Over the past decade, we’ve experienced a shift in the tone of winter music. In more innocent days, winter music was the sound of snow, children skating and sledding, gorgeous piano miniatures that mimicked the patterns of flakes. This type of winter music still exists, but has become overshadowed by the music of the disappearing north. Due to climate change, snow is absent from regions where it was once common and present in areas where it was once rare. As the glaciers melt and the oceans rise, composers capture the sounds of regions as they vanish. Their warnings are cold and dire, but possess an awful beauty. Our year-end picks convey a swath of winter tones and demonstrate the breadth of the blended genre; they are listed in recommended listening order below.
Our cover image is taken from PD Eastman’s classic children’s book Snow, which we read as children and are now reading to our own children!
Rutger Zuydervelt / Hugo Dijkstal / Peter Hollo ~ BERG (Music for a film by Joke Olthaar)
A pair of alternate soundtracks for a walk into the great unknown, BERG offers listeners the choice between drone and modern composition, placidity and turbulence. When paired, the pieces work in tandem to describe the dual quality of the frozen lands.
Spotlight: Glacial Movements
Various Artists ~ Still / Jökel / Observer Effect / Sonic Earth (Glacial Movements)
If you like one Glacial Movements album, you’ll likely enjoy them all. Together they create a sonic universe in which electronic drones share space with swooping seagulls and cracking ice: worlds teeming with cold, dark life. The 2021 slate is embedded below in order of release.
Isolated Community ~ Cold Sleet on Old Slate (See Blue Audio)
The music sounds as frigid as its title: elongated notes, keening synths, field recordings from an isolated cove on the Northumberland coast. While listening, one can not only hear, but feel what it must be like to walk the unforgiving shore in the heart of winter, bracing one’s self against harsh winds and bitter cold. The atmosphere relents in brief segments to highlight the stark appeal.
Hauschka with Rob Petit and Robert Macfarlane ~ Upstream (Sonic Pieces)
The OST to the documentary film Emergence traces Scotland’s River Dee back to its mountainous source, intimating an ancient cold from the depths of space. The patience of the composition is a sonic reflection of Glacial Time, while the poetry makes a connection to the eternal.
John Luther Adams ~ Arctic Dreams (Cold Blue Music)
Inspired by Barry Lopez’ work of the same name, Arctic Dreams travels to Alaska to incorporate its authentic sounds: an Inuit choir, a listing of flora and fauna. This love letter reenacts the wide open spaces, the sense of grandeur and the manner in which a frigid setting may become a home.
Anushka Chkheidze, Eto Gelashvili, Hayk Karoyi, Robert Lippok ~ Glacier Music II (Establishment Records)
Voice is threaded into modern composition on this intricate work, which continues to spotlight the melting glaciers of Tujuksu. A connection is made between falling snowflakes and the retreating terrestrial white. The album comes with a book of essays and photos, well worth the price.
Seaworthy & Matt Matt Rösner ~ Snowmelt (12k)
Trips to the Australian Alps revealed to the artists the severity of the situation: the ice cover was in full retreat. By embedding field recordings in thoughtful music, these conservationists invite the conversation to continue. Snowmelt is no longer a springtime thaw, but a year-round threat.
Philip Samartzis | Eugene Ughetti ~ Polar Force / Array (Room40)
This twinned release ~ one an LP, the other a CD and book ~ offers an array of experimental music and field recordings, designed to reflect the soundscape of Antarctica’s Casey Base Station. Special instruments were created to operate in these extreme conditions, and as the blizzard approaches, one can hear why they were needed.
David Boulter ~ Twelve Bells for Libuše (Clay Pipe Music)
This gorgeous flexidisc has the feel of a folk tale, welcoming winter with festive flutes and the feel of a folk tale. Frances Castle’s illustrations are gorgeous, evoking a children’s book read on a cold winter’s night. The wordless children’s choir suggests carolers on foot, while the sleigh bells and glockenspiel seem like reindeer on a roof. The EP is a form of kind farewell; dedicated to actress Libuše Šafránková, Boulter’s pieces shimmer with gratitude and love.
Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek, Matthew Sage, and Patrick Shiroishi ~ Setsubun (Cached Media)
Part of a quartet of seasonal releases unveiled over the past year, Setsubun (whose name reflects the Japanese New Year, February 2) is designed to bridge the gap to spring. These four artists are equally inspired by the seasons and each other, and their inspirations become our gift.
Various Artists ~ Drifts and Flurries: A Second Language Collectanea (Second Language)
This winter-themed miscellany contains both vocal and instrumental tracks, the best of the former a bold new version of “Winter Kills.” For our readers, the highlight is the 16-minute “The Frosted Pane,” which ties winter in a brilliant bow and reminds us of the beauty of the cold.