Release Date: January 25, 2019
Catalog #: RR8001
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century

Glacier Music


Matthew Burtner composer

Rivanna Quartet
Albermarle Ensemble
Brandon Bell percussion
Trevor Saint percussion

Matthew Burtner returns to Ravello Records with the haunting beauty of GLACIER MUSIC, an electroacoustic collection featuring the Alaskan natural landscape as the central instrument. Most of the natural sounds were recorded on Alaskan glaciers, featuring the sounds of snow, trickling streams, and the cracks, pops, and thundering as glaciers break apart and fall. Burtner, who was born in Alaska and grew up among the glaciers, also sculpts scientific measurements of glacial melt into the music through a technique known as sonification.

Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier, written upon request for President Obama’s 2015 GLACIER Conference, demonstrates the warning signal behavior of glaciers. Standing as the threshold between mountain and ocean, glaciers are highly sensitive to global warming, and their state indicates just how rapidly the globe is heating up. Sonic Physiography of a Time-Stretched Glacier also looks at the melting of an Alaskan glacier, but from a different perspective — Burtner applies time stretching with interactive software which slows, and eventually halts, the effects of climate change to the listening ear. Threnody was recorded on Aialik Glacier, part of the 23,000-year-old Harding Ice Field, and catches the sounds of ancient air being released from pockets inside the glacier as pieces break from the main ice and melt as they drift out to sea with the tide.

Syntax of Snow is formed from the unlikely duo of amplified snow and glockenspiel. The performers played the glockenspiel with one hand and the snow with the other, speaking to the snow’s ability to communicate information to people and animals about environment, weather conditions, and landscape. The album concludes with Muir Glacier, 1889-2009, perhaps the most romantic and haunting piece of all. The piece was commissioned by the Anchorage Museum of Art for the Alaska Gallery to accompany the Thomas Hill painting, Muir Glacier, 1889, which had depicted Muir Glacier in its fullness. Over a 120-year period, the glacier gradually shrank from the water, retreating up the valley until it vanished entirely in 2009. To recreate the experience, the composer recorded sounds from glaciers in various states of retreat, so that the piece follows a linear timeline from the healthy glacier’s beginnings to its ultimate demise.

GLACIER MUSIC captures the beauty of both sights and sounds in the natural landscape, while also emphasizing the bitter reality for many of its subjects. Burtner, poignantly depicts the precarious situation of these natural wonders, leaving listeners both awed and perhaps inspired to take action.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier Matthew Burtner Rivanna Quartet | Daniel Sender, violin; David Sariti, violin; Ayn Balija, viola; Adam Carter, cello; Albermarle Ensemble | Kelly Sulick, flute; Shawn Earle, clarinet; Katy Ambrose, horn; Greg Howard, chapman stick 23:18
02 Sonic Physiography of a Time-stretched Glacier Matthew Burtner Brandon Bell, percussion 10:56
03 Threnody (Sikuigvik) Matthew Burtner 4:58
04 Syntax of Snow Matthew Burtner Trevor Saint, percussion 8:54
05 Muir Glacier, 1889-2009 Matthew Burtner 26:03

Compositions, field recordings and sonifications by Matthew Burtner

Recorded at Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia in Charlottesville VA
Recorded on Matanuska Glacier in Alaska
Instrument Recording Engineer Travis Thatcher
Field Recording Engineer Matthew Burtner

Recorded at Stude Hall, Rice University in Houston TX
Recorded on Root Glacier, Alaska
Recording Engineer Matthew Burtner

Recorded on Ailik Glacier in Alaska
Field Recording Engineer Matthew Burtner

Recorded at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Recording Center,
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Whitewater WI
Recording Engineer Jeff Herriott

MUIR GLACIER, 1889-2009
Recorded on various Alaskan glaciers assembled to sonify the retreat of Muir Glacier over 130 years
Field Recording Engineer Matthew Burtner

This recording was made thanks to generous support from the University of Virginia Office of the Provost & the Vice Provost for the Arts, and from the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Marina Altschiller

