If you live far enough from the equator, you know that a percentage of your days on this planet will be spent uncomfortably cold. Here in Toronto, the first three months of each year deliver a blast of snow and ice sustained by persistent sub-freezing thermometer readouts. It is not all bad though. Winter can be a time of extraordinary beauty – visually and otherwise. You have not truly experienced fresh air until you’ve felt it a few degrees below zero centigrade. And it is hard to argue that an open field covered in fresh white snow is any less breathtaking than a rolling green hill.
There is also the great trade-off that comes with snow and ice, provided you live at a reasonable latitude. With a three-month winter comes a similarly lengthy spring, summer and fall. It may be the great gift of a home like mine – the slow turn toward, and then away from, winter is a thing few of us take for granted. To watch a red-orange leaf fall gently from a thinning tree branch is to know that you are a part of something much greater than you.
Winter can be punishing too, of course. Fewer hours of sunlight, less opportunity to spend quality time outdoors with those we love. Our mental health can deteriorate in winter for a variety of reasons. Imagine what it must be to live near the north or south pole, where winter’s harshness lasts year-round.
Field recordist Philip Samartzis and Percussionist Eugene Ughetti have collaborated on a pair of new albums exploring precisely that. Array and Polar Force – both out Oct. 22 – are said to have been inspired by Samartzis’ visit to an Antarctic research facility named Casey Station, operated by an Australian group. Array features field recordings of radar and scientific instruments. Its companion, Polar Force, combines raw site recordings with percussion tracks produced using ice, water and wind sounds.
The two can be enjoyed separately, or combined and played in shuffle mode. The latter approach has the added benefit of immersing the listener more deeply in the overall project vision. You will find yourself less focused on the source of the recordings’ sounds, and therefore better able to appreciate the work from a purely aesthetic perspective.
“[Philip] recounted his first experience on the ice, where the surrounding landscapes seemed to articulate avant-garde percussion works of an epic scale,” writes Ughetti in the notes that accompany Polar Force.
“[W]e built an environment, a white inflatable structure reminiscent of a remote research station on the ice. Emanating from outside the space come the complex and foreboding sounds of the natural environment, inside, a live event akin to scientific research in sound occurs. This hour-long performance installation work gives rise to a hyper-realistic sensing of Antarctica, bursting with natural beauty, power and the audible evidence of human impact.”
This does not make for an entirely inviting listen. Nor should it. What Samartzis and Ughetti have produced is a portrayal of life sheltered from a harsh environment. By combining the sounds of natural elements and the technology required to survive in such a place, the listener is presented with a subtly powerful idea – that despite all of science’s advances, we cannot protect ourselves entirely from the environment around us.