Volcanic Drift

Volcanic Drift presents the subteranean sounds of Yellowstone’s super caldera, lathed into vinyl records, and played back through a pair of custom built subwoofers. Because a portion of this audio extends below the range of human hearing (the infrasonic), these recordings are felt as well as heard. To prevent the records from skipping, the turntable is mounted on a vibration dampening seismically stabalized pedestal designed to absorbe the architectural resonance.

This audio evokes the organic: coursing blood, a beating heart, steady breath. However, it belongs to a system so large as to be indifferent to organic needs. The shape is striated, like layers of sediment. In listening, as the sound drones on surrounding us, we are invited to sift through the acoustic strata, sinking into an alternate space. There is an anxiety here in the deepest layers of the infrasonic. It stems from cataclysm and the latent image of eruptive volcanoes and fractured earth, of burial but also a distant memory of birth. These recordings come from a place inaccessible and inhospitable to our bodies, and in this way they are searching. Instead of looking up and out as we might look at the sky or at the sea, the recordings look down and in. Listening to the earth becomes a kind of time travel, we hear deep echoes of previously untold histories, the geologic past as it carries forward like radio waves into space. In searching this deep we are also trying to see ahead. This project creates a new space, one in which we look to the resonance of rocks as soothsayers. The site of listening becomes a place to ask questions even as we struggle to divine the answers.

The Records hold two recordings each, one on each side. The recordings were made in a remote geyser basin within Yellowstone National Park’s Super Caldera. The caldera, a giant collapsed volcano, has a magma pool that sits just a few thousand feet below the surface, powering the area’s hydrothermal landscape.

None of these recordings are sounds that can be heard above ground. Instead, we’re listening to the gurgle and pop of water boiling below the surface, the thud of steam pushing through vents and a steady low rumble that comes from somewhere and nowhere deep within the earth.

Each record is also a custom made map, rendered from disparate USGS datasets that detail the geology of the park. Each map is unique. The differing colors and markings depict rock type, geologic age, the direction of ancient lava flows, rivers, lakes, subterranean faults and geothermal hotspots. Each face is a geologic portrait of the caldera, the rim of which is shown on every disk. Flipping the records turns the map from day to night. In this way, each record is also a spinning portrait of the earth.

The Permian Recordings

This project, exhibited at LAXART, is shown along side Karen Reimer’s quilted canopy of hand dyed indigo fabric. It is part of an ongoing series of work that use custom built infra-sonic subwoofers to listen to and feel seismic sound recordings of the earth.

The Permian Recordings come from the Permian Basin, a section of West Texas known for the volume and density of oil and gas extraction near the towns of Midland and Odessa. The permian layer, which gives the region its name, also demarcates the largest mass extinction in the history of the earth. Geologists have shown that at the end of the permian period, the atmosphere experienced a rapid rise in carbon dioxide, which resulted in global warming, followed by catastrophic climate change; an uncanny prehistoric echo of our present and near future.

At LAXART, a subterranean recording of the oil fields in the Permian Basin played from openning until closing each day with out repeating. It was important to me that the recordings be long, too long to listen to in a single sitting. In this way, we experience the work in human sized fragments, excerpts of a longer continuum, determined by chance and the limits of our attention span. What you hear is completely dependent on the time of day you enter the gallery. The sounds unfold in real time just as they were recorded. You may catch the room-shaking sound of a drill bit spinning up and then back down again, a truck as it grinds along a gravel road, or the distant thud and clank of pipes as they are fitted into a drill tower. In one instance there is an audible train whistle, in another the faint and muffled voices of workers, but for the most part the sounds are inscrutable, open to interpretation, speculation and imagination. It is as though we were listening to the distant machinations of the world from very deep below the ground. In reality the microphones, coupled to the earth, sit just at the surface, gathering the subterranean reverberations that amass into the droning shuddering tones of an industrialized landscape.

