Thursday, March 17, 2016

Water and Its Soundscapes

With the arrival of March in the Upper Midwest, our longing for spring takes on an air of desperation. The fading winter has our senses on high alert to any sight or sound that hints of warmer temperatures, thawed soil, and green growth. Often, the first indications of spring in Wisconsin are aural instead of visual: an unseasonably warm day in late February has us awake to the sound of long-absent birdsong, a group of school children splash in a puddle born of quickly melting sidewalk ice, or we hear the tinkling sounds of ice breaking away on a frozen skating pond. All this has the water librarians thinking about the soundscapes of water, and compelling resources available that invite us to immerse ourselves in audio.

National Parks Service Sound Library

The National Parks Service hosts a Natural Sounds Program to celebrate and protect the natural and cultural sounds that render a sense of place in these cherished landscapes, and to preserve the “soundtrack of nature” critical for ecosystem health and species survival. The section of the NPS website devoted to this project offers an, “Exploring Sounds,” sound gallery to access different hydrological sounds, among many others (do you know the sound a Gulf Toad fish makes?!). In addition, the various National Parks, themselves, offer resources related to the Natural Sounds Program in varying capacities. Yellowstone hosts an extensive sound library where one can listen to multiple geysers, including Old Faithful, the wintertime song of Yellowstone Lake, and the refrain of the Boreal Chorus Frogs in springtime.

Radio Aporee

How might we imagine a “sonic cartography?” A truly astonishing and transformative project called Radio Aporee does exactly this. Likened to a Google map for sounds, Aporee began in 2006, the brainchild of Berlin-based sound artist and programmer, Udo Noll. Dedicated to "phonography, field recording (and related practices), and the art of listening,” Aporee journeys through the complex sounds of urban, rural, and natural environments across the globe, connecting tens of thousands of idiosyncratic recordings to pins on a map. Of the nearly innumerable water-related sounds, one can listen to: the Milwaukee River at Ceasar Park in Wisconsin, Little Tribune Bay at Hornby Island in British Columbia, the River Wuhle in Hessersdorf, Berlin, and a boat in a flooded underground mine in Ottange, France. In addition, Aporee is a collaborative project, wherein professional and amateur phonographers submit recordings from a variety of aural perspectives and artistic orientations.

British Library Sounds Collection

The British Library online has an extensive Sounds Collection with over 60,000 selected recordings of music, spoken word, and human and natural environments. Their "Water" section is very easy to navigate and offers recordings of natural water soundscapes in the categories with which we are most familiar: brooks, caves, drains, geysers, lakes, rivers, streams, underwater sounds, waterfalls and waves. Are you looking to meditate to seven minutes of the sound of a babbling brook? The British Library has your proverbial back of mindfulness.

Internet Archive: Search Term: Water

We can’t neglect the audio resources found in the Internet Archive (WaybackMachine). The Internet Archive provides us water sounds ranging from the common to the utterly quirky, scraped ongoing from websites all across the Internet. A simple search for “water” and a click on the audio icon generates over 13,000 clips. While not all of them are specific to the natural or urban soundscapes of water—one can listen to several recordings of Christian water baptisms, or an electronic music mashup composition thematically inspired by water, or a lecture on groundwater issues—there is no dearth of recordings of dripping water pipes, water drops, rushing water, waterfalls, and any audio engineered combination of these. Expand your search terms anyway you wish—“rivers,” “puddles,” “ponds,” you name it—and just listen to what treasures you find.

Sonic Water

Sonic Water combines participatory art installation, water, sound, and images to introduce us to “cymatics,” or “the process of visualizing sound and vibrations,” through various types of matter like sand and water. This is an effort to introduce humans to “seeing sound.” It’s difficult to describe in words what Berlin media artists Sven Meyer and Kim Porksen created for exhibition in 2013, so we simply invite you to explore and earn some cultural cool points in the process. (The Vimeo documentary linked on the site is a real treat.)