Matthew Burtner composer

Release Date: June 10, 2022
Catalog #: RR8066
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century

If glaciers could speak, what would they tell us? On ICEFIELD, veteran composer Matthew Burtner answers that very question with an eclectic series of works that explore the intersection between the environment and controlled sound. Combining specialized field recordings of glaciers and Arctic storms, electroacoustics, and traditional instruments, Burtner creates surreal soundscapes that blur the line between audio and physical experience—from the opera Auksalaq to the audio synthesization of data on Sonification of an Arctic Lagoon, each piece on the album channels the whip-crack chill of the air, the blinding snow, and the awe-inspiring sight of glacial fields breaking apart and bringing sea levels higher and higher.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 You Sink Into the Singing Snow Matthew Burtner EcoSono Ensemble | Lisa Edwards-Burrs, voice; Kevin Davis, cello; Kelly Sulick, flute; John Mayhood, piano; Naima Burrs, violin; I-Jen Fang, percussion; Glen Whitehead, trumpet 6:58
02 Icefield Matthew Burtner Matthew Burtner, saxophone & snow 11:42
03 Vaporous Clouds Condense Matthew Burtner EcoSono Ensemble | Lisa Edwards-Burrs, voice; Kevin Davis, cello; Kelly Sulick, flute; John Mayhood, piano; Naima Burrs, violin; I-Jen Fang, percussion 2:53
04 Sonification of an Arctic Lagoon Matthew Burtner BLE LTER | Ken Dunton, science; Craig Connolly, science; Christina Bonsell, science; Nathan McTigue, science 3:51
05 We are as One Plane Matthew Burtner EcoSono Ensemble | Lisa Edwards-Burrs, voice; Kevin Davis, cello; Kelly Sulick, flute; John Mayhood, piano; Naima Burrs, violin; I-Jen Fang, percussion 6:02
06 Threnody (Sikuigvik) Matthew Burtner A4E Ensemble | Kasia Sokol-Borup, violin; Hasse Borup, violin; Julie Edwards, viola; Viktor Uzur, cello; Jens Tenbroek, bass; Maddy Tarantelli, horn; Katie Porter, clarinets; Christina Castellanos, flute 8:34
07 Aialik Iceberg Sound Cast with Binaural Beats Matthew Burtner Matthew Burtner, multichannel iceberg field recording & computer-generated sound 3:28
08 Oil Drum Matthew Burtner Colin Malloy, percussion 7:35
09 Iceprints Matthew Burtner Chrysi Nanou, piano 21:08

We are as One Plane (2012)
Session Recording Engineer Travis Thatcher

Vaporous Clouds Condense (2012)
Session Recording Engineer Travis Thatcher

You Sink Into the Singing Snow (2012)
Session Recording Engineer Travis Thatcher

Threnody (Sikuigvik) (2018)
Session Recording Engineer Ashkan Tabatabaie

Oil Drum (2020)
Session Recording Engineer Sean Kiley

Iceprints (2010)
Session Recording Engineer Rice Ross
RPI HASS Media Studio
Science data by Hajo Eicken / UAF Geophysical Institute and International Arctic Research Center (IARC)

The album features performances of Burtner’s work by EcoSono Ensemble, A4E Ensemble, Chrysi Nanou (piano) and Colin Malloy (percussion). The music also features data recorded by the Beaufort Lagoons Ecosystem (BLE) Long Term Ecological Research scientists in the Arctic.

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Quinton Blue

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Mastering Melanie Montgomery

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran
Content Manager Sara Warner

Artist Information

Matthew Burtner


Matthew Burtner is an Alaskan-born composer and sound artist. An IDEA Award winner and first prize winner of the Musica Nova International Electroacoustic Music composition, is an Alaskan-born composer and sound artist whose work explores embodiment, ecology, polytemporality, and noise. 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. He has published three intermedia climate change works including the IDEA Award–winning telematic opera, Auksalaq. In 2020 he received an Emmy Award for “Composing Music with Snow and Glaciers,” a feature on his Glacier Music by Alaska Public Media.



