Pond Station is a modular platform for monitoring the hidden activity of a freshwater pond. It has been transmitting since May 2015 when it was commissioned as a long-term sculpture at Wave Farm in Acra, NY. It floats on the water’s surface, broadcasting underwater sounds through a live radio link. It operates from dawn to evening every day, using solar-charged internal batteries. Pond Station’s receiver is located in the Wave Farm radio studio where resident artists and broadcasters on WGXC FM can experience the pond’s natural sounds or remix and interpret them. International audiences are invited to do the same via the live web stream below.
Live Audio Stream
(active from dawn to dusk in the Eastern US)
Online Dashboard (real-time display of sunlight, internal voltages, etc)
Pond Station made its first broadcast on May 2, 2015 during REVEIL, a 24hr live broadcast of the sounds of daybreak from all over the world organized by Maria Papadomanolaki and Grant Smith. Listen to a great condensed overview on framework radio #509.
At sunrise, Pond Station’s hydrophones (underwater microphones) reveal a photosynthetic chorus of bubbling as plants begin to produce oxygen. Insect, fish and frog vocalizations continue all day, combined with the traces of sounds in the air that excite the water too (like passing cars, singing insects or humans). Rain on the pond surface creates a dense cloud of high-frequency detail, like the coals in a cooling campfire. In the winter, life in the pond slows down to near silence as the water ices over, but the ice may crackle and hiss during its daily expansion and contraction.
May 2015: Early morning. Rhythmic sounds stop after a car passes, then restart with a different tempo.
May 2015: A cloudy morning. Loud repeating croaking sounds dominate the soundscape.
May 2015: Light rain creates random noise, partially masking the smaller repeating sounds.
June 2015: Night on the pond. Very quiet except for the frogs.
Pond Station’s physical form is inspired by the utilitarian beauty of remote research stations and space probes. Its exterior is designed to withstand high winds and rain while keeping its electronics dry and its antenna focused on the receiver. The project began in 2013 as Pond FM (with N.B.Aldrich), an installation that transmitted the underwater sounds of the pond over short-range FM radio. Pond Station is based on the same custom hydrophones but the rest of the system has been replaced with a more rugged and upgradable platform. The audio is transmitted over a low-power digital radio link using custom-built antennas to cover the 350ft distance between the pond and the receiver. An Arduino microcontroller manages the transmission schedule and power distribution to keep the station on the air regardless of weather. A telemetry radio transmits updates about the internal electronics and local environmental data, which are archived for future analysis. (The environmental data also helps contextualize the sounds since sunlight is the primary driver of the pond’s ecosystem.) The web stream is powered by a Raspberry Pi and the Locus Sonus streaming server and sound map.
In 2016 Pond Station was upgraded to include light-based sensors which reveal some of the insect “night life” of the pond and provide opportunities for light-based interaction with performers.
Exhibitions, Press & Publications
Pond Station has been included in REVEIL each May since 2015.
Pond Station was included in Knut Aufermann and Sarah Washington’s Radiaphiles broadcast at Documenta 14 (2017). It also features Jeffrey Lependorf’s “Pond Station Duet” and Ralph Lewis’s spoken word performance recorded from under the water. You can read more about the series here: http://mobile-radio.net/?p=
I participated in an online panel on May 11 2016 for the Balance-Unbalance 2016 Conference in Manizales, Colombia. Our panel discussed the potential for a worldwide open microphone network to become a resource for artists, researchers and activists working around acoustics and ecology. Youtube archive here.
In 2016 the Australian national broadcaster ABC profiled Wave Farm for their Soundproof program. They took a detailed listen to the installations on the property, including clips from my Pond Station installation.
My essay about Pond Station was included in a 2016 Sounds Remote booklet, published by Uniformbooks:
- No sign of the beavers this season, so I removed the “beaver-proofing” that was compromising sound quality last year
- Modified preamps to open up the high-frequency response a bit.
- Mounted hydrophones on underwater tripods, so they sit off the bottom a bit and avoid sinking into the muck
- The beaver dam was demolished recently, so the water level dropped. This relaxed the tension on the anchor lines and allowed the station to shift around a lot, often causing scraping noises. On May 11 we moved the station to deeper water which should reduce the extraneous noises.
- Replaced the light/temp/voltage sensors and telemetry radio link (to improve reliability).
- Added current draw (for solar and battery) to the web telemetry dashboard
- Added rubber isolators to anchor lines and hydrophone booms to reduce the scraping noises as the station shifts on the water’s surface
- Updated anchor positions to accommodate increased water level (thanks to beavers)
- A Beaver bit through both hydrophone cables! Replaced hydrophones and installed aluminum tubes to protect the cables.
- Duckweed has moved in during the last season, covering the surface of the pond and reducing the biodiversity within (due to light and oxygen starvation). This has been evident in the decreasing variety of pond sounds over the same period.
- Moved hydrophones: They were resting on the bottom but they kept getting subsumed by the muck. Now they’re about 2.5 ft below the waterline.
- Updated the power regulation to make it more efficient in shady conditions.
- Fixed web telemetry (again) and fixed some problems that were making the night/day switching unreliable.
- Fixed the web telemetry. Added temperature to graph and clarified labels.
- One hydrophone failed so we dropped the stream to mono. Fixed and returned to stereo.
- Replaced aging resin-covered solar panels with long-lived glass ones.
- Added more flotation since new solar panels are heavier.
- Added internal temperature monitoring. When temp falls below 40F it’s unsafe to charge the battery, so the behavior changes to “winter mode” to conserve battery power: Transmitter only turns on when solar is sufficient to power it without help from battery. Lights are disabled at night.
- Receiver box now has color display and indicates temperature conditions.
- Added a muting circuit to the receiver so there is no annoying static on web stream when transmitter is turned off for the night. It is now replaced by a looping interval signal.
- Sadly, broke web telemetry for now (but web stream still works great).
- Hydrophone sensitivity took a nosedive. Things improved considerably after removing a few pounds of underwater vegetation and muck that had completely covered the sensors!
- Battery charging was unreliable: Replaced the battery and repaired broken solar wiring (turtles?!)
- Added night-time lighting and light-sensitive components
- Upgraded preamps to reduce noise and improve dynamic range compression
- Upgraded flotation so it wouldn’t sink!
- Changed audio transmitter/receiver to 5.8gHz analog technology to alleviate digital noise in the power supply
- Added dynamic range compressor to reduce distortion on loud events
- Initial launch