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What Antarctica Sounds Like

Posted December 21, 2010 @ 5:41pm | by TravelWild

What does urban hip hop have in common with the polar edges of the planet?  A guy named Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid, has been exploring the sounds of ice, of Drake’s Passage, of penguin colonies—as well as lots of other environments around the globe.  I (re)discovered DJ Spooky via a link about Sinfonia Antarctica, a multimedia symphony that he created following a trip he took to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007-2008.

Sinfonia Antarctica transforms Miller’s first person encounter with the harsh, dynamic landscape of Antarctica into multimedia portraits with music composed from the different geographies that make up the land mass. It’s about the environment, sound, hip hop, electronic music and what it means to be a composer in the 21st century. — Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica

I’m crazy for the idea that Antarctica draws modern artists—writers, musicians, filmmakers.  People who experience these last places through something less defined than science.  There’s a whole body of work created in and about Antarctica  that exists outside the construct of documentation.  In fact, there’s a whole series of Artist in Residence programs for Antarctica that specifically encourages the creation of art about or inspired by the continent.

Don’t mistake this for trivializing the work of science at all.  In fact, one of the things I liked so much about DJ Spooky’s Antarctica work was the scientific references incorporated into his final production.  I like the utterly unexpected combination of formal symphonic sounds with archival images of explorers and geographic references.  And I like that this urban New Yorker was affected so deeply by his experience in Antarctica that he composed a symphony about it.

Apparently, DJ Spooky was so taken with the bottom of the globe that he decided to find out what was happening at the top end, too, and joined the Cape Farewell expedition to Spitsbergen (another TravelWild destination)

5 marine scientists and 10 artists from around the world – writers, musicians, visual artists, directors and architects – will sail from Longyearbyen around the north-east coast of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian arctic to encounter the magnificence of this extreme and threatened environment and engage with the scientific research being conducted on board. — Cape Farewell IX

DJ Spooky’s blog posts from that expedition are archived here and they make for interesting reading, but I’m standing by to find out what he does with the sounds he gathered while he was up around the northern edges of the globe.  While I wait for that work to appear, I’m grateful that rediscovering Sinfonia Antarctica has made me think about collecting sound as a souvenir.  It has opened my ears to another way of experiencing Antarctica.

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