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.

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.

High Water Mark

Mixed media installation with sound; dimensions variable. 2018.

A wall apparently stained by floodwaters doubles as a graph charting the highest level of the James River in Richmond, VA, each year going back to 1944. 

A transducer attached to the wall, heard best by pressing one's ear against the wall, conveys the sound of the artist singing each year in pitches which correspond to the graph.

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.