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Archive of the Cheryl Leonard Recording in Antarctica Category

Antarctica Bound, part 9

Shipping out

Points North, San Francisco 2/16/09

My month on the ice was up and now it was time to board the research icebreaker, the L.M. Gould, once again and begin the long journey home. While I was busy at Palmer Station, the Gould and her scientists and crew had been traveling around the Antarctic Peninsula collecting data on seawater, zooplankton, penguins, and more for the Long Term Ecological Research Network. (You can read about the Palmer LTER cruise and their research projects here. more

Antarctica Bound, part 8

Cheryl Leonard in Zodiac boatLast Adventures at Palmer
Punta Arenas, Chile 2/7/09

My final days at Palmer Station were jam-packed. By day, fellow grantee and art-boat co-captain Oona and I crammed in as many Zodiac excursions as possible. In the evenings when Oona was in for the night, I started going out on rec (recreational) boat trips with anyone else from the station who was game for a little post-dinner sally. I was determined to experience and accomplish all I could before leaving Antarctica. more

Antarctica Bound, part 7

Expect the Unexpected

Palmer Station, Antarctica 1/31/09
Palmer Station
I have only a few more days left at Palmer Station and I am packing as much work and adventure as is humanly possible into my last 72 hours here. So far, during my month in Antarctica, I’ve managed to record most of the sounds I thought I wanted to capture here, plus a lot more I had no idea I would encounter. These musical surprises are one of the best things about being here.

Each day I set out with a plan: a list in my head of experiments I want to try, sounds that I am missing, locations I would like to explore. Often I never reach my original destination. Instead, my senses are hijacked by unforeseen wonders: a fur seal by the boat landing, color patterns on the rocks under my feet, the frenetic grace of an Antarctic tern — the list goes on and on. These derailments occur daily. Sometimes they take the form of a completely different subject matter that just happens along. In other situations a recording technique or sound I thought would be interesting yields nothing useful, but the situation offers up some other intriguing sound instead. Over the past month I have come to appreciate that these instances are not distractions from my work; they are my work.

Yesterday it was stormy, and wind and wet were keeping me indoors. Eventually I started feeling cooped up and decided to venture out to the glacier with my hydrophones to record some of the surface streams that drain the melting ice. I had barely passed the last building however, when I became entranced with the sound of the wind whistling through the cables holding up one of Palmer’s communications towers. I found a sheltered nook in the chaotic rocky contours of “The Backyard? and set up to record the ebb and flow of the wind. Meanwhile the glacier began calving behind me and a lovely ominous duet ensued. Listening to this filled the rest of my afternoon. I didn’t make it to the glacier at all that day, and that was just fine.

Today Oona and I, along with two members of Palmer’s GSAR (Glacier Search and Rescue) team journeyed up onto the glacier to explore the inside of a crevasse. We had tried this once previously, but it was so warm that day that the crack was full of dripping icicles. Not only did I feel like I was trying to record in a shower, but one of my cable connections got soaked and the phantom power to my mic shorted out. Fortunately my gear was uninjured and here we were trying again and hoping to find a wider, drier crevasse to enter.
Inside the Ice
On this foray I was most looking forward to placing my hydrophones in the walls of the crevasse in the hopes of picking up some internal glacier sounds. Suspended in a climbing harness I lowered into the vivid blue world and carved out a couple of holes in a giant curtain of ice. I set the hydrophones inside, eagerly turned on the power, and I got… quiet static and background hiss. After considerable poking and resetting of the mics I realized there were no internal glacier sounds happening, and even if some sounds had been happening, the mics weren’t picking up much because they kept sliding out and just didn’t have a good contact against the ice. So much for that experiment. It didn’t work at all, and now I was cold and water was running down inside my Gore-tex pants. Luckily, my friends up top began knocking down ice and snow as they cleaned the edge of the crevasse so that Oona could be lowered. This swishing, clanging, xylophone-gone-mad sound that things made as they fell, bouncing off icicles on their way into the depths of the glacier, was wonderful and more than made up for my failure with the hydrophones. Click here to hear what it sounded like.

