Thursday, March 23, 2023

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    The Poignant Music of Melting Ice

    “When I talk to scientists about climate change, everyone’s all talked out. Essentially everyone knows, so it’s, ‘Why should I listen to you and your report?’” Samartzis said. “These recordings may not be scientifically sound, but it’s a whole other way of communicating knowledge, a different aperture of experience.”

    Still, at least one pioneer of portraying ice through music worries that all this work arrives too late — and that simply capturing these songs of surrender and playing them back through loudspeakers can never get to ice’s might or grandeur. More than three decades ago, the young German producer Thomas Köner sat at the foot of a Norwegian glacier and marveled as fog rose and fell above it, like enormous frozen lungs breathing deliberately.

    Between 1990 and 1993, Köner, who uses they/them pronouns, funneled such observations into a trilogy of lauded ambient albums that steadily evoked the awe and unease of being surrounded by ice that loomed, moved and cracked. But Köner believes that “Novaya Zemlya” — their 2012 album inspired in part by the glaciers of the Arctic archipelago of the same name — may be their final ice work. The Soviet Union tested the largest-ever atomic bomb there in 1961; for Köner, it represents humanity’s true relationship to nature.

    “This was the end of, if not the love affair, the loved object — the idea of this pristine world of ice,” Köner, 57, said by phone from an artist residency in Serbia. “It is very sad, like you lost somebody. But you keep going on.”

    Such presiding melancholy has motivated Eliza Bozek, 30, and a cadre of other young musicians to get to glaciers now, not later. An acolyte of the emotionally textured work of Winderen and Chris Watson (a prolific sound artist partly responsible for David Attenborough’s “Frozen Planet”), Bozek thinks that allowing people to hear ice creates an opportunity for awareness and, just maybe, altered behavior.

    “They’re beautiful, but there’s a slow violence to the sounds, too,” said Bozek, who makes music under the name moltamole, from her Copenhagen apartment. “The sounds are political statements that are not available to our ears unless they’re recorded. They create space for empathy.”

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