Each sub-exhibit (Aqua Acoustics, Harmonious Ecoacoustics, and Dissonant Ecoacoustics) was carefully chosen to guide the reader and listener to catechize the dichotomous relationship between humans and nature. The sound bytes presented here push the listener to question further, effectively, “breaking the sound barrier” formed by the previous sub-exhibits that only paint a sonic portrait of Furman University’s ecoacoustic environment. Sounds from outside this environment are showcased in an effort to show that how we (as students of Furman University) perceive, evaluate, and gain meaning from these “Furman sounds” is affected by the sounds that we’ve heard in other places. Here are a few looks into several of the innumerable sonic histories that Furman students carry with them.
Home is where the heart is. My heart happens to be in Aiken, South Carolina, a quaint city nestled on the banks of the Savannah, a river that divides the western border of South Carolina from the eastern border of Georgia. Recently voted 2018’s “Best Small Town” by Southern Living magazine, Aiken is truly a small, sleepy, southern town where everyone seems to know everyone else, à la Bomont from the American classic, Footloose, minus the dance ensembles. While Aiken is, indeed, a part of my heart because it is a part of my history, it is also home to one of the largest nuclear reservations in the United States, embodying the heart of the Cold War as a part of our collective American history. The Savannah River Site was created in the early 1950s under President Truman, at the dawn of the Cold War, to produce the basic materials needed to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons to protect the American people from the looming attacks from the Soviets. The response to the speedy and necessary naissance of the Savannah River Site during the Cold War period has been nothing but growth in nuclear material being fabricated for research, medical applications, and even space programs. The production of this nuclear material has resulted in extremely large quantities of radioactive waste being stored at the site in underground storage tanks. In its early days, radioactive waste was stored at the “burial ground,” i.e. a very large hole dug near the Savannah River in Aiken, SC, sometimes only in cardboard boxes. Large amounts of this poorly stored waste have been shown to have leaked into the soil, eventually making its way into the Savannah River via runoff. This, paired with the toxic waste haphazardly thrown into the river in its early years, are known contributors to the river’s title as the “Third most Toxic in America,” according to data analyzed from the Toxics Release Inventory. “The Site” as it is commonly called today, has become the heart of serious debate as its main operations now focus on “damage control” or, cleaning up the residual nuclear waste left as vestiges of Cold War fears. This history is not foreign to Aikenites, or other members of the surrounding towns. Most of the habitants of Aiken, SC are, in fact, employed by The Site. The Site’s past seemed to me to be eerily related to the reality that Rachel Carson described in her influential text, Silent Spring. She warned that “Strontium-90, released through nuclear explosions into the air, comes to earth in rain or drifts down as fallout, lodges in soil, enters into the grass or corn or wheat grown there, and in time takes up its abode in the bones of a human being, there to remain until his death” (Carson, 1962, p.6). Upon further research into the chemicals processed at the Savannah River Site, the Assessment of Strontium in the Savannah River Site Environment found that this exact isotope of strontium (strontium-90) is “the most significant strontium isotope in terms of radiation dose in the SRS environment.” To make matters worse, about 104 curies (a unit of radioactivity) has been reported to have been released from The Site to site streams and transported to the Atlantic Ocean (Carlton et al. 15). Where Carson was making her point about insecticides, her recognition of the gravity of pollutants is still relevant to the SRS’s history of pollution. The most common radioactive pollutant, still found in the river as of 2015, is Tritium. Ingestion of titrated water has shown to be dangerous to children and fetuses. Even though the level of tritium in the Savannah River meets national guidelines for safe drinking water, many have called into question whether these requirements are really safe and are actually levels that are safe for humans to drink (Mahkijani & Boyd, 2015) Although rivers, especially expansive ones like the Savanah River, have the ability to clean themselves fairly well, reports have shown that the majority of the pollution occurs in the 200-mile stretch of river between Augusta, GA and Savannah, GA. This 200-mile stretch of the Savannah River is where I learned how to row, where I strolled aimlessly with friends after a meal at a local restaurant, where I grew up. Before this project, the Savannah River Site was just a plant where many of my friends’ parents worked. I knew of the pollution and contamination that have been linked to cancer development but, I thought all of that a thing of the past. But, I now see Aiken’s parallels with the fable of the village by the river, elucidated in Sandra Steingraber’s piece, Living Downstream, where the residents began inventing increasingly elaborate technologies to resuscitate the growing number of individuals who were found, drowned, at the end of the river. “So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in” (Steingraber, 1997, p.xx). Much like Living Downstream, this sonic portrait of the Savannah River Site is, effectively, “a walk up that river” (Steingraber, 1997, p.xx).
