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FRENTE AGUA – (Facing Water)
“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”
__ Laura Gilpin, from The Rio Grande (1949 –)
The Frente Agua project imagines the opportunity to speak to the deep and intimate relationship New Mexicans have with water. The Navajo Creation story tells us that a great river crossed the land from north to south, and this was the Female River. At the same time there was a river flowing from east to west, and this was the Male River. This “Place where the Waters Crossed” is where life flourished for the first peoples. Today these waters continue to cross our paths. New Mexico’s rivers connect all of us with precious resources that are our lifeblood. At the same time a combination of drought, invasive species, over-allocation, toxification, and unsustainable management is placing this lifeblood in danger. The wildlife that depends on rivers is in decline. The future of many communities and economies relying on river water is uncertain. The Frente Agua (Facing Water) project seeks to put a face to the “magic, moving, living” resource that is our river water. We seek to create a conversation by lending voice to the many New Mexicans who rely on and are connected to water either by livelihood or by recreation. Our multidisciplinary project is a collaborative endeavor between Stephanie Wagner and Brack Morrow incorporating photography, sculpture, video projection, and sound for the purpose of exhibiting visual stories depicting how water impacts the lives of New Mexicans from broad walks of life around the state. We invite New Mexicans to convey stories of how our rivers and waterways impact their lives. They will be filmed, and photographed along with the body of water that is meaningful to them. We will project their stories on a 10 foot sculpture of a face. We will be exhibiting Frente Agua in Santa Fe at the FantaSe Arts Festival on June 18, 2016.
As part of the 6th Annual Werner Hutchison Contemporary Music Festival, I had the wonderful opportunity to give a lecture to NMSUs music department. The lecture covered interdisciplinary art, generative sculpture, the neuroscience of music, and the EAR1 project. During the evening program music professors, Dr. Fred Bugbee, Dr. Michael Armendariz, and Dr. Rhonda Taylor performed two pieces on the EAR1 Rover. They first performed a John Cage work titled, “Child of Tree” (1975) Cage wrote this piece for all organic instruments, and it was adapted for the EAR1 rover by Dr. Fred Bugbee. They performed on a prepared rover. The second performance involved an experiment in ecoacoustics by which the performers responded to the silent EAR1 film, “Seasonal Movements.” The performed/perceived soundscape offered us a uniquely alternative conversation concerning our relationship with environment.
The EAR1 Sextet Remote Station sculpture captured the sound of a hailstorm today -The second such storm this month. Shredded trees and plants by snow-white marbles on this odd October day. Mark Twain said “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get”. We know now there is a connection.
EAR1 Explores an area known as Hemlock Hollow. This forest is studied by The Harvard Forest (HFR) Long Term Ecological Research site. (LTER) This site is one in a network of 26 scientific sites dedicated to long-term research to better understand environment, land use, and effects of climate change. This is the second LTER Ear1 has explore – the first being The Jornada Scientific Range (JRN) in the northern Chihuahua desert, New Mexico.
The defoliated trunks of these giants are due to an aphid-like insect called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and signifies their eventual mortality. Accidentally transported from Japan to the US in 1951, this invasive species has decimated millions of trees from Georgia to Maine changing ecosystems forever. This is a sober reminder to the dangers of transplanted species through globalization. One day we may not have the opportunity to look up and listen with the Eastern Hemlock.
(Map courtesy of LTER Network) accesses 8/12/15
According to fossil pollen and sediment core samples the Eastern Hemlock has dominated this area for 8,000 years.
Map courtesy of Harvard Forest LTER, accessed 8/12/2015
This is an 8:14 excerpt from the 37 minute film titled, Through The Portal, 2015. The sound track for this film was captured by, and is unique to, the EAR1 Instruments (sculpture) at each location. An alternate soundscape may be perceived in this composition. The opening sound as heard from inside the Command Module is a composition captured by the EAR1 at The Jornada LTER. The sound is that of a Dust Devil passing close by the rover on an open playa in the northern Chihuahua desert. It is captured by one of the contact microphones attached to the piano soundboard. (known as the Main String-Field Sensor, or MSFS) See diagram for the EAR1 Rover listening devises here for more information: https://brackmorrow.org/2013/01/
The EAR1 Project is currently in the development stage of two new Earth Vehicles (EVs). These two art/object-science/instruments are slated to launch in the second and third quarters of 2015. The new EAR1 SA-X Lander will explore remote areas of drought stricken deserts on Earth. It is is powered by three solar panels. Onboard the instrument are 7 sensors, including contact and condenser microphones, temperature sensor, CO2 sensor, and a moister probe, all of which are designed to listen to the environment and access the viability and evidence of alternate ecological perception. Above is an image of the EAR1 SA-X Lander near completion. Photo courtesy of The EAR1 Project Mission Control.
“This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got.”
— Scott Carpenter, Mecury 7
EAR1 Project’s second mission involves a near space vehicle.(NSV) (See artist rendering below) The Remote Station Satellite mission is equipped with four contact microphone antennae designed to record the ambient sound. The vehicle (sculpture) will draw and record a sound line from terra firma to the stratosphere (about 125,000ft) The Remote Station Satellite will be launched to this altitude by it’s transport vehicle (weather balloon) and will take approximately 90 minutes to reach its maximum altitude. Also onboard will be a CO2 sensor continually translating carbon dioxide levels, PPM (Parts Per Million) into sound data. Cameras will collect Overview Effect images. The project is currently looking at two sites, one in Nevada and one in New Mexico, in which to launch the mission. Photo courtesy of The EAR1 Project Mission Control.
I am constantly thinking about how we might perceive environment in alternate ways and how I may engage in this experiment with my art practice in a meaningful way. We are faced with ecological challenges like never before and yet it often feels as though change is slow, or even non-existent. The EAR1 Project (Earth Aural Rover) is interdisciplinary as well as multidisciplinary designed to explore how we may perceive environment in alternative ways. The project is manifested through my research of neuroscience, music, ecology, psychology and the related biological mechanics of each.
In recent years neuroscientists have been placing musicians in functional MRIs in an effort to study how their brains work while they are listening and playing music. What has been discovered is that music activates our brains more than any other activity. This fact has inspired me to use music as a voice in my art. I reason that if our brains are most engaged with music, then this is a perfect material for me to explore with. It is interesting that both musical and scientific devices share the word instrument. On a certain level these instruments as objects serve the same purpose for art and science by providing exploratory agency. I experiment with what these objects can tell us and by what processes we may think through them.
Inspired by NASA’s Curiosity rover mission to Mars, the Earth Aural Rover (EAR1) project deploys sculptural objects built from musical instruments to resemble machines of science. A piano, trumpet, drums, banjo, Victrola, cymbals, and a clarinet all become a new form of instrument with which to explore. The EAR1 Rover roams landscapes in search of sound. The Remote Station Cello and Remote Station Violin collect environmental music previously unheard before. These hybrid apparatuses allow me to rethink the engagement of both science and art with our environment. The EAR1 Project performs missions of exploration, traversing the terrain of city and countryside alike, making recordings, taking photos, shooting video, and performing compositions in a collaboration between artists, scientists, musicians and nature alike. By blurring lines between the art/object and the science/instrument, these new objects create opportunities to delve into new modes of perceptions. I view these new modes of perception as harmonies we can listen to and express with, and to aid the discovery of new relationships between environment and us.