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Sonic explorations of the southernmost continent: four composers' responses to Antarctica and climate change in the twenty-first century

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 12:50 authored by Carolyn PhilpottCarolyn Philpott
Composers have been drawn to the world’s southernmost continent, Antarctica, for creative inspiration since the so-called ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, it has only been since the final few years of the twentieth century that professional composers have had opportunities to travel to the far south as part of arts residency programmes to experience its environment – and its unique soundscapes – first-hand. Most composers who have visited Antarctica to date have utilised sound recording technologies to document their journeys sonically and have subsequently created compositions that feature their soundscape recordings. Typically, such compositions include biological sounds, such as vocalisations of penguins and seals (both on the ice and underwater); non-biological or ‘geophysical’ ambient sounds that emanate from the natural landscape, such as those created by wind, blizzards, and ice cracking and calving; and/or anthropogenic (human) sounds recorded within the Antarctic environment. This article examines a series of recent compositions by four established composers who have visited Antarctica and used their experiences and field recordings to inform their creative work: Douglas Quin, Jay Needham, Lawrence English and Philip Samartzis. The primary aim of this research is to investigate what these composers’ Antarctica-related works reveal about their individual encounters with and perceptions of the frozen continent, as well as to consider the role of such compositions in conveying messages related to climate change to listeners around the globe – the vast majority of whom are unlikely to ever see or hear the place in person.


Publication title

Organised Sound








School of Creative Arts and Media


Cambridge University Press

Place of publication

United Kingdom

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Copyright 2016 Cambridge University Press

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