Tag Archive: ice sounds


Fire and Frost Pattern” is now available in CD and digital download format at the German label Gruenrekorder. The booklet contains extensive liner notes and background information on the sounds presented in both pieces. The download version is coming with a PDF booklet of the same content. The “famous” recording of the dispersion of sound waves in ice sheets is part of the composition “Frost Pattern” of which you can hear exerpts on the Gruenrekorder site along with my volcano recordings at Mt. Yasur on Vanuatu. The pieces have been awarded the Phonurgia Nova Prize in 2008 and “Frost Pattern” received an honorary mention at the 35th Bourges International Competition for Electroacoustic Music and Sound Art. Support came from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, the company of Fielax, Hanna Hartman, Kain Karawahn, Bastiaan Maris and Andreas Oldörp, who gave me some of their ice or fire related sounds or helped me to record them. The photos on the cover and backside of the CD were kindly provided by Murray Fredericks. Deutschlandradio Kultur was the original producer of the twin pieces, the editor Götz Naleppa wrote an introduction for the booklet. To all of them I’m very grateful, not to forget Lasse and Roland at Gruenrekorder and Daniel for his meticulous art work. Thanks a lot! Buy the CD or the download here.

Spring has finally arrived, but I stumbled over two very interesting adventurers dealing with the sounds of ice that I find worth sharing. Marlin Ledin travelled the snowcovered Apostle Islands of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin by bike (!) and did some fantastic ice recordings on his way. And Cheryl E. Leonard reports from her journeys to the Palmer research station in Antarctica where she collected sounds for her musical work. On Saturday she will perform at the Activating the Medium XIII : Ice festival in San Francisco. In her blog some fine ice recordings can be heard, next to recordings of seals, pinguins and other stuff, which has been also released on the CD Chattermarks.

After BoingBoing posted my ice dispersion sounds, many people were thinking about the cause of such sounds and the resemblance to the famous laser gun sounds in Star Wars. First: the dispersion of sound waves, meaning higher frequencies reach the listeners ears earlier than deeper frequencies, is not only an effect experienced in ice sheets, metal is another solid that can perfectly manipulate the speed of frequencies travelling through the material. Because huge thin metal plates are very rare to find (infinte plate called in physics), long wires are the best to experience the dispersion effect. The longer the wire the stronger the down glissando effect. Slinkies are good toys to demonstrate that. Robin Whittle built the possibly longest slinky of the world with 21 metres and suspended it with elastic threads. Hitting the slinky will cause a very strong dispersion effect:

https://silentlistening.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/slinky-chirp.mp3″

In fact a sound wave in a long wire travels back and forth and produces an echo effect. This sound happened when a fly hit a long wire that Uli Wahl suspended on a hill to make the wind resonate in the metal like an aeolian harp:

https://silentlistening.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/long-wire-fly1.mp3″

The beat like rhythm is how the wave bounces back and forth on the wire. Uli recorded this sound with a very simple tiny telephone resonator, similar to this gadget called echoblaster. Another way to do this is here:

Ben Burtts laser gun sound for Star Wars was produced by hitting an antenna tower guy wire with a wrench. And I think he mixed the movement of the swords with the humming sounds of a poorly grounded TV.

Returning to the ice sounds at last: there was some speculation about how thick ice should be to experience the dispersion effect. I don’t know so much about the physics involved, but as I mentioned, I think the thinner the ice the more likely one can experience the effect. But I have also heard that Lake Baikal must make tremendous sounds with ice as thick as one or two meters during wintertime. I remember that the cracks that I recorded went through the lake from one side to the other and I could feel the ice sheet vibrate. I thought the cracks went just through the place I was sitting and the descending tones were the more far away parts of the crack reaching me with a time lag. By the way, this structure was captured at Lake Baikal, it is supposed to be the focal point for the ice break up in spring:

And this PDF written by Gunnar Lundmark is a nice observation about how the sound of ice can indicate if it is too thin for skating – “A person with ”gold ears”, absolute pitch, can estimate the thickness of the ice with an uncertainty of 5% just by listening.”

skating on ice

And finally some people pointed to Werner Herzogs “Encounters at the End of the World” and the seal sounds featured in the film that should not be confused with the dispersion sounds of ice – although there are some ice sounds in the film the descending tones are the calls of seals. The seals were recorded by Douglas Quin, whose CD “Antarctica” is highly recommended.