The unprecedented melting of ice in the polar ice cap in the Arctic is a primary means of measuring the effects of climate change on Earth. The composition “Iceprints” for one to three telematic pianos and Arctic sub-ice ecoacoustics uses scientific data measuring 40 years of polar ice change in the Arctic Ocean. It merges these data sets with real-time audio recordings of sub-ice conditions taken during the melting season. Burtner’s unique compositional system devised for “Iceprints” simultaneously sonifies Arctic ice changes over decades, annual seasonal cycles, and in real-time.

Hydrophones suspended beneath the Arctic ice captured the real time sound of ice melting. The hydrophones, positioned in a triangular formation over an area greater than 1 kilometer, allowed us to triangulate the position of events under the ice. It is a technique used by scientists to track the movement of underwater animals and by the military to track the movement of submarines. In Iceprints, the three-channel ice re- cording is sent through a specially-designed harmonic filter. That processed recording is played back on a three-channel surround sound system such that each loudspeaker corresponds to an hydrophone. The audience, situated virtually underneath the ice, now becomes part of the unfolding ecosystem.

Each page of the piano score represents one year of ice extent (sum total of ice) change in the Arctic according to the following chart. This graph was created by the composer using published scientific data (satellite and pre-satellite measurements of ice extent). The X axis shows the total sum presence of ice measured in millions of kilometers mapped onto the first six octaves of the piano. The Y axis shows time, mapped onto pages of music. The black line running between the two outer lines shows the average ice extent change compensating for seasonal cycles. This graph thus reveals a strong melting trend in Arctic ice over the past 40 years.

The piano score presents a transcription of a hydrophone recording mapped into the tonal system of ice melting across 40 years. The pianos are set in a distance triangular relationship in three distinct spaces and connected with telematics. The triangulation of the material sound surrounding the audience is mirrored by the conceptual distance triangulation of the pianists. The telematics reveal how we are intimately connected but also separate from these dramatic changes of our planet. The audience perceives the remote pianos through the delays, glitches and compression artifacts of network sound. These sounds of separation, introduced by the medium, evoke distance. We are continuously pulled to the other locations and simultaneously to the Arctic sub-ice world of cracking and thumping ice, whale and seal calls. “Iceprints” uses telematics to evoke a complex paradox: individuals are distant and separate from some real effects of our actions and from things that affect us; we cannot escape our physical or temporal context and yet we are constantly affecting and affected by things that are not present spatially or temporally. “Iceprints” collapses and folds time and space to illustrate this concept.

The composer is grateful to ice scientist and University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute Professor, Hajo Eicken for his guidance and collaboration on the mapping system and data sets used in “Iceprints.”

score excerpt

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