The album ANTARCTICA: MUSIC FROM THE ICE is now available from Other Minds RecordsAnta

For extensive writings, photos and sounds from this project visit

In 2008 Cheryl E. Leonard was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program to develop a series of musical compositions inspired by environments and ecosystems on the Antarctic Peninsula. She spent five weeks at Palmer Research Station during the austral summer of 2008/2009 collecting materials for her project, Antarctica: Music from the Ice.

While onsite in Antarctica, Leonard embarked upon daily explorations, made field recordings of the region's wildlife and natural soundscapes, and improvised musically with stones and ice in situ. With special permisssion she also collected a few Antarctic limpet shells, penguin bones, and rocks to bring back to the United States and use as musical instruments in live performances.



After returning home Leonard began developing a set of ten Antarctic musical compositions. In these pieces unique sounds from natural-object instruments, including objects she brought back from Palmer Station, are combined with her field recordings of Antarctic ice, animals, and weather. Some of Leonard's Antarctic stones, bones and shells are played "as is" and others she has crafted into one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments.

Leonard's compositions develop from musical elements (voices, timbres, melodies, rhythms, etc.) inherent in the original materials. Aside from amplification, instruments are not processed electronically in any way, and field recordings are shaped only by editing and layering. Each piece has a different theme based on an aspect of the Antarctic Peninsula's changing enviroments and ecosystems, and connects to scientific research in the region. Many of the works relate to recent dramatic shifts in the peninsula's climate: morphing storm patterns, diminishing sea ice, changes in currents and temperatures in the Southern Ocean, the collapse of local Adélie penguin rookeries, and the retreat of tidewater glaciers. The theme of each piece is embodied in its instrumentation, the manner in which objects are played, melodic and rhythmic content, and musical structures.



Compositions are scored out and, in addition to being recorded, can be performed live by 1-4 musicians. Because she writes for unusual sound sources, Leonard has developed her own system of notation in order to articulate how to play each piece. She uses a combination of graphic symbols and text instructions, sometimes with sections of traditional music notation mixed in. Each piece requires a singular approach to scoring that is specific to the instruments and field recordings involved.

Leonard's Antarctic compositions have been presented in a series of live concerts in the U.S. and abroad from 2009 through 2017. She will continue performing works from this project at least through 2020. In 2010 she released CHATTERMARKS: FIELD RECORDINGS FROM PALMER STATION, ANTARCTICA, which is available digitally and on CD. The album ANTARCTICA: MUSIC FROM THE ICE, which includes eight compositions and a 28-page booklet containing photos and detailed liner notes, was released on July 8, 2022 and is available from Other Minds Records.


Lullaby for E Seals (6:04, 2009) - for three players on kelp flutes, Antarctic limpet shells, and wobbly rock; field recordings of southern elephant seals asleep on Amsler Island

Greater Than 20 Knots (8:50, 2009) - for three players on Synsacrum (Adélie penguin bones + driftwood), Bone Slug (Adélie penguin bones + driftwood), Limpet Shell Spine (Antarctic limpet shells + driftwood), Adélie penguin nesting stones, rocks, and sea salt; field recordings of wind on Anvers Island

Brash Ice (7:07, 2009) - for three players on ice, glass, stones, and Adélie penguin bones; field recordings of bergy bits

Rookerie (9:08, 2010) - for four players on kelp horns, stones, Antarctic Iimpet shells, and Adélie penguin bones; field recordings of Adélie penguins

Point Eight Ice (5:37, 2011) - for two players on Limpet Shell Spine (Antarctic limpet shells + driftwood), and Octobone (Adélie penguin leg bones + driftwood); field recordings of brash ice near Anvers Island

White on White (7:36, 2012) - for three players on Keel (Adélie penguin bones + driftwood), Coracoids (Adélie penguin bones + driftwood), rock slabs from Breaker Island, sea salt, Ghost (Adélie penguin skull + driftwood) and Limpet Shell Spine (Antarctic limpet shells + driftwood)

Meltwater (19:27, 2013) - for two players on icicles, glass beakers, glass petrie dishes floating in water, rock slabs from Breaker Island, Adélie penguin leg bones, feather quills, and shells; field recordings of the Marr Ice Piedmont on Anvers Island

Oceanus Meridiem (9:04, 2013) - for two players on sand, sea salt, feather, rocks, Patagonian Wind Machine (limpet shell + driftwood), kelpinet, and kelp flute; field recordings of brash ice near Anvers Island, and Adélie penguins on Torgersen Island

Ablation Zone (5:13, 2014) - for one player on Adélie penguin nesting stone and Last Flight of the Adélies (Adélie penguin vertebrae + dried kelp + driftwood); field recordings of the Marr Ice Piedmont on Anvers Island and icebergs in Arthur Harbor

Fluxes (6:06, 2015) - for two players on rock slabs from Breaker Island, sand, clam shells, Limpet Shell Spine (Antarctic limpet shells + driftwood), Antarctic limpet shell in water; field recordings of ocean waves and brash ice near Anvers Island


Leonard has also written about her project and her experiences on the Antarctic Peninsula. Diary entries from her journey to Palmer Station can be found on the blog (trip entries run from December 30, 2008 through February 10, 2009). "Night of the E Seals" is an essay Leonard penned about recording the southern elephant seals near Palmer Station. It was published in 2014 by Quiet Lightning in issue number one of their magazine Vitriol. Leonard also wrote "Playing Antarctica: Making music with natural objects and sounds from the Antarctic Peninsula," a chapter for the book Antarctica: Music, sounds and cultural connections, published by Australian National University Press in 2015. "Meltwater," another chapter by Leonard, discusses her composition of the same title, is included in the book Environmental Sound Artists: In their own words, published in 2016 by Oxford University Press USA.

This project has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program; Subito, the quick advancement grant program of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Composers Forum; the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center; the Eric Stokes Fund: Earth's Best in Tune; Aquarian Audio; Other Minds, 23five Incorporated; Electronic Musician Magazine; and Rastascan Records.

And generous donations from the following individuals: William and Janet Leonard, Rachel Nobel, Aaron Ximm, Cliff Neighbors, Matt Helm, Jon Brack, Ron Leonard, Cameron Momtaz, Tal Herman, Susan Dentel, Jane Perry, Heather Davison, Mary Stein, Jason Sack, Alexander Sacco, Barbara Gitlin, Susan Frank, Brian Hogencamp, Dave Lubertozzi, Rebecca Haseltine, Janet Um, Cherie Carson, Agnes Szelag, Dave Feldt, Jess Gerodias, Polly Moller, Audrey Howard, Michael Straus, Dana Jessen, Heather Polley, Surabhi Saraf, Michelle Jack, Mellisa Margolis, Karen Stackpole.