Crooked River, 1st and 3rd Persons

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 06/05/2008 - 15:04.

Spurse, with David Jensenius and Sean White, collaborators

Commissioned by Ingenuity Festival 2008 Sponsored by Oxbow Flats Association


Crooked River, 1st and 3rd Persons is a 48-hour recording and broadcasting project that re-engages the multiple legacies of the Cuyahoga River – its industrial fires, marine life losses, engineers’ ambitions, immigrant dreams, serpentine navigations – with its contemporary forms of agency. The river’s complex template as an industrial, cultural and natural waterway is reconsidered through a series of natural-cultural systems that modulate with the eventspace of Ingenuity Festival 2008. This project in first and third person intertwines macro forces and events of this dynamic waterway with the performative dimensions of the festival, harnessing nimble recording, broadcasting and listening technologies to discover new methods of mobility and engagement. Participants encounter these dynamic flows of natures and cultures via wayfinding, eavesdropping and landmarking, and collectively embody – and co-emerge with – the past, present and future Cuyahoga River.

The project is comprised of three intertwining triggers for displacement – culturally, politically, ideologically, materially, ecologically, etc. – that afford intense modulation between the natural and cultural systems of the Cuyahoga River and downtown Cleveland, during the 48-hour period of Ingenuity Festival (Friday, July 25, 6pm, through Sunday, July 27, 6pm):


a.      11 sound compositions are composed from various cultural, industrial, ecological and temporal vectors, i.e. samplings of archived oral histories, recent recordings of the river, CB radio communications between freight vessel operators, and finally, stories of and about the river collected via the project’s dedicated phone line.

b.      Each composition is then broadcast from a dedicated FM transmitter that is strategically placed to configure the footprint of the river through the festival’s downtown setting. Tight overlap between one broadcast and another – varying 70’-100' radius per transmitter – affords a multivalent infrastructure to sonically discover the path of the transposed river.

c.      Festival participants acquire maps at the festival, from Plain Dealer newspaper insert or by download from, and use FM receivers (of their own or “free” with $2 deposit) to tune in to the dedicated FM frequency and collectively form currents of listening.

d.      Marina Peterson, cellist, is the project's resident wayfinder and embedded ethnographer, performing impromptu scores with/against/by the broadcasts as she modulates compositions, festival performances, flows of participants and spursians.


a.      11 cell phones are installed as listening posts along the river's ship channel – the last 5 miles before depositing into Lake Erie – and automatically accept calls to broadcast a particular location’s live sonic signature.

b.      Cell phones are in fact linked together as a single party line such that callers who intend to hear the river’s sound are provisionally overhearing – and interacting with – each other overhearing the river.

c.      This telephonic chamber of exaptive eavesdropping is simultaneously recorded for the 48-hour duration of the project, spectrally analyzed and then produced into a diagram of sonic natural and cultural entanglements, in first and third persons.


a.      A map of the entire Cuyahoga River is produced to reveal the diverse flow rates, portages, security impasses and alluvial topographies, and to portray a complex geo-temporal dimension of this 115-mile waterway.

b.      This map is then used to evaluate the launching point of a 48-hour journey that terminates at Lake Erie by festival’s end, and to organize the multiple modes of mobility required for this journey, i.e. by boat, swim, drive, bike, current, etc.

c.      A small flotable apparatus is fitted with a GPS logging device and power source, and then tethered to a large weather balloon. This entire assembly is designed and built to withstand these various forms of mobility on, off and along the river, and its position to be tracked in 10-minute intervals.

d.      Volunteers from several river-related organizations escort this hybrid apparatus as travels 48 hours downstream during all its maneuverings.

e.      An existing archive of 300 images of the river are sorted and geo-coded in terms of longitude, latitude, date and state of presence. These images correlate to the path of this journey in their temporal, ideological, material and cultural postures.

f.        Participants interested to know the apparatus’ whereabouts call in to the project phone line and choose to have an MMS (multi media services) message sent to their phone featuring an image of the river. Simultaneously, our project website displays a real-time account of the journey, displaying the images at the same pace as the apparatus, and reconfiguring the river’s temporal dimensions as the density, size and release of images.

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