It all began with a documentary on the TV arts channel “arte” about the world’s coldest inhabited place – Oymyakon in the Yakutia Republic.
Mentions of “ice whispering”, a phenomenon that occurs when people breathe and speak in extremely low temperatures, piqued artist Juergen Staack’s (pictured, left) interest and in January 2012 he travelled there with his colleague Thomas Neumann.
On his acoustic hunt to record the rare phenomenon of “the whisper of the stars”, Staack took along an MKH 8060 RF short-gun condenser microphone from Sennheiser as part of his equipment. It is ideally suited for high-quality sound recordings in climatically difficult environments thanks to its high RF voltage at the capsule.
“We could say that the capsule ‘notices’ the high humidity in the air and dries itself” explained Sennheiser product manager Kai Lange.
Oymyakon lies in a wind-protected valley that prevents the cold air from escaping, causing extremely low temperatures in winter. “During our first days there it was minus 48°C, which was – don’t laugh – apparently too warm for ice whispering,” recalled Staack.
The team waited for colder weather and their patience was finally rewarded when temperatures dropped to minus 57°C, setting a new low-temperature record for the MKH 8060.
“Our breath and speech produced a noise, a jangling sound, a kind of rustling crackle that reverberated after each word and each breath and followed it like a shadow”. The internal capsule impedance of the microphone is less than 1 kohm, making RF condenser microphones more robust than conventional capsules which tend to have a much higher impedance of between 200 kohms and 200 megaohms.
After spending around three weeks in Siberia, Staack and Neumann returned to Germany, where Staack prepared his exhibition over the course of the year. The sound recordings will be on display until 1 March in Staack’s three-room SAKHA exhibition at the Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin.
Story: Catherine Kilkenny