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Artists Explore The Sounds And Imagery Of Ice

An image from Ice Music, photographed by UNC Professor Brooks de Wetter-Smith within a Swiss glacier
Brooks de Wetter Smith
Ice Music

 After numerous trips to Antarctica, Brooks de Wetter-Smith developed a fascination with ice. He says this overlooked necessity gives us water and supports our rivers. But it is not just utilitarian. The element is visually-magnificent, and creates unique sounds as it transforms from ice to water. 

Brooks described to Host Frank Stasio what it was like exploring Antarctica, a massive icy landscape, and how that made him think twice about the ice back home. 

"Looking at this old ice, this deep blue ice, that's been so compacted over time with pressure, you're looking at ice that in some cases is a couple of thousands of years old, and has finally broken off from the mainland and becomes icebergs floating in the ocean," says Brooks de Wetter Smith. "And you experience that visually, and it's a stunning experience. It emphasized how insignificant we are in terms of the general evolution of this earth, so it can be humbling and inspiring at the same time." 

Brooks and his colleagues wanted to find an artistic way to explore the many characteristics of ice. The result was Ice Music, a multimedia performance that includes photography, sound, and dance. The project draws its inspiration from ice both large and small.

"I'm looking at ice from a distance, for instance looking at icebergs," says Brooks. "Then all the way down to the micro level, and considering the kinds of sounds that ice produce." 

Lee Weisert and Jonathon Kirk, composers and collaborators with Ice Music, captured the sound of ice for the performance. They inserted microphones into spherical sculptures of ice to record them as they melted. In a conversation with State of Things producer, Nicole Campbell, Lee Weisert described the sound ice makes as it melts. 

"It’s purely sonic. You hear this fairly dense delicate texture, then these shocking fractures that occur. They cause these very dramatic explosions," says Lee.

Recording of Ice by composer Lee Weisert, a collaborator in Ice Music.

The ice recordings are a major part of the soundtrack for Ice music, and they inspire orchestral pieces for the performance as well.  

Ice Music is part of the Process Series at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which means the piece is just the beginning of a conversation between the artists and the audience. 

Lee and Brooks are both anticipating the audience's dialogue, and how their project will be received.

"A lot of people have been extracting extra-musical meaning from the melting ice recording. There are implications of global warming. [Their thoughts] add an interesting angle to the piece which we didn't even place there."

Ice Music will premiere this Thursday, February 13th at UNC-Chapel Hill's Fedex Global Education Center. 

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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