3D render 

3D render of installation-Performance In Sonourous PLein Air



Equipment required:


ITEM Quantity Gallery/Artist Provision
Aerial Vesicle (associated fabrics and strings) 2 Artist
Digital Assemblage

–       Raspberry Pi Zero

–       Parametric Speaker

–       Speaker Amp

–       RPi Camera

–       Wireless Antenna

–       LED assemblage

–       Solar battery

–       Environmental Sensors

2 Artist
Speakers (For performance) 4 Gallery
Tether – Tent Pegs / ground weights 10 Gallery
Mixer/Audio Interface 1 Artist
Artist instruments/Laptop 2 Artist



Previous Work


A combination of expertise and experience in related projects by the 3 artists are integral to the implementation of the project.



In August 2018, Joel was part of the Aerocene Explorer’s Flight project in Mississauga, Ontario where we successfully elevated a black vesicle to almost 50feet, despite less-than-ideal weather conditions. The Aerocene project is an open source project initiated by designer Tomas Seraceno [1] where packs are sent around the world for similar test flights and data collection.

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 8.27.48 AM

Fig 2: Video Still from the flying

of the Aerocene Explorer

Details here:



For this project, a similar design for the vesicle is proposed based open source information on the Aerocene website (instructions found here: ) .



Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 8.49.46 AMFig 3: Kites and Helium Balloons fitted with sensors, air-monitoring units and cameras as part of the Umwelt Microbiana workshops.




Since 2017, Joel has also been organizing workshops around helium balloons and kites as part of a DIY Biology project entitled Umwelt Microbiana. These workshops lift petridishs and electrostatic air monitoring units in order to capture and catalog the aerial microbiome. This project, while gaining important embodied insight into the environmental monitoring processes, also provides vital experience in dealing with inclement weather conditions and site-specific constraints.


Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.10.23 AMFig 4: Aerial Microbiome workshop, Toronto 2018.


Sound artist Dan Tapper’s work ‘A Machine that Listens to the Sky’ directly reinforces this vision of aerial monitoring, as his helium balloon works focus in on the invisible and unheard dimensions of the atmosphere.


Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 10.52.44 AMFig 5: A Machine to Listen to the Sky. (

A Machine to Listen to the Sky is an audio-visual installation revealing the unheard sounds of the earth’s ionosphere and beyond through custom built Very Low Frequency (VLF) antennas elevated through the use of a tethered weather balloon. These antennas reveal the electromagnetically produced sounds of lightning, the northern lights, Jovian radio, sun activity and man made technology.
A Machine to Listen to the Sky combines artistic, conceptual and scientific methods to present VLF to museum audiences.The piece was first presented at the American Museum in Britain in 2013. Subsequent variations and performances have included: Written messages interpreting a live VLF feed in the form of poetry distributed through the release of helium filled balloons in a piece called Received Transmission and a series of expeditions to high far removed places – such as mountains in Scotland and Wales.

The project’s conceptual explorations are expanded by New Mexico (Truth or Consequences) visual and conceptual artist Wendy Tremayne, whose sketches, writings and site-specific knowledge have informed and directed the designs of the installation and performance.

Fig 6: Untitled Sketch. 2018 Wendy Tremayne






























The positioning of these vesicles in the air conveys a lightness of flight especially important in our current ecological and political climate where groundedness is seen as a constraint and an increasingly inconvenient state of being. Inspired by the Aerocene Project, the work In Sonorous Plein Air explores the aesthetics and imaginative potential of a drifting, freely flowing audio visual sculpture. In our imagination, these creatures represent a projection of human anxiety and worry, desire and loss that are lifted up with the sun and laid to rest at dusk.


The site specific nature of the piece lends itself to a plein air reading of the New Mexico landscape, and particular one that involves the sonorous potential of the invisible and unheard atmosphere. As we watch and listen to the vesicles rise and fall with the natural elements, we choose between two paths regarding what they represent: do we wish them to be imaginative and dreamy – otherworldliness, with mystical concepts relating to the elements, or do we project them as beings tethered to the world and who visualize a politicized, restricted atmosphere teeming with the kinds of human activities that many of us seek reprieve from here on earth. Either way, the creatures we imagine and create today in our everyday digital life are overrun with the burdens of human nature. There are some, however, who’ve reached higher heights and exist ever so much lighter . . . and more ethereal.





































Joel Ong is Assistant Professor in Information Design and Creative Data Visualization at the Department of Computational Arts at York University. His research and pedagogy explore critical perspectives of digital culture at the intersection of art and science through practice led studio work in physical computing, environmental sensing and data aesthetics. His work also emphasizes community and collaboration through accessible workshops, community art programs and citizen science.


Wendy Tremayne is a conceptual artist and writer from NY.  She creates viral media works that explore the commodification of culture. Author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living (Storey 2013), founder of textile repurposing model Swap-O-Rama-Rama.


Dan Tapper is an artist who explores the sonic and visual properties of the unheard and invisible. From revealing electromagnetic sounds produced by the earth’s ionosphere, to hidden micro worlds and imaginary nebulas made from code. His explorations use scientific methods alongside thought experiments resulting in rich multi-sensory worlds.



[1] Aerocene is an open project devoted to interdisciplinary artistic endeavours that seek to devise, experiment and distribute new modes of creativity and knowledge that reactivate the common imaginary towards post-fossil fuel ways of co-Inhabiting the Earth, aiming to achieve an ethical collaboration with the atmosphere and the environment. (


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