What is rising

  • 2015

Fracking is already famous as one of the most environmental devastating practices used to extract hydrocarbons from the soil. Large volumes of water are injected into the ground in order to break rocks and facilitate the flow of shale gas and petroleum. Beyond drought, unusual seismic activities seem to be directly induced by fracking.

What is rising is an artwork addressing the risks and fears of this practice. It uses transcriptions of earthquakes as graphs and then translates these to data feeding a sonic and sensory composition. The option of rendering the phenomenon precisely and amplifying it as sound is also extended in a performance. The invisible, human-induced hazard fully resonates between the scientifically drawn paper and the acoustic outputs, evoking the sense of a possible catastrophe.

This project explores the fracking issue, usually associated to the shale gas exploitation in several countries and areas. Its starting point is based in Texas, Dallas and its surroundings. For several years now, wells are drilled around the city, and others like Denton, Irving. But as the shale gas exploitation grows, unusual seismic activities have been reported. The population suspected the earthquakes to be induced by fracking. According to the US Geological Survey, there is evidence that some central and eastern North America earthquakes have been triggered or caused by human activities that have altered the stress conditions in earth’s crust sufficiently to induce faulting.­ Activities that have induced felt earthquakes in some geologic environments have included impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the earth’s crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations.

Progressively, some groups try to organize actions to regulate or get more informations about the consequences of this industry. However, now, the fight is disproportionate between the two camps. The oil and gas industry invokes economic, geopolitical arguments and uses very convincing means of communication.

More than just the question of fracking, this project questions the notion of catastrophe, the notion of civilisation which grows to the contact of natural phenoma as earthquakes. But the real difference, today, is that these phenomena are a direct consequence of the industry, they get a power that until now only nature was able to provoke. What is Rising, then, is a project which questions the dimension of the risk, its acceptance… Even if the natural disasters are an integrated element of the American culture, the concept of ‘catastrophe’ is universal and could be declined in any situation or country.

Moreover and in prolongation of a cultural approach of the country, it is the question of acceptance and how to «live with» which is involved.­ The apprehension of disaster or catastrophe is deeply embedded inside us, it makes us relativize, so far the industrial disaster comes to be a part of our unconscious and solicits our imagination and projection to the world.

For this project, we’ve used earthkquakes transcriptions as graphes and translated them as data. Then, the data have been drawn on paper rolls. These retranscriptions are used as an element of sound and sensory composition, like an active sheet music. What is Rising is both an installation and a performance. Within this installation, we’ve transformed seismograph, using hardware electronics as sort to play the earthquakes graphs in realtime and write the data on a paper roll.

At the beginning, the project was intended only to be one installation but including 3 seismographs.­ After the residency in Dallas, we decided rather to make on performance from this subject. It allows us to get something more complex, richer and evolutive. The performance includes the seismograph as a module which fully participates to the senography. The seismograph is like an instrument, it produces and follows the narration like a sheet music. Thus, the seismic drawing is the retranscription of the narration, it is the visualisation of the earthquake which progressively reachs the space where the installation is.­ The sounds, triggered and read as we go along the reading of the seismographes, are our own recordings mixed and modify as a musical composition alike field recording and electroacoustic music.

The performance lasts 25 minutes and involves two performers. One for the spatialisation of the sound (6 speakers and 2 subwoofers) and one another for the creation in real time of the visuals. We used a lot of found-footages from the dust-bowl period. This period has lasted 10 years in USA and has been the consequence of an excessive exploitation of the earth for the agriculture. Making a connection between the dust-bowl and the fracking is for us an interesting bias cause it involves the same relationship between excessive exploitation of the natural ressources, its industrialisation and the dramatic consequences for the population.

This sound production includes a narration told by two characters. These two characters tell us, in an intimate and very distincte way their perception what they’re living and how they think the catastrophe will transform their lives.­ The narratives combine testimonies, extrapolations and metaphysics thinking about the society, its relationship with technology, energy, globalisation and autonomisation.

One of the character trusts the system, he believes in its profeciency and thinks he belongs to global system. he doesn’t want to fight against. The other character is more sensible. He feels the things, he’s scary and knows that he will ineluctably die in the catastrophe. He questions the system and tries to understand it. The two characters have different opinions, they differ but the more the narration goes, the more they join and agree.

The voices are intermixed with sound extracts taken from nature and its climate diversity (wind, industrial noises from oil reffineries, derricks, crackles, grinding,) but also recording taken from news media and drones.­ It is essentially sonorous but it also a sensory installation.­ Using subwoofers, basses and infrabasses, the vibrations are directly felt in the body, trying to reproduce the physical sensation of the vibration through the body.­ The narration implies, little by little, the evidence that the catastrophe will happen. When, nobody knows when regularly the tremblings appear as warnings for the public.

«What is Rising» is therefore a piece that plays with the slowness, the listening and the reality.­ This is a philosophical observation of the transformation, the environment and by extension of ourselves: our relationship to the world, energy and the individual, our hopes, our expectations and how we think the world in a globality.

  • Seismograph, earthquake data print on a paper roll, data sonification, videoprojection, real time visual and sound composition.
  • This project has been developped during a residency at CentralTrak in Dallas (laureates from the Institut-Français Artist-In-Residency Program in USA, 2015)
  • Thanks also to Frank Dufour, the university of Dallas, and Heyd Fontenot, director of the artist residency Centraltrak.
  • Engineering (electronics and development) : Jean-Paul Petillon
  • Character voices : Hunter Scott et Gary Hardee
  • ATEC, Edith O'Donnel Building, UT Dallas