Max Denney / Yiseul LeMieux / Ben Rempel / Sarah Zahorodni

The Rivers We Live By

How do we collaborate effectively across distances? How do we create meaningful work in these “separate,” settings? How do we bring our environments and places into a collaboration when our co-conspirators can’t fully experience them?

Early on, we talked about connecting to place - our own places, which we’ve known in new ways this past year, as well as trying to connect with each other’s places from a distance. We realized that we all live near rivers: the Charles, Hudson, Iowa, and Los Angeles Rivers. On the same morning (July 13, 2021), we each spent an hour by the river, documenting the experience through pictures, videos, field recordings, and text. Using these documents as our jumping off points, we each created a short piece, which we then passed in a circle, a la Exquisite Corpse, until we had four layered works, each one an interweaving of all four rivers and people. Yiseul created videos for each, blending the collected images and film with the final audio.

Click on the river names to view pieces from our documentation.



Person with hat fishing
Runner with headphones, doing curl ups
Water coming in on a diagonal, can hear it under me
Bird overhead to my right
Cars behind me, traffic, no singled out sound, just a general sound
Car engine louder than the rest
Orange car
A bus that looks like a bug
Engine on the left bridge
Cars across the way, in Cambridge, going left and right
Bird behind me
Bird to the right, more song-like
Person in red shirt running
Person running with hat

Windy, overcast
Two red Adirondack chairs, they are chained to the dock
Construction, boats, people walking across the bridge
Two bottle tabs
Bird, flying, then gliding, going against the wind
Green park to the right, green behind me
Wooden boards, soggy from rain
Curl of feather
Vapor from tower
People talking to each other while walking
Stick on the surface
Dog collar jingling
Fisher: hat, orange neon gloves, flip flops, chair, red cooler, fishing pole with lure, bicycle with basket, two fishing poles, caught a fish, put in orange net
Neon pink shorts
Orange feet of ducks
Seagull above

Ten ducks
Six geese
Two busses, one blue, one yellow/white
Jingle of keys
Feather on water
School bus
Some trash in the water
Peaks of ripples
Sun above to the right, still behind clouds




I used to come down here most days last year. I was having a terrible time sleeping, so I would get up at 5 or 6am most days, make coffee, grab my recorder, and then walk around along the river listening for anything interesting. Mostly birds.

There are so many birds on either side of this little strip, but I can’t see anything.

There are finally some cicadas. It feels like they’re a little late… but I haven’t lived here long enough to know that.

This deer is just not afraid of me. It’s just walking on by.

I should walk closer to the dam. I think you can hear some dogs in the dog park, and I don’t know that I want that.

I think it’s starting to rain.

It’s definitely raining.

You can hear the road more the dam somehow?

I wonder how different this sounds in the rain compared to my yard?

You can’t hear the birds or the bugs anymore.

This is some serious rain.


los angeles

water flowing
(even in summer, where does it come from?)
sound of water over rocks
brownish water, lots of bubbles
swirling, meandering patterns
overflowing the main channel, onto the concrete
supposedly the bottom is dirt here, which is why it’s green
lots of different plants I can’t name
powerlines, roads, bridges, bike path, fences, light poles,
big clouds, and they’re pretty dark in the distance
cars are the dominant sound
I know the 5 freeway is across the river, behind a wall of bushes
it’s a constant background hum, pretty loud here
upsteam is Los Feliz Blvd where I hear each individual car more loudly
it’s very loud here, the more I listen

a bird goes ~chirp~chirp~chirp~chirp~chirp~chirp~chirp~chirp
about 8 quick chirps in a sequence, then a short pause
sometimes speeding up at the end
another bird: twee-o twee-o
another one is very squeeky, scooping up then down
swallows fly erratically, chasing bugs
ants crawl all over the concrete, and some on me
the concrete is an interesting texture
embedded stones of varying colors, tiny and large
I’m going to move upriver towards the bridge, where it’s flatter and I see more birds

I think I heard that this time of year
the water is all irrigation runoff
does that mean it's water from Payahuunadü / Owens Valley?
stolen and transported hundreds of miles in aqueducts

above image taken from Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis. Saw this at a friend's house the day before this river outing. Reshaping "the county’s natural hydrology into a monolithic system of concrete storm sewers.”

I'm thinking about Charles Sepulveda's paper about a similar river, the Santa Ana. We settlers entombed the rivers in concrete rather than learn from the Tongva people to live in relationship with the rivers and their natural flooding.

Sepulveda offers a theorization of Kuuyam, "a Tongva understanding of non-natives as potential guests of the tribal people, and more importantly - of the land itself." Kuuyam "disrupts the view of the land and people as domesticable and instead understands place to be sacred and as having life beyond human interests."

the river is wide and flat and very shallow here
I like the patterns it makes as it flows
big white bird in a tree. Egret?
bigger shaggy gray bird on a rock. Heron?
he blends in with the water and concrete behind him
(he/she/they. trying not to use “it”)
I want to learn my birds and plants
dozens of sandpipers standing or running
black back, white bellies, orange legs
they make repetitive squaks, combining into a polyphony of different tempos
the egret flew and disrupted some pidgeons on the other bank
there’s another egret in a farther, taller tree
chubby brown ducks are also here in the water, feeding off the bottom
wonder what they’re finding down there?
large oak trees behind me have shaded me all morning