Ice Walk: Eureka/Montreal, 1947-2008 (2009)

Custom software, stereo audio, 5 min.
Commissioned for a collaboration with Owen Chapman’s project, The Icebreaker.

This composition overlays two source materials:

1) a 1-minute recording of Owen Chapman improvising with his feet in a pair of boots filled with water, recorded at the Icebreaker residency at the Art&D Lab at SAT in Montreal, March 2008. The recording is played back at one-fifth regular speed, stretched to 5 minutes.

2) approx. 50 years of data from Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service archive. The Ice Service maintains weekly ice thickness and snow depth measurements, to the nearest cm, gathered at observation stations across Canada. The data I used are the measurements taken at Eureka, one of the first established stations in the Canadian Arctic, from September 1947 to December 2008. These data are being used in scientific analyses of long-term climate change, many of which identify significant break-ups and disappearance of arctic ice forms.

In the Ice Walk composition, these data cycle through in order. There are 1901 measurements in total, over 50 years. Ice thickness data modify the filtering, reverberation, and delay effects applied to the recording of Owen walking. Snow depth data modify the level and filter of a white noise generator. Both the recording of Owen and the white noise are panned randomly as the data cycles through.

The main concept of this piece is to overlay a walk through ice/water in the present with historical data on how ice landscapes have changed over time, data which were gathered through walks across the ice. In the SAT residency, I was impressed by the tactile aspects of Owen’s improvisations: the rapid melting and sudden structural changes of ice made for unpredictable sounds and uneasy movements when standing or walking on it. The Ice Service’s data seemed to speak to this directly: each year the data can be gathered only after freeze-up when the ice is safe to walk on, and continue until it breaks up and becomes unsafe.

I used white noise to combine and confuse an electronic sound source with a field recording; in this case, to create a “stormy” or “cold” environment to complement the recordings of water. More generally, this piece explores how data and electronically-generated sounds can represent place and landscape, as an extension of traditional soundwalking practices that primarily incorporate field recordings.

Source materials:
Canadian Ice Service
Map of Eureka (Source: Canadian Ice Service)