Sound Ecology: Troy Waterways Soundwalk and Sound Ecology Workshop

Like most human-beings, I have always felt quite connected to water. Besides that it reflects light in a pretty way, we need it for survival: our bodies are about 65% water, and we cannot live long without it, only approximately 3 to 5 days. I am conscious of my use of water while doing dishes, while showering, and I wait until the ground is very dry and no rain in sight before watering the garden. However, I became even more aware of our country’s water concerns when driving across the country this summer of 2014. 

California had been undergoing a State of Emergency drought for the eight months before I left my home in Oakland, CA to start a Ph.D program at RPI in Troy, NY. One could see it in the scorched yellow fields on the hill tops even before I left, and the drought has continued. But there were no fines imposed for watering lawns or any kind of water use. While driving across the country farmers’ fields that were experiencing drought had signs saying “Congress” on them. In Northern Ohio there was no water because of an algae bloom in Lake Erie caused by pollution. We made sure to stock up on bottled water before driving through as people in Toledo, Ohio and the surrounding areas were forced to buy bottled water for drinking water. And as more and more pollution spills into waterways from livestock and farming operations across America, this will become more and more of an issue. However, currently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate agricultural runoff, leaving it to local agencies to create standards that vary from state to state and often run on limited funding. 

Before leaving for Troy, NY, I had decided that I wanted to create a soundwalk based on water. I have been leading these “soundwalks”, walks based on listening to different features of the environment, since 2004. Sometimes they use technology like mobile phones to stream audio that overlays the environment like this one in Oakland, CA: Through the Golden Gate Soundwalk. I am curious about how soundwalks can be a methodology for drawing attention to aspects of the environment and its stewardship. As one starts to focus on listening instead of seeing and getting oneself from Point A to Point B, we begin to sense more of what is directly around us. We even feel our other senses engage more intensely, such as touch and smell, and it becomes easier to embody another being or a certain area. And when we embody a certain area of the environment, we begin to understand its needs more. We become better caretakers. We can become better caretakers of our waterways.

I did some research online and I saw that RPI was partnering with IBM and dropping sensors into Lake George in NY to collect ecological data and call it the world’s first “smart lake”. Hm, I thought, this lake is probably already very smart with its own stories to tell besides what big data numbers reveal. I wanted to create a soundwalk to help them connect the big data to the people who visit the lake. I got in touch with the Fund for Lake George, an advocacy organization, who works with RPI and IBM and they happened to be talking about finding an artist to help connect the big data to the public. I will be creating a Lake George Soundwalk for Summer 2015. 

My new home in Troy, NY is right on the Hudson River and I also wanted to create a Troy Waterways Soundwalk to connect with my new surroundings. I am a person who finds community and a connection to nature really important to my everyday life. Asking people about their connection to the river is both part of my art making and also just how I make connections to my community. The Lake George Soundwalk didn’t quite get moving in time to be a part of my first semester at RPI. However, The Sanctuary for Independent Media is working with me on creating a Troy Waterways soundwalk that will be launched for the public in early Spring 2015 with a soft launch in November 2014. I have been working with Sanctuary Youth, teaching Sound Ecology and audio recording with professional audio equipment. Also, one of the youth, TJ, who mastered the art of audio recording very quickly, took us on soundwalk to a nearby creek to listen to the stream and the waterfall. I also have been conducting interviews with water experts and locals on the waterways of Troy on how we connect to this body of water and what the future holds for Hudson River in the Troy area. The future of Troy’s waterways is looking better than you might think! 

Stay tuned for the next blog entry that explains more on these Troy Waterways explorations and interviews (with media files!)

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