The Hudson River
FRANK J. OTERI: Let’s talk a bit about Mapping the Hudson River and what that was all about. I know that you were doing this project more than 20 years ago.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yes, I started recording the river in ’81 and by ’82 had put the sound map together. It was commissioned by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers. It wasn’t the first river thing I had done. I started recording rivers back in the ’60s, again when I was in England, because I was interested in trying to discover why they are so magnetic to us, why people love to go to river banks, what their ears are reaching for as well as their eyes, and what our bodies respond to in rivers. At the same time I was aware that for city people—many of the world’s major cities are on rivers, right—for city people, rivers are usually entirely visual. They’re not sonic entities. They’re not sound worlds. I wanted to bring a river into the body in a different way than through the eyes. So I had been experimenting with installation pieces and so on based on river recordings that traveling friends and I had made from all over the world. The Hudson River came about in a curious way. I went to the Hudson River Museum at a time when I was looking around for arts administration work and applied for a job. I happened to be talking to somebody who could see very well that I was no arts administrator! [laughs] She said, "You’re an artist, why don’t you make us a proposal?" I was looking out on the river from the museum and the idea flashed in front of my eyes [laughs], flashed through my ears! We took it from there. They got funding and I started hiking up and down the river.
FRANK J. OTERI: And you’ve done every mile of the Hudson River?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: No, I couldn’t say that. I did it by driving into areas where I could get very close to the river and then going up and down the banks just checking for likely recording spots. I couldn’t get close to the entire stretch of the river. I started up at Lake Tear of the Clouds, as you know, and worked my way down to Staten Island.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: It’s a two-hour audio installation. As the CD does itself, it has a map and a clock is always mounted above the map. From the clock and the information on the map you can figure out which part of the river you are listening to at that time. People have favorite spots, and locals always have favorite spots they want to checkout. Also there is a separate audio station in which you can slip on a pair of headphones and listen to people who work on the river talking about their bodies’ experiences of the river. I wanted to give the body back into the river in many other ways than only through the sounds of the river. There are fishermen, river pilots, an Adirondack Ranger, Bob Boyle who lives here in Cold Spring, and several other people, an old farmer way up near Troy. They have all been in the river at all sorts of different times under all sorts of different circumstances and they tell their stories about their encounters with the river.
FRANK J. OTERI: You’re doing another river piece again now.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yeah, I waited a long time. I thought, “I did that. I worked on rivers for years. I’m going to set them aside and do other things.” But about 20 years later I had a yearning to do another river piece.
FRANK J. OTERI: The Danube.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yeah.
FRANK J. OTERI: Are you finding the sound world of the Danube to be similar to the Hudson or different?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: It’s different in many ways. The Hudson descends faster than the Danube. The Danube is enormous. It’s 2,880 odd kilometers long. It starts in the Black Forest in Germany, it goes through Austria, and it goes through Hungary and takes a bend south.
It’s basically a west to east flow, which is unusual for rivers. It takes a long bend south in Hungary, goes through the northeast corner of Croatia, it goes through Serbia—I was just in Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia recording this fall—it forms the boarder between Croatia and Serbia, then between Romania and Bulgaria, then it jogs north and ends up in the Black Sea in a huge delta. It’s an enormous river. It goes through a lot of high plains country, the great plains of Hungary for example. It also goes through mountain regions. It seems to me that the Hudson spends proportionally more of its life up in the Adirondacks with a fair gradient and moving faster than the Danube does.
FRANK J. OTERI: The Danube goes through so many important European capitals.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yeah, and all of them pave its banks with stone and rock. All of them run roads right along the bank. [laughs] I haven’t recorded the Danube in any of them. I haven’t recorded the Danube specifically in Vienna. I went up in the Vienna woods and recorded a tributary. I haven’t recorded it in Budapest. I went south of Budapest to an island and found a great recording about a half an hour south of Budapest. Where else have I not recorded the Danube? [laughs] I didn’t record it in Belgrade. I wanted to very much. So I went to where the Sava River flows into the Danube thinking, perfect spot, major tributary, major confluence, and there wasn’t a peep. Not even a little wave action. I’m recording in tiny little spots, really out of the way places, and finding really wonderful sounds.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now when this project is completed, how long of an installation will this one be?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: At least three hours, I think. So people come and go.
FRANK J. OTERI: Are there plans to release this one on a CD?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: I think eventually. I’ve been talking with Lovely eventually about putting it on a DVD, which would be great. Then we could put the map straight on the DVD and the associated information and so on. But I’m not going to get it completed until 2005. I have to have it all put together by the summer of 2005, then start showing it in Europe, in the cities and towns along the river, which is where I very much want it to go first, and then here. It’s a complex one, much more complex than the Hudson. The map is going to be big. It may go along two walls of the space. It’s going to be huge. I’ve already recorded 66 sites, and I’ve got another 850 kilometers to go. I’m doing interviews with people along the river in their own languages and dialects because it flows through 10 countries. It flows through all those languages, and the languages are beautiful to listen to: people who work on the river, again, people who live by it, their experiences with the river, and especially, I’m asking everybody, what does the Danube mean to you? It means a great deal to all of them, and they all have an answer to that question. Then I’m going to play their voice back underwater, through an underwater loudspeaker in the Danube itself, and have the Danube process their voices—re-record their voices through a hydrophone and feed that into the mix. So everybody’s voice is going to go through the river. I just did a test with Liz Phillips, a really fine sound artist who is also a water nut like me, yesterday at Alpine, just downriver on the New Jersey shore. We stuck one of her underwater loudspeakers off the dock into the river, and I put down Maggi Payne‘s hydrophone, which Maggi has generously lent me many times already for this project. I fed some Serbian women talking about the Danube through, and it works! This was an experimental idea, I wasn’t sure if it would work. But conceptually I loved it, so it was a big relief to find that it actually worked.