Finally, some sounds just aren’t what I’d expect, but are still fascinating. The other evening a giant (by Palmer standards) iceberg mysteriously appeared out behind Torgersen Island. After dinner three of us excitedly boated out to it. On one side the iceberg fanned out just under the surface of the water for quite a ways and I could hear big, bassy, slurpy, sloshing noises coming from there. Thinking I would pick up a mutated, filtered version of these sounds underwater I set my hydrophones out next to the iceberg. What I heard was not at all what I had anticipated — it was a busy, dense, complex texture, but I liked it all the more because it was not what I had imagined.
An Iceberg appears

Visit Cheryl’s personal blog here.

Antarctica Bound, part 6

Recording Ice

Palmer Station, Antarctica 1/26/09


Three kinds of ice.
Ice is one of the defining aspects of Antarctica and it is one of the 
materials I was most looking forward to working with when I first 
dreamed of traveling to Palmer Station. Many different kinds of ice 
form in Antarctica: icebergs, ice shelves, ice caps, glaciers, sea 
ice in all it’s various forms, and even a few frozen lakes. However, 
because it is the middle of summer right now in the Southern 
Hemisphere, the vast majority of ice we see here on the west side of 
the Antarctic Peninsula originates from alpine glaciers. more

Antarctica Bound, part 5

The Perils of Antarctic Recording, Palmer Station

Antarctica 1/19/08

Last week I wrote about the dangers my equipment faces here on the Antarctic Peninsula. Now I’d like to share with you some of the perils that I, as a fragile, corporeal human, face while trying to capture the sounds of the natural world around Palmer Station. more

Antarctica Bound, part 4

Palmer Station, Antarctica 1/11/08

After one week here at Palmer Station, I am starting to get a feel for how to work with Antarctica, instead of fighting against the challenges this extreme environment presents. We arrived last Sunday in the midst of a streak of sunny, friendly days that lulled me into thinking recording here would not actually be as difficult as I had imagined. As I unpacked my luggage and placed my backup equipment on the top shelves of my workspace in the science lab, it seemed likely that these items would stay there, untouched, until it was time to pack up and head home. By the middle of the week, after the weather morphed into a series of cold, wet, windy storms, I was wondering if my main equipment was going to get a chance to see the light of day. more

Antarctica Bound, part 3

Palmer Station, Antarctica 1/4/08

My first view of Antarctica!
Even though I am now sitting at a desk inside a structure built on granite, the world is still swaying and tilting like it has been for the last 4 ½ days on board the ship. Here at Palmer Station the locals call this affliction “dock rock? and I am finding it very disorienting. My instinct is still to plot my movements from one railing to the next, to steady myself against large solid objects and to make sure to safely wedge delicate items (such as microphones, cameras, and my laptop) inside locking cabinets. more

Antarctica Bound, part 2

This is the second post from composer/performer/instrument builder Cheryl Leonard as she makes her way to Antarctica for a month of recording, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.
Antarctica Bound, part 2
By Cheryl Leonard
Punta Arenas, Chile 12/29/08
Chile from the air
Finally got power for my computer and an Internet connection. Yay! We are supposed to leave on the ship tonight, but the port is closed at the moment due to wind so perhaps we will be delayed. If all goes well on the crossing my next blog entry should be from Antarctica.

After about 24 hours of grueling plane travel, my luggage and I have arrived safely in Punta Arenas, Chile. What a relief, I am finally on my way to Antarctica! more

Antarctica Bound

Antarctica Bound
By Cheryl Leonard
Cheryl LeonardCheryl Leonard
[For the next few weeks, we are featuring reports by a guest blogger, composer/performer Cheryl Leonard. Armed with a specially chosen kit of field recording gear, she is about to embark on a musical adventure to the icy continent. Ms Leonard will regularly post information about what it takes to record, edit, and compose in extreme temperature conditions. To read more about her adventures, you can visit her personal blog.]

In just a few days I am going to Antarctica, not to study the decaying ice sheets, or gawk at penguins from a cruise ship, but to make music. Each year the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program grants a handful of artists the opportunity to travel to the bottom of the world and make art about this remote place and the science that is happening there. My project is to create a series of musical compositions based on the forces that shape environments and ecosystems in Antarctica, using only sounds from the natural world. more

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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