Glacier Sounds

Overlapping loops of varying duration to represent natural cycles.


In October I collaborated with Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen P. Nguyen to compose and perform the sounds of a glacier for their installation at the Gem theatre in Bethel, Maine. The glacier was made from paper.

Wade and Stephen:


A time-lapse video of the project:

A time-lapse video of a similar project they did in Minnesota 2005:

The approach was to take a series of ambient loops and organize them by duration. The longer loops would represent the slow movement of time. Shorter loops would represent events like avalanches. One-shot samples would represent quick events, like the cracking of ice.

It took several iterations to produce something slow and boring enough to be convincing. I used samples from the Ron MacLeod’s Cyclic Waves library from Cycling 74 Samples were pitched down to imply largeness.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 1.09.59 AM

Each vertical column in an Ableton Live set represents a time-frame of waves. That is, the far left column contains quick events and the far right column contains long cycle events. Left to right, the columns have gradually increasing cycle durations.  I used a Push controller to trigger samples in real time as people walked through the theatre to see the glacier.

The theatre speakers were arranged in stereo but from front to back. Since the glacier was also arranged along the same axis, a slow auto-panning effect sent sounds drifting off into the distance, or vice versa. Visually and sonically there was a sense that the space extended beyond the walls of the theatre.

In the “control room” above the theatre… using Push to trigger samples and a Korg NanoKontrol to set panning positions of each track:


The performance lasted about 45 minutes. Occasionally the cracking of ice would startle people in the room. There were kids crawling around underneath the paper glacier. Afterwards we just let the sounds play on their own. A short excerpt:


Photographs by Rebecca Zicarelli.