AMN Reviews: Cheryl Leonard – Antarctica: Music from the Ice (2022; Other Minds)

In 2009, sound artist Cheryl Leonard spent time at the Palmer Research Station in Antarctica. There, she made field recordings of naturally occurring sounds and gathered rocks, shells, kelp, and penguin bones for use as wind and percussion instruments. She later developed a notational system for composing and improvising with this material, and the result is Antarctica: Music from the Ice.

Spanning eight tracks each performed by one to four individuals, the album is a textural and haunting amalgam of rumbling environmental noises accompanied by striking, scraping, and rubbing. Static-laden drones in both the background and foreground serve as a base for more pointed and specific structures, including falling water, melting ice, and various manipulations of her invented musical implements (e.g., scratches, clicks, pops, dings, and clangs). Short melodic fragments are present but rarely last for long, though an exception is Meltwater which employs evolving patterns of percussion over its nearly 20-minute duration.

While it can be difficult at times to differentiate the human-made sounds from those of the field recordings, the combination of these elements suggests how intertwined we are with our environment. Leonard made note of Antarctica’s shifting climate on her visit, and these recordings can be thought of as representations of human influence on our larger ecosystems.

Antarctica: Music from the Ice will be released July 8 by Other Minds.

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