Salar: Adaptation


As part of the 2022-2023 cohort of Rydell Visual Arts Fellows, I have new work on exhibit at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz California, from January 18- March 24, 2024.

These works are part of a longer art research project entitled We Build Ruins that reconsiders the history and fate of the industrialized Atacama desert in northern Chile, by simultaneously understanding it as a place once covered by water, as an arid environment described by rare geologic and organic systems, and as a high-altitude mining site transformed and abused by devastating infrastructures. Robotic extra-planetary modules such as the Mars Rovers and Perseverance have been tested here as the conditions and geology serve as ready analogs for Martian environment and terrain. The mining techniques currently being developed in Atacama are also contributing to a neoliberal imaginary for eventual off-planet operations.

I seek to re-frame the common narrative of deserts as ‘wastelands’ made productive only through industrial exploitation, and to shift the goals of both earthly and extra-planetary inhabitations away from dominion and extraction, and toward listening and adaptation. This trio of works includes a multi-channel audio work, a single channel video projection created together with key project collaborator Rodrigo Ríos Zunino, and a series of photographs arranged as a dual screen slideshow, which consider the contrasts between different orientations to being a visitor, and perhaps one day a guest, of the Atacama desert. The video features glimpses of an ‘Earthsuit’, or clothing that I knit and wove by hand from materials found in the desert (undyed sheep’s wool, plastic bags, twine, cassette tape) that are intended to be both practical but adaptable, not a spacesuit that completely insulates its wearer from the elements of a place but a suit continuing life on damaged Earth using materials at hand.

My colleague Zac Zimmer, Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote this short text for the exhibit:

Listening and Adapting in the Age of Extraction: Two figures, two suits, two ways of being.

We have ancestors in common, but Margie the Martian returns to Earth for the first time, and finds an all-too familiar landscape: the inhospitable desert. Contained within her spacesuit, armored against a hostile environment, Margie carries her own atmosphere with her. She has practiced for this descent her entire life. This is the terrifying inversion of terraforming: the moment that Earth becomes Mars.

The Earthsuit’s weave is a pattern of hospitality. It, too, offers some protection against the formidable beauty of the Atacama, but its mesh of Andean wool and plastic bags is permeable and open to adaptation. An Earthsuit is a tool for listening, sensing, and emplacement. It is a garment for the visitor who wishes to move through the Atacama’s grooves across all scales: the cracked earth of a desiccated ancient seafloor, the artificial valleys between tailing piles and mountains of evaporated salt, and the tire-tread patterns of heavy machinery. Embraced within the knit and the weave, whoever wears the Earthsuit will find the stillness necessary to integrate into landscape and soundscape.



Water Line/Estuary Almanac


photo by Anna Friz

A 365-day generative radio piece that follows the rhythms of tidal waters at the river’s edge.
by Absolute Value of Noise and Anna Friz © 2023

Commissioned for the annual project KONTINUUM by Deutschlandfunk Kultur (Berlin) and Ö1 Kunstradio (Vienna), April 2023 – March 2024.

Listen to the live stream here

At the mouth of a river, salt meets sweet water. Tides fluctuate. The river floods and dries with the seasons. The muddy delta shifts position over centuries. At the tideline, life persists. It exists both in and out of the water. A sand spit rises once a day and disappears again. It’s a home for clams, oysters, other molluscs, anemones, sand dollars, shore birds and seals. A rock shelf full of tidal pools is filled with tiny fish, crabs, urchins, starfish, bivalves, and seaweed. Fish swim down the river to the sea and return to spawn. Plants and trees are engulfed or left high and dry. As a consequence of (over)use by modern cities and societies, extractive industries dominate a major river and its ecologies, then atrophy and decay, replaced by new modes of global commerce, tourism, and shipping. As ice packs diminish, the seas warm,. Water levels rise and rain patterns change. The spaces between high and low water become more and more exaggerated. The dynamics of change seesaw across the year, creating dangerous patterns in this time of climate crisis.

