Andrea Polli: Sonic Antarctica

Another in a long line of fascinating field recordings-based releases from Gruenrekorder, Sonic Antarctica by New York City-based digital media artist Andrea Polli (also an Associate Professor of Film and Media at Hunter College) presents an encompassing, seventy-minute audio portrait of the Antarctic frontier. Among the areas covered in the recording are the “Dry Valleys” on the shore of McMurdo Sound (3500 km due south of New Zealand) which, being completely devoid of terrestrial vegetation, is the driest and, relatively speaking, largest ice-free area on the continent, and the geographic South Pole, whose central white expanse includes ice that's nearly nine miles thick. Antarctica, larger in size than the US and an extreme environment where navigation can become a matter of life and death, makes for a suitably captivating site upon which to ground a "sound art" recording.

The material includes natural and industrial field recordings and interviews with weather and climate scientists (that Polli compiled during a seven-week National Science Foundation residency in Antarctica during 2007-08), which are in turn sometimes held together by the “musical” glue of electronic-sounding elements (actually, scientific data transformed via “sonification” into “musical” form). Polli, who is strongly interested in global systems and in bringing together artists and scientists from various disciplines, is repeatedly heard in conversation with the researchers, and as a result her enthusiasm for the project clearly comes through. Aside from its status as a recording, Sonic Antarctica also has been presented as a radio broadcast, live performance, and sound and visual installation. In “ Round Mountain ,” we hear radio transmissions from a helicopter flying in the Williams Field and Dry Valleys areas, in “Walking on Taylor Glacier” the crunch of boots walking across snowy landscapes, and in “ Cape Royds ” the distinctive caw and chatter of penguins. During “Taylor Glacier,” scientists discuss their climate-related research studies against a backdrop of high-pitched electronic clicks and glitches, and in “No Boundaries” argue that Darwin and Da Vinci are more geologists than biologists and scientists. Polli's diverse array of materials creates a palpable sense of place that enables the listener to transport him/herself into the imagined environment with surprising ease.

March 2009