AerialSparks making sounds in 2018

David Stalling, AerialSparks artist in residence on RV Celtic Explorer SEA SEIS D expedtion. Photographer Daniel Farrell AerialSparks, a four-year artistic project exploring the ocean wilderness, marine science and radio communication has had a successful year, where artists have taken part in a number of surveys on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer.

German sound artist and composer David Stalling joined a three-week ocean-bottom seismic and acoustic-sensor survey in the North Atlantic Ocean as part of the SEA-SEIS project (Structure, Evolution and Seismicity of the Irish offshore) earlier this year. 

A fascinating space to explore
“As an artist working primarily with sound, I was interested in exploring the sonic world around the RV Celtic Explorer including recordings made on deck and in the various interior spaces, underwater recordings, and recordings of the vibrations of the ship itself, using special self-designed vibration sensors,” explained artist David.

Parallels in knowledge production: scientific research and art practice
As artist-in-residence, David took part in learning about assembling and testing the Ocean-Bottom-Seismometer units, which were deployed at eighteen locations across the Celtic Sea. Seismologists collect wave recordings of seismic events to interpret the movements of the earth’s structure, while as an acoustic artist, David gathers wave recordings in order to create compositions.

“Having a keen interest in acoustics, I found that the way seismologists look at waves is actually quite similar to the way I look at them; the main difference being that seismic waves are well below the spectrum of human hearing.  Working with science team has provided me with an amazing opportunity to take the seismic data to discover new ways of making seismic events not only audible but also musical,” explained David. 

Life on the open ocean
The new experiences of being at sea for David were highlighted where he spoke of having the space to realise the vastness of the ocean and all of the possibilities of life that are beneath the sea. “Apart from a lot of seabirds, some migrating birds, a few dolphins and a couple of whales, you really don’t know what’s underneath you. I think I had a much more romantic notion going to sea and thinking that experiencing wildlife at sea would be like walking through a busy forest. All of the wildlife is hidden and I didn’t really expect that. It’s actually quite lonely in a way, you’re out there on your own, there’s nothing else apart from water and weather.”

Confused sea
Being at sea on the RV Celtic Explorer also gave David a better understanding of life at sea, particularly during storms.  When the swell of waves moves in one direction and the wind in another, the sensation is often called ‘confused sea’, causing erratic pitch and roll, which eventually dislodges a person’s balance and ‘groundedness’.  This constant physical experience heightened David’s perception of the sounds on the ship, which will also will be used in work.

“Listening and feeling the agitated rumbles of the sea during a storm, the cries of the aching ship body resembling a whale song; the wind howling and whistling through the poles and cranes; thunderous clangs of rogue waves hitting us sideways, exciting the steel vessel like a giant resonant bell; the sound of objects rattling and sliding around; moments of zero gravity before being swung forcefully into an unexpected direction, all lends itself to some unforgettable experiences,” David further said.

Next steps
AerialSparks is taking place in collaboration with the Marine Institute for the Galway European Capital of Culture 2020 programme.  Created by visual artist Louise Manifold, artists have been given the opportunity to foster creative connections between art, science and radio anthropology. The aims is for artist to create compelling stand alone art works for radio broadcast in Ireland and Europe.

The project will run for the next two years with the Marine Institute, with four more artists taking part in ocean surveys in 2019. AerialSparks is funded by Galway 2020, The Marine Institute and the Arts Council of Ireland Project Awards. For further information see 


David Stalling practice transcends the traditional definition of composing, utilising a variety of media: acoustic and electronic sound; field recordings and found objects; video and lighting. He also experiments and improvises with self-built instruments and microphones. David has curated and produced numerous festivals and events. He is a founding member and artistic director of the EAR ensemble (2002-2009). He is a former director of the Maynooth Chamber Choir (1999-2001) and the NUI Maynooth Guitar Ensemble (2007-2013). He is artistic co-director of the Hilltown New Music Festival since 2009. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with artist Anthony Kelly. Together they create sonic and visual works, as well as run the sound art record label David is represented by the Contemporary Music Centre Ireland and is currently based in Dublin.