Sounds of Cold War San Francisco

Many San Francisco locals are unaware that just a few miles north of the Bay, nestled in the green hills of the Marin Headlands, is the United States’ only fully restored Nike missile site. This remainder of the Cold War creates a tense and surreal juxtaposition amongst the local flora and fauna both visually and sonically.

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As part of the U.S. Army’s Project NIKE, Nike missiles were deployed all around the United States as a measure of defense against incoming threats such as the long-range bombers that Cold War era military planners thought might attack one day from Russia or China. In an attempt to protect San Francisco, 12 Nike sites were created. Nike missiles, including the Nike Hercules, which could carry either conventional or the more ominous nuclear warheads, were in operation from 1954 to 1975. These long-range missiles were created to be able to autonomously lock-in on enemy aircraft despite any evasive maneuvers made by the pilot. A team of about 135 on-site crew members determined if using nuclear missiles instead of conventional missiles would be better to deploy than letting the bombers attack. However, the result would be nuclear fallout just miles from the city of San Francisco.

Though the San Francisco site, Nike SF-88, was decommissioned by the U.S. Army long ago in 1974, one can now take a tour of the underground bunker with the National Parks Service Wednesdays through Fridays with a special day of talks on the first Saturday of each month. The loud missile bay elevator takes the tour group underground to view the missiles and 1950’s machinery. Members of the tour are then instructed to ride up the  elevator system together from the underground bunker through the large bay doors with hands on the inactive Nike missile…for safety. One emerges from the ground, surrounded by an abundance of green hills and lively birdsong, and sometimes a deer with her fawns scamper about nearby.

Video of rising out of the bunker

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RadarRecording (recorded via contact mic):


“Places and traces” by Viv Corringham

Reading Aimilia’s fascinating writings based on Spaces Speak, Are You Listening – a book I found very interesting – I thought I’d write a little bit about the work that I do.

I am particularly interested in people’s sense of place and their relationship with very familiar places.  Much of my work has developed in response to this, especially my ongoing sound project Shadow-walks. This began in 2003 and has occurred in 19 places in USA, Canada, Asia and Europe. It involves three main elements: walking with others, listening to environmental sound, and my own improvised singing.

There are well-known traditional links between walking, singing and the sense of place, such as the Aboriginal song-lines or the Kaluli song paths. Anthropologist Steven Feld studied the Kaluli people of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea and has described their practice of song paths, the poetic song texts that take listeners on a journey through a local area. The philosophy of song paths is that knowing where you are is knowing who you are. Feld’s writings were an important influence in the development of my work.

I became very interested in everyday sounds, inspired by working with composer Pauline Oliveros and learning her method of “Deep Listening”. My fascination with environmental sounds and musical improvisation led me to consider methods of exploring places and interacting with them vocally. My first attempts, in 2002, were called “Vocal Strolls” and became a regular show on London’s Resonance FM radio for a time. Vocal Strolls consisted of wandering through the city while listening to the environment and responding with improvised singing.

Shadow-walks began with the intention of incorporating other people’s experience of place into my work. James Joyce wrote that places remember events and I found this idea very interesting—that everything that happens leaves traces that we might be able to sense. So that if a person walks through certain places repeatedly along the same route, perhaps the ground retains traces of that person’s history and memories. Shadow-walks is an attempt to make a person’s traces, their shadow, audible.

The process of a Shadow-walk is straightforward. I arrive in a new place and ask to be taken on a special walk, one that has been repeated many times and has meaning or significance for that person. While walking together, I record our conversations and environmental sounds. This is followed by a solo walk in which I attempt to sense my previous companion’s traces on the walk and to make them audible through improvised singing in the location. These recordings are then selected and edited to become the final work, the Shadow-walk. Shadow-walks have been shared in various ways: as audio-walks, radio pieces, at listening posts around a town and, most frequently, as sound installations in art galleries. It is very important to me that they are presented in some way in the place where they were made, to the people who shared their special walks with me.

The “Acoustic Mirror of the World” in the Synesthetic Plan of Chicago

The World Listening Project has built a public sound installation for the Synesthetic Plan of Chicago, co-curated by Annie Heckman and Daniel Godston, in the Visitor Information Center, at the Chicago Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph Street).  My Flickr photostream shows the construction of the WLP’s installation entitled the “Acoustic Mirror of the World.”

Acoustic Mirror of the World nearly completeFor the installation we have built a platform with stereo low frequency transducers underneath. Visitors will be invited to touch and stand on it to feel the recorded soundscapes the WLP has collected from various places around the world.

beatportal-image-super-sonic-sound-scape-shoesEric in Super Sonic Sound Scape ShoesThis idea is inspired, in part, by Ricardo Huisman’s “Super Sonic Sound Scape Shoes.” This blog post on Beat Portaldescribes his piece. Here is Ricardo’s photo of me standing inside it, taken at last year’s Deep Wireless/Radio without Boundaries conference in Toronto.

