The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

(floodwall still)
(floodwall video x10 speed)
(floodwall video)

Description of the piece; Background;
Commentary - The light display; Culled debris text --

Description of the piece:

The light display uses 'modern' Morse to code three tiers of
distress calls: SOS, QRRR, and MAYDAY. These flash slowly, at a
close to unreadable pace, playing off of timing and memory among
the tiers. Morse is already close to obsolete, and I don't think
anyone is using QRRR (part of the Q-code repertoire) today.

After the calls, there is a slow light 'wash' over the bridge,
as if flames were rising (this was suggested by Shelley
Johansson); this represents the between 30 and 60 acres of
debris that slammed and burned against the structure on that
fateful day in May. (Estimates vary as to the number burned
alive, but a rough figure of 80 is likely. See David McCullough,
The Johnstown Flood, Simon and Schuster, 1968.)

Then the cycle repeats. There are black intervals between
segments and code events. There are trains running across the
bridge. The display is on one side only, the side that retained
the debris (the other side is in darkness).


"The Johnstown Flood (locally, the Great Flood of 1889) occurred
on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South
Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles (23 km) upstream
of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after
several days of extremely heavy rainfall, unleashing 20 million
tons of water (18 million cubic meters) from the reservoir known
as Lake Conemaugh. With a volumetric flow rate that temporarily
equaled that of the Mississippi River,[2] the flood killed
2,209 people[3] and caused US$17 million of damage (about $450
million in 2015 dollars)." (Wikipedia)

I was given the opportunity to create a light-show program for
the Stone Bridge: "The Stone Bridge spans the Conemaugh River in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The bridge is a seven-arch stone
railroad bridge located on the Norfolk Southern Railway
mainline, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887-88. Its
upstream face was reinforced with concrete in 1929.[1] This
bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1889, but the bridge
blocked debris, which subsequently caught fire and created an
inferno covering 30 acres (120,000 m2). The bridge is visible
from Point Park in downtown Johnstown." (ibid.)

And: "A bridge restoration project was developed by community
leaders, to include cleaning and physical and aesthetic
improvements, resurfacing of the south side, and new lighting
with energy-efficient LED lighting adjustable to different
colors and intensities. Estimated to cost $1.2 million, the
project was initiated in 2008 as part of flood commemorative
activities." (ibid.)

Michael Brosig, co-chair of the Stone Bridge Committee, said,

"The significance of the Stone Bridge is that it stood its
ground against the flood waters and altered the future of
Johnstown completely and forever. It created the backdrop for
the event that put Johnstown on the map. Restoring the South
facade of that structure and casting LED lighting on it will
certainly showcase the triumph of the human spirit in a
spectacular style for all to see, enjoy and be proud of their
heritage. Based on its strategic location, it is the lynchpin of
the historic district of our city." (ibid.)

Commentary - The light display:

The light display parallels miscommunication, warnings too late,
muck, murk, the bridge as signifier and vector, the intensity of
the mess at the base of the structure (which increasingly rose
into the air), the indescribable chaos, the negligence, the
violence of the water, the fury of the storm and conflagration,
animals and people caught unawares, the subsequent pawning off
of responsibility by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club,
the mudflats, the dynamiting of the debris pile, the spread of
typhoid, the screams of those burning alive in the pile, Clara
Barton and the Red Cross, the accounting of The Reverend David
J. Beale, the tree through the house, the leveling of Woodvale,
the yellow press, the eyewitness accounts, the emendations, the
mythos, the symbols, the descent into print, the ascent into
action, the muscle, the care; the light display parallels all
and none of this, the entanglements of an event occurring over a
century and a quarter ago -

Coded by Shelley Johansson, with documentation by Jeremy Justus,
Marissa Landrigan Justus, Azure Carter, and myself

Thanks to
Shelley Johannson, Jeremy Justus, Marissa Landrigan Justus,
and Azure Carter

Culled debris text:

