The Animas River flows through the mountains of Southwestern Colorado, through what was once the undisputed land of Ute and Navajo people before the encroachment of miners in the 19th century. In 2015, the EPA was performing maintenance on the abandoned Gold King Mine when it accidentally released three million gallons of wastewater contaminated with heavy metals into the river, turning it a bright orange and threatening agriculture, tourism, and an already “disturbed” alpine ecology.
Animas comprises four suspended panels of industry-processed metal, each 26”x42,” made of iron-oxidized steel, aluminum, copper, and lead respectively—all metals that have exceeded EPA tolerances in the river. A contact microphone and audio transducer are affixed to each panel in a feedback circuit together with an amplifier. This causes each metal to vibrate at its own resonant frequency, creating a complex drone in the gallery space. The quality of the sound is adjusted by modulating the gain of the amplifiers—Animas does this in accordance with real-time data from water quality sensors placed in the river by the USGS. Changes in the clarity of the water, invisible indicators of the dissolved metals within it, and the dynamics of its daily and seasonal flows all become sound in the gallery, producing timbral “color” from the river’s continually changing composition.
Animas resists over-simplified representations of environmental degradation, creating a felt relationship to the river. It acknowledges how our limited temporal sensibilities are challenged by the imbrication of the geologic time of minerals, the historical time of extractive industries, and the immediate urgency of sane and equitable responses to rapid ecological change.