A Very Cold Place

Why do you think we have such a romantic attraction to Antarctica?

It’s the last of the truly wild places left on the planet. It’s a very hostile environment that challenges  certain types of personalities. I think it is not accident that a lot of the early Antarctic explorers had military or navy backgrounds – they approached the whole venture as if they were going to war. They knew they had to be prepared and disciplined and expect danger and hardship.

 

Why did you try and recreate the feeling of place with music?

Well it’s not just music- it’s music, soundscape, film and spoken word. There are some stories that are so epic you have to use a combination of  forms of expression to tell them. Film does this all the time very well on its own but the visuals would be nothing  without the right music behind them. Throw in the right words spoken at the right moment and you have a powerful effect on people’s emotions.

 

What kind of impact did Antarctica have on you?

It wasn’t so much Antarctica itself, it was Scott’s tragic journey. He lived in what was called ‘the heroic age’ –when there were many places left on the earth to explore  and there was great risk in visiting them. In the latter part of the 20 century men bravely allowed themselves to be shot into space- I compare the Antarctic explorers to those first astronauts . They were as prepared as they could be in terms of equipment and supplies but after that it was just sheer courage and a sense of adventure that motivated them.

 

What is it about the journey of Robert Falcon Scott that you want to tell?

I have often been asked why I didn’t tell the story of Mawson , the epic Australian Antarctic explorer, or Shackleton who singlehandedly rescued his stranded men. The impetus to tell Scott’s story came when I read an article in the newspaper over ten years ago.

Scott and his remaining three team members died trapped in their tent by days of blizzards.. ( Oates  , the fourth, famously walked out  of their tent  – ‘I am going outside, I may  be sometime’ – he was never seen again) . They were 11 ( 17kms) miles from the supply  depot where they would have survived. When rescuers finally found them eight months later, they simply built a cairn to mark their grave and a cross to remain as a memorial was placed on top.

The mound was buried under snow and ice until it  sank 27 metres under the Ross Ice Shelf where the bodies were slowly moved along until Scott finally passed the site of One Ton Depot where they would had found safety , 86 years after his death. From space the bodies could be seen under the ice . It was just the poignancy of this final reaching of the goal of home and safety, 86 years too late, that struck me. Right to the very end, his concern was for others and the tragedy for Scott and his men is that it was very little things, and bad weather and bad luck that brought about their end.

Tell me a little about the players?

Ken Naughton is a classically trained pianist and violinist that a lot of people would  know from his teaching at Shearwater and his attendance at Tango classes! We worked together for two years on a variety of songs and compositions and also performed as the duo ‘Co.polymer’ ,  before we started working on ‘The Ice Suite’.

Cye wood is also a familiar name on the liner notes of so many  other people’s CDs .He collaborated with Lisa Gerrard   (  of  Dead Can Dance) to write the soundtrack to the ABC television series’ On the trail of Genghis Khan’ .He will be playing a 5-string octave shifted violin and viola.

Grayson Cooke is head of the Digital Media unit at Southern Cross University. He has compiled all the imagery used in the show  which was drawn from the original images shot by Ponting, the photographer on the Scott expedition,  other Antarctic footage, NASA deep space photographs, quotes from Scott’s diaries  and even the Ballina river! In performance he draws on 20 channels of different images, combining, mixing, filtering and using them to dramatise the story. Grayson was recently awarded a Japan New Media award for the show he created with Mike Cooper ‘ Outback and Beyond: A live Australian western’.

I have to also mention Elyjah McCleod , who has  staged  some beautiful solo shows in the Shire over the years, provided the vocal for the song ‘Infinity’ which some people consider the most moving moment in the show! He will not be performing live , but   is presented as a disembodied voice from the past across space and time.

 

How did you create this composition?

As a composer I work with a computer and samples instead of an orchestra. I divided the music into three distinct parts- the setting out in the ship to parts unknown and landfall, the race across the ice to the South Pole, the ordeal through the blizzard and the death of the five men. Ken and I would try and imagine what the sound of a blinding white ice sheet would sound like, find a sound on Kens’  synth, or in my bag of samples and slowly build each part of the story up. When there was a few minutes of music or noise, Cye would come round and add some   amazing passages on viola or violin.  I was Lead Composer on this in that it was my vision and production of the music, but after we started to work together it became a very happy collaboration and all three of us are credited as composers on the score.

While we were writing the score, Grayson was researching and compiling the imagery.

 

Can you tell me a little about the multi-media presentation?

In some ways it’s like a giant , very arty , live  rock clip! Except there’s no guitars and  one off stage singer. And although there is a narrative thread to the presentation it is not a documentary.

Ken and Cye will  play  live electrifying violin and viola, Grayson will mesmerise people with the array of images that draw you into the story  and while I am controlling the programmed backing I also have passages of spoken word where I get  inside the emotional mind set of the doomed explorers.

We came up with the term ‘experiential theatre’ to try and describe what we do. We allow the imagery and the music to provide all the action.

The scariest part is the technological performers- the computers. We have fail safes and back - ups in the case of a mac or windows dummy spit but with computers, there is always a risk..

A performance at MONA is very prestigious - what kind of reaction did you get? Did it open any doors for you?

We played at the MONA  exactly  100 years after Scott’s death. Even the day of the week was the same- a Thursday. That made it very special. Brian Ritchie who is artistic director at MONA and bass player with the Violent Femmes played a  Shakuhachi piece written by a Japanese Antarctic explorer  as the  opening act.

The audience gave us a standing ovation – then afterwards so many  people wanted to say how it made them feel. Some of these comments are on our website ( www.theicesuite.com).

We created this piece as a festival performance for overseas or within Australia  and we haven’t as yet managed to take it to even the  Melbourne or Sydney as it is not a great supportive climate for the arts at the moment, but we remain hopeful and are making a documentary on the creation of ‘The Ice Suite’ to help this dream along..

What should we expect for your Byron Show?

Beautiful music, stunning imagery, moving words.

Also Cye Wood will be playing support act with a beautiful solo show of his own that he has been working on for some time.

Warning, rug up! We  might may you feel pretty cold and we also try and make you feel the relentlessness of the wind and snow and at the same time the beauty of this  strange  world.  It’s not all doom and gloom. Although it is a tragic  story they had fun along the way- Scott even took a  piano and four wind up gramophones to amuse his men, and they  all played harmonicas!!