Glacier Music

Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier composer note:

“Like living animals, the glaciers exude a unique and visceral presence. I grew up around these “earth animals” and feel that their health intimately reflects our own: when the glaciers are gone, we will retreat as well.”

Matanuska Glacier, with its headwaters in the Chugach Mountains, reflects the health of a whole region. We can listen to this glacier as music, the small melting sounds like voices in counterpoint. It is a music about change and finitude. As a form of cultural intervention, music keeps pressure on the public imagination to feel connected emotionally to the world we inhabit, to imagine new forms of reality through expressive sonic dynamics, and to share those potential realities with others together in a community of aesthetics through listening. Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier allows us to hear music set with the voice of the glacier itself, to create a human-nature dialectic activated through musical counterpoint. Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier was completed for release on the 2019 album Glacier Music, a collection of pieces exploring Alaskan glaciers as instruments in counterpoint with human musicians. Glacier Music explores space and time around the glaciers by collecting detailed spatial “sound casts” of the glaciers through microphones placed around, over, under and inside the glaciers; and through temporal expansion and compression of the sonic patterns of glacial melt. The result captures the beauty of the natural landscape while also emphasizing a poignant and at times bitter reality about some of the subjects.

The Glacier Music project explores the precarious situation of these natural wonders as music, offering listeners a path to feel connected with and become inspired to take action on behalf of our environment. BBC Radio 3 called “Glacier Music” “a dancing death throw that Burtner’s electronics turn into a creeping tragedy, and the whole album, Glacier Music, is a beautiful apocalypse. “ The album Glacier Music brings together Burtner’s compositions created for the US State Department under President Obama, the Anchorage Museum of Art, and leading musicians. It highlights the results of a decade of Burtner’s research on Alaska’s glaciers, music that has been featured by NASA’s Goddard Space Center, PBS NewsHour, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), National Geographic, Other Minds, the Center for Energy Studies in the Humanities (CENHS).

The pieces being performed are “Threnody (Sikuigvik)” and “Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier.”

View the science behind MATANUSKA GLACIER

Glacier Music Album

Download and listen to Matthew Burtner’s album Glacier Music – Ecoacoustics of Glaciers.


Indie Alaska’s “Matthew Burtner: Making Music with Snow and Glaciers”


Scientific studies for further reading

A Geographical Analysis of Warm Season Lighting/Landscape Interactions Across Colorado

Vogt, Brandon, and Steve Hodanish 2016. A geographical analysis of warm season lightning / landscape interactions across Colorado, USA. Applied Geography 75: 93-105.

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Colorado Lighting Climatology

Hodanish, Steve, Brandon Vogt, and Paul Wolyn. 2019. Colorado lightning climatology. Journal of Operational Meteorology 7(4): 45-60.

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Social Studies and the Young Learner

Vogt, Brandon, Steve Lapham, and Rebecca Theobald. 2018. The Physical Geography of the San Luis Valley Region of South Central Colorado. National Council for the Social Sciences. Social Studies and the Young Learner 30:3 (Jan./Feb.).

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Matthew Burtner, composer
Brandon Vogtphysical geographer
Audrey Lund, visuals