Swim into water’s many pulses and textures.
Beauty, absurdity, confluence.
Four-minute acoustic meditations from cities, mountains, prairies, rivers and ocean.
Binaural recordings, optimized for headphones or earbuds. Also available on all digital streaming platforms.
Glacier melt water: Bavaria, Germany
Ice-cold water flows over cobble in the southern Partnach River. The water made its substrate here, first breaking up the mountain with rock-cleaving ice, dislodging and tumbling the rocks until they were smooth, then, over centuries, rolling them down the mountain. The river’s song is built by the work of earlier water. Perhaps even by some of the same water molecules, on their second, third, or one-hundredth passage through the water cycle of the Alps. The river is joined by the very distant sound of a farm tractor engine dragging a trailer up the mountain. Other than this engine, the sounds are seemingly unconnected with people. But this is an illusion. We’re hearing the last days of an ancient ice block, the Schneeferner glacier, now reduced to a scrap of its former size, the rest turned to liquid by global warming. The vigor of the water here is a testament to the heat that we humans have unleashed to the world. It is not just a distant farm engine that we hear, but the effects of all engines.
Wind vane: Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
The metal vanes of a windmill give voice the wind’s mood, quickening, easing up, then surging again. The rotations drive a pump, drawing water from a deep borehole in the prairie. Flies circle the moisture. From here to the horizon, there are no trees, only grass, prairie flowers, and prickly pear cactus. Water’s motion is upward, through pumps, roots, and evaporation from dusty leaf surfaces, away from the drying prairie.
Frog bells: Sewanee, Tennessee
The rich mire on the edge of a Tennessee lake brings forth the pealing of spring peepers, the chuckle and grunt of northern leopard frogs, and the sweet trill of the American toad. These indigenous sounds of watery fecundity are spiced with the distant call of the Westminster Quarters sounding on a college clock tower. Nineteenth-century Britain meets the wetlands of America, unified by a drone of traffic on the distant state highway.
Pulse congested: Brooklyn bridge in a heavy rain, New York
Pouring rain hits the bridge deck and is smashed under car tires. Water looses a hiss as it accelerates and is shredded, caught between rubber and road. The wet falls back, then is greeted by another spinning tire. The deck is segmented and the heft of each car pounds the joints. We stand above, soaked between the upward flow of sound and the gray downpour. Voices of people, tones of engines: pulse congested. The East River flows below, its voice smothered.
Moon wind horn: Dyer Cove, Maine
On a beach of tiny stones and smooth gravel, an advancing sea tide brings tongues of agitation, stirring the pebbles, lapping at coarse sand, tossing everything in jumbles. These are movements of water drawn upward by the moon, with a pulse set by the wind-driven surf. We hear the origins of this rhythm in the distant sound of huge waves breaking on rocks. Here, in a sheltered cove, the violence of the waves is dissipated but the pulsation remains. A human rhythm joins: the foghorn on Cape Elizabeth, one pair of tones per minute, a human answer to the energy of the sea. Crows and gulls nearby feed on refuse of the ocean, the dead and the weak.
Friction delay: Metro-North station, Bronx, New York
Friction on the roof of a train station delays the rain’s journey to ground. Water gathers in a gutter, then launches to the pavement, a stuttering flow. Perpendicular to the water’s movement, trains pass, their linear motion pushing through spheres of sound from automated announcements on a platform loudspeaker. The falling rain never ceases, but its sonic presence moves in and out of the trains and amplified voices, like a bird flying in smoke.
Ice crust: Snow on a mountain ridge, Colorado
The pulse and rhythm of human limbs meet snowy terrain. We walk over knee-deep snow, supported by an irregular crust of ice. Feet sink, crack the ice, skim, and plunge. The many moods of the snow greet the struggles of human muscle. Wind builds in the Engelmann spruce trees as we walk the mountain ridge.
Worn glass: Astoria Park, Queens, New York
Broken glass, river motion, a city’s traffic and trains. Wavelets arriving from the wind on the East River and passing boats evoke motion from a beach made of sand and smashed glass bottles. Decades of tumbling motion has worn the glass smooth. Our discards return to the geologic cycle. The faint sounds of tumbling glass skip over the throb of traffic on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, a skyway that overarches the park, an aerial passage for the engine and tires of thousands of vehicles. A train passes on the bridge at the north end, the Hell Gate Bridge. Sparrows, geese, and people weave their voices between the mire of engines and the brightness of glass.