Infrasound and Architecture

These recordings bring into proximity two scales of time: the geologic and the biologic, expressing them not as irreconcilable scientific measures of change, but as part of a continuum. When played back into space, these ultra-low frequencies subtly (though occasionally vigorously) shake the building that contains them. In this project I imagine architecture as a bridge between the human and the geologic. I am fascinated by the point at which foundation touches earth, relating two fundamentally different concepts of time. Architecture is meant to be experienced in human time as the space we pass through and live within, and yet the ruins of ancient cultures are so often the defining ligatures that tie our lived experience to the past. The frequencies in these recordings are physical as well as aural. Their playback creates resonance that extends from ancient rocks, passing through the structures we’ve built, and on into our bodies. This linking of stone to flesh through the reverberations of architecture points to these larger terrestrial and climatic systems of which we are constituent parts spanning vast periods of time.

“Because a portion of this audio extends below the range of human hearing (the infrasonic), these recordings are felt as well as heard. When I first listened to the ground of West Texas, I could feel the reverberations of metal carbide bits grinding against 250 million year-old rock, the din of diesel generators, and trembling waves of heavy machinery moving across the landscape.“

Google Maps: Drilling fields outside
Midland, TX, 2018

Photo credit: Stone Yu, 2019

Special thanks to Cameron Hu, Marissa Benedict, David Rueter, Stone Yu, and the support of everyone at the Galveston Artist Residency for help in developing this project. 

Video shot and edited by Stone Yu, 2019

Fault Lines and Freeways

Fault Lines and Freeways is an installation of a subterranean sound recording of Los Angeles, played back through transducers mounted to structures in the gallery. The piece was concieved for an exhibition at Canary Gallery [pictured above] a former store front in the garment district of downtown LA. With the help of the gallery, we collected coat hangers from local dry cleaners and re-populated the old clothing racks in the back room. Instead of listening/feeling the infrasonic sounds of the Los Angeles underground, as in The Permian Recordings and Volcanic Drift, the transducers play the sounds as vibrations through the racks and walls, shaking the hangers and the gallery.

To listen to the ground in LA, is to listen to the freeways. The piece is an archive of all the seismic activity passing through that patch of earth in that moment. The sensors soak up the sounds of traffic, trains, even the occasional helicopter, but below the sounds of the city are the vibrations of the fault lines and the slow grind the continental plates. It’s interesting to look at a map of LA freeways overlaid on a geologic survey of the fault lines. You can see how the roads are forced to bend around the topography that the fault lines create. Similarly, these recordings foreground the sound of the freeways, which are dominant, but in playing them back through transducers attached to the architecture, the underlying nature of the fault lines is revealed.
Video shot and edited by Stone Yu, 2020

Enact a Preservation

The Resor House was designed by Mies van der Rohe as a summer home for the Resor family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Although the project brought Mies to the United States in 1937, and is represented by over 800 drawings, collages, and models, the home remains relatively unknown, in part because it was destroyed by a flood in 1943.

Enact a Preservation re-envisions the home’s three large picture windows of Mies’ original design. In it two grand mythologies meet for the first time, an iconic American landscape seen through the rectifying lens of high modernism. Little is known about Mies’ time on the ranch, but it was said that he would sit on the foundation pillars of the building site, contemplating the changes in light. The video is a three-channel 45 minute loop made from a single take: a view of the fields and mountains, revealing the slow changes in sunlight as clouds track across the sky. The installation is a hybrid of research and place, the speculative history of a structure, it’s narratives reimagined through an equally speculative archaeology. It is the recovery of an unmade ruin, and the preservation of a view that never existed. 
Production Still, Filming Scafolding


This two-channel video describes the construction of the scaffolding over the ruined site of Mies van der Rohe’s Resor House. The videos break the artist’s movements into vertical and horizontal acts within the landscape. A gesture of physical research and sculptural intervention. The split is a nod to Mies’ own shift from the horizontal to the vertical as he began the second half of his career in the United States. The Resor project not only brought Mies to the continent, but it became a pivot point in his work, initiating his move to Chicago and the subsequent tipping up of conventional notions of frontierism: changing from the horizontal to the vertical expansion of the fifties and sixties.

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