This sound byte of an individual typing, sending, and receiving e-mails at the Savannah River Site is a sound that sheds light on this history. It is a morsel of a “thick description” of what The Site is, does, and continues to be (Eidsheim, 2015, p.1). What do the cleaning-up efforts sound like? What do years of poor waste management sound like? What does living in the wake of this Cold War powerhouse turned afterthought sound like? According to Eidsheim, just the sound of dumping barrels into the Savannah River, or the monstrous churning of a nuclear reactor do not encapsulate all that this sound byte is able to portray. To add to the “thick description” of the Savannah River Site’s past forayed to its present, I chose a sound of an employee at the site typing, sending, and receiving e-mails. In our current place in the “technosphere”, characterized by a human-oriented interdependence between man and technology, most of the world’s greatest conservation, preservation, and restoration efforts are occurring through varied sources of technology (Williams et al., 2015, p.207). Here I ask the listener and reader to reconsider the source of the systemic pollution of the Savannah River. Is it the run-off from nuclear waste? Researchers would say, yes, it is most likely the direct cause. But, who knew to put that waste there? How was it communicated? How are the efforts to undo what has already been done, and mitigate what could be done, communicated? How far back can the true source of the contamination be traced? Maybe it all starts with an e-mail. An idea received. A typed response.
The Isle of Palms in South Carolina is a barrier island where I vacation often. Over the past 19 years, I walked the six miles of white, sandy beaches and unwittingly witnessed what I now know is beach erosion. How I visualize the beach relates to different points in my life. My first real memory of the beach is as a five-year-old, when I heard the roar of the Atlantic Ocean, but could not see it because a six-foot line of dunes covered in beach grass and sea oats separated the ocean and me. The next several years I rode the waves, played in tide pools, collected sand dollars, followed the track of sandpipers and watched them intently picking insects and snails out of the sand. On other visits, I gazed at pelicans diving and snaring fish for their dinner and saw sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. In 2004, Hurricane Charley triggered an evacuation. When I returned the following year, the 18th hole on the Links Course that overlooked the ocean was now a par 3 as opposed to a par 5. Storm damage, coastal development and nature’s work of beach erosion had depleted the beachfront, wiped out the dunes, and inflicted the structural damage to waterfront buildings. As a barrier island, Isle of Palms is under the influence of changing sea levels, storms, hurricanes, waves, offshore currents, and tides. Over the years, the nature cycle of erosion has redistributed sand. The shape of the island has also changed. In David Foster Wallace’s piece titled Consider the Lobster, Wallace discusses the trope of commodified nature which entails ideas such as tourism, consumption, and culinary arts. “Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point. And part of the overall spectacle of the Maine Lobster Festival is that you can see actual lobstermen’s vessels docking at the wharves along the northeast grounds and unloading freshly caught product, which is transferred by hand or cart 100 yards to the great clear tanks stacked up around the Festival’s cooker which is, as mentioned, billed as the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker and can process over 100 lobsters at a time for the Main Eating Tent (Wallace, 2004, p. 60).” The Isle of Palms is another example of commodified nature in that the island provides tourism and food consumption. The sounds captured on the Beach Nourishment recording, include the drone of idling truck engines and the backup of alarms from bulldozers and trucks as the sand is pumped in and distributed over the beach. In Rachel Carson’s piece titled Silent Spring, Carson discusses the apocalyptic trope which discusses the idea of an event that can have ever-lasting effect on a certain place or the world. “AS THE TIDE of chemicals born of the Industrial Age has arisen to engulf our environment, a drastic change has come about in the nature of the most serious public health problems. Only yesterday mankind lived in fear of the scourges of smallpox, cholera, and plague that once swept nations before them. Now our major concern is no longer with the disease organisms that once were omnipresent; sanitation, better living conditions, and new drugs have given us a high degree of control over infectious disease. Today we are concerned with a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment a hazard we ourselves have introduced into our world as our modern way of life has evolved (Carson, 2002, p. 187).” The extent of beach erosion to the point that machinery has to come in and replace the natural elements and the change of the shape of the island due to the erosion is indicative of Carson’s position on the apocalyptic trope as it refers to pesticides. The ocean sound is more prominent, but does not completely drown out the noise of engines. These man made sounds are juxtaposed with the sound of lapping water and the squawking of the gulls. With this juxtaposition, we can hear the natural and never-ending sounds of the waves hitting the shore and the humanitarian efforts of man using machine to ensure the longevity of the natural environment.