Mountain gathering: A stream in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado
A contrast of power and spatial scale. The long crescendo and decrescendo of an airplane passing at 10,000 feet undergird the clop and shimmer of water passing over tiny rocks in a mountain stream. One sound comes from air torn into a roar by spinning engine blades, a sound so loud it travels dozens of miles, the other from trickles of water dancing down a narrow stream, audible only by placing the microphones a few centimeters from the flow. The water trips and giggles over a cleft in the rock then eases across a paper-thin sheet of ice, and finally through mossy strands. Around the stream, in the Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forest, animals call and scamper: a winter wren, ravens, crossbills, red-breasted nuthatches, Steller’s jay, and the call and scampering feet of a red squirrel. Their sounds are writ in a script of fine penwork and ornament. The plane is a tone of smudged char, longer than any page.
Ocean and rock memory: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Here are memories of the ocean’s rhythms and energies, meeting the implacable solidity of four-hundred-million-year-old rocks. In the collision, low frequencies dominate, but a few higher-pitched sounds fly out as fragments of wave dissipate their power on the rocks. These are primordial sounds, predating humans, predating the evolution of all animals. But the temperament of this ancient roar and rhythm now emerges partly from human hands. The winds, temperature, and currents of the Gulf of Maine are changing as the world warms. Here, the cold water that flows south from eastern Greenland meets the warm water coming north in the Gulf Stream. The headland sits at a confluence of two rapidly changing flows.
Geometry: Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York
A study in contrasting geometries. We sit at the center of a vortex of cars and trucks. They revolve anticlockwise at the confused junction of a dozen roads, a plaza at their center. Their engines and horns send spokes of sound out into the city. At the center, a fountain shoots water upward. It arcs down, blown sideways by the wind, and splashes on the pedestrian plaza and trees that ring it. Children play, circling like the traffic that encloses them, delighted by the tumble of water. The subway passes, discernable in the shake of stone underfoot.
Mountain spring: Sewanee, Tennessee
The intricacies of flow, a sonic filigree of wavelets and turbulent meetings. Gravity sucks the water from a gash in the mountain, accelerating the run with a steep gradient, a channel between sandstone blocks and yellow poplar trees. Distant trucks struggle with the mountain grade, too, stitching their complaint into the calls of gravity-mocking woodland birds. Every drop of water here has its origins deep in the mountain, fed by percolation from the golf course that sits atop the ridge, seeping its excess into the fractured stone.
Calm surface: Point Richmond, California
Intimate lapping water on a gentle windless day. Wavelets course around stones. Algae on the shore fizz as water and air bubbles seep in and out. Across the bay, boats and freeway traffic are distant enough to lose their frenzy. Such calm belies the past. The Santa Fe railroad terminus stood at this point. The vibrations of train engines, railcars, and cargo boats flowed into the ground, lodging in the rock. Before that, tidal marshes. Sparrows pick at grass seeds on the silent twisted metal tracks.
Liner notes narrated by David
Postscript: What stories come to life when people and water meet? I sought interesting points of convergence. Each place evokes layers of sonic texture, clashes and convergences of tempo, and weird juxtapositions of narrative. In these sounds, we hear how the sun and gravity animate water, impelling moisture on cycles from air to ground to ocean and back again. There are billions of such cycles on Earth at any moment, water’s motion shaped by the particular details of place: Rocks, winds, stream beds, ocean waves, the endless thirst of living beings, including, of course, humans. Our bodies are mostly water, organized and animated by membranes and muscles, and our actions are another part of the hydrologic cycle. Our ears therefore hear water speaking to itself. In these tales are reminders of Earthly belonging and of the many pulses that sustain us. We hear, too, the oil-powered absurdity of human sounds, as well as their sonic beauty. Each recording is fully binaural, optimized for headphones, transmitting to the listener some of the tangled energies of each place. Each one is a sonic meditation, an experience of many stories coexisting and intermingling.
Technical note: All recordings were made with a MixPre3 digital recorder and a custom binaural rig consisting of two Sennheiser MKH20 microphones held by a PVC armature and separated by a Jecklin disc. The disc, invented by Jürg Jecklin, produces just the right separation and sound shadow to create a binaural listening experience when using headphones. We hear the position and motion of sounds around us as if we were on location, listening with both ears, an intimate and immersive experience of sound.