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Antarctic News

December 1, 2009

Twitter users (and Antarctic aficionados) might be interested to know that the Scott Polar Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge, is Tweeting Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s last expedition to the Ice, the Terra Nova expedition.  It’s actually kind of cool, seeing this nearly 100-year-old account show up in your Twitter feed on a daily basis.  However, I wonder why they didn’t wait until next year, the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Terra Nova expedition, to do this … it would have been cool to tie the Tweets to the exact day, 100 years apart, of Scott’s journal entries.  At any rate, the Twitter handle is scottslastexp.

Today also is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, the 12-nation agreement that demilitarized Antarctica and reserved it for scientific research.  Each nation “takes care of”—but does not own—the portion of Antarctica which it historically has controlled.  Some, however, are making the case that the treaty’s time has passed, and that the continent would be better served if each nation with an interest in Antarctica were free to make its own decisions and enforce its own laws, rather than submitting everything to a vote by the Treaty nations—a system in which a “nay” vote by any one nation can scuttle any initiative.

Finally, for New Yorkers, DJ Spooky is putting on a thing at BAM tomorrow, Friday and Saturday night—a work called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica (after the Ralph Vaughan Williams symphony of the same name, which was composed from 1949–1952).  It’s a musical work made up of field recordings of ice and landscape sounds that Spooky (real name: Paul D. Miller) made when he was down in Antarctica on, I assume, an Artists and Writers Program grant—which, as I just discovered, has been at least temporarily killed for the 2010–2011 Austral summer season.  That is just a real disappointment.  I wonder why?  Any of my readers with Antarctic ties know?

In the meantime, here’s a great interview from Gothamist with DJ Spooky about the piece. Here’s one representative Q. & A.:

I get the impression of the ice fields as a quiet place, so when you go there and set up a portable studio, what are you recording? There are a couple things at hand: one, natural sounds put in the filter of digital media are no longer natural, they’re audio files. What I wanted to do was just kind of explore that kind of paradoxically, and artificial vs. natural. What ended up happening is these ice fields are not quiet places, they’re huge echo chambers on one level or another. Every footstep you make on the ice crunching, or snow crunching, or the gritty gravel and rocks and so on, you are a kind of an amplifying machine walking around; the landscape is huge, and you think of the scale of these kinds of places, there are only about 2000 some odd people there.

That is totally true, what he says about “every footstep you make”—when I read that I flashed back to the surprisingly loud crunching and squeaking of snow that I heard when I was working out at the Long-Distance Balloon Facility, one of my best weeks on the Ice.  Here’s a picture I took from there and then, of the world’s southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus:

And here’s a picture of me almost exactly five years ago, after our crazy galley shift on Thanksgiving, 2004.  One McMurdo resident gave the Dining Attendants (that’s what I was) a bottle of wine as a thank-you for our hard work throughout the season (and on Thanksgiving), and after our shift me and a few others (that’s my friend Ross, on the right) went out back on the loading dock and passed the bottle ’til we killed it, which took about 45 seconds.  It was a good day.

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