Comm Lab: Audio & Video – Oil Twitchers & Barge Spotters







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Oil Twitchers and Barge Spotters:

A Field Guide to Whale Creek

Created by Floating Studio for Dark Ecologies (Nicholas Hubbard, Rebecca Lieberman and Marina Zurkow)
Voice: Bruce Shackelford
Sound Engineer: Jane Cramer
Music: Justin Peake


Post-natural, bringing the past forward, rehabilitation and reclamation of nature. How did they choose which plants they used as part of the wetland healing process? Did they know the metal for the light posts would rust in a birchwood  pattern after exposed to weather and time? All these things came to mind, but the first questions for me were what is Dark Ecology? What is the  post-natural world, the anthropocene?

On Monday (9.10) I visited Newton Creek Nature walk with my partner Chad to experience the sound walk  – Oil Twitchers and Barge Spotters. I thought he might find it interesting since he works as an environmental scientist, and to hear his personal stories of the rehabilitation of the Chesapeake Bay. The Newton Creek Nature Walk (2007) was “designed by an Environmental Sculptor George Trakas, to encourage visitors to ponder the errors of the waterway ” ( track 2 of audiowalk).   The health of the Creek is so poor that in 2010 the EPA declared it to be a federal Superfund Site and entered into agreement with the Potentially Responsible Parties. (FSDE)  


I really loved the self-guided audio-tour. I liked that there was a physical pamphlet with index of species and industrial taxonomies like the term “floatables” used by the EPA as a term for trash or plastic we may see floating in water. This term brought the name “Floating” Studio for Dark ecologies a whole new meaning for me.  While living in Saint Louis, we used to go see noise shows at a warehouse on the banks of the Mississippi. It was called Floating Labs, home in an industrial building from the 19th century,  “floating” only for it’s proximity to the water. While hearing circuit bending and drones, you could see barges passing through with their blinking lights traveling to their next destination. We romanticized those barges for their mysterious quality, not knowing their specific role was but as part of our riverfront, industrial landscape. I really love that the walk helped illuminate the roles of the Sludge Vessels, identifying them and their position as part of the current ecosystem of the waterway. As well as the actual names of the vessels themselves, painted on their sides. What does it mean to romanticize these sorts of places? These sorts of objects? 

Monday was a rainy day, which made the experience of the walk that more fascinating. The rain brought the understanding of water and its role to further to the forefront. Hearing it rush below through the storm grate, seeing/feeling it sit in the crevices of the center table, its river formations, indentions forming what Newton creek would’ve looked like geographically before industrialization. You could see the water absorbing into the cement walls of the ship hull corridor. It reminded me of a line from the first track of the audio-tour, after prompted to reach a hand out on to the glacial boulder, you hear “Isn’t it true that the boundary of human language can be porous?”.

Last class we talked about story arcs and characters. What would these two things be for this particular soundwalk? What are the audio elements and narrative structures that unfold? 

  • Arc: Starting off with the intersection of Paidge Avenue And Provost Street & the Glacial Boulder concluding at the Fragrance garden
  • Character: The ecological history of Newton Creek and Whale Creek, Post-Natural World, history in its many forms   
  • Tone: Poetic, Activist-driven, Historical, Playful

I liked the use of stereo sound to mimic the passing movement of water. I also found it helpful that each segment was labeled an area of the park, and was an individual track. It made pausing in the rain easier, if there was a place we wanted to stand in longer to experience along the way.


[questions from the FSDE Pamphlet]

  • When I walk out of here _____ will stay with me:
    • The power of building parks and creating nonlinear juxtapositions of history.
    • The importance of plants in the rehabilitation process of polluted ecosystems.
    • The audio quote at the beginning of the sound walk, when asked to place your hand on the surface of the large glacial rock – “Isn’t it true that the boundary of human language can be porous”.


  • Coming to this place, I didn’t expect to find: 
    • An open visual & sonic view of a sims crane – where the audio pauses to frame not only the visual of a sims crane across the water, but pausing to highlight/frame the sound of it sifting through masses and masses of crushed metal. It was an interesting juxtaposition with the calm sounds of the creek and birds. Much like the colliding contrast between the dense scent of garbage and the sweetness from the fragrance garden.
    • Spartinaand many other rehabilitating plants for the wetland ecosystem. I loved the plaques highlighting the healing properties of each selected species.
    • An invitation to canoe along a historical superfund site.
    • Steps that welcome you down into the water, revealing the different geological eras and species of the Newton Creek ecosystem.



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POST NATURAL LANDSCAPE A postnatural landscape has been altered, shaped, and impacted by humans but retains nonhuman elements. Wild plants and animals coexist with people, domestic species, landscaping, and the built environment. George Trakas’ designs at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk combine to create such a landscape; he has juxtaposed minihabitats for resilient organisms, nostalgic gardens with native species, historical plaques and etchings, industrial views, and scientific symbolism, permeated by the aroma of seawater and sewage. [from the FSDE pamphlet]


“Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman”


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