The sounds of Antarctica
Sound artist and RMIT University academic Dr Philip Samartzis travelled to Antarctica as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow in 2009–10 to record sounds that describe the impact of extreme climate and weather events on the human condition.
Photo: James Smith
During my arts fellowship I spent one month on the Aurora Australis enduring a topsy-turvy voyage across the Southern Ocean whilst we travelled to Davis station, and later to the formidable Macquarie Island. At Davis I spent six weeks making sound recordings in and around the station and further afield at some of the outlying huts in the desolate yet beautiful Vestfold and Larsemann Hills.
The aim of my project is to represent the complexities of our incursion into Antarctica by bringing together all the elements that inform and shape human experience on the continent. To achieve this I focused on everyday events around station, including the sounds of general infrastructure and transport, along with the various technologies used to facilitate research, construction and maintenance projects. I also surreptitiously employed an assortment of microphones hidden in various nooks and crannies to capture the general hubbub of station life.
To contextualize the sounds of human enterprise I undertook a rigorous study of the natural environment, making various recordings of the freezing wind howling off the Antarctic Plateau, whilst icebergs, brash ice and frozen lakes provided an endless source of amazing sound. I was particularly enamored with the assorted grunts, snorts and wheezing emanating from the wallows of southern elephant seals surrounding Davis. These recordings later proved to be a hit with children and adults from all walks of life.
Photo: Philip Samartzis
Since returning to Australia in April 2010 I have presented my fieldwork in festivals in Hanover, Germany, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. In October I travelled to Cape Town to present a sound installation at the IZIKO South African National Gallery. I also conducted workshops for the visually impaired that provided them with a detailed aural experience of Antarctica.
I thank everyone at the Australian Antarctic Division, Davis, Macquarie Island and aboard the Aurora Australis, along with fellow artists and researchers, for the generous support and interest that was provided to me during the fellowship. I certainly could not have achieved all that I did without them and for that I will be forever grateful.
School of Art, RMIT University
To find out more about Philip’s work visit www.microphonics.org