Breathe, River

4-channel sound installation presented inside the Byrd Park Pump House, Richmond, VA. Run time: approx. 30 mins.

Breathe, River is a musical composition and 4-channel sound installation based on water quality data from the James River. It was presented at Richmond’s landmark Pump House, a derelict facility which housed the city waterworks from 1883 to 1924. The work is informed by conversations with aquatic ecologist Dr. Paul Bukaveckas of VCU Rice Rivers Center and reveals the drastic fluctuations of dissolved oxygen levels in the river due to algae blooms. These chronic summer-long blooms, caused by excess nutrients from wastewater runoff upstream, threaten the health of the river, harm wildlife and present potential hazards to human health.

The recorded piece features a remarkable performance on tenor saxophone by Jason Scott, University of Richmond instructor and Richmond native. Bouchard used data sonification software to determine the saxophone melody, which represents dissolved oxygen levels of the James River in 2-hr increments throughout the entire year of 2017. The 30-minute piece begins and ends with little variance in melody as oxygen saturation hovers around 100%. As the river warms in the summer months and algae begins to grow, photosynthesis activity increases, causing oxygen levels to rise during the day and fall at night. The fluctuations peak in late summer, when algae blooms reach their maximum and then die off, depleting the river of its oxygen. In 2017, dissolved oxygen dropped to a low of 3.9 mg/l, a level stressful to fish. The piano accompaniment was recorded by the artist and is based loosely on the river’s pH levels, which also rise and fall on a daily basis.

This project is made possible thanks to a grant from CultureWorks Richmond, the generosity of Friends of Pump House and the support of Sound Arts Richmond.

The Sound of a Stone

4-channel electroacoustic composition performed by the artist. Run time: approximately 30 mins.

The Sound of a Stone: Excerpts

The Sound of a Stone is an immersive exploration of song, language, ecology and locational listening performed by the artist in a 4-channel surround format. In the semi-improvised composition, the artist live-samples vocals, mandolin and natural objects she has collected on walks in the "urban wilds" of Richmond, VA, utilizing the software Ableton Live for looping and effects.

The three movements, "The Fall Line," "Shockoe Strata" and "Standing Stones: We Gaze Upon the Horizon," take for inspiration various rock formations. The work searches deep into the past of the local landscape and the James River, the geology of the area and the cultures which are embedded in its historical layers. The piece also considers the future in the face of climate change and the role of song and community as a stepping stone for action.

Bouchard gave the premiere performance of The Sound of a Stone on April 8, 2019 at Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Richmond, VA.

The Sound of a Stone: Full Performance

A Brief and True Report

Seven-channel sound installation created for Pump House Park, Richmond, VA

A Brief and True Report is a 7-channel sound installation created for the small quarry in Richmond’s historic Pump House Park. Speakers placed in the site’s natural amphitheater emit chromatic vocal lines and hammering sounds, evoking a simultaneously idyllic and unsettling atmosphere. To create these sounds, the artist recorded her own voice and the bridge in Pump House Park.

Woven into the musical piece are words from Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, a 1588 English manuscript which advertised the plentiful “merchantable commodities” and consumable natural resources of the New World, some of which are now endangered. This pamphlet was both an eyewitness account by a scientist and explorer and a marketing tool which played a significant role in the early English colonization of North America. Some of the words were written by Hariot in Carolina Algonquian, a Native American language which is now extinct.

Bouchard’s sound work evokes two landscapes that no longer exist:  the Edenic vision of Virginia from early European contact and the chunk of earth and stone that was removed from this quarry. In focusing on lost landscapes and lost languages, Bouchard’s work critiques the deep-seated history and ongoing practice of the overconsumption of American land and resources and the resulting displacement of peoples.

A Brief and True Report was presented in April 2018 as part of the Sound Arts Richmond festival.