Water Line is a generative audio piece that imagines the space between the tides and between the salt and the muddy waters. Depending on the height of the tide, listeners are oriented below or above the surface, from deep sea to thousands of meters in the air. Combining field recordings (acoustic and electro-magnetic) with poetic composition, Water Line works with both documentary and imaginary riverspace, the creatures and organisms that live there, the human and the more-than-human. The dynamics range from the roar of engines and turbines to the very subtle sounds of clams, the scuttle and high pitched hisses of crabs, or the scattering of sand fleas. Environmental sounds meet electronic compositions to express the many perceptions of being above or below water. From the undersea kelp forests and high tide zones across the mud flats and swampy areas; from the industrialized river to nearby rocky coves; the artists incorporate field recordings mixed with imaginings and playful interpretations of the river to craft a composition that oscillates across the day, the month and the year.

The piece is centered on the muddy, shifting delta of the river that is called stal̕əw̓ by indigenous hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking Musqueam people, or stó:lō by indigenous halq’eméylem speakers, Coast Salish peoples who still inhabit the river valley of what is also known as the Fraser, which winds through the greater metropolitan area of the city of Vancouver. The Fraser’s colonial legacy is one connected to extractivist enterprises such as fur trade, logging and pulp mills, mining, fishing and farming; eventually the suburbs of Vancouver encroached across the river delta displacing farms with houses, parking lots, and an international airport. But the river is still its own, a place that the salmon have defined ecologically in many ways, and currently stó:lō still has the largest salmon run of any river in Canada.

Water Line is not only a generative audio piece unfolding for 365 days with the help of generative software custom-created by Absolute Value of Noise, it is also a piece that accumulates sounds across the year, as the artists continue to record and compose, and as the electronic elements in the piece oscillate between foreground and background. The piece stages fictional confluences of stó:lō with distant rivers, as though a river could receive a transmission or dream of the life of other rivers like the Danube, a similarly long waterway traversing mountain and plain, spilling out into the sea. The compositional accumulation includes the flow of the Danube, canals of the Mur, in the constant stream of sounds upriver in an urban riverscape prone to flooding.

At the end of the year, the piece will become Estuary Almanac, a compilation of rivertimes, documented and imagined, with our ears attuned to the waterline. Though the river banks are built more and more concretely, though the waters hold ghosts of the past that the summer drought brings into view, these are vital rivers whose life spans have and will surely outlast empire.

Listen to the live stream here



Revenant


Revenant is a new solo radio art composition premiering on ORF Kunstradio on July 30, 2023 at 22:05 CDST (GMT +2). Listen live or stream from the project page. Rebroadcast on WGXC Upper Hudson Valley, September 8, 2023.

Here’s what it’s all about:

Revenant

A new radio art work in two parts, exploring mortality, rot, and regeneration, using electronic and radiophonic instruments, and sound from below and above ground. Recorded in the mighty RP4 studios of the ORF Funkhaus in Vienna and on various locations in Santa Cruz, California. Thanks to Martin Leitner, Elisabeth Zimmermann, and Indexical.

1: Outside
In the increasing heat and haze of summer, the days are long and hot and the nights insomniac. After brief, fitful sleep, the sun is a tarnished penny in the morning when it rises behind an orange haze of smoke and ash from wildfire. Stuck indoors when the air is hot and thick, other creatures find their way inside to take refuge with me: coming in along the plumbing, up the drains, in the vents and down the chimney, through the cracks under the door or the walls. Unexpected insects, worms and a lizard that dry on the floor, various arachnids running up the walls, a small bird, a bat. It seems I must change my approach to cohabitation: when the creatures move into my nest, I trade places and take to the airwaves or escape down into their burrows.

2: Revenir
The difference between the living and the dead is hard to discern. That which is dry and buried may not lie still, but move, resurface, rehydrate, transform. The dead gone to ground may yet pay visitations, or am I the visitor? Time underground enables metamorphoses of body and senses.

