Babbage’s beautiful, poetic idea has guided five years of intense creative development and technical research. What is, then, Atmospheric Memory? It’s at least three things. First, it’s a collection of new artworks by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that scan for voices in the air — those of the visitors and others — and makes them visible and tangible. It’s also the one-hour sensory experience that weaves them together; a collaborative performance between audience and machines. And finally, Atmospheric Memory is the Atmospheric Chamber, the environment where it takes place — a sealed, custom-built space, almost forty metres long and sixteen metres high, made with shipping containers and filled with the many cubic metres of air that represent our shared atmosphere.
Multiple techniques and methodologies are being deployed by Antimodular -Rafael’s team of programmers, architects and engineers- to make these machines possible. Some are based in historical phantasmagorical effects that connect us with Babbage’s time. Others use the latest technologies, from immersive projection and sound, to robotics and machine learning, to 3D printing and fluid dynamics, in some cases in ways that are literally unprecedented. Atmosphonia, the work opening the experience, is a long corridor of lost voices that uses more than three thousand different channels of sound. In another of the pieces, the breath exhaled while speaking is scanned by a custom-made laser tomograph (just one of the Atmospheric Machines in the chamber), then converted into a 3D shape using photogrammetry and, finally, printed in high-definition stainless steel. Quite literally becoming a “figure of speech”, like those Babbage anticipated could exist in the atmosphere. Babbage himself will make his presence felt in the room, through objects and artifacts that connect us with his legacy.