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© 2020 Steve Rowell
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. Over the course of 18 months, from 2005 - 2007, I recorded all of the sonic boom events that occurred as a result of this routine shattering of the sound barrier in the airspace above, labeled by the US Air Force as the R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex. 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.
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.
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.