A portion of this piece is based on an earlier live remote performance for Indexical, Santa Cruz, from October 2020, a year in which I and my community weathered quarantines and evacuation for the CZU Lightning Complex wildfire. The next years saw drought, flood, regrowth, more devastation from storms, and more growth here on the ground. Outside my tiny backyard, a meadow is transformed into a gopher barrens each summer, pock marked and dry like a moonscape as imagined by rodents. I can’t help wondering what goes on underground, and what I might become if I tunnel down and join the potentially vast world of creatures and organisms there.



Studio Days


I have been hosted by ORF Kunstradio this past week, enjoying three days in studio at the ORF Funkhaus on Argentinierstrasse in Vienna working with the full foley capacity of the rooms. Sadly the Funkhaus is undergoing a transformation, with much of the building being renovated into other uses and the old studios unavailable for at least three years, so I was determined to make the most of my (possibly last) chance to work there, bittersweet though it is. And who doesn’t love a good foley pit?! Together with the joyful playful expertise of engineer Martin Leitner, I played all the surfaces and experimented with all sorts of mic set ups.

The new piece, entitled Revenant, will be completed later this month for a premiere on Kunstradio on 30. July 2023. A work two parts, including a section built from an earlier live sound performance entitled Outside, Revenant weathers the long hot summer, in drought and fire, where the sun seems suspended and the nights are insomniac, considering mortality, loss, and regeneration. Using electronic and radiophonic instruments, it slips between the surface and the underground.

Here’s a nice old Austrian radio we found in the basement:



Useful Radio at the Smithsonian Museum


Sunday April 30, 2023, 11:00am-12:30pm EDST.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium, 10th St. and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington DC 20560.

USEFUL RADIO, part 2

Taking a deep dive into Rick Prelinger‘s radio listening archives as well as our own, me and my long time collaborator Jeff Kolar will be creating a live show that composes across shortwave, UHF and VHF, from air traffic control to citizen’s band, from encrypted security systems to emergency scanners. Employing live and sampled radio signals together with radiophonic and electronic instruments, we tune in to the ordinariness, the urgencies, and the intimacies of everyday radio communications, exploring the musicality of this transmission ecology.

Hosted by Walter Forsberg, Alison Reppert Gerber, Dave Walker of the Smithsonian Library and Archives, the event takes place at the Baird Auditorium at the Smithsonian.

Part of the Radio Preservation Task Force conference at the Library of Congress, April 27-30, 2023.

Full conference schedule here (conference is free and open to the public!)



The Desert of Realities: Atacama


This past winter I remounted the multi-screen and multi-channel sound installation work created together with Rodrigo Ríos Zunino: Salar: Evaporation is based on intensive fieldwork in the industrialized Atacama desert in Chile.

On view from February 3, 2023 at esc medien kunst labor in Graz, Austria, launching esc‘s yearlong theme “The Desert of Realities”. esc medien kunst labor, Bürgergasse 5, 8010 Graz Austria

A significant portion of the world’s lithium is mined in the Salar de Atacama, the salt flats of the high altitude desert in northern Chile. This desert was once the bottom of a sea and still consists of rare geologic and organic systems, though now it is aggressively mined for the ingredients for batteries used in smart phones and electric cars. Salar: Evaporation seeks to de-totalize narratives of industrial extractivism in favour of manifesting many worlds from the perspective of temporality, land, and space. This multi-channel video and sound installation takes an experimental rather than purely documentary approach, challenging the deadly hubris of human exploitation in the desert by working with the forces characteristic of the desert itself, such as mirage, perceptual distortion, and the long duration of the geologic present.

