Ice Songs

Many people associate Antarctica with silence, and the absence of sound. Nevertheless, there have been many musicians who have created work inspired by – or in response to – the white continent. Below is a selection that ranges from the classical to the downright unexpected…

Sinfonia Antartica: This is possibly the most famous piece of “Antarctic” music. Ralph Vaughan Williams initially wrote this piece as the soundtrack for the 1947 film Scott of the Antarctic, before expanding it into a symphony with 5 parts.  The score is for percussion, woodwind, brass, strings, keyboard and voice – here’s the epilogue.

DJ Spooky’s ‘Sinfonia Antarctica’: Sinfonia Antarctica shares a name with Vaughn Williams’ famous score, but makes use of much more modern technology throughout the performance, using DJ tools to layer the sounds. It  acts as “an acoustic portrait of a rapidly transforming continent made of ice and condensation.” Different suites describe different parts of Antarctica: desert plains, and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. Artist DJ Spooky (aka Paul Miller) collected “found sounds” whilst in Antarctica, then used these as the basis to create a richly layered work that draws on climate data and the sounds of ice itself.

Nunatak: Music is not only made ABOUT Antarctica – it is also made IN Antarctica. In 2007 Nunatak became the first band to perform in Antarctica. The five person indie rock band is part of a science team investigating climate change and evolutionary biology on the Antarctic Peninsula. They are the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) house band, based at Rothera Research Station. Antarctica bands are common, and the biggest festival on the continent is held at McMurdo every summer, and known as Icestock. Nunatak never made it there, but their music has made it onto the internet, where it can reach far and wide across the world:


Vangelis: Most people never go to Antarctica, so their version of the place is shaped by films and stories. Vangelis has a hand to play here, too: the Greek band composed the 1983 soundtrack to the Japanese film Antarctica, based on the ill-fated Japanese Antarctic Expedition of 1958. The film was remade by Disney in 2006 as ‘Eight Below

So, there you have it – Antarctica is not just a wide expanse of silent ice. (The ice has its own sounds too, but we’ll come to them at a later date). Perhaps you’ll be inspired to go away and write your own notes in response?

What do you think?

Our Correspondent
Cult Antarctica correspondent
Hanne -

Antarctica is a place for peace and science that has a habit of stealing peoples’ hearts and imaginations, and I am a case in point. I research representations of Antarctica in cultural production, and work as a polar guide and lecturer during ...

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About Antarctica
About this place

Although it is technically a continent as opposed to a country, Antarctica is represented on Cult because it reveals a unique and fascinating side of human civilisation and our existence on planet Earth.

Antarctica has no permanent population and no government. The Antarctic Treaty, signed by 50 nations, reserves Antarctica for scientific research and bans military activity. The continent is normally inhabited by around 5,000 scientists and suport staff, who live there temporarily. There is no capital city, but the largest settlement is based at McMurdo Station - about 1,000 people.

Normal ideas of time don't apply on Antarctica: it is where all of the world's timezones converge, so people there can choose whichever timezone is most convenient. In winter it is constantly dark, and in summer it is constantly light. In many ways it's a frontier of our shared civilisation on Earth, but like much of the world, it's often easy to forget it's there.