Musings on Ice and Process by Jessi Harvey


Thoughts from the Composer: Jessi Harvey

who created half of the sound score for Sea Change Within Us, weaving the process of sea ice throughout the string quartet, speaking about joyfully crunching. Listen to the score as you read by clicking here.

I grew up in Montana, on the side of the mountain with no TV, and a small creek running through the backyard, gathering to a pond before running out in the field. At night all that was heard was the occasional truck running down the gravel road and a constant gentle gurgle. In the spring, the water would run wild across the path to the back door. Summer was for endless catching water skippers in a bucket and setting them free. Fall the scum grew thick and needed cleaning. Winter was the one time the gurgle stopped as whatever water was left, froze over to create sections to slide on and other sheets to stomp with joyful crunch. 

This childhood gave me an innate sense of the deep breath of nature’s cycles and our place in them, that then crept into the music I love to write. A small pond and a joyful crunch brought me to sea ice. 

Sea ice has its own process. As temperatures drop, ice crystals form and coalesce to make slushy frazil ice, undulating in the water. They continue to freeze until gradually a single sheet, a nila, is born. The nilas are first dark are and you can still see the ocean underneath but continue to thicken to grey and then white. Make it through the year for the official designation of first- year ice. Make it through a few years of melting and freezing, melting and freezing, for the final designation of multi-year ice. These processes formed the melody of Ice, first one instrument, then two, until the entire quartet goes through the birth of ice. But then, the human aspect comes in as the melody is interrupted earlier and earlier, instruments drop out of the melody, and we are left in a completely different place of Sea Level Rise. The tonal language of Ice remains but is lost, repeating endlessly with nothing to show for it. 

Moving backwards in the piece, we encounter Tides. There are three distinct tides across the globe which corresponded with three of the sides of Roger Feldman’s art installation and the dances. The music follows the action of each tide; like the diurnal tide, having one high and one low tide; the semidiurnal with the two high and two low; the mixed with its varying intensities of its two high and two low tides. The last side, however, is the tide of ignorance and ignoring the world we live in, being more willing to stare at our phones then to face our effects on the world. This brings us to Diving the World where the cyclical motion of the tides are taken apart and musicians are asked to exhaust themselves by shrieking into the void but never receiving an answer. 

The beginning is actually the end which is a beautiful process in itself. A tide is played backwards and then we return home. To a slow trickle of water. That joins the tidal forces, taken back to the arctic. To freeze solid ice. Which we may hopefully keep dear to ourselves and protect so that others may grow up to joyfully crunch.

Karin Stevens Dance