Nightclubs also use low-frequency or bass transducers to vibrate their dancefloor. One such club is Fabric in London. They employ 400 transducers and call it a“bodysonic” dancefloor. UK sound artist Kaffe Matthews has used bass transducer to make a “sonic bed,” and at the 2006 RadioREVOLTEN festival for the future of radio a different sound bed was activated by placing the transducers directly on whoever laid on it.

The City of Chicago provided this official description of the exhibition:

The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago: A Multi-Sensory Journey Through Chicago and Its Neighborhoods (SPC)

An interactive installation at the Chicago Cultural Center Visitor Information Center (77 E. Randolph Street), The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago: A Multi-Sensory Journey Through Chicago and Its Neighborhoods is part of the citywide summer tourism initiative, Explore Chicago: Take A Neighborhood Vacation (June 1–September 30). More than 40 artists and organizations have joined in creating this exploration of Chicago through the five senses. Visitors and locals can experience Chicago imagery, sounds, fragrances, flavors and textures captured in miniature neighborhood scenes such as a mapping of the tastes and recipes of Chinatown, and an exploration of East Garfield Park candy. Explore Chicago: Take A Neighborhood Vacation showcases the city’s famous enclaves through over 100 insider events and activities including this special exhibition. Presented in collaboration with Chicago cultural and neighborhood organizations, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Chicago Office of Tourism and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Tourism.

For details and to book a hotel stay, call 877.CHICAGO (877.244.2246 toll-free), or visit The TTY toll-free number for the hearing impaired is 866.710.0294.

Chicago visitors and Chicagoans welcoming out-of-town guests can receive additional information, brochures and maps on Chicago’s exciting events and attractions at the Visitor Information Centers. The centers are located at Chicago Water Works, 163 E. Pearson Street at Michigan Avenue, and the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street.

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2009 is the centenary of the publication of The Plan of Chicago. The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago: A Multi-Sensory Journey Through Chicago and Its Neighborhoods is an art installation project which corresponds with the celebration of this historic event. SPC’s participating artists and organizations have designed installation pieces which bring together sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and tactile things that relate to Chicago’s neighborhoods; create an interactive environment so participants can interact with the sensory “artifacts” of Chicago in creative and imaginative ways; and invites people to think about synesthetic connections with things that relate to Chicago.
The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago is commissioned by the City of Chicago. SPC, which is co-curated by Annie Heckman and Daniel Godston, includes the following projects:

Neighborhood Synesthesia, by Anti Gravity Surprise
blank maps for “Notes for a People’s Atlas of Chicago,” by AREA Chicago
“Somnambulant City,” by Brett Ian Balogh
“Bottletracks,” by Sarah Bendix and Kelly Connolly
“Within the Scope of Wiki,” by Alpha Bruton
“Urban Messengers,” by Stephanie Dawn Burke
“Every Four Blocks,” by Kelly Connolly
“A Cross-sensory Questionnaire About Chicago,” by Eric Elshtain
“Putting Layers on the Onion,” by Daniel Godston
“Memorializing Chicago’s Disasters,” by Elise Goldstein
“A Book of Chicago Bookstores,” by Laura Goldstein
“Haunted Spaces,” by Annie Heckman
“Chocolate Stockyard,” by Jeriah Hildwine
“NetWorking & Plasti-City,” by Anni Holm
“Bubbly Creek,” by James Jankowiak
“A Slice of Shoreline,” by Deanna Krueger
“Daisy Chain,” by Maggie Leininger
“Sensory City,” by Clover Morell
“Extraction: Intelligentsia,” by Ira S. Murfin
“Synestheticizing the Outsidereal,” by the Next Objectivists
“C(l/r)aving,” by Carol Ng-He
“The City in a Garden,” by Lindsay Obermeyer
“Textaport Vending Machine,” by PiSplice
“Read Up and Down and You Will See Why I Love You and You Love Me,” by Felicia Grant Preston
“A Walking Dream of the World’s Columbian Exposition,” by Kelley Schei
“Musical Chairs,” by the Stockyard Institute with Faiz Razi, Beth Wiedner, & Zeb
“Acoustic Mirror of the World,” by the World Listening Project

SPC has been installed in the Visitors Center at the Chicago Cultural Center, with June 1st being its starting date. Parts of SPC will travel to locations throughout Chicago, and it will be part of the Fourth Annual Chicago Calling Arts Festival.

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