Monthly Archives: February 2011

Ice at Davis

Ice by Mary Doumany played by Alice Giles at Davis Station, Antarctica

“Work and play on the ice”

Penguin Tracks

Today a place was set up on the ice next to the ship for cargo operations:  containers were lowered by crane from the ship, helpers unloaded the containers, and helicopters landed to be filled and fly off to Mawson Station. I have helped in a small way by spotting helicopters on their way, signing people on and off the ice, and watching for cracks next to the ship – not very essential occupations, but an excuse to get down close to the ice and watch the goings on.  It’s still very cold (around -14) so am trialling all my winter gear. At this temperature I will definitely not be playing outside unless the sun is shining directly onto my fingertips! The beautiful mountains surrounding Mawson are clearly visible from here – dark with large patches of snow and ice, making some look a bit like orcas to me. Lots of people are already ashore, some will return tonight having had their stint on land. Tonight after helicopter ops finish, we will all be allowed down on the ice to play for a couple hours before dark: very exciting. I will be sending off my equipment (including laptop) tomorrow, so blogs will miss a day, and the harp will fly with me in the helicopter the next day.


“Blinding White”

To top a magical day, last night the half moon shone on the shining shelf ice with a warm golden glow in the half dark creating an image that remained with me as I went to sleep. This morning while doing my practice warm-up exercises I thought about how one can see with the heart rather than the eyes, and how I felt that image and the huge quiet iceberg scene within me as a feeling rather than a picture. This is how I hope the Antarctic Adventure affects my playing: rather than the idea of programatic pieces to perform or compose, my world is concerned with how to express beauty from the heart. The perfection of nature I saw yesterday, not mechanical, ever changing, but uncompromisingly clear, leads me to seek perfection of expression and sound in every note with serenity.
Today we are going three steps forward and two steps back – icebreaking mode means backing up a couple hundred meters and then forging ahead. The Aurora Australis is built as an icebreaker, which means her hull is shaped round to rise up over the ice and crush it down while pushing it back and out. After managing about a ship’s length in new ice we slow to a halt, back up and do the same all over again. The sun is shining and the ice is shiny and crisp , breaking off like the hard sand you get at the beach sometimes. It is very cold today – when I got up for sunrise at 4 am it was -15 and now at noon it is still only -10 degrees. The ice is dotted with single penguin tracks, looking very much like a neatly sewn stitching – the single line where they slide or I suppose the tail drags in the middle is quite etched, with the little neat footsteps either side.
The light on the the white shiny ice is blinding, and much as I hate it, sunglasses are now a necessity.

Wind Harp at Davis

Latest photos from the Ice Shelf

Aurora Australis shadow on the ice

“Splendour and Serenity”

Today I woke early (yet again) to the sound of the ship scraping through ice floes, so I got myself out of bed and took the recorder down to the hull of the ship to get some good slushy crunchy sounds. After that there was still plenty of time before breakfast  to go above deck and watch the scenery – ice floes alternating with open sea. Fairly early on we arrived at the edge of the shelf ice that is preventing our getting close to Mawson, and ‘parked’ the ship by driving into it – the ice has snow on top and is soft enough at the edge to plough into it. Scott (Master) and the Voyage leader Andy went on a helicopter trip to check the best way forward for us. Meanwhile several other helicopter trips to Mawson were made, carrying firstly those who will help with the cargo operations. This evening shorty after dinner the decision was made on our direction and we have had the most spectacular and beautiful experience yet. Everyone was up on deck or the bridge as we traveled between huge icebergs in the soft colours of the setting sun – pale pinks and pastels amidst the bright clarity and stillness of the blue-white bergs. The sea was smooth as a lake and I couldn’t help the tears pouring down my cheeks for the beauty of it: I feel I will always remember this scene within me as a metaphor for purity and serenity.

Bridge Concert

The music performed in this video is by:

Jim Cotter

Prof. Larry Sitsky

Joshua McHugh

Ice Breaking

“Noisy day at Sea”

The day has been spent travelling quite fast towards Mawson and we are now encountering lots of soft ice which will most likely gradually get more impenetrable. It has been good to see some penguins again – the odd group of emperors and adelies, and two small whales in the distance – probably pilot whales.The sea is still calm and it has been a day of practice, checking over the recordings from Davis, and making some new recordings on board. Matty the 1st Engineer gave me a tour of the incredible engine room with my mic. There are three levels and you can get lost walking around amongst the amazing array of beautifully kept and oiled machines, all with their different sounds and array of mysterious shapes. Even with earmuffs on the sound is huge. One of the boilers was making a high tinkling noise and I looked through the peephole at a burning furnace. It is late now, and I am deciding whether to be sensible and go to bed, or stay up and watch the snow through the big spotlights as we move through the ice – it’s beautiful and mesmerising. The bridge officers need to keep a constant lookout for bergs so we don’t bump into anything in the night. ______________________________________________________

“Back on Ship”

We are all back on aboard now, with everyone feeling exhausted from the hectic two days, and there was a big line for dinner right at 5:30. Antarctica is beautiful but tiring and it gives you an appetite! The atmosphere of the continent seems brilliant and draining at the same time:  the powerful rocky landscape, biting wind and sun are a stark contrast to the softness of ship travel. It was certainly an exciting two days. At midnight last night I forced myself to get into all my winter survival gear to go outside and see if there was an aurora: there was one but not very colourful or spectacular, so instead I sat on the rocky slope above the elephant seal “wallow” and made a lengthy recording. In the silence of the night their constant deep belching sounds are truly spectacular. I am hoping some ANU student will use this material for a very fruity symphony. I also spent this morning videoing them, and then tried some more recordings of harp in the wind. The erie aeolian effect seems to perfectly suit the landscape and the sound travels a huge distance – this might be due to a combination of factors like dry air, lack of absorbent vegetation, cold, the nylon strings. A small group of young Adelie penguins added their calls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take the special windproof field recording mic ashore this time as space was limited, so I think the recordings will be better from Mawson when I can filter out the wind.
Before I caught the IRB (inflatable rubber boat) back to the ship, I was treated to a most magnificent helicopter ride – more than an hour over the fjords, ice plateau, glacier, crevasses, lakes and rocky hills. The most extraordinary thing was to see the ice fields from above – they are pale blue with windswept white snow across the top.
Full steam ahead to Mawson now – 24 hrs predicted until we get to the edge of the ice, and then there will be reconnaissance flights to work out the best way in from there.