This is a solar powered website. Audio stream is broadcast during daylight hours only. The river sings when weather conditions are clear. If precipitation is active, the voice falls silent. If you visit this website at night, it will not be found.

between Scylla and Charybdis is a solar powered audio live stream that articulates the quality and composition of the Genesee River’s1 water into a female vocal choir. Four pieces of hydrologic data—water temperature, level, salinity, and turbidity—are recorded by four distinct sensors in the Genesee River monitored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Scraped from the USGS website and interpreted by a custom software program, the data is translated into song, fluctuating and shifting in composition as the river itself moves and changes form. The title of the piece is Homeric and derives from a scene in The Odyssey when Odysseus must navigate between the lesser of two disasters by land and sea imaged as Scylla and Charybdis,2 two mythic female sea monsters.

This website is hosted on a solar powered server housed inside of an aluminum enclosure. The enclosure and solar panels are mounted to a pole installed on a concrete pad on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Art and Design in New York state.

This website and thereby the audio live stream is operational during daylight hours only, calibrated to Rochester, NY. Powered by the sun, the functionality of the website and the what, when, and how you hear the choir are dependent on planetary dynamics and subject to local weather systems. The choral compositions are determined by incoming data from the USGS gauge station and affected by current weather conditions. During times of precipitation of any kind, the vocals fall silent. What remains is a sustained note that corresponds to the River’s water level adjusted to the harmonic scale. All aspects of the web design are chosen to conserve energy for the solar powered server and you, the end user.

Some vocalizations in the chorus form words in the ancient Greek ritual known as the ololyga. As described by Anne Carson in The Gender of Sound, “the ololyga is a ritual shout peculiar to females… these words do not signify anything except their own sound. The sound represents a cry of either intense pleasure or intense pain. To utter such cries is a specialized female function…No man would make such sound. No proper civic space would contain it unregulated”.

  1. 1

    The so-called Genesee River is known as Chin-u-shio by the Seneca nation. It is a tributary of so-called Lake Ontario, which is Niigaani-gichigami or Gichi-zaaga’igan in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) and Ontarí'io in Huron.

  2. 2

    Book XII begins with Circe warning Odysseus against Scylla and Charybdis on his ocean journey to the island of the Sun God, Helius: “...Taking the second way, you meet two rocks: one reaches up to heaven with its peak, surrounded by blue fog that never clears. No light comes through there, even in the summer. No man could climb it or set foot upon it, even if he had twenty hands and feet. The rock is sheer, as if it has been polished. Right in the middle lies a murky cave that faces west, towards dark Erebus. Steer your ship past it, great Odysseus. The hollow cave is up so high, no man could shoot it with an arrow. There lives Scylla, Howling and barking horribly; her voice is puppylike, but she is dangerous; even a god would be afraid of her. She has twelve dangling legs and six long necks With a gruesome head on each, and in each face three rows of crowded teeth, pregnant with death. Her belly slumps inside the hollow cave; she keeps her heads above the yawning chasm and scopes around the rock, and hunts for fish. She catches dolphins, seals, and sometimes even enormous whales-Queen Amphirite, ruler of roaring waters, nurtures many creatures. No sailors ever pass that way unharmed. She snatches one man with each mouth from off each dark-prowed ship. The other rock is near, Enough to shoot an arrow right across. This second rock is lower down, and on it there grows a fig tree with thick leaves. Beneath, divine Charybdis sucks black water down. Three times a day she spurts it up; three times she glugs it down. Avoid that place when she is swallowing the water. No one could save you from death then, even great Poseidon. Row fast, and steer your ship alongside Scylla, since it is better if you lose six men than all of them.” excerpt from Book XII of The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson.

between Scylla and Charybdis, by Amanda Turner Pohan

Max/MSP and shell scripting by Jay Tobin, founder of Dayflower Studio
Technical Direction by Johann Diedrick (A Quiet Life)
Solar design by Nathanson and Jenny Conrardy/Energy Transition Design, LLC
Music by Charlie Looker
Vocals by Daisy Press
Website by Matt Wolff

between Scylla and Charybdis’ audio stream is made possible through a partnership with Wave Farm.

photograph of survey gauge station

United States Geological Survey Gauge Station #04231600, Genesee River at Ford Street Bridge, Rochester NY.