Vice President, Audio Production Jeff LeRoy
Engineering Manager Lucas Paquette

Art Director Brett Picknell
Design Ryan Harrison, Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Scott Feldman, Patrick Niland

Artist Information

Matthew Burtner


Matthew Burtner is an Alaskan-born composer, sound artist, and eco-acoustician whose work explores embodiment, ecology, polytemporality, and noise. His music comfortably crosses boundaries between environmental science and art, philosophy and acoustics, technology and body, and he is a leading practitioner of climate change music and ecoacoustic sound art. As a composer, Burtner seeks out contexts where critical issues of human/nature interaction are addressed, whether in musical contexts, other forms of media, scientific conferences, or political conventions. His music has been performed in concerts around the world and featured by organizations such as NASA, PBS NewsHour, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the BBC, the U.S. State Department under President Obama, and National Geographic.


SOUND CAST OF MATANUSKA GLACIER explores the sonic physiography of Matanuska Glacier in Alaska. Glaciers reside at the threshold between mountain and ocean, and they are highly susceptible to global warming. With its headwaters in the Chugach Mountains, Matanuska Glacier provides an indicator of the health of the region in a time of rapid climate change. The piece was composed for the US State Department for President Obama’s 2015 GLACIER Conference in Alaska.

SONIC PHYSIOGRAPHY OF A TIME-STRETCHED GLACIER applies time stretching to glacial melt to slow global warming. The music features a field recording of glacial melt gradually slowed until time stands still. A new harmonic world of sound emerges from the inherent frequency components of the glacier’s droplets of melting ice. Interactive software allows the percussionist’s performance to control the rate of time stretching. The piece was commissioned by Brandon Bell.

THRENODY (SIKUIGVIK) was composed for an installation at the Anchorage Museum of Art by a team of architects and designers led by Garrett Burtner, on the occasion of the GLACIER Conference at which the world’s Arctic world leaders gathered to address urgent climate change issues. In the installation, this music emanated from within a giant block of glacial ice. The music is composed from the unique sound of Aialik glacier, where calving ice is pulled out by the tide as it melts in the warmer water of the Gulf of Alaska. Aialik is a tributary of the Harding Ice Field which formed in Pleistocene Epoch about 23,000 years ago. As the pieces of glacial ice melt, cavities of the ancient air trapped inside the glacier enter into our atmosphere, creating small popping sounds. In Threnody (Sikuigvik) these sounds create the texture, combined with a computer- generated sonification of the glacier.

SYNTAX OF SNOW for amplified snow and glockenspiel quartet explores the material from which glaciers form. The piece matches notes on the glockenspiel with performative gestures on the snow, amplified by microphones in the snow. Each performer plays bells with one hand and snow with the other, as if they are one instrument. In this way the notation extends the syntax of musical notation to the snow itself. The piece employs a “drifting” harmonic approach in which sonorities gather and persist as they are shaped by the new input. For people and animals in the north, the sound of snow reveals essential information about the environment such as the year, month, day and time of day; the past weather conditions; contours of the landscape; and the plants and the wildlife in the area. Glaciers form when compacted snow becomes so dense that air can no longer enter or escape from it. The piece was commissioned by Trevor Saint.

MUIR GLACIER, 1889-2009 was commissioned by the Anchorage Museum of Art for the Alaska Gallery to accompany the Thomas Hill painting, Muir Glacier, 1889. Since Hill painted his piece in 1889, Muir glacier has experienced a ruinous melt and retreat. The tidewater glacier left the water altogether by the early 1990s and continued to shrink up the valley away from Muir Inlet, until it disappeared from sight from the original location, as noted by USGS in 2009. This music sonifies Muir Glacier’s transformation from a tidewater to a terrestrial glacier, using measurements of the ice retreat over 120 years to modulate glacier recordings. The characteristic sounds of a tidewater glacier gradually morph into the sounds of a terrestrial thinning glacier. The new sound work was presented originally along with the Thomas Hill painting, bringing a sonic reinterpretation of this romantic visual work.