The second installment of The East River Project is an audio only version for Soundwalk2007 in Long Beach CA. This installment is an extension of the first installation, and features new recordings of a variety of walks taken by the two artists. Each recording was recorded during a walk in neighborhoods parallel to Long Beach including: The East River in Brooklyn, NY; The International District in Seattle, WA; Trastevere in Rome, IT; and The Old North End in Burrlington, VT.  The recordings are available in the download section of this site for listeners to download and listen to during their walks between events and locations of the SoundWalk2007.


Outer Limits

This limited edition CD-R is something of a souvenir from a soundwalk staged by Seattle artists Yann Novak & Gretchen Bennett. The concept behind the event was to superimpose the Brooklyn sonic landscape into there own city, compounded by stencils on the sidewalks of Brooklyn icons. This CD-R renders the original concept somewhat moot through the fragmentation of the Brooklyn field recordings into a gentle snow of digital pixilation. The passing garbage trucks and barge blaring its horn in the distance intermingle with a synthesized urban din, and become simply non-placed signifiers for any major metropolis on the globe. Novak and Bennett’s blurred soundfield is non the less impressive, its glitched filigree amassing into a snowblind haze. The original soundwalk (complete with map and audio) is available through there website; the deconstructed offerings of The East River Project Vol. 1 is presumably the kind of impressionistic, emotional sensibility that the two hoped their audio tour will impart.


Audio Verité

The collaboration with Bennett, the minute “Brooklyn in Seattle (altered),” continues Novak’s obsession with bringing cityscapes to febrile life. Using Bennett’s recordings of Brooklyn’s traffic noise, street tonalities and random urban didactics, Novak’s resultant sonic canvas transmutes the brick and mortar landscape into something alien and exotic yet puzzlingly familiar, Brooklyn as viewed through the tattered celluloid of Blade Runner, tics, wisps and clicks simulating a Gotham acid rain. Housed in an ultra-white digipak embossed in a bas relief of the lower borough, only 25 of these spectral jewels were minted—well worthy of acquisition.


Hear Here

All of a sudden it’s coming from everywhere at once. In one ear, an iPod recording of street sounds from Brooklyn—trains passing, distant shouts. In the other ear, fresh voice mail from a colleague. Straight ahead, an old photograph of this place, the Panama Hotel, where Japanese families once dropped off their life’s belongings on the way to internment camps. Across the room, chatter between a barista and a regular, veiled by delicate music. Underfoot, the basement bathhouse that closed 56 years ago, its pitted marble baths and numbered wooden lockers for Japanese workers.

I suppose every moment could be sculpted this way, as a series of distant events and influences crossing, if only the center point were receptive enough. That is one premise of The East River Project by the artists Gretchen Bennett and Yann Novak. They’ve drawn me to this convergence by overlaying sounds and sights from Williamsburg, Brooklyn—along the East River—on Seattle’s International District. Out the front door of the Panama Hotel are two faded orange stencils that resemble the arcane marks of city workers, made in the same construction marking paint. According to a map of the district with a legend of the six different stencils Bennett used in the project, these two are recognizable as the husky heads of junkyard dogs, even though at this point, only two pairs of ears remain on the blacktop as a marker that Bennett was here.

“It reminds me of Masaryk’s shoes,” Bennett says on a foggy morning. “When the Nazis destroyed the statue of the Czechoslovakian president, they left his shoes, because they couldn’t blast them out of the side of the mountain.”

Bennett isn’t equating a meandering adventure through the ID with the rocky determination of an entire strain of European underdog nationalism. She’s flagging the unheard speech of incidental monuments. And the ID, where both she and Novak live, is full of incidental monuments: the Spic n Span Cleaners sign “With Liberty and Justice For,” the recorded bells playing at the door to a Buddhist temple, the ghost signs for Chop Suey Chow Mein and Dancing.

Bennett is a Northwest native, but for several years she lived in Brooklyn, across the East River from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and, still longing for the “fast-moving current of culture you’re a part of there,” goes back often. The East River Project has three locations: Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Seattle’s ID, and the web. The tour begins in the neutral territory online, with a downloadable MP3 and map of the streets involved. There are no instructions and no explanations about where the symbols appear, where they’ve come from, or what their placement means, if anything. The tour superimposes one neighborhood on top of another, like a double-exposed photograph.

When John Cage made Imaginary Landscape #1 in Seattle in 1939, it had nothing to do with being outdoors. It made a new nature by stitching together layers of sonic experience: the true (live percussion), the false (recorded sound), and the trash (noise). The East River Project also combines three elements: Seattle now, Brooklyn then, and temporary street marks indicating something beyond themselves, some system that only a few understand. Only Bennett knows the system, with its index of chosen locations, including her favorite spots, and symbols—the junkyard dog, two standing pit bulls fighting, a sitting pit bull in profile, Brooklyn’s iconic shuttered Domino Sugar factory, a television shot of the plane that exploded in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the message “Attention Vagabond” that she once saw scrawled under the Williamsburg Bridge. But the tour is not a puzzle. It’s not a scavenger hunt where you find what you came for. It is a scattered alphabet that can only produce partly decipherable words. Pleasurable confusion keeps you going.

“Is that—?”

I’ve already asked Bennett not to answer my questions, so she doesn’t respond.

