Fens (Teri Rueb and Ernst Karel, 2017) is an emplaced, responsive sound piece that introduces another layer onto the palimpsest that is the Back Bay Fens (Boston, Massachusetts). As an intervention it is invisible, experienced through engaging in the act of listening while simply being in the park. Made for headphones connected to an Android device, Fens creates an auditory environment in response to a participant’s location as they explore the park. The piece extends throughout the entire area from the Riverway to the west, to Charlesgate to the northeast.
The piece is composed mainly from location recordings made in the Back Bay Fens in different seasons, different weather, at different times of day and night. Inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s fascination with parks as confluences of natural and social processes, the piece takes up landscape as a site of interaction between human and non-human elements evoked through sound. Formerly present moments are re-enlivened as audio; layers of time become audible and blend with the contemporary moments of each encounter. A variety of sounds from fragments of speech to fragments of birdsong, weather to waterways, foreground to background to underground, evoke the different scales and temporalities of human and non-human processes that shape the landscape. A unique sequence of sounds unfolds with each itinerary as visitors explore the site, following their curiosity and pursuing cues implied by the features of the environment itself.
Fens is made for Android 4.4.4 and above. Headphones are required. The app contains nearly 500 MB of sound files, so we recommend downloading it over WiFi before heading to the site.
Go to the Back Bay Fens and start the app outdoors in a location with a clear view to the sky. It may take a minute or two for the GPS to locate you. If you are on the sidewalk in front of the Gardner Museum’s main entrance, and the GPS has registered your location, you will begin to hear sounds as you walk along the sidewalk and cross the street into the park. Please make sure that power saving mode is not enabled, and that GPS is set to high accuracy mode.
Fens was made as part of the exhibition Listen Hear: The Art of Sound 8 March - 5 September 2017 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston http://gardnermuseum.org/listen-hear