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Under Erebus exhibition at Our City O-Tautahi

11 September 2007

Sounds like Antarctica

Imagine a vast canvas of silence painted with sound bytes. Take the pristine wind-dominated sonic landscape of the Antarctica as the canvas and paint in the snorts and bellows of a seal, the squabble of a penguin rookery and of mukluks trudging on snow. And the sound bytes of human  intrusion.
Surreal? Very. Electroacoustic artist, Dr Chris Cree Brown says the tranquillity in Antarctica can be unfamiliar and, as a consequence, marginally disturbing, “especially when exacerbated by the absence of ambient sound”.
And if one can displace the near-constant whine (or howl, if it is up) of the wind, the sonic landscape is largely pips and squeaks of the fauna, the alien hum of human intrusion and some over-loud renditions of one’s body sounds.
The tranquillity can also be variously disturbed by ice cracking, breaking and rumbling on the Erebus ice tongue, tapping ice crystals, ice crystals shattering, and the various types of wind (polar, Antarctic white out, katabatic) whistling over the continent.
That is the sonic ecology of the harsh continent, as experienced, Dr Cree Brown, composer, lecturer and sonic artist who says no other place on Earth can offer such a heightened sense of sound as that of Antarctica.
Dr Cree Brown’s Under Erebus  composition is presently playing at Our City O-Tautahi in conjunction with the Antartica The Big Ice - Exploration.Science.Inspiration exhibition.
In November 1999 Chris Cree Brown travelled to Antarctica as part of the Antarctica New Zealand’s Artists in Antarctica programme.
While on the ice, he recorded various sounds, many of which are included in the piece Under Erebus which plays in the exhibition’s Artists’ gallery at Our City O-Tautahi.
 “I would dump these recordings into my computer, and use these sounds as source material for an electro-acoustic composition. 
“My goal would be to create an expressive work of sonic art that would reflect my personal interpretation of the environment of Antarctica and my experiences in Antarctica,” he says.
The massive, majestic icescapes and graceful, sweeping glaciers evoke a music that embodies grand, slow moving, dense and interweaving textures, he adds.
For Dr Cree Brown, Under Erebus is an attempt to create an expressive work of ‘sonic art’ that reflected his personal interpretation of the environment of Antarctica and his experiences there.
“My Antarctic experience is one of the most significant and important experiences of my life. The various moods, expansive grandeur and majestic icescapes of Antarctica have left a deep and enduring impression.”
The Antarctic sounds incorporated into the work are the sounds of walking on the snow, skuas, polar wind, radio communications, Weddell seals, an Adele penguin rookery, and Antarctic white-out.
Dr. Cree Brown (b1953) is an associate professor at the School of Music, University of Canterbury.  His main interests include conventional instrumental composition, electro-acoustic and computer music, and inter-media art. He has twice been awarded the Mozart Fellowship at the University of Otago, has twice been appointed Composer-in-Schools, has won two prizes in the Wellington Youth Orchestra's Young Composers Competition, and has written a number of film scores.
AntarcticaThe Big Ice – Exploration. Science. Inspiration also considers New Zealand's historical, scientific and political focus on Ross Dependency, voyages of discovery, Terra Nova Expeditions and the Erebus disaster. It examines the role of protecting Antarctica's history and the presence of well known New Zealanders on the ice including Sir Edmund Hillary and explores The Antarctic Treaty and International Polar Year in 2007 – 2008.

The exhibition continues until noon Saturday 27 October 2007 at Our City O-Tautahi, cnr Oxford Tce and Worcester Blvd. Admission Free.

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