Commotion: Sound Places

co-presented by Bowerbird

Sound Places is a “virtual” sound art project that allows participants to create freely re-mixable, site-specific audio pieces using Google maps, iPods and smartphones. Sound Places will take place during the entire Commotion Festival, June 16 – 30 2012, and will feature a series of short audio pieces, each of which is directly related to or inspired by a specific location or area in the Point Breeze, Gray’s Ferry, and South of South Street neighborhoods.


If you’re a smartphone user, go to any of the locations marked on the map below, where you’ll find a poster with a QR code which, once scanned, will allow you play a sound piece specific to that location on your phone. Not a smartphone user? Simply download the map and the podcast, print the map and add the podcast to your iPod or mp3 player and take the tour yourself. Enjoy.

Print the Map
Download Podcast

2650 Grays Ferry Ave
Claire Niebergall

This piece considers the intersection of Grays Ferry Ave and Washington Ave (2650 Grays Ferry Ave). The sounds chosen to create this work are all industrial, reflecting the area well, particularly the series of power plants on the shoreline of Grays Ferry. As participants drive or walk by, they will hear electric hums and the clinking of machinery interspersed with the sound of traffic, an ever-present reminder of the surrounding city and roadways.

Webster St. between Schuylkill Ave. and S. Taney St.
Nick Krill “Neighborhood Dynamo”

In my composition I used the musical drone of the power station as the backbone and began layering my recordings of the neighborhood and a few instruments over it. The song tries to tell the story of my walk.
While listening to this piece, I encourage a general walk around the blocks bordered by Catharine St. on the north, Federal St. on the south, Grays Ferry Ave. to the west and 22nd St. to the east.

2530 Ellsworth
George Korein

This block used to have fun 4th of July parties. One extended family occupied multiple houses on the block, and its matriarch was also the block captain who organized these parties. Children orbited in quick patterns from this empty lot into the street and back. Their parents watched from stoops, grilled food and chatted while hip hop bumped out of the speakers. Monty G, a rapper well known for his hypeman antics at Phillies and Eagles games, would liven things up with some verses. One guy would always invest in some serious firecrackers. One flew, out of control, straight into the crowd, but thankfully no one was hurt. When my friends’ cat was found dead in this lot, that was a sign of things to come. A house fire devastated an uninsured household, the block matriarch lost a battle with illness, and the 4th of July parties are no more.

Wharton Square (approx 2300 Wharton St)
Toisha Tucker “Urban Thunderstorm”

Being from the Midwest, I am often nostalgic about the intense energy and release that is the build up, downpour and eventual calm of thunderstorms. For me, in green spaces in urban environments, I find that there is always a latent energy of the city; I can never truly feel the calmness and quiet that I felt as a youth in Oklahoma. Urban Thunderstorm is a collage of sounds recorded in Philadelphia and layered to replicate a thunderstorm; it harnesses the omnipresent sounds of an urban environment and creates a cathartic aural experience.

26th St, just north of Dickinson
Daniel Perelstein “Metal City”

“Metal City” is inspired by the view of the Philadelphia skyline on 26th Street, just north of Dickinson. A beautiful meeting of two different speeds, qualities of life, textures.

Corner of Grays Ferry Ave & Christian
Laine Godsey “Domesticated Savage”

My piece entitled “Domesticated Savage” is a walking experience beginning on the corner of Christian St and Grays Ferry Ave, then turning northeast on Grays Ferry Ave heading towards South St. The walker will turn due north on S. 24th St at Bainbridge St following the construction sites and ending when the listener hits South St. The piece is durational and each listener’s experience will be completely unique based on local conditions, such as the weather, temperature, the pace of walking, and the walker’s feelings about the landscape and location.

Keith Haring mural at 22nd and Ellsworth
Murmuration “Balance Act”

We were inspired by the Keith Haring mural at 22nd and Ellsworth. Two of our members have lived on the same block as this mural, and have vivid memories attached to the neighborhood. Our idea was to capture the sense of cooperation and tension present in Keith Haring’s work. Murmuration is Eric Coyne, Cello/Piano; Russell Kotcher, Violin/Piano; Andrew Marsh, Voice/Piano; Mark Zeleski, Saxophone

Corner of Webster and S.Taney St.
Brendan McGeehan “Contemplating Our Powerful Surroundings”

This piece centers around sounds recorded outside of the Grays Ferry power plant. We hear birds chirping, which is pleasant, accompanied by the low rumble and hum of the power plant. These two sound ideas are at odds, at which point my original music fades in. The idea is create the effect of contemplating these powerful ideas while walking by – generating efficient power locally versus the effect it has on nature, scenery, and the increasing challenges of creating enough energy for us all. The piece ends with a manipulation of the plant hum sounds once again, cutting in and out, and fading away as you walk away with these ideas wresting around in your head.

