Steve Rowell


Sonic Boom Archive

2006-2012


Over the course of 18 months, from 2005 - 2007, I recorded all of the sonic booms that occurred above the California Mojave Desert. The airspace of interest is labeled  the “R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex” by the US Air Force. The equipment array installed was calibrated to autonomously monitor and record any sound above an established decibel threshold, filtering out long moments of (perceived) silence and / or low volume sounds, natural and man-made. The result is an "inverse noise gate". A noise gate being an acoustical engineering term for a device or application which controls, limits the loud volume spikes or peaks of an audio signal. By inverting this filter, my recordings retain the abrupt and loud sounds, thereby capturing the elusive sonic boom-scape of this singularly militarized, supersonic airspace, the largest and most active of its kind in the world.



Sonic booms are the audible effects of shock waves caused by matter moving faster than the speed of sound - approximately 761 MPH at sea level at 59 °F (1,224 KPH @ 15 °C) – through the atmosphere. In this case, the types of “matter” are various supersonic military aircraft that may include the US Air force F-16, F/A-18, F-22, and F-35 fighter jets as well as NASA’s F-5A and F-15B Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstrator jets. These otherwise exotic aircraft are common to the airspace above the Mojave Desert.

These recordings have been exhibited as part of two collaborative installations with SIMPARCH: Gloom & Doom I (Center For Contemporary Art, Cincinnati, OH, May - October 2006) and Gloom & Doom II (Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, May - July 2006) where an anechoic "boom chamber" was constructed in the form of a two-story plywood "house", a direct reference to the test-homes NASA and the US Air Force built in the 1950s on a dry lake bed at Edwards AFB. These test homes had embedded microphones and seismometers to detect shockwave impact and structural damage.

See also:
Gloom & Doom I
Gloom & Doom II

An installation featuring a listening station and descriptive poster was exhibited in the group show Aural Indicators at the Contemporary Conflict Institute in Troy, New York, March-May 2010.
An updated iteration of this audio/didactic poster installation, but including a large format (40x80 inch) print was shown in the group show Ecotone at the Actual Size gallery in Los Angeles, March-April 2014.

A short composition of select booms was exhibited in the group show Zeigen: An Audio Tour through Berlin at the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, December 2009 - January 2010.



Sonic Boom Containment Vessel

2012-present


As of May 2012, a playback of select booms and incidental desert ambiance is being exhibited indefinitely at the CLUI Desert Research Station in the recently activated Sonic Boom Containment Vessel.

Now part of the CLUI Interpretive Walking Trail at the Desert Research Station, providing information about the Harper Lake Basin region... a region which includes the airspace above, classified by the U.S. Air Force as the "R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex". This restricted, remote airspace, this ‘nether-ether’, is the (un)natural realm of sonic booms, explosions of air pressure generated by, at this time, US supersonic military aircraft. These fighter jets – above one moment, gone the next – and the split-second eruptions of the atmosphere they produce are the subjects, implied and audible, of the Sonic Boom Containment Vessel (SBCV).

The SBCV holds captive 18 months of sonic boom 'events' from 2006-2007. This sound installation consists of a small modular office unit outfitted with powerful audio equipment, where high decibel playback of these recorded booms occur under the same airspace where the recordings were made. The law of Action-Reaction revisited and manifested ad infinitum. Listening to (and feeling) the playback of these infrasonic frequencies can be a visceral experience.

SONIC BOOM CONTAINMENT VESSEL PLAYLIST
CLUI DRS, Hinkley, CA
Installed May 2012
Daily playback from 10am-5pm, indefinitely

Track title ––– hh:mm:ss
SBA text audio voice over pitched.mp3 ––– 00:03:07
Framework radio piece - S Rowell Sonic Booms.mp3 ––– 00:57:00
SBA for CCI Troy.mp3 ––– 00:15:31
SBA-TACTILE AIR-WESTON.mp3 ––– 00:20:00
STV01001_hour 01-dove.mp3 ––– 00:32:01
Landing bird chatter jetnoise.mp3 ––– 00:06:49
Baby bird chirp owl jetnoise.mp3 ––– 00:12:21
Bird trilling.mp3 ––– 00:01:05
Dog bark whimper dove.MP3 ––– 00:04:36
Flap.mp3 ––– 00:00:21

Total ––– 02:32:51
All recordings from autonomous Sonic Boom Archive recording sessions, CLUI DRS 2006-07