Under the sea ice

Meditations on Arctic bearded seal songs

"A work that conjures the tension between the environment and the animals. The musical translation of the bearded seal songs and the performance of the JACK Quartet imposes for the time an emotional experience that entangles beauty and fear, external pressures with internal responses. The piece is perhaps as profoundly different from other musical expressions as the life of the bearded seals is from our own. In it, I find a new perspective on both music and these incredible animals".

–Joshua Jones, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Few sounds I have found to be as fascinating as those of the bearded seals from the Chukchi sea in the Arctic Ocean. My first encounter with them was a recording by Ray, Watkins and Burns. It came to me that the sounds of the bearded seals would be ideal material for strings – the constant glissandi and the high resolution microtonal nuances characteristic of seal songs can be performed by no other acoustic instruments as idiomatically. All the music performed by the string quartet derives from transcriptions of several bearded seal songs, which were generously provided to me by Joshua Jones, researcher at the Scripps Whale Acoustic Lab, University of California, San Diego. Variations of the transcriptions (mainly in pitch and duration) were based on statistics of the bearded seal repertoire from 2008-2009, included in the Jones et al. article: Ringed, Bearded, and Ribbon Seal Vocalizations North of Barrow, Alaska: Seasonal Presence and Relationship with Sea Ice. The electronics for this piece consist of a hydrophone recording of sea ice from the Chuckhi sea, also a contribution of the Scripps Whale Acoustic Lab.

Performers: The JACK Quartet

JACK Quartet