Matthew Burtner is a multiple award-winning Alaskan-born composer, augmented computer instrument designer, and ecoacoustician, currently professor of composition and computer music at the University of Virginia. In his thought-provoking album Glacier Music, Burtner presents five compositions based on field recordings he made on various Alaskan glaciers, or which include the sounds of snow (the raw material of glaciers). These recordings are further transformed and edited by the composer in various novel ways.
Employing a musical ecoacoustics approach, he embeds environmental systems into musical and performative structures using new technologies. Burtner draws on techniques of sonification, acoustic ecology and soundscape composition pioneered by Canadian composers R. Murray Schafer, Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp, et al.
Three of the works here – Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier, Sonic Physiography of a Time-stretched Glacier, and Syntax of Snow – also feature scores for standard orchestral instruments of the Rivanna Quartet, Albemarle Ensemble and percussionists Brandon Bell and Trevor Saint, providing timbral, harmonic and textural counterpoint to the field recordings and synthesized sounds. We’re reminded by the composer that at the threshold of mountain and ocean, glaciers “are highly susceptible to global warming … [providing] an indicator of the health of the region in a time of rapid climate change.”
Burtner’s music on this album sites the environment at its core, aiming to decentralize standard human musical notions. It seems to be searching for more universal ecology-centered experiences, inspiring us to reflect on nature’s beauty in sound, and perhaps also to take action to protect it.