Pennsylvania

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Art installation interprets water pollution with sound

Bethany Wiggin, who runs Penn's program in environmental humanities listens to audio from the Date-um exhibit, which focuses on water quality in the lower Schuylkill river.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Bethany Wiggin, who runs Penn's program in environmental humanities listens to audio from the Date-um exhibit, which focuses on water quality in the lower Schuylkill river.

At the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Penn’s campus in West Philadelphia, off to the side in the lobby area, is a small installation called Date-um. Immediately visitors are drawn to five friendly faces – elders it turns out, active in the decades long struggle to clean up the Schuylkill river. Their warm smiles hang next to a video projection of sun shimmering on the river’s surface. But pick up a set of headphones and you hear a screeching sound.

Danielle Toronyi is the artist behind this contribution to Date-um, which includes a video projection of the sun dancing on the surface of the Schuylkill. The sound is of the river. It’s not bubbly and peaceful though, and that’s because Toronyi has distorted the sound.

She put a hydrophone beneath the river at a stormwater discharge point near Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. Using discharge data from the U.S. Geological Survey, she programed a delay in the recording based on the amount of water rushing into the river. With that rushing water comes pollutants picked up from streets, parking lots, and sewers. Take a listen to an interview with Toronyi about her piece Peak Discharge:

Date-um also includes oral history recordings from residents of the Eastwick section of Philadelphia, which borders the John Heinz National wildlife preserve and where some homes were built on top of a medical waste dump.The Schuylkill River provides drinking water to 1.5 million people, and experts say the river is a lot cleaner than it was 50 years ago. But there are still problems associated with sewer discharges from upstream, and the impacts of sudden surges of stormwater.

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