Katharine Ordway, Fall 2018 is a sound work that represents a stationary gesture amid the distanced movements comprising the Listening to the Mississippi project (which itself belongs to the Anthropocene River project). The sounds that make up this 15-minute piece, drawing from a combination of automated and hand-held recorders, describe a single location along the river’s northern section, 22 miles southeast of Minneapolis: the Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area (or Field Station). By attending to this one site through the medium of sound, the aim to convey how ecology, human activity, and the river’s present-day proximities to military goods shipment and Tar Sands oil-by-rail can all be brought to the fore.
Recording once every hour for three months, Ritts produced an archive of 1800 sounds, each no longer than five minutes in duration. From these, he distilled moments that convey ideas about locating within a dramatically disturbed riparian ecology. The resulting aesthetic is textured by the intransigence of the recording technology, the nearby water sources, and the Field Station’s proximity to noisy rail, road, and airplane transit routes. Fuzzy timbres, lo-fi thumps, and scraping engines create aural thickets that register associations between different kinds of circulatory machinery. Allusions to the site’s industrial claustrophobia are broken by calls from migrating ducks and geese, the rush of wind across trees, and other interludes of late fall in Minnesota.
Katharine Ordway, Fall 2018 consists of mostly untreated sounds with some minor filtering and gating. The bulk of the sounds were captured using a Song Meter SM4 acoustic recorder, with supplemental sounds from a Sound Devices 702 recorder (fixed with two Sennheiser MKH-20 Omnidirectional Microphones). Listening with headphones is highly recommended.
Photo by John Kim. The composer extends a special thanks to John Kim, who provided both generosity and consistent logistical support. Mastering by David Carlsson at Gula Studio.