New app lets you listen to the Race Street Pier

The "Animina" iPhone app guides listeners on an aural journey past FringeArts' headquarters at Columbus Boulevard and Race Street.
The "Animina" iPhone app guides listeners on an aural journey past FringeArts' headquarters at Columbus Boulevard and Race Street. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2013

The Race Street Pier, alongside the Benjamin Franklin Bridge off North Columbus Boulevard, extends into the Delaware River like a woman's slender hand slipping into an elegant opera glove.

By day, the pier's landscaped, dual levels of metal, reclaimed plastic, and wood hover beautifully over the waters of the Delaware. By night, lit by more than 200 LED solar light blocks embedded into its paving, the pier is positively haunting.

With the new FringeArts building across the boulevard, there couldn't be a more dramatic setting for the wistfully cinematic soundscape that Philadelphia musician Michael Kiley has created for the pier, a popular spot for picnics, weddings, and live concerts since it opened in 2011.

"That pier gig was one of the best shows I've played - a very cool venue, especially at night with the moon hitting the water," Philly rapper Chill Moody said of the September finale of the pier's "Live and Local" series.

"I hope projects like ours and FringeArts help bring people out and motivate Philly to improve the rest of the waterfront," Kiley said.

Kiley's ambient, lyrical sound installation, Animina - recorded with his band, the Mural and the Mint, and Philly producer Brian McTear -  is the second tech-enhanced composition he's composed for a Philadelphia site. His first, The Empty Air, set in Rittenhouse Square, was timed to coincide with last spring's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

Animina's iPhone app uses GPS tracking technology to guide listeners on an aural journey - unique to each user - beginning at Second and Race Streets, past FringeArts' headquarters, across Columbus Boulevard to the end of the pier and back. It was developed with a local web design firm, P'unk Avenue, and can be downloaded from iTunes for 99 cents.

"I started thinking about that pier as a location for a piece when I first dreamt up the idea of an app that determined what you heard depending on your location," Kiley said.

He began making recordings along the pier in 2011 - sounds of trucks and traffic, train whistles along the El, the river lapping against the pier - and eventually wove them into the fabric of Animina.

"Manipulating an El whistle sample really informed the vibe of this spooky, yet contemplative piece," he said.

Onto this ruminative ambience, Kiley and his band crafted an acoustic-electro soundtrack with lyrics acting as a soft-spoken mantra.

"Depending on how you move, things might change rapidly, or just repeat the same thing for quite a while," Kiley said. "A lyric that might only be heard once gets looped repeatedly. The technology remixes the material. Sound will play as long as you stand there. How long the piece is - that's up to you."

Kiley is no stranger to installation work. He presented 2010's As the Eyes of the Seahorse at New York's HERE Arts Center in collaboration with the dance company of his wife, dancer/choreographer Nichole Canuso. In 2011, he composed Roots and Dreamscapes, an eight-channel installation at Kensington's Emerald Street Urban Farm.

Animina takes his soundwork further than usual in that it is a "musical palindrome" that can be heard to equal effect at journey's beginning as at its end. (The lyrics "In front of you/at the end of the road/is someone you once lost long ago" will be heard as "Is someone you once lost long ago/in front of you/ at the end of the road?" in the opposite direction.)

"I fell in love with how information thinned out as you moved from the city, across the boulevard, and out over the water," Kiley said. "The phrases in Old City are shorter and contain more ideas. As you move toward water, things start to open up. It's more meditative, expansive. That's what we should want from our waterfront: an escape from the barrage of information we love to absorb, and a space to process it all."

FringeArts honcho Nick Stuccio couldn't agree more. When he began looking for a permanent headquarters with a year-round performance space and bar/restaurant for his annual avant-arts festival, Stuccio had criteria that the former Fire Department pumping station at Race and Columbus met perfectly.

"We needed a building with clear, spanned space," meaning no columns, he said, "height for everything theatrical, zoning for a liquor license, outdoor room for dining and drinking, and a good location that Old City and the waterfront offered us - Philly's last frontier in terms of development."

Knowing that development was imminent, from the Race Street Pier to the ultimate warm-weather hipster hang-out, Morgan's Pier just north of the bridge - made the 1902 onetime pump house a must for Stuccio.

Two weeks ago, he flipped on the lights for a soft opening, delaying hoopla until the restaurant is finished and the whole place opens grandly next spring. That night, it was a friends-and-family event featuring the work of Lucinda Childs, the legendary avant-garde choreographer whose next project will appear at the 2014 Fringe Festival.

Stuccio not only found his FringeArts space to be successful, but said that twinkling stars and lights shining from the pier added an alluring theatricality to the night. FringeArts will use the pier for events as it did during this year's fest, Stuccio said, because he regards it as a continuation of his newly opened property.

"I see Race Street Pier as extension of our foyer, an additional outdoor space for us, as well as someplace romantic to be," he said. "I can totally see people making out with their dates when they leave our door and look across the street into the water."

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