SEAP (Sonorous Environment Amplification Panel) is an interface to decipher landscapes in flux. Sounds which remain otherwise inaudible are made audible through the acrylic panel, effectively serving as a landscape loudspeaker. A puddle becomes an ocean. A drainage pipe resounds like a cavern. An underwater cathedral can be heard via this periscope in reverse.

In the above waterside installation of SEAP, a hydrophone dropped into San Francisco Bay picks up dolphins, seals, the sloshing of water against the pier, tiny sounds of air bubbles and distant whirs of passing ferry boat propellers. The underwater world overlaps the above-water world and mixes the two together. Sounds heard have the potential to be confused with emanating from one realm or the other. As an apparatus, SEAP calls attention to and consequently blurs environmental boundaries.

These images belong to the first testing ground of SEAP’s capabilities–former Naval Air Station Alameda. Owned by the City of Alameda, the land now referred to as Alameda Point is receiving hundred of new housing units. Warehouses are being re-purposed as breweries, tech company R&D space, food industry, and live/work units. Roads are torn up, fences are rolled out, and piles of dirt accrue. Stakeholders are making claims, but how are these decisions panning out? Who is taking ownership of the spaces not receiving real estate development capital?

In the SEAP installation depicted above, a contact microphone is attached to metal window frames of an abandoned navy barracks. Wind, environmental sounds, vibrations borne through the building structure–all of these sounds are conducted through the metal and projected out of the sound panel. This building has been empty since the Navy vacated in the 1990s.

The goal with this ongoing series of installations is to make the materials, latent spaces, and landscapes come alive to our ears. What, then, may come of the action we take following the augmented experience of hearing buildings and landscapes amplified?

Augmented with SEAP, we can participate in the continual unfolding of these landscapes (as opposed to merely gawking at them). Paying specific attention to sounds, as listeners we can take notice of the many layers which comprise a landscape in flux. Wildlife commingles with infrastructure, producing habitat in unlikely nooks and crannies on an eroding aircraft tarmac. Is enough being done to protect the habitat? Vacant buildings signal decay and prompt the city to take action to secure them. Yet are the needs of residents who already live on Alameda Point being fully addressed? The Navy used the site for decades and dumped hazardous materials in the soil. What of the effort to clean this up, and can we trust that the cleanup has been done properly? Marine animals use sound to communicate, to find food, and to navigate. Are the noises produced by human activity eroding the ability for these animals to thrive?

Next: I will be adding detail to the sounds and demonstrating the panel in a series of new locations around Alameda Point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s