Margaret Schedel with Robert Cosgrove and Brian Smith
Margaret Schedel, Associate Professor, Chair, Department of Art
Rhumb-Line, 2020, sound installation and video documentation, 2 min 14 sec
Global climate change has triggered a blaring silent alarm—silence is what remains in the wake of environmental calamity. This silence is a clarion call, a soundless scream from the environment itself for stewardship and protection.
Rhumb-Line is a sound installation that contends with ecosystem silencing in the anthropocene. Audiences listen to a live chorus of robotic frogs whose presence is heard but initially unseen; in our work sound becomes an agent of reckoning, redressing environmental injustices. Visitors engage in an act of sonic retribution against an advancing tide of environmental silencing caused by climate change, urbanization, and habitat destruction.
For the pandemic, we created an interactive experience in which virtual visitors become members of this fragile sonic ecosystem, performing unique calls with a computer mouse by tapping a rhythm on a website connected to the frogs. Audiences listen to the sound-in-itself while turning a motorized head with embedded ambisonic microphones, initially hearing their call mimicked by the frogs and then hearing the pattern evolve through artificial intelligence. These calls become rhumb lines—navigational tools relying on a fixed reference point to establish constant bearing, drawing attention to the community of bodies that announces their situatedness in the environment — bodies that call for stewardship and protection from violent acts of imposed silence.