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Breathe, River

by Sara Bouchard

January 04:17
February 02:43
March 03:01
April 01:49
May 01:39
June 01:26
July 01:11
August 01:30
September 01:41
October 02:06


"Breathe, River" is a composition for saxophone and piano based on water quality data from the James River. The work was presented as a site-specific sound installation, with speakers placed throughout the interior of Richmond's historic Pump House. The work is informed by conversations with aquatic ecologist Dr. Paul Bukaveckas of VCU Rice Rivers Center and reveals the drastic fluctuations of dissolved oxygen levels in the river due to algae blooms. These chronic summer-long blooms, caused by excess nutrients from wastewater runoff upstream, threaten the health of the river, harm wildlife and present potential hazards to human health.

The recorded piece features a remarkable performance on tenor saxophone by Jason Scott, University of Richmond instructor and Richmond native. Bouchard used data sonification software to determine the saxophone melody, which represents dissolved oxygen levels of the James River in 2-hr increments throughout the entire year of 2017. The 30-minute piece begins and ends with little variance in melody as oxygen saturation hovers around 100%. As the river warms in the summer months and algae begins to grow, photosynthesis activity increases, causing oxygen levels to rise during the day and fall at night. The fluctuations peak in late summer, when algae blooms reach their maximum and then die off, depleting the river of its oxygen. In 2017, dissolved oxygen dropped to a low of 3.9 mg/l, a level stressful to fish. The piano accompaniment was recorded by the artist and is based loosely on the river’s pH levels, which also rise and fall on a daily basis.

This project was made possible thanks to the CultureWorks Grant Program, the generosity of Friends of Pump House and the support of Sound Arts Richmond.


released June 28, 2019

Jason Scott, tenor saxophone
Sara Bouchard, piano


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Sara Bouchard Richmond, Virginia

I am a multi-disciplinary artist and songwriter with a strong foothold in American roots. As an artist, I investigate ways to interact with and represent the American landscape through song. As a musician, I perform original and traditional tunes - drawn from bluegrass, old-time, jazz, country and blues - with my band SALT PARADE. ... more

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