The Sound Map of the Housatonic River
It's not so much the Housatonic River sounds that make this recording by Annea Lockwood (born 1939, New Zealand) worth investigating, as it's hardly the first field recordings-based project to document water-related phenomena (in fact, it's Lockwood's third river study, having been preceded by 1982's A Sound Map of the Hudson River and 2005's A Sound Map of the Danube). What recommends the release (available in 200 copies) is that instead of presenting a generalized representation of a particular site, Lockwood's is a sound map that's accompanied by a cartographic display that enables the listener to identify the precise locations of the recorded sounds while listening to the seventy-three-minute recording. So while the dribbling water sounds under other presentation circumstances might have originated from any number of places, we know that Lockwood recorded them at Richmond Pond on May 17, 2008. Enabling the listener to participate more fully in the project as a north-to-south travelogue and imagine the scene in visual and aural terms makes The Sound Map of the Housatonic River an absorbing experience.
Springs, streams, ponds, and tributaries along the 224 km-long Housatonic River (from the Berkshire mountains of Western Massachusetts to the river's mouth at Milford Point, Long Island Sound in Connecticut) are included, and, in addition to the varying water sounds, one also hears birds (loons, woodpeckers), insects, and even a nearby train. Using both microphone and hydrophone devices, Lockwood recorded water sounds at the surface level and underwater along the riverbank at multiple sites, and the listener is consequently brought as close to the river, sometimes rapidly flowing and other times peaceful and still, as possible.
Episodes of violent intensity are heard (such as when an old dam at Lenox Avenue, Pittsfield and The Great Falls are visited), but the general mood is one of pastoral calm. The sonic impression left is of a verdant and unsoiled setting home to numerous bird and insect species—an impression that turns out to be fairly accurate: though the river was industrialized and polluted (with PCBs and other toxic substances) during the late-19th and 20th centuries, the river environment and its water quality have improved since a Wetlands Protection Act (Massachusetts) went into effect in 1972.