Weather Box

Cardboard, wood, music box mechanism, set of 12 digital prints

Box: 2 1⁄2” x 3 1⁄2“ x 1 3⁄4”; Punch Cards: 1 5/8” x 22”

Edition of 20

Weather Box is a hand-cranked music box, housed in scavenged cardboard and accompanied by 12 punch card "scores" derived from actual weather data. Bouchard obtained hourly reports from the National Climatic DataCenter then graphed changes in temperature, wind and precipitation onto a timeline, which became the foundation for each punch card score. Each score represents one month of weather observations as recorded by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at the Belvedere Castle weather station in Central Park, NYC.

Available for purchase at Sara's online store.

Songscape Performances

Series of performances with voice, found natural objects and electronics.

Songscapes are semi-improvised compositions exploring language, ecological networks and locational listening, informed by solo walks in the urban wilds of Richmond, VA. Through live sampling and manipulation of sound in a 4-channel surround format, the artist creates immersive song environments which reimagine the local landscape and reveal moments of personal ritual in the midst of global climate shifts.

This Is the Sound

6-channel fixed audio, 3 mins 51 secs.

This Is the Sound is a meditation on indescribable sounds: sounds of silence, sounds that exist in memory and the imagination. The piece also embodies the elusive moment of creative inception, as the artist wrote and recorded the song in one evening, improvising the melody in a single take.

This is the sound you were born with.

This is the sound of an empty room.

This is the sound of time passing.

This is the sound of a cloud.

This is the sound of the sunlight.

This is the sound that made you feel.

This is the sound I mentioned.

This is the sound you remembered.

This is the sound that woke you up.

This is the sound of your fear.

This is the last sound you just heard.

This is the sound you didn't hear.

Catskills Songline

Digital print (11” x 8.5”), composition and participatory performance

Catskills Songline is a melody Bouchard derived from the shape of the Catskill mountains, as viewed from the highest hilltop in Clermont, NY. It is intended to be performed informally in an outdoor setting. One brisk fall day, the artist gathered a handful of participants to sing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Instead of lyrics the group sang solfège syllables (fa, sol, la, etc.), a common practice in shape note singing.

Shape notes, used here, are a musical notation which originated in New England in the early 1800s as a teaching method and which has become closely associated with the tradition of American congregational singing known as Sacred Harp.

In its interpretation as a song, the observational data is infused with human idiosyncrasy and, in its communal performance, lifted into narrative. The singers take ownership of the piece and actively participate in this hymn to the landscape.

The News: Monday-Friday

10-part song cycle performed by the artist. Total run time: approx. 40 minutes.

Sara Bouchard performs "It Wasn't Even on Our Map" from The News at Rockwood Music Hall in 2014.

The song cycle The News: Monday-Friday is a futuristic folk tale of migration which Bouchard performs on acoustic guitar, mandolin and autoharp. Sara wrote the ten songs over two spans of five consecutive days, collaging the lyrics entirely from words and phrases cut from the daily newspaper. Through this intensive process a story emerged:

Uprooted from their homeland by a string of natural disasters, a fictional community searches for a new home amidst rising waters. In "It Wasn't Even on Our Map," we hear from a stranger who comes to town with big ideas, convincing the community to adapt to their new environment by constructing floating farms.

The News: Monday-Friday also exists as an album and a songbook of works on paper. The run time of the full song cycle is about 40 mins.

Songs of Lewis & Clark

17-part song cycle performed by the artist. Full run time: approx. 50 mins. Album released in 2008.

Performance of Songs of Lewis & Clark at The American Folk Art Museum in New York City, April 2009.

Performance of Songs of Lewis & Clark at The American Folk Art Museum in New York City, April 2009.

Songs of Lewis & Clark is a song cycle setting the journals of Lewis and Clark to music. With lyrics taken directly from the journals, the songs reveal moments of awe, reflection, humor and joy during the course of the 1804-1806 expedition through the newly purchased Louisiana territory.

Listen to the full album at music.sarabouchard.com. A special-edition CD is also available for purchase at Sara’s online store.

See also Ocian In View!, a letterpress print of lyrics from the song cycle.