Sound recording of a pair of Common Ravens calling to each other while a human listener plods through the woods some distance away on a property in Bath, New Hampshire. This sound was recorded using an iPhone 7. Common Ravens (Corvus corax) are known to exhibit a variety of calls, and can even learn and mimic the calls of other birds as well as the speech of humans. Here, two ravens engage in a correspondence using the "clicking" sound often displayed by dominant females and mated pairs at the nest. This behavior brings to mind the "victory songs" of Ethiopian Boubous. The duets between mated pairs of this species serve to strengthen the bond between mates, but also to announce that a confrontation has been won as a discouragement to other would-be intruders (Anastasi, 2017, p. 27). Perhaps these two ravens were trying to communicate to each other through the dense canopy near their nesting site. Incredibly intelligent and adaptable, Common Ravens thrive in a variety of habitats ranging from arid desert to high alpine tundra. Ravens were extirpated throughout much of their historical eastern range during the 1900s, but in recent decades their numbers have been recovering, especially in the Northeast. Perhaps generally considered somewhat "plain" songbirds, Common Ravens are anything but common in regards to their remarkable capacities of cognition. Linguist Derek Bickerton, interpreting the work of biologist Bernd Heinrich, stated that ravens are one of only four animals in the world, the others being humans, ants, and bees, that have demonstrated displacement, which is the ability to reference objects or events that are removed from that communication by space or time. Ravens have also demonstrated that they can solve complex problems such as raising food suspended from a string to their mouths by stepping on the loops of the string as they pull it up towards them. This kind of problem solving differs from a trial and error method, because it displays ravens' potential for understanding the nature of the task before them and inventing a solution uniquely suited for solving it. Armed with this knowledge of the Common Raven's abilities of insight and recognition, it might not be hard to imagine that the pair vocalizing in this recording, unbeknownst to the listener, were just as curious about him as he was of them.
This sound recording was taken on the shore alongside the Springmaid Pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and features the sound of a Robinson R22 helicopter flying overhead mixed with crashing ocean waves. The tide was low, and the beach had few people on it as the recording was taken in the spring around sunset. Aerial sounds are typical along this part of the beach, as Springmaid is only a few miles from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Springmaid Beach was once owned and operated by Colonel Elliott White Springs, a World War I Ace Fighter Pilot (Horry County Municipal Land Statistics, 2018). However, as tourism became a growing industry for the area, Springmaid Beach began to also house a number of hotels, restaurants, lifeguard stations, and is now home to a major watersports rental terminal as well. The renovated Air Force Base now serves as a memorial tribute as part of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which also houses helicopter adventure tours along the coast. The Springmaid Pier is one of Myrtle Beach’s most famous landmarks since its inception in 1953. Destroyed by many hurricanes in the past decades, including Hazel in 1954 and Matthew in 2016, it was once the longest pier on the Grand Strand at 1,060 feet but now stands destroyed at a meager 100 feet (South Carolina Picture Project, 2018). Both natural disasters and the tourism industry have greatly shaped the sounds of the Springmaid Beach landscape, and as critic Tim Ingold elucidates, “sound...is neither mental nor material, but a phenomenon of experience - that is, of our immersion in, and commingling with, the world in which we find ourselves” (Ingold, 2007, p.2). One can no longer stand on the shore of Springmaid Beach and listen to the crashing ocean waves without also hearing the intermingling constant hum of a helicopter or airplane overhead, examples of human interaction with the beach naturescape. Springmaid Beach is continually altered by the impact of human construction, tourism, and the sounds that arise from these actions, creating a unique “phenomenon of experience” that changes every experience at the beach into an exclusive, individualized one.