Making Music with Glaciers and Snow | INDIE ALASKA


I was out recording the wind sounds and
it was really snowy and icy and I came back down into the
building and I was just covered in like ice on my beard and snow and, you know, everything was frozen up and someone said, ‘Matthew what are you doing?’
and I said I’m composing. Well I’m a composer and a sound artist and an eco-acoustician. So I work with environmental sounds and I create music
and sound art in dialogue with nature. So I particularly focus on climate change,
so, you know, I’m interested in composing music that reflects changes in our
climate and I try to bring attention to that and work with the natural world as
a musical instrument. So I’m very often composing with glaciers and with the
snow or the wind and any way that I can discover how we hear climate
change. By thumping it I hear, like, the snow bank
as a bass drum. You know some days I’m out in the mountains, listening and
recording sounds. There are days where I sit at the computer programming. There
are days when I sit at a music paper writing music. No, it’s never dull. I made
an album called Glacier Music; It’s published, so it kind of fixes in time
snapshots of these glaciers. As they melt, they’re singing, and those songs we
can hear those songs and we can understand them. As the glaciers are
retreating they go through a rapid kind of time of retreat and that has a
certain sonic signature. And then the glacier goes through a
period of thinning and you can hear that too because the water that’s
thinning comes out of the glacier on the sides and usually makes these rushing
rivers on the sides of the glaciers and that sound to me is a signature
sound of a glacier that’s in advanced retreat. When I was studying music I was
impressed by the sounds of the natural world and in general the power and the
presence of the Alaskan wilderness and so I naturally made music with those
things. As I got older, you know, the environment started changing and I
started hearing those changes in the sounds that I loved. I want people to
feel something. If the music is made by a glacier for example, will we feel more
connected to the glaciers and think about them in a different way? Through
composing these pieces we’re kind of documenting the world now and in the
future maybe the glacier, like Matanuska, will sound very different if it sounds
at all, right? I mean there’s a chance that if the glacier recedes and
disappears, well, then they’ll be listening to a glacier that no longer
exists. You know, it’s one of the things that art
can do is is open up our emotions in a way so that we can deal with them; and
it’s a sad album in a way. I didn’t mean it to be a sad album. It’s like a love
song to the glaciers and I still hope that we can change that. That the
glaciers won’t disappear. It’s stressful to think about, you know, a
million species of animals becoming extinct in the next few years. You know, to think about all the arctic animals that are among those million. Like what can I do to help with that, you know? Like that’s… that’s hard because it’s like, is the
music really gonna stop the extinctions? No, it’s not. So then how can it be part
of the discourse that does mitigate that? Maybe the music can be used in a kind of
joint science, policy, art discourse that does change that in some way. The
science helps the art be more relevant and the art helps the science be more
communicative. Those two things going together can be a very powerful force
for change.