EcoSono is a non-profit organization pursuing commonalities between innovative musical creation and ecological sustainability since 2009. Through education, engagement, and artistic production, EcoSono defined a unique methodology for environmentalism and the arts. National Geographic called EcoSono’s production Auksalaq “a significant cultural event that marries science as the brain, art as the heart and culture as the soul in our search for awareness and sustainability.” EcoSono has organized concerts from Alaska to Namibia to Australia and venues in between. The EcoSono Ensemble combines chamber music performance, improvisation, new technologies, and ecoacoustics. The group gave its debut performance at the 2012 premiere of Auksalaq. Since then, EcoSono Ensemble has performed in Alaska, Washington DC, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, Canada, California, and throughout Australia and Tasmania.

Artists for the Environment (A4E)


Artists for the Environment (A4E) is a project organized through the University of Utah in partnership with a number of academic and environmental organizations to promote environmental activism through music. The project is directed by Hasse Borup and Elisabet Curbelo. The ensemble includes Kasia Sokol-Borup, violin; Hasse Borup, violin; Julie Edwards, viola; Viktor Uzur, cello; Jens Tenbroek, bass; Maddy Tarantelli, horn; Katie Porter, clarinets; and Christina Castellanos, flute.

Colin Malloy


Colin Malloy is an award-winning percussionist specializing in contemporary solo and chamber percussion, the steel pan, and music technology. Malloy has performed at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC), the Bang on a Can Summer Marathon, and at the Trinidad and New York Panoramas. He was a founding member of Left Edge Percussion, the chamber percussion group in residence at Southern Oregon University under the direction of Terry Longshore. He is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in music and computer science at University of Victoria in British Columbia focused on steelpan. He holds a B.A. in Pure Mathematics from Whitman College, a B.S. in Music Education from Oregon State University, an M.M. in Percussion Performance from Southern Oregon University, and a M.Mus. in Music Technology from University of Victoria.

Chrysi Nanou


Pianist Chrysi Nanou combines a career as a performer, curator, lecturer, and devoted teacher of all ages. Born in Greece, Nanou’s personal and professional aesthetics were formed in Paris and further shaped in the United States with her studies at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris / Alfred Cortot, The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, and at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Her repertoire is particularly diverse, ranging from core classical music to 21st century and in a wide variety of genres with an emphasis on electroacoustic contemporary music. Appearing as a concert pianist in over 30 countries, she has premiered many compositions by young and eminent composers. Nanou has served as the Artistic Coordinator of CCRMA (Stanford University) and sits on the board of the International Computer Music Association (ICMA). She is currently Visiting Faculty at RPI and a Ph.D. Candidate at Cambridge University at the Center for Music and Science.


Matthew Burtner Recording Icefield


Matthew Burtner Recording ICEFIELD

Auksalaq is an IDEA award–winning climate change opera composed and written by Matthew Burtner. The opera was created in collaboration with media artist Scott Deal and has been performed in Norway, Canada, New York, Washington DC, Houston, Ohio, Indianapolis, Virginia, and Alaska. Several pieces in Auksalaq can be performed as standalone works, including the three songs included on this album.

The philosophy of Auksalaq positions the human as part of a stratified world formed of coexisting layers of change. The atmosphere above, the snow and ice below, and the wind on the surface interact to form an epistemology of the “icefield” embedded in Auksalaq. The openness of the landscape juxtaposes with a pressing closeness created by the environment. The dynamics of the icefield push one inwards and outwards simultaneously. There are no acoustic reflections and the horizon is visible in all directions creating a perception of great expanse. Meanwhile the extreme noise of the snow and the pressure of the wind, along with the need to bundle into warm clothing introverts the landscape, pushes the individual inward into reflection. This world, primarily perceived through the clouds, snow, and noise is constantly transforming on multiple scales of time.

The strong features of this terrain are its transforming surfaces: the wind, the clouds, the ice… and now you. In particular, the text positions the human mind in close relationship to the wind: The first thing you notice is a profound sense of closeness, as if the entire world is pushing in on you. The parka bundles your body, and the wind presses into your ears, filling them and displacing all other sounds. The patterns of the wind create impressions in your mind. The wind fills you, pushes your imagination inwards into thought. In this place, the human mind and the wind are like one, together. We are as one plane, fleeting between the snow and the clouds. In You Sink Into the Singing Snow, the connection between the snow as an acoustic source through the human body sets up a larger relationship between the human song and the global ocean.

