Geneseo professor combines music, science through Antarctic sounds

Geneseo’s all-star faculty has once again made headlines with their groundbreaking work. Composer and adjunct professor of English Glenn McClure has just embarked on a five-week journey through Antarctica in order to translate the sounds of the continent into music. With the help of Peter Bromirski, McClure will create choral and orchestral pieces that will be used as inspiration for various high school classes throughout the country as they compose their own pieces. In order to make this dream come to life, McClure applied for and received an Antarctic Artists and Writers Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The fellowship brings creators and scientists together to “create works of art that dramatize and educate the general public on the good work of scientists.”

Since the Polar Division of the NSF has such difficulty shining a public light on their work, the fellowship is restricted to their division. Thus, McClure decided to head to the frosty glaciers of Antarctica; he’s spent days traipsing around in -4 degree weather.

McClure is currently in Antarctica working on recording “environmental sounds both on the surface (penguins, wind, snow crunch) and underwater with a hydrophone (seal talk, whales),” McClure said in an email. Meanwhile, Bromirski and his team are measuring the movement of “the largest floating piece of ice on the planet,” which is the Ross Ice Shelf, according to McClure.

The Ross Ice Shelf—which is the size of France—responds to the ocean waves from the North, “causing it to heave and contract.” McClure will then “sonify” these movements and convert it into “melodies, harmonies and rhythms” in order to fulfill his duty as a composer to “tell the story of this work in music and sound.”

Apart from composing some down-to-earth and creative music, McClure hopes to set an example of how the arts and sciences can merge to create beautiful works of art.

“I want to demonstrate the benefits of scientists and artists working together. From the ancient Greeks all the way up to Galileo, science, math and music were intertwined,” McClure said. “In the last couple of centuries, we have built intellectual barriers between them. I want to put them back together.”

McClure has a great support system back here in Geneseo who are helping him achieve this noteworthy goal. “We have professors and students in physics, geology, history and English doing research that helps tell the story of both the important scientific work in Antarctica, as well as the history of artists working with scientists,” he said.

Geneseo students and community members can follow along with McClure’s progress and experiences in Antarctica through his Music in the Ice blog, which is available through his website. There, he recounts his adventures ice-tenting with his scientific team, going 80 feet under the ice to record underwater sounds via a holding tank and celebrating an Antarctic Halloween.

Geneseo is lucky indeed to have such an adventurous and groundbreaking faculty member who allows us all to feel part of something revolutionary.