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?