The work reflects on landscape, infrastructure, and environmental change, exploring the micro and macro scales of human intervention and activity in relatively remote areas which occupy the space between urban sprawl and wilderness, and investigates the role of people (and artists) as agents in the myth-making and storytelling process which bring critique and create counter-narratives to those of progress and growth that propel unsustainable extractivist corporate and state-sponsored industries. The people of Chile have been engaged in widespread national resistance in 2019-2020 and drafting new versions of the constitution in protest of business as usual by the state and corporate forces that have ravaged the country and environment while propagating gross economic and social inequities. In this time, such areas of resource extraction like the Atacama desert can hardly be understood as peripheral or as neutral sites of industry. Instead, they are centers of power, networked globally and to a degree outside of state control; the desert is exploited to feed the forces of global capital to the benefit of a global elite. The future technological ‘smart’ cities will actually function as the peripheral expressions of this power which is being pillaged from the desert. Instead, we consider how the desert produces power in the form of unique and fragile ecosystems and geological expressions of time, from which we may learn and imagine alternative worlds.

This project is part of a larger series of works based on my research and fieldwork in the Atacama desert in Chile entitled We Build Ruins, and was made possible with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Hellman Fellowship, the Rydell Fellowship, the Arts Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Committee on Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz.



Morse Mountain


A generative overnight radio piece for Tsonami Festival de Arte Sonoro in Valparaíso, Chile

December 3 – 10, 2022
by Absolute Value of Noise and Anna Friz © 2022.

Listen here.

The mountain sleeps; dreams stone. Festooned with power lines and communications towers, striated by long-ago meltwater and creeks that have since evaporated, blown bald by the prevailing winds. Some day, come earthrise or landfall, the mountain will walk out into the sea. Until then, micro-movements in the sediment and rock are its uneasy speech, while the antennae atop its massive breathing shoulders continue to call and respond.

The piece is inspired by coastal mountains that have been implicated in human long distance communications and listening, whether occupied by overland telephone and telegraph cables, military monitoring stations, radio and acoustic beacons for ships and airplanes, or 5G cell towers. Morse Mountain considers the ephemeral human occupations of signal space as they overlay mineral durations; fireflies buzzing around ancient beings that have merely paused to rest.

Morse Mountain streamed for Art’s Birthday 2023 and was featured on 24 Hours of Radio Art, CiTR 101.9FM Vancouver.



Solar Radio at Wave Farm


photo by Patrick McCormack

Solar Radio, which I worked on together with Absolute Value of Noise aka Peter Courtemanche has now been installed in the Wave Farm outdoor sculpture park as a permanent addition.

We created Solar Radio/Embodied Radio Device as an album release in 2020, and this present permanent installation expands on both Peter’s Solar Radio design and the sonic world of the small artificial intelligence that Solar Radio Wave Farm enables. Here’s what this version is all about:

Some years in the future, or perhaps in a surplus version of the present, a solar-powered artificial intelligence wakes with the sun. Its body is a small radio tower with solar cells and a modest signal. With sufficient solar intensity it powers up and responds to the environment, playing with simple AI sound synthesis algorithms in an attempt to imitate and broadcast what it senses nearby, such as insects, birds, frogs, wind, falling rain, changing weather, or magnetic phenomena. It hums and sings, perhaps accompanying a chorus of crickets or a passing bear, perhaps transmitting a memory of a bird from the recent or distant past and the song it sang then. The human culture that created this small artificial intelligence may have changed radically or may no longer exist, but it continues its sonic explorations, generating and remembering sounds, and transmitting signals to the inhabitants of its immediate animate world.

In our present, the Wave Farm realization of Solar Radio is an outdoor sound installation featuring a small artificial intelligence mounted to a short radio tower which wakes with the sun and sleeps when the light grows dim. It monitors the seasons and the amount of energy available to it through its solar cells, generating an evolving composition in response to environmental conditions. Listeners may access Solar Radio at wavefarm.org/listen and will also encounter it woven into Wave Farm’s terrestrial radio transmission, WGXC 90.7-FM.

The AI is keenly aware of the state of its energy source – the electronics know when the solar panel is in full sun or in the shade, or blocked by clouds. It can change its behavior, and switches its circuitry to draw out the power in different ways. The resulting generative sound reflects the mood of the AI and its perception of the outside world that changes with the cycle of seasons. Low energy waking-up audio consists of tones or tone-poems made of combinations of simple waveforms. As more energy becomes available, the AI can also better observe its fluctuations and add more complicated computed sounds into the mix when the energy levels are high enough and stable; it may also develop an earworm, or fixate on a remembered sound for a time.