We stop, and I, still wearing the earbuds, look up, waiting to see a plane pass overhead. Except I don’t know if it’s in the sky or in my ears. I’ve already been mixed up about birds and trucks.

The sound fades. I keep gaping. Bennett finally steps in to reassure me: It was up there, you just couldn’t see it.


The East River Project Vol. 1

Catalog No.:
25 (out of print)
Gretchen Bennett
Yann Novak
  1. Brooklyn in Seattle (altered)

Gretchen Bennett and Yann Novak are proud to present there ongoing collaborative installation piece The East River Project. The Installation combines online downloads and direct street encounters to activate the public space of the neighborhood they inhabit, The International District. The web site is a base camp for the street installation, where you’ll find a downloadable map with the perimeters of the installation and a downloadable MP3, as well as instructions on its use. The order in which the walk should be experienced is completely open, so each view of the work is unique, to preserve the element of discovery.

To celebrate the launch of this exciting project Bennett and Novak have created a hand made and signed CD / Decal set in an edition of 25 and released on Novak’s own Dragon’s Eye Recordings. The CD contains a new score by Yann Novak produced entirely from Bennett’s field recordings of Brooklyn. The CD is packaged with a white decal for the consumer to place in their environment to further blur the boundaries of the installation.


Here & There

I feel like Mrs. Dalloway, but without the party to prepare for or one lost love to ruminate over. But there is a war. There is always a war.

Maybe it is all of this walking around without a destination on a gray day, feeling somewhere in between places. I’d like to get lost. I mean, really lost. But I don’t have the money for a sherpa, and I like mountains as backdrops but not as actual terrain. So I choose city streets and fake architectural canyons, which aren’t anything like real valleys. That suits me just fine.

Now it’s past all of that and into something more industrial. A stretch of buildings that remind me of the shore of Lake Michigan from runaways to Milwaukee as a teenager. Or later to Detroit with a boyfriend when I was seventeen. We lived in the old Polish neighborhood. We were pilot fish of the gentrification to come. As pilot fish go, we were quite colorful.

There is Gretchen Bennett’s junk yard dog stenciled on a wall, a sliver of a thing, safety orange, hunted and hunter. I saw her real-life junkyard dog in her Brooklyn neighborhood on my last trip there. He wasn’t as big or tough as I’d expected. It was like spotting a celebrity. Just a sad, little guy panting in the morning light. There is something about him that always stays with me.

The street sounds of Brooklyn are filling my ears and making me think of living in Spanish Harlem when I was a teenager. The streets looked like  photographs of Dublin in the ‘70s. Trash strewn everywhere. Misery catcalling from every other alley.  I remember seeing “Anarchy” graffitied on  a wall and thinking, “What a luxury.” I suppose that kind of rebellion takes a real middle-class idea of destruction or lawlessness. I just wanted a home.

I’ve always been like this.

The sounds shift again and there’s another orange flare like a landing strip on a sidewalk. This place is everywhere. This place is nowhere.

I look off in the distance. That mountain is regional. If it existed outside New York it would be a national monument in every other movie. Scorsese would have murdered multiple characters there. But it’s here, not there.

People I love are here and there. I’m carrying them around. Like shrapnel. It only hurts when it rains….so I moved to the Northwest. A cab driver told me that joke.
A car honks. Is it here or on the Brooklyn soundtrack?

I wish Yann Novak could get in my head and take the field recordings of my memories and make something of them. There are just so many places I don’t want to go now.

Continental drift. Wisconsin’s driftless region, where the ice didn’t iron the land flat but left it with a gentle ripple, a wave. For me, it waved goodbye.

For a long time the four walls around me didn’t matter because if they did I knew that I would lose them. You can’t take away what doesn’t exist.
Actually you can. Absence is a tricky thing.

Down here by Uwajimaya there is something too. A glimmer of an orange futon. It’s a folding star of trash and dilapidated comfort. If you come to this market on Tuesdays it’s Seniors’ Day and there’s an ambulance parked outside. It’s waiting for somebody’s impossible to come true. It’s a safety precaution that feels like a premonition. Inside, elderly Chinese women perform water ballet with shopping carts, grocery lists in hands, turning in perfect circles.

I move somewhere else. I stay put. Brooklyn rushes past me. I can picture the East River and it’s view. And here on this street I can feel as strange as I did that day. Like anything could happen. Maybe anything but the things I’d like to have happen.

Presence is tricky too.


International District

The first installment of The East River Project takes place in the neighborhood Novak and Bennett reside in, The International District in Seattle, Washington.

On the walking tour, multiple Day-Glo orange stencils supplant The International District’s pavement with orange silhouettes of the Williamsburg Bridge, The Dominos Sugar Factory Tower and pit bull variety dogs, enabling viewers to experience their environment in a state of hyper-awareness by referencing a parallel but different landscape. The stencils are made of the same marking paint used by municipal workers to mark gas mains, causing transplanted landscape elements to blend with the surrounding street text. The Brooklyn images are dispensed in multiples, enabling them to live on, even as they recede as landmarks in their own Brooklyn setting.

The MP3 contains field recordings made in Brooklyn and Manhattan by Bennett, then combined and mixed in Seattle by Yann Novak to produce a narrative soundtrack for the first walking installation.