_flooding_what_does_it_mean,_this_grey_ body...:wonder
flood-flog flooded. again. personal_ws english gertrud in the
sandgranularity of phallocentrism you say, "& soon those
memories flooding, that inert event, signs, costs, water
overruns, cracks cracks. floods, tree, 'out side,' broken, who
wouldn't. fires with which other remains or a lapse into
(floods, hurricanes, tornados, droughts, etc.) night all lips
engorged leg-hinges flooded dark waves people died susquehanna's
held back by dikes floods anyway coffins they floated down
river/ our house as fog, ... fog calls forth avatar, hungered,
making things. /*...acters*/ /*may*/ /*be displayed*/
/*incorrec*/ /*you*/ /*flood*/ /*apocalypse.*/ /*me...'t*/
/*bother*/ /*a.*/ my window /s can't stop flood, flow sorry for
looking blood toor ted a instead metaphor, literal prior, came,
still has it's gone through two one together; from hurricane
agnes devasted parents' home 1972, collections, now swallowed
basement large susquehanna rose 42.66 feet, stage, upper
supplemental held. $thing cal @sways @de "waste" @s transforms
have fly _nikuko internally coherent. an emission is sourceless,
net flood; spew towns where inhalation-exhalation perfection
begins and ends, out. thinking skin. holding absorbed debris,
war-battered enclave. gaza floods: un declares state chicken
hawk put up tail" tail four strips, then there write about him
such good style! style ground am am! does! wet straight very
happy angry jove hurls h groan'd benea fire, when s he ah,
zarathustra, words, what "they"? "are"? tears) (and world
tears). goal: to disappear inside truth said it before, flooded,
drowning, i was attacked photographing evidence, devastated
exiting, i've written about; external literally flood. kristeva,
draw peta, save manatee, environmental organizations. valley;
despair irony, nikuko-oozing, noh medieval theater; pretend
alan_s this secret. not even valleys great storms would make
once; storm becomes slow emission, widening interior, teeth. are
injured reality things!!!" prospect park paths driveways
overflowing split flood-flooding wiped v roots school, debris,
disease. bcc called _book_ it. seagulls come clutter
a-historicity etc.), neutrality. spillways occupy fields,
discursive marrow tomorrow! standby:the grit gorges, control,
formal fire, debris, oozed around marks, _things_ at, food its
awake we'll mirror, thin, nails back. long, parallel, slew names
everywhere mudra-shifting, shaped, visible. space pulses, plain.
we inhabit it, haunt dwell there. words eaten giving gagged
iridescent wings. wet-world runtime beetles flesh. rides, rides
wet, high. nimbus shallow voices, probes. t participation,
bodies _flood_ calling glacial sea-change terminal, loading
transparency, providence flooded; lost terminal. horizon; sheet
closes world; abject symbols. piepel? thrusting offer-proffer
you, circum-stantiation, circumlocution abyss: defuge/flooding,
gathering accumulations, momentarily within them stuttering
<everything acid>flooding impossibility where</everything
acid>in across semantic plateaus participants' time well, "all
adjacent mines uncanny afterimage affect flows floods. strip
after days heavy rains air, radio pulsing bodies, her voice
termites, air-conditioner, ripped-up flooring, ceiling... first.
said. alive. look chatrooms, shooting. threw question encoding,
decoding; contradicted presence language another almost got
caught flash death valley. myself already verge. pool; tragedy
flaw usually fuge upgrade among numbers numbers, fissures,
abjection identities liquid midnight, sound wood stork scabs
bites; cuts; nail parings subjectivity, consciousness
communication. travis loop chunnel dangers flooding. observed
act more liquids; skeins flood-plains > < woe desiccation
starvation;  rivers stories over century. world's record-setting
droughts enormous tornado information floodwall forthcoming
mississippi generally leads me @abort before get room,
ordinarily separates interior flotsam jetsam, debris sea selves:
who's speaking, manic tongue many times water shooting-space ::
violent milking millions killed. living bad areas against meadow
moraine! civilization thine arms legs, else {sleep(1); print
"\nfirst flooding\n";:if ($sign=fork) {print ourselves another**
negation shadowing eyes, ** news, antenna just "in case" names,
stuff; sound; apparent flood-reader simultneous texts, results
the lid of the grey sky, appearing sky, viscous fluid, coating,
flow, flux, flight, empty gone, gone

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