Reflecting on the sounds of downtown

“Surface Reflections” offers a moment of serenity, and serves as a reminder to respect our waterways.

A reflection of the Big Blue Building + Lexington Marriott in the windows of City Center windows

We’re reflecting on how great our city is. | Photo by Geoffrey B.

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Have you ever strolled down Main Street, expecting the buzz of downtown, only to be greeted with the zen sounds of running water? No, that’s not your ears playing tricks on you — it’s “Surface Reflections,” which comes to us from artist Bill Fontana, known for projecting carefully curated soundscapes in cities all over the world.

Dr. Megan Murph, a UK grad + current Director of Budds Center for American Music Studies at the University of Missouri, came across the installation while she was leading “sound walks” through downtown — a walking tour she previously hosted that explored how sounds integrated with Lexington’s history.

After these walks, Dr. Murph and attendees would discuss the sounds they heard and how they “connect us to Lexington... like, what are the sonic meanings that we’re piecing together here?”

We spoke with Dr. Murph about the installation, its history, and how it represents Lexington.

A photo of a walkway between two large buildings.

You can hear the sounds of two of our waterways in between the Big Blue Building and the parking garage on West Main Street. | Photo by LEXtoday

What is Surface Reflections?

So, what exactly is that running water you can hear echoing through our downtown corridors?

Fontana’s research about Lexington’s waterways led him to McConnell Springs and Town Branch Creek, where Lexington was originally founded. From there, he used hydrophones — aka underwater microphones — to record and mix live + pre-recorded sounds of the two waterways together.

Those sounds were uploaded to an iPod (so vintage) where they continue to reverberate through downtown and provide commuters with a tiny moment of tranquility.

A sign explaining the history and background of the "Surface Reflections" installation.

LexArts and Live Green Lexington received a grant from EcoART to create a piece that educates the public about our waterways. | Photo courtesy of Dr. Megan Murph

The why

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) + the Commonwealth of Kentucky sued Lexington in 2006 for violating the Clean Water Act. This led to a settlement called a Consent Decree — requiring the city to repair and better maintain our sanitary and storm sewer systems by 2026.

Following the lawsuit, LexArts and Live Green Lexington came together + received “funding to commission artworks that were supposed to educate the public about these water issues,” Dr. Murph’s research found.