New Sound Installation Gives Voice to the Schuylkill

An immersive sound installation created by two seasoned artists brings the deep sonic environment of the Schuylkill River watershed to the surface. 

The River Feeds Back, a new project commissioned by the Academy, is created by collaborating artists Annea Lockwood, known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, and Liz Phillips, who combines audio and visual forms with new technologies to create interactive experiences. 

Artist Liz Philips captures the varied sounds of the Schuylkill River watershed.

The enchanting soundscape for The River Feeds Back was recorded at numerous Pennsylvania sites along 135 miles of the Schuylkill River, from its headwaters to its mouth, as well as its tributaries including Tulpehocken Creek, French Creek and Wissahickon Creek. Lockwood and Phillips have composed a layered sound map that captures glimpses of the river system above and below its surface, including the underwater life of aquatic insects, eels, fish and swirling currents. 

Participants can experience this dynamic sound work through a variety of listening portals spatially arranged throughout the Academy’s Dietrich Gallery. Benches, hollowed tree trunks, and pieces of slate embedded with transducers (devices that translate electronic signals to sound waves of varying frequencies, some below the range of human hearing) provide a visceral experience of the river and transport listeners to the subaquatic worlds of the Schuylkill.

Different listening portals through which to experience the rich and varied sounds of our watershed

A wooden table etched with a contour map pinpoints the artists’ recording sites along the Schuylkill’s riverbanks in a tactile form.

“Experiencing Annea Lockwood’s and Liz Phillips’ new work is a revelatory experience,” said Marina McDougall, Academy vice president of experience and engagement. “Their attentive recordings made with hyrdophones and custom-made microphones submerse us into a subaquatic world of immense textural detail, revealing a realm that we had not previously known. The River Feeds Back gives voice to the Schuylkill.”  

The Lenni Lenape call the Schuylkill the “Ganshowahanna” (roaring stream) for its noisy course over rocks and stones; the Wissahickon, from “Wisameckhan,” for cat-fishing stream. The River Feeds Back attunes visitors to this vital life-giving waterway, an important source of water, including drinking water, for Philadelphia and the region. 

A native of New Zealand now living in Crompound, N.Y., Lockwood has exhibited works around the world ranging from sound art and installations, through text-sound and performance art, to concert music. She is celebrated for her sound maps of rivers including the Danube and Hudson. 

Born in N.J. and now living in Queens, N.Y., Phillips’ ground-breaking interactive multi-media installations have been exhibited internationally in museums, festivals, alternative spaces and public spaces. 

The River Feeds Back runs Wednesday, June 1 through Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022 and is free with regular museum admission. 

Artist Annea Lockwood listens to the water

The installation is the first component in a multi-faceted project called Watershed Moment that the Academy will present from August through October. The project, featuring art installations and an investigative watershed adventure walk, is the signature event of the Academy’s yearlong Water Year celebration. Water Year is designed to connect people with their local watershed and the vital need to protect it. Watershed Moment has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. 

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