In the winter (Austral summer) of 2003/4 I embarked on an ambitious musical project in Antarctica, having been awarded a joint fellowship from Arts Council England and the British Antarctic Survey's Artists and Writers Programme. The purpose of my visit was to compile a unique library of field recordings from the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions, which would become the sound source for music composition.
The focus of my many field recordings was to capture and reflect the relationship between the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the continent it embraces, and the life and populations of the area surrounding the Weddell Sea. Under these headings, the natural sounds (wind, sea, weather and wildlife), the human sounds (scientists living and working, boat captains, ‘talking heads’ interviews and conversation), the mechanical sounds (machinery, generators, boats, scientific experiments, travel, entertainment), and the phenomenological sounds (whistling rigging, clanking objects, crunching ice floes, musical accidents) were of equal significance.
I journeyed to far and desolate lands, recorded colonies of penguins and seals, flew to isolated huts deep in the Antarctic Peninsula, and smashed through pack ice aboard an ice strengthened ship. I experienced the euphoric highs and the mind-crushing lows of solitude, the overwhelming presence of all who had come and gone, together with the realisation that I was, as a human and an artist, a mere speck on this planet.
The main artistic product of my three-month journey is Antarctica, a large-scale surround-sound electroacoustic composition, created from this sound library compiled during my residency. Selected sounds were layered, stacked, collaged and combined to form a rich and complex theatre of sound.
Antarctica is presented here on DVD and features:
⋅ Dolby Digital 5.1 / Stereo / Director’s commentary
⋅ Multi-angle visuals
⋅ 88 page book containing unique Antarctic images, the composer’s Guardian Diaries, detailed descriptions of the composition and recordings, plus transcriptions of the voices used in the composition’s ‘Vocal Quartets’
⋅ Five Antarctic Solitudes: new short films created from archive Antarctic film footage
⋅ The composer’s video journal
⋅ CD containing Antarctic field recordings
"A complex musical web, sometimes like a film soundtrack, sometimes a radio play, sometimes a nature documentary - a voyage of discovery and excitement through one of the last remaining natural places on the planet." TONY MYATT
From WFAE Soundscape Journal:
Vear offers listeners a wealth of creative responses to this place. The centerpiece of the package is a 26-minute composition, titled simply “Antarctica.” The piece weaves sonic elements gathered on the journey, including the sounds of travel, wind, and animals, along with the voices of four different people reflecting on their times in Antarctica. The voices, presented in several “vocal quartet” sections, are sometimes distinct, sometimes layered, sometimes distant emanations of the land itself, and offer rhythmic and melodic elements that are central to the piece, as well as a grounding place amidst the utterly baffling sounds of many of the animals whose voices become part of the mix. Adding to the sense of exploration and discovery that permeate the piece are the three choices presented on the DVD to accompany the composition: a slide show of photographs from the trip (which bear no obvious relation to the unfolding soundscape), a slowly changing wash of colors, or no visuals at all. The piece is presented in both stereo and 5.1 versions, and a “director’s commentary” offers Vear’s annotations about the sounds used in the composition, and his compositional process.
The DVD also offers five shorter pieces, titled Antarctic Solitudes. These feature archival video, often slowed down, and generally fascinating, with soundtracks that are more electroacoustic and abstract, also composed largely from recordings made on the trip. In addition, Vear presents an earlier audio work, “The History of Icelandic Music,” that uses similar compositional techniques (the blending of found sound and human voices) to those used for “Antarctica.” Finally, the DVD includes a eight-minute “Video Journal” that gives a taste of Vear’s travels, by boat, plane, and foot.
The audio CD features extended tracks of source recordings that are in some ways the most compelling part of the package. These rich soundscapes are beautiful, very strange, and quite immersive. Vear carries our ears perhaps even further out than Quin did on the Antarctica CD he produced for Wild Sanctuary, which is no mean feat. Penguin and seal colonies create a holy racket that is very different than the animal choruses we are used to in temperate zones, while three extended water-oriented tracks create their own immersions in soundscapes most of us will never hear, and likely never imagine. The colony recordings seem to set us amidst uproarious activity, while the water pieces are all about motion in and through water and ice.
The book that accompanies the discs (one of which slides into each cover) is just a bit larger than a normal CD booklet, and at 88 pages, is a substantial document in its own right. Photos bring the trip alive visually, while Vear’s journals provide a sense of the long days of travel (his expedition sailed a huge triangle to islands off the southern Argentinean coast before heading south to Antarctica), the mind-boggling expanses of rock, ice, and penguins, and a magical few days on his own in a remote hut built by early British surveyors. Several pages are devoted to transcriptions of the five recorded recollections used in the piece, presented in parallel to each other on the page, as they are similarly presented in the composition.
The three elements of this publication are wonderfully complementary, each informing the others in new ways as the listener explores them repeatedly over time, with very little repetition or overlap between the book, CD, and DVD. It all adds up to an extremely coherent artistic presentation, and is most highly recommended.