Live Stream: Patapsco

I’ve been interested in live audio streams since 2015 when I installed Pond Station at Wave Farm in upstate NY, USA. I appreciate how my listening changes when I tune in to something essentially “live”: I hear the slow time of the weather, the long intersecting cycles of insects, animals, people, and machines. If the stream persists for awhile it may be witness to changes in all of those cycles. But I’m also aware of the ephemerality of this listening: It’s always “now” without an expectation of archival preservation, and always on the verge of technical collapse. To make a live connection through the ether seems quite fragile and intimate. If you blink you’ll miss it.

The spring of 2021 marked the emergence of the 17 year periodical cicadas of “Brood X” across much of the east of the country. These famous insects spend most of their long lives underground, only to emerge en mass exactly every 17 years to sing, mate and die. Their 2021 emergence coincides with another as people are leaving the isolation of COVID lock-downs and venturing back into the world. It’s a full sensory encounter: The air is animated by their clumsy flights, their song reaches near-deafening amplitude, and the piles of crunchy rotting insect bodies under every tree quickly begin to smell.

To celebrate the cicada emergence I set up a live audio stream near Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland, USA. The stream joined others on the Locus Sonus Sound Map (a worldwide network of open microphones). I’m indebted to them for their work, and providing the Raspberry Pi streambox image that makes streams like this easy to produce.

The soundscape of the cicadas is a combination of three species: The high-pitched rattle and hiss of Magicicada cassinii, the “phaaaaraoh” call of Magicicada septendecim and the metronomic ticking of Magicicada septendecula. During the heat of the day in this location I mostly hear undulating waves of the cassinii against a background drone of the septendecim.

The stream location was at the boundary between an exurban area and a narrow strip of state forest. Mics were mounted on a building facing a stream valley. Insects, amphibians, and mammals are common (including humans and our machines: cars, freight trains, lawnmowers, etc).

Stream Archive

The live stream was active in June 2021. These are recorded excerpts. In a live stream the perspective is fixed and immobile, so the framing of the listening experience is accomplished strictly through attention. In these clips I’m especially interested in the moments when the abstraction of the cicada chorus is made suddenly concrete by the addition of human sounds.

Cicadas and Woodpecker:

Cicadas and Passing Train:

Cicadas and Backup Alarm Chorus:

Cicadas and Lawnmower:

Dawn Chorus (no cicadas):

Night Rain (no cicadas):

Tree Frogs and Passing Plane (no cicadas):