River Listening

River Listening

Waking up to a sunny and clear day yesterday, I went straight to the quays of the Right Bank to experience the River Listening project that I had read about the day prior, ready to experience an innovative, tech-based approach to installation art.

I had downloaded the iOS app “Recho” before I left the hotel and had saved up part of my data allowance to be able to stream for as long as possible on my cell phone when I realized that I needed to do a bit more research on this app: what is it and what is it intended to do?

After reading several interviews available online and reading the developer’s own description, I came to a pretty good understanding of its goals: creating a network of place-based cached recordings, left behind for all who wander through to experience with, generally, an artistic bent to it. When one has the app (and Location Services) open and on, one only needs to walk into the triggering zone of a previously made recording and it will begin to play. Reading the description and some of the reviews made me quite enthusiastic: it is a great, clever, and thoroughly 21st-century idea.

Running through the Jardin des Tuileries and cutting under an arch of the Louvre, I make my way down the steps adjacent to one of the many ponts that stretch across the river, unlock my iPhone, turn on Data Roaming, open the app and I see it: “Amazon River Reflections: River Listening.” The sounds of the flowing, lapping River Seine only a yard or two away from me suddenly mesh with the light, underwater gurgling captured on a hydrophone in the Amazon River, a hemisphere away from where I stood.

The experience was surreal and effective –much as Ice Watch had been to me, except River Listening occupied the incredibly murky and incredibly from-this-day-and-age heterotopic space that only technology so new that one is unfamiliar with it can provide. I stood in Paris, France holding a cell phone with earbuds in my ears and yet I heard a recording from a river a world away while looking at another river, and, even further, this recording was essentially a curated exhibit arranged by an Australian scientist: I was in one place while simultaneously in many others, all with the intention of making me reflect on my relation with our planet’s waterways. I was astounded.

I walked along the quay for a while, hitting a number of these prerecorded nodes along the way. Some recordings consisted of simply the sound of the current of a river in the southern hemisphere, others featured music, others the sounds of birds or insects that depend on these rivers to survive. The selection was varied and engaging and the app worked pretty well, with the only blip along the way resulting from me pausing for too long to watch a rather fluffy dog hobble along the worn cobblestones (the result being that the track for that location triggered twice).

After new recordings stopped sounding off, indicating that the walking tour had concluded, I chalked up this effort as a conceptual and practical success: until I looked at my phone and saw a “Listens” count included on the information screen for each of the recordings. According to its counter, I was the first to listen to ANY of the recordings. Unless the app (rather counterintuitively, based on the rest of the user interface) displayed only the listens on that phone, the project had no interaction with the broader public.

I am going to do some research into this, including emailing the creator of the installation and the app’s developers, to get the full scoop, because I feel this app and this method of space-based sharing can be a sleek, cost-effective and inspiring tool, particularly when one works to excite the community about often distant feeling issues such as climate change.


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