Sound artist and RMIT University academic Dr Philip Samartzis travelled to Antarctica in the 2009/10 season and again in 2015/16. He has performed and exhibited widely in Australia and overseas.

While in Antarctica in 2009/10, Dr Samartzis’ objective was to explore the impacts of extreme environmental conditions on people and the way they adapt to those conditions. He made field recordings of sounds during his trip, travelling on the Aurora Australis to Davis station, where he spent six weeks before returning via Macquarie Island. These recordings were used to develop a series of audio pieces for galleries, performances and festivals.

Dr Samartzis was awarded a second Arts Fellowship in 2015 and travelled to Casey station to explore the interaction of katabatic wind with the built and natural environments.

He presented some of his field work from 2009/10 in Paris in June 2011 at the Parisonic Festival and presented ‘Crush Grind’ at the Antarctic Creative Arts Conference at the Australian National University. ABC Classic FM featured a story on 'Crush Grind' recorded during Hobart's MONA FOMA festival in January. Dr Samartzis also participated in an Artist in Residence program at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology at the University of Arts – Zurich in July 2011. He composed a new work from his field recordings of the Aurora Australis.

In 2014, he received a new radio commission from France Culture in association with the INA-GRM in Paris, and the ABC Radio National’s Audio Arts Unit in Melbourne. The composition titled Antarctica, An Absent Presence was commissioned for radio broadcast and podcast.

Of his most recent Fellowship, Dr Samartzis says his project emerges out of an admiration of the innovative photography of Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley who, by combining subject, composition and climate, conveyed a deeply mysterious and alien place.

“I am particularly intrigued by Hurley’s depictions of life on the ice through two iconic photographs, The Blizzard and Leaning on the Wind, both taken in 1912. The photographs convey the ferocity and atmospheric effects of the conditions using a mix of techniques, including staged scenes and composite printing, to viscerally express something almost impossible to articulate through conventional documentary photography. Inspired by these evocative depictions of abstract landscapes shaped by volatile conditions, I wondered how I could produce an equivalent account using sound recording techniques to render an embodied experience of extreme climate," Dr Samartzis said.

The sound recordings will inform a new series of compositions for exhibition and performance designed to generate tactile and immersive experiences of the sonic ecology of extreme weather events. In development is a new concert work for Melbourne-based ensemble Speak Percussion, combining multi-channel sound recordings with acoustic instrumentation, including specially designed ice instruments and wind machines. Through the convergence of sight, sound and space, expressed within the mutable framework of sound art and experimental performance, vivid and dramatic impressions of nature in extremis will be achieved.