BRETT ESSLER

Open Polar Sea

Open Polar Sea is a project I have been working on — sometimes actively, sometimes just in my head — for about two years. It was conceived of as a way to revisit some creative skills that had lied dormant in recent years — website design, essay writing, music making — and, most importantly, to collaborate (and reconnect) with some talented friends. The end product differs from my original vision, which in many cases stems from my inability to articulate to the collaborators exactly what I was thinking: all of the disparate threads and bookmarks made perfect sense to me! But, their contributions are much better than what I had conceived. This project may be iterative (there are post scripts that could be added, collaborators who were unable to contribute) or perhaps it is finished.

I had considered adding an “inspirations” section to the site, but I wanted to keep “me” out of the narrative, so I will post a few here which may add context or further confuse:

Equivalents

For a couple years, I was fairly obsessed with Alfred Stieglitz. So, locsil’s Equivalents album, a “soundtrack” to Stieglitz’s groundbreaking cloud photos, probably triggered an idea that I could conjure soundscapes that would accompany a journey to the open polar sea. To my eye, the ice images Joanne Barham contributed to the project resemble these cloud photographs.

Songs of the Humpback Whale

Judging from the YouTube comments, this 1979 National Geographic flexidisc had a significant impact on many people. There is not really a “whale angle” in the open polar sea narrative, but this record has never left the back of my mind and informed the project in ways I can’t quite explain.

Giant Squid Reappears

I considered some threads about giant deep-sea squids that polar explorers may encounter on a expedition, but those remain on the cutting room floor. They may re-emerge, so to speak, in future iterations. But this video still haunts me.

Under the Skin

Mica Levi’s Under the Skin score is often described as “unsettling” and it was an early inspiration for what i envisioned the open polar sea sound pieces to resemble.

Thomas Joshua Cooper

Cooper’s photographs are panoramic and cinematic, while Barham’s photos are macro, claustrophobic. Yet they both suggest a grand scale and sense of unfathomable vastness.

Tanya Tagaq’s Toothsayer

Indigenous people were the first arctic explorers and they played an instrumental, and often unheralded, role in polar exploration. Inuk composer, musician, and writer Tanya Tagaq was an inspiration. Her Toothsayer EP, which was composed for the London’s National Maritime Museum “Polar Worlds” exhibit, and her novel Split Tooth both informed this project.

The Revenant – Ryuichi Sakamoto / Birdman – Antonio Sánchez

When I first read In the Kingdom of Ice, it brought to mind the Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score to Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant, as well as that film’s immersive sound design. The improvisational drum score to Iñárritu’s Birdman was also an influence. My early concept for the Open Polar Sea music included drums in the style composed and played for Birdman by Antonio Sánchez.

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