Hydrophone

2011

I built the hydrophone to capture sounds from the quietest spot I could imagine - the bottom of a frozen lake. In the dead of winter, when plants and animals lay dormant, it almost seems as if nature is at a standstill. Using the hydrophone, I heard the sounds of wind hitting the ice on the lake, ice cracking, and even the rumbles of a far-away train. Through the recordings I made I was able to emphasize these hidden voices and create an augmented landscape amongst the snow, ice and trees.

Brereton Lake, Manitoba, Canada

I designed the body based on inspiration from early 20th-century diving helmets and created the body from laser-cut acrylic. Custom gaskets were created by laser-cutting sheet rubber. The interior of the hydrophone was filled with vegetable oil (a non-conducting liquid) so as not to create buoyancy. A heavy-duty waterproof connector had to be used, and XLR cables carrying the microphone signals formed the tether for the device. The hydrophone uses two AD620AN op-amps to amplify the subtle sounds. Two piezo microphones adhered to the interior flat sides of the hydrophone provided stereo recording. I used a Zoom H4 portable audio recorder to capture the sounds.

Hydrophone


Listen to the sounds of wind and water from below the surface

The primary recording location was approximately 50 feet from the shore in front of my family cottage on Brereton Lake, Manitoba, Canada. Preparing the site involved first shoveling away the snow that had accumulated on the ice, and then using an ice auger to drill through the ice. The ice covering the lake was approximately two feet thick. Once the hole was drilled through, I positioned a tripod over the hole as a stand and lowered the hydrophone into the lake. I found that I needed to create a high snow wall around the site, since the wind on the lake would hit the cable running down to the hydrophone and make noise.

Tripod setup

The hydrophone is suspended in the lake by a tripod

The hydrophone was able to hear many faint sounds such as ice cracking. I recorded a number of unusual sounds that I could not place - numerous thumps, scratches, pops and hums were heard underwater while the world was silent and still above. Hearing this symphony of sounds while viewing the static landscape created an eerie feeling. The sounds I heard forms the basis for an architecture of silence. Perhaps the stillness, darkness and isolation could serve as the prelude to a space of reflection or meditation, where only the murmurs of nature are allowed a voice.


Hear ice cracking from far away at 4:58 in this clip