In the opera, this character has presumably walked out onto the Arctic Ocean in winter (there is no coastal distinction in winter) and is considering the unseen ocean beneath. As you move, the snow crunches and squeaks dryly under your feet. You sink in with each step and the sounds jump up at you. You hear the snow singing under your footsteps, singing unlike any other ground, closer than any ground. This rich terrain is always new, shaped each day, remade each season. It is a land of change. And beneath the snow, under the ice… an ocean. … You sink into the singing snow…through the ice, into an ocean.

This composition features Burtner and his saxophone out on the 700-square-mile expanse of ice in Alaska called the Harding Icefield. The composer used microphones to interface the saxophone and his own movements with the icefield. We hear layers of bass saxophone, snow, and wind filtered through one another: the snow recorded through the sax and the sax through the snow, all set in the windy environment. Burtner performs the snow as well, activating a rich texture of noise that describes the surface of this massive icefield, thousands of feet thick, a body of ice that serves as the headwaters for dozens of glaciers across south-central Alaska.
Burtner joined scientists Ken Dunton, Craig Connolly, Christina Bonsell, and Nathan McTigue on the Arctic Ocean island of Kaktovik to study the Beaufort Lagoons between the island and the mainland. This ecosystem presents one of the most dynamic systems on the planet, going from nearly complete frozen and dark stillness in the winter to incredible activity for several months in the summer. The sonification synthesizes one year of data from January to January, tracking the tidal movement, salinity, temperature, and light in the lagoon in about five minutes of music.
This is an instrumental version of the piece released by Ravello Records on Burtner’s GLACIER MUSIC in 2019, a piece commissioned by the U.S. State Department under President Obama and first performed at the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage AK.
In 2020 Burtner traveled by Kayak into Aialik Bay in the Gulf of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park to record icebergs. Using specially-designed “ice microphones,” along with hydrophones and air mics, he amplified the iceberg across multiple channels as it interacted with the tide. We hear the crackling sound of air trapped for thousands of years inside the glacial ice being released into the atmosphere as the iceberg melts. We hear the wave motion of the water rocking and turning the iceberg. We hear the cracking and hissing of the iceberg as it melts. To help condition our mental receptivity for this exceptional event, Burtner has composed a “binaural beat.” The icebergs break off from the face of the glacier and the ebb tide takes them out to sea as they melt. This fresh water becomes part of the ocean which wraps around the world. The iceberg is only a small piece of the glacier, but icebergs can hold millions of gallons of fresh water. Imagine how much water is contained in the glacier! The glacier itself however is only a small part of the icefield which feeds it. Dozens of glaciers come from the icefield, and the sheet itself is thousands of feet thick, contributing about 5,000 gallons of water to this rising sea level. As we listen to the iceberg melting into the ocean, let’s meditate upon it as a symbol for global warming that is shrinking ice sheets all around the world and driving sea level rise.

As a child, Burtner lived in a village on the north slope in a time before the main advances of oil production had taken hold. Once an empty expanse of beautiful tundra, his village is now surrounded by oil rigs, mining the earth for fuel which ultimately contributes to global warming and destroys the very environment from which it is harvested. Oil Drum points to the relationship between the icefield and the oil drilling, making music from the 55-gallon oil drum that is used to store refined oil. As a child, Burtner used to make music on the 55-gallon drums by playing them as instruments. The oil drum is used in this piece as a musical instrument as well. In Trinidad, another oil-rich land, the people used the 55-gallon drum to create the pan drums, a traditional instrument played throughout the Caribbean. The piece creates rhythms out of the sonification of oil production from Alaska’s north slope and Trinidad. These rhythms are then played by the oil drums themselves. This composition was commissioned by pan drum expert Colin Malloy.

Iceprints has become a classic ecoacoustic sonification-based work, originating a novel methodology for composition using sonification and field recording. The piece uses 40 years of ice extent data—the total amount of ice coverage in the Arctic—starting in 1970. It overlays this with a three-channel hydrophone recording made underneath the Arctic ice sheet. The two data sets are transcribed into piano and computer music, weaving the real time environmental data into the 40-year data set through music. The harmonic system upon which this sonification is mapped comes from Burtner’s composition Sikuigvik (1997) for piano and ensemble. It “samples” that early sonification work by encoding the instrumental composition as a digital filter and then playing the ice through it.

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