Explorer Journeys: Ihlara McIndoe

Inspiring Explorers Expedition: Antarctic Peninsula 2020

“It was great seeing people on the ship working on many different artforms – photography, virtual reality, painting and sketching, and of course, music. Antarctica is such a beautiful, breathtaking and at times overwhelming, harsh, and severe place. I think there is so much potential to share the magic of Antarctica through artistic platforms.”

Musician and composer, Ihlara McIndoe, had a mission like no other when she ventured to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2020 – to capture the unique sounds of this frozen landscape to inspire classical music compositions.

Many people who visit Antarctica are struck by how quiet it is. But listen closely, like Ihlara McIndoe did, and there are many sounds cutting through the lasting silence. Ihlara’s main challenge during the expedition was to record these sounds and use them for inspiration to create three classical musical pieces on her return.

The deafening roar of calving glaciers, as ice dramatically shaved off into the sea, and the swish of the ocean, sloshing against towering icebergs, were two sounds that stood out to Ihlara, alongside mesmerising wildlife calls, such as seabirds flying overhead, and colonies of chattering penguins. “I had no idea what sorts of sounds I might hear, and it was incredible to find so many that I didn’t expect. One amazing experience was when we were kayaking, and a big piece of ice calved off a nearby iceberg. It made this incredible noise and the force was overwhelming, sending large swells in our direction. The water became calm again, but after a couple of minutes there was a big burst from under the ocean as the ice came up again. It was breathtaking to witness the immense power of the environment.”

Ihlara’s brought a unique artist’s perspective to the expedition; however she also had doubts before leaving about how she might fit in to an environment that pushed her right outside her comfort zone.

“As a musician, I was a bit worried, as I didn’t really see my place. But what I would tell people now, is that an understanding of Antarctica is relevant to everybody, whether they have a science, political, exploration or arts background. We all have an important role to play in its conservation and preservation.”

Following the expedition, Ihlara created three stunning classical music compositions for orchestra, flute, and violin/viola, all informed by her experiences on the Ice. Now working as a lawyer, she continues her composition work with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) National Youth Orchestra as their Composer in Residence for 2021.