Crescent Park (Wharton & Schuylkill entrance)
Team Hungrymonsters “Crescent Park Tandemphone”

This audio recording documents a leisurely pre-dinner Sunday tandem ride through Grays Ferry Crescent Park beginning at the Wharton & Schuylkill entrance and ending at the 34th Street Bridge entrance. By mounting 2 omnidirectional microphones to the stoker’s handlebars, the perspective of the bicycle is presented for the listener. The sounds of the frame, the freewheels, chains, chainrings, cottered cranks, drum brakes, and saddles mix with the sounds of the park: waterfowl, fishermen, strolling seniors, birds, nearby automobiles, the river, and distant sirens. The whooshing of the wind indicates brief episodes of mildly exhilarating downhill coasting, and the tires occasionally stir up dirt and gravel to bring scraping sounds to the listener’s ears. While tandem outings characteristically help make conversation easy, the riders remained mostly silent in this instance so as to not overwhelm the sounds of the above. This recording is very small sampling of what one could expect at Crescent Park. Other days/times have been full of the sounds of hundreds of birds, rows of anglers intermittently casting their lines and discussing the tides, cyclists, automobiles, toddlers, FedEx vehicles, sirens from the nearby refinery, watercraft, and/or backhoes and trucks at the neighboring recycling facility. However, during this bit of Sunday evening on May 27th in 2012, the park was relatively quiet and the 5 minute ride seemed to only last a few seconds.

Zion Hill Baptist Church, 2702 Ellsworth St
Maria Dumlao

Recorded during the Listen Here Now workshop, this sound walk investigated how listening, recording and mapping can transform our sense of place, time and physical relationship to a given location in the area around Zion Hill Church along Grays Ferry Avenue. Using a map and a recording device, each participant navigated their walks based on what they heard, thereby shaping the trajectory of their sonic journey. Accompanied by my 17-month old son, my recording resulted in an exploration of the layout of the surroundings based on what he heard and saw. Our sound walk ultimately produced a recording of his experience (and his reactions to this experience) as the environment faded into the background. The walk starts around the block from Zion Hill Memorial Baptist Church at the corner of Ellsworth and S 27th Street. Going south on 27th for two blocks with an occasional turn east into Annin Street and Federal Street.

Railway bridge over Washington Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets
Jesse Kudler

My sound piece examines and enacts the tension between aestheticizing and abstracting place as source of quasi-musical sound and thinking about place as social-cultural-political environment. In the left ear, a processed field recording of a train passing overhead between 25th and 26th Streets on Washington Avenue is heard, while the right channel plays voices reading texts concerning the physical and cultural shifts afoot in Point Breeze and Gray’s Ferry due to gentrification. The listener can choose to listen to one or both channels at any time. This piece attempts to make listeners think about modes of listening to and conceiving of a place and to call attention to the constant dialogue between abstract, aesthetic listening and concrete, sociological listening to the built environment, interactions of people, and specific tasks occurring in an urban landscape. It also asks to what degree modes of listening are socially conditioned.

Corner of 29th & Ellsworth
Newton “Shades of Grays Ferry”

Newton, a Philadelphia based sound artist, contributes this composition derived from a self-guided audio tour through the Gray’s Ferry section of the city. This piece utilizes a wide range of techniques in the cut up and heavy edit spectrum. Quickly shifting layers, the silent cuts are smothered by short bursts of sound and hard panning. Through these methods the sonic experience of the short attention span is achieved; one of visceral intensity. Unavoidable and daunting in presentation, “Shades of Grays Ferry” is for the ears of the desensitized and sensory overloaded listener of the 21st Century.

Grays Ferry Power Plant, 2700 Christian St (and vicinity)
Byron Westbrook – “Choir for Handheld Recorder”

This piece is an experiment in using field recordings as an instrument with a group exercise exploring how the recording process can operate as a performance. Conducted at the Sound Places workshop on April 14, I visited the Grays Ferry Power Plant with a group of workshop attendees to record using provided hand-held recorders. Machinery around the plant emits a loud hum that is very similar to a low B-flat musical note. Attendees were instructed to explore the perimeter of the site to hear the different possibilities, and record them. All collected recordings are played back together int his piece to be heard as an ensemble.

Further reading: