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Reveal Me
Röyksopp - Remind Me

Dear H5,

We absolutely love the music video you did for Röyksopp's single Remind Me. It's brilliant, to say the least. And to say that we've seen it on YouTube dozens of times and then many times more afterwards would not be an exaggeration.

We also love the commercial you guys made for the French energy conglomerate Areva. We're not huge fans of nuclear power plants, but watching how uranium mined in Canada ends up lighting a dance floor somewhere in China via maps, graphs, isometric projections, sectional cut-outs, flowcharts and systems diagrams — all to the groovy disco beats of Funkytown — really made us want to buy shares in the company.




Have you seen the parody that someone made of the ad, by the way? If not, you guys should really check it out. It's hilarious.

Un monde nucléaire

Un monde nucléaire

Funnily enough all three videos remind us of our childhood — those groggy Saturday mornings waiting to see if ABC might again broadcast Conjunction Junction or any of the number of Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons showing us how the various parts of our bodies work; and those halcyon after-school afternoons watching Mister Rogers tour a factory and learn how familiar items like crayons, stuffed animals, spoons, and zippers get mass produced in a sort of mesmerizing Fordist ballet.

But we're not writing this open letter to tell you guys all about our television staple when we were 28 8 years old, rather to find out — if and when Torbjørn and Svein commission another music video — if maybe you wouldn't mind animating the mindbogglingly complex, insanely fascinating, intellectually stimulating, utterly hypnotic process of municipal wastewater treatment.

About 20 seconds in Remind Me were devoted to it, but we think it deserves a longer treatment, if not a full cinematic homage to the diagram. Don't you agree?

No doubt you are quite familiar with what goes on, but for the unenlightened, here are the search results from Google Images for “wastewater treatment” and “sewage treatment”. Additionally, this Wikipedia entry gives a nice introduction, although some parts might be confusingly too detailed.

Wastewater Treatment Plant

Most people don't know much about what goes on at the treatment plant. For one thing, they are generally zoned out to the urban periphery. The more segregated they are from the populace, the better. The more they get unnoticed visually, aurally and olfactorily — again, the better. And yet sewers practically underpin modern civilization. Without them, it would be hard to imagine how megalopolises like New York City could have come into existence and then thrived. Their importance is such that people should sacrifice a virgin every year among the filtration towers, aeration tanks and Daphnias. Or to absolutely ensure that no empires and nations will crumble: two virgins.

Oh, sure, our readers will remind us that Chicago has a recycling facility located right next to the city's most popular tourist destination and in the shadow of Oprah Winfrey's palatial condo, but it's so unassuming, so pedestrian that it hardly draws much attention to itself. New Haven, Connecticut had the right idea when they asked Stephen Holl to design their facility. So many people wrote about it, most recently in Wired. Herbert Mushcamp wrote about it in the New York Times way back in 2001, calling it “poetically expressive”, but on Michael Van Valkenburgh, Holl's co-designer, he judged him to be “a splashy form maker but not a sophisticated thinker.” Ouch! Muschamp was probably right, but we've always wondered whether Nicolai Ouroussoff inherited his philistine indifference towards landscape architecture from his predecessor.

We're sure you don't give a fuck about Nicolai or his myopic architectural reportage, but we can't remember the last time people's shit (as a spatial concern) got this level of coverage. Ideally, the process alone should generate mass enthusiasm, but it seems celebrities need to be involved to stir interest. And even then that kind of attention is always fleeting.

Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant

And another thing, a lot of people have yet to fully grasp the often monumental task of channeling our shit from anywhere in the city all the way to these treatment plants, something that always boggles our mind. Sewers are understandably hidden. There's the issue of public health, for one, and there's also the matter of property values — Not In My Backyard, that sort of thing.

But apart from manhole covers and storm drains and maybe a bump in the road where a pipe got too close to the asphalt, there isn't a lot of surface evidence. They're everywhere, rhizomatically entrenched, and yet only when a main sewer line gets clogged and stinks up the neighborhood or when there's an outbreak of cholera or when some photogenic kid falls in and an entire nation becomes hysterical, engrossed by the endless media coverage of the heroic rescue, does this all-pervasive subterranean landscape momentarily reveal itself to us, and we wonder then where our shit actually ends up. But such contemplation should be performed on a daily basis.

So this is where you guys come in. An H5 music video (avant-doc?) will certainly get copious amount of airplay on MTV2, even if it's about sewage. Your style is eye-popping, though definitely not intellectually vacuous; it is so hyper-slick that it will inject some glamour to an otherwise unglamorous subject. Predictably, someone will upload it to YouTube, where millions will watch it. Many more will embed it on their blogs or use it to further disfigure their MySpace pages. Bored interns will e-mail it to everyone. It'll be the new viral video, ingeniously parodied endlessly by yet more bored interns. One such parody on the near nonexistent wastewater treatment of Mumbai will appear on VH1's Best Week Ever, E!'s The Soup, Bravo's Outrageous and Contagious Viral Videos, and several other pop cultural affairs programs.

And then joy upon joy, the appalling state of ignorance and popular apathy towards wastewater treatment is reversed.

So how about it? Let us know.


  • Eli Pousson
  • June 7, 2007 at 11:28:00 PM CDT
  • Did you ever see the Magic School bus book dedicated to water treatment? It is pretty rad if I recall.

  • Anonymous
  • June 8, 2007 at 8:42:00 AM CDT
  • Excellent video clip! I can't believe it! I play and play it rapidly.

  • Anonymous
  • June 8, 2007 at 10:54:00 AM CDT
  • do you work for urbanlab or is the inherent problem with the web>>>who is legit and who is a shill!

  • Alexander Trevi
  • June 8, 2007 at 12:57:00 PM CDT
  • Well, I'm always a shill for things I find interesting. But no, I don't work for UrbanLab. I like their Growing Water proposal. A lot. As for their other projects, I don't think I'll be writing about them anytime soon.

  • Dustin
  • June 8, 2007 at 3:51:00 PM CDT
  • Great post!

    I'm actually an Environmental Engineer that designs wastewater treatment plants and some collection the hidden beauty of these systems is not lost on me.

    My experience though is that that often the facilities are designed and constructed for the lowest price, and as such, it rare that a client gives you the freedom to create anything that isn't rectangular concrete and CMU block buildings.

    Really, w/ water you've got three separate, but pseudo-interconnected systems. You've got clean potable water which is in delivered in pressurized pipes closest to the surface. Next, you've got stormwater, which is challenging because when it pours and dealing w/ that massive amount creates the need for massive infrastructure. Last, is the shit water...which flows by gravity in pipes below all other pipes. This is because if the pipe leaks, which they all do, the wastewater can not flow upwards into the potable drinking water.

    A big bummer is that some idiots in the past, from about the 1930's to 1970's, combined the stormwater and wastewater systems which, when it rains leads to predictable events of overflows called CSO (combined sewer overflows). Currently the EPA is mandating that these overflows be addressed, which is causing all types of new interesting infrastructure, primarily massive deep underground tunnels to store runoff and then slowly pump to the treatment plant. I can go on and on but I'll stop now...

  • James Tenyenhuis
  • June 10, 2007 at 9:28:00 AM CDT
  • Hang on a moment. Let us not let flashy videos and cheap architecture gloss over and advocate a clearly environmentally damaging process. The shear size and complexity of this system should indicate to us a severe shortcoming/imbalance in what used to be a natural process.

    waste water? huh?

    Why do we use a huge amount of clean water to carry a small quantity of human excreta? This process is fundamentally corrupt. Thankfully, there is another way....

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