700 Fathoms

immersive audiovisual installation, 5-channel audio, 7 mins
field recordings, mixed media, and live sound sources

As part of a larger body of ongoing research, this semi-interactive site-specific installation uses elements of light, sound, and surprise to invite the listener up a secret shaft into an all-encompassing world of sound -- that of undersea animals who depend on sound for their survival, whose dominantly sonic world is increasingly threatened by human noise generated by industry. The audience enters one at a time into the small enclosed space, climbing up a metal ladder where each footstep triggers a vibration picked up by an ultra-sensitive transducer and sounding through a speaker above, while an ultrasound detector acknowledges their nearby presence with down-pitched telegraphic beeping. Once the destination is reached, one is immersed in sound recordings of undersea animals that become increasingly bombarded by industrial noise. Meanwhile, the live sound of the venue crowd is picked up by a hidden microphone from outside of the installation space and slowly increases in volume inside of the space. The process restarts every seven minutes. It becomes clear that the impact of even one's own sonic presence on any environment is unavoidable, even if it is inaudible to human ears, and increases over time.

At ca. 700 fathoms below sea-level, the sweet-spot where the salient and temperate properties of seawater make it possible for sound to travel very long distances, some marine mammals such as baleen whales are able to communicate across entire sea basins. With the ever-increasing rate of commercial shipping and other forms of industry, anthropogenic noise induced by human activity influences almost every aspect of the daily lives of echolocating marine mammals (Cetaceans). Background noise in the oceans nearly doubles every decade, making it more and more challenging for Cetaceans to communicate, feed, and procreate. Large baleen whales, who have long lifespans and thus grew up in relatively quiet oceans, find it increasingly difficult to find each other over long distances. Many sound frequencies generated by machinery mimic those used by Cetaceans, causing 'auditory masking'. Some Cetaceans attempt to overcome this effect by talking louder, which increases stress levels. More extreme industrial noises -- i.e, pile driving, sonar, and seismic airgun blasts -- cause more serious damage such as hearing loss, terminated pregnancies, and death. Yet when compared to other forms of pollution, one encouraging aspect of noise pollution is that once the noise stops, it disappears.