Robert Falcon Scott took two gramophones to Antarctica on his 1910 expedition, on loan from Victor along with 100 or so records. His capable photographer Herbert Ponting created the image that depicts one of the expedition’s husky dogs standing next to the gramophone as if listening. The image, staged as a bit of comic relief on the ice, is a riff on His Master’s Voice, as well as an historic artifact from a classic era of exploration. This image is a telling expression of how music served as an aid for the maintenance of a specific kind of mission time. The leash is taut, held fast by someone off frame. In various reproductions, the leash is often erased, rendering Dog Chris a bit off balance. The gramophone, a tension instrument not unlike a chronometer, served as a cultural sextant for those who wandered off leash. The Terra Nova expedition is best known as the worst end to an adventure: a tragedy that became well worn into the British psyche and perhaps the last chord in the Edwardian era. The inspiration for much of this work came from a picture that is all about sound, people, animals and the machines that seem to speak to us.
Left: Dog Chris, listening to the gramophone, during the British Antarctic ("Terra Nova") Expedition of 1910-1913. Herbert Ponting, circa January 1911. Reproduced with permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.
Right: Jay Needham and Eric Leonardson perform Chronography:animal, live performance at the 46 Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt 2012.
Chronography: animal - live performance with guest artists
Live recoring of Chronography:animal recorded at Balance Unbalance, Water, Climate and Place: Reimagining Environments. Featuring Doug Quin and Cheryl Leonard on gramophone horns and Jay Needham on mechanical clockwork, antique turntable and laptop.
For Sonic Reckonings, the Antarctic sound art concert at Balance Unbalance in 2015, I wanted to help create a document, a way for the composers to collaborate on a cross between a concert program and a journal essay. The result is an insightful essay by music theorist and musicologist Dr. Carolyn Philpott that frames the sound works of Philip Samartzis, Lawrence English, Cheryl Leonard, Doug Quin and myself into an e-catalog. Many thanks to Doug for his layout talents and thanks to our artists for their contributions.
Afterward - The writing and research that Carolyn contributed for this document formed the impetus for her article in Organized Sound.
Resonant Evidence - live performance
Composer Douglas Quin and I created this work from our collective polar wind recordings, sonic traces that provided a varied collection of harmonically rich impressions about a remote envinonment. The sounds are from outlying weather stations, guy wires, cabling, edge tones along cracks in expedition huts and windharps made of piano wire and filament. The work also features the underwater sounds of ships in the south polar sea and the microscopic sounds of erosion at play on Deception Island. Performed during the 4th International Festival of Antarctic Arts and Culture, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2012.
South Polar Suite - exhibition view
The exhibition and installation Antarctic Dreams was a collaboration between myself and photographer Gary Kolb. The show opened on April 2, 2010, at SIUC's University Museum and featured my sound sculptures South Polar Suite and Reviving Spirits along with many of Gary's landscape images of Antarctica. The aged patina of the weathered brass horns hearkens to an age of mechanical sound production and an era of polar exploration, a time when Scott’s Antarctic expedition played music for flocks of penguins by gramophone.
Chronography: animal - live performance