Solar Radio proposes a different way of thinking about and relating to electrical power and small-scale computational systems. It moves away from the idea of power being instant and ubiquitous. Technologically, it embraces its limitations rather than combating them within the rhythms of the environment and the sun. It also speculates on relationships between artificial intelligence and the world that could take place beyond human intention or control.

This project is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional travel support for Anna from the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship.

photo by Patrick McCormack



Fog Refrain


photo by Gabriel Saloman Mindel

July 14-15, 2022, from 14:00 until noon the following day, I will be performing a live 22-hour radio art show entitled Fog Refrain.

LISTEN ONLINE HERE

The show is hosted by Radio ARA, heard internationally on over 14 radio stations, and takes place at the Apdikt, behind the Bridderhaus, 1 Rue Léon Metz, 4238 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. For anyone local, drop in to experience this live show between 14:00 and midnight. Free entry.

Here’s what it’s all about:

A radiophonic day and night composed live from listening and responding to signals within the long slender fog zone between Santa Cruz and Jenner on the northern California coast. Existence here is shaped deeply by the marine layers and tule fogs that water the land and flow over and into its contours. Ancient coastal Redwood trees grow only as as far as the fog rolls ashore, and in the absence of rain for many months of the year the fog is the only source of water. Particularly during the summer months, the coast is deeply buried in daily fog. Yet as the climate crisis brings drought and wildfire to this area, the fog is also receding. Without the fog, the land will be transformed to a more sere, harsh place. As Etel Adnan also writes: “We believe in the uniqueness of these times as in the originality of this sky.”

The fog is no more a container than radio is a cup to be filled with programming. A medium is not merely a conduit for moving content; a medium might be understood in the multiple senses of conveyance, expression and cultivation. Land, sea and air combine as fog. Similarly, tune in to listen to the radio as it carries across from the Pacific coast to inland Esch and beyond, bringing all manner of signal activity from foghorns, raven calls, coyotes, pedestrian signals, harbour communications, redwood forest and chaparral, sounds from the burn scar of summer fire, air-to-ground chatter, owl calls and the dry continuous flirtations of spring insects.

Like refrains through these field recordings are stories and live performed compositions based on a ‘score’ crafted from forces observed at key points where fog and infrastractures meet, such as the narrows where the Pacific Ocean enters the San Francisco Bay. Based on cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, I have assembled a list of forces characteristic of the bridge, such as the fog moving over and under the deck, the rhythms of car traffic, the intense buffeting wind that one leans hard into while cycling, pelicans surfing air currents overhead, railings that sing, and fog beacons and horns sounding on the nearby headlands. Throughout the 22 hour program, I will be live in studio in Esch, intertwining field recordings with performances of such observation-based scores in response to the real-time movement of the fog along the north coast based on satellite information, using my assembled instrumentation of electronics, voice, lung-powered boat horns and radio instruments.

Live performance by Anna Friz. All field recordings by Anna Friz together with associate recordists Gonzalo Galetto, Gabriel Saloman Mindel, and Abram Stern.

This project is made possible with support from the Arts Research Institute and the Committee on Research, University of California, Santa Cruz.



Radio Art Zone: Lifewave


Radio Art Zone is a 100-day radio art station for Esch2022, which will be broadcast in the south of Luxembourg by Radio ARA on 87.8 FM. It will also be live-streamed for a worldwide audience and transmitted by a network of international partners. LISTEN HERE.

The Radio Art Zone schedule consists of two daily programmes: newly-commissioned 22-hour radio productions created by more than 100 international and local artists, and 2-hour live shows from kitchens in the community.

Today, Saturday 9. July 2022, tune in to Lifewave: The Infinite Feedback Loop That I Am, produced by my good friend and collaborator Rodrigo Ríos Zunino live from Chile, with a host of collaborators and contributors including yours truly. Listen from 14:00 to 12:00 on 10. July, or across 22 hours.