Tending Ostreidae: Serenades for Settling

A collaboration between visual artist Stephanie Rothenberg and sound artist Suzanne Thorpe

Tending Ostreidae: Serenades for Settling is a speculative operetta focused on the listening body of the heroic oyster. A water filter, sea level mitigator and food source, the oyster is a vital member of our ecosystem that knows habitats for settlement by sensing sound. Specifically, research conducted at North Carolina State University’s Department of Marine, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences found that the bottom-dwelling oyster knows suitable settlement habitats through a distinction of sound signatures in underwater soundscapes. For oysters, sound is a more reliable indicator than chemical exudates or patterns of light. Building on soundscape studies that feature the listening body as an onto-epistemological site, the project leverages data of harbor port movement and local sound to query the dynamic relationships between human activity and the wellbeing of oysters. The project will express the thematic content through both virtual and in-person multimedia formats dependent on exhibition and performance opportunities. Through the simulated sense of this sonically navigating being, in immersive sound, visual and sculpted environments, we ask what does a safe harbor sound like, literally and figuratively? How do we tend to an oyster and how does it tend to us? And can the listening oyster guide us to a politics of mutual tending? 

In our preliminary project development we have worked with researchers, materials and resources from the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology at North Carolina State University and been in discussion with community coordinators at the Billions Oyster Project in New York Harbor. In addition, Stephanie Rothenberg has developed research partners through a Fellowship at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine (2019) where she advanced her inquiry into oyster habitats with access to their marine science facilities and also local oyster nurseries and aquaculture farms (Mook Sea Farms). 

Work in progress sample
For YouTube version of video: https://youtu.be/MCMBN7TU_WY

Prototype of immersive sound installation