Saturday, December 3, 2011

Instrument Demo Today

This evening I'll be demonstrating my Antarctic Instruments at KALW's live storytelling event. One of the stories in the live Crosscurrents show will be about my Antarctic music. Plus I'll have CDs and photos for sale.

Saturday December 3, 6-9 pm, FREE!
Polish Club
3040 22nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Join KALW for its final 70th anniversary event, in conjunction with the Mission Arts and Performance Project! This special evening will feature oral storytellers, radio producers, and musicians performing on the theme of "Beginnings and Endings." We'll also be bringing you an episode of KALW's "Crosscurrents" LIVE, with audience participation!

Performers include:

Glynn Washington (radio producer and host, NPR's "Snap Judgment")
Nikki Silva (radio producer, The Kitchen Sisters)
John Reichmuth (improv artist, Kasper Hauser Comedy Troupe)
Jon Mooallem (writer, New York Times Magazine)
Casey Miner (radio producer, KALW)
Julie Caine (radio producer, KALW)
Martina Castro (radio producer, KALW)
Ben Trefny (radio producer, KALW)
Ali Budner (radio producer and artist, KALW)

With music by Quinn Deveaux and Meklit Hadero.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

North to the Arctic!

In just a few weeks Oona Stern and I will be heading north to create a series of site-specific art installations in the Arctic. We'll journey to Spitsbergen and participate in the Arctic Circle Expeditionary Residency Program, exploring the region aboard a traditionally-rigged tall ship, alongside 20-or-so other artists, scientists and educators.

During the expedition Oona and I will develop Adfreeze Project, a series of artworks that combine sound and form to respond to our location each day. At each site a material or feature will be selected as a focus for visual and aural interactions. Natural patterns, evidence of changes in ecological systems, and other environmental events are of special interest to us.

On land, local materials such as stones, sand, driftwood, shells, ice, water, bones and vegetation will be manipulated to draw attention to an aspect of the site. These materials will also be played as musical instruments in compositions and improvisations that translate the site's physical forms into musical gestures. On the ship elements such as sea spray, waves, wind and snow, as well as sounds from the ship herself, will be shaped and recorded. Drawings, rubbings and other mark-making processes will create visual records, echoing the visual data collection of early explorers. Site characteristics and interventions will also be documented with video and photography. At each location, activities will leave no lasting impact on the site.

Post-residency, we will produce a series of multi-media portraits of the Arctic, designed for exhibition in galleries, educational institutions and online venues. I will also develop musical performances that can be played within, or in conjunction with, our art exhibitions. In these concerts I will perform solo on amplified natural objects from Spitsbergen in combination with edited field recordings made during our expedition. The first Adfreeze Project exhibition and performance will take place in Tromsø, Norway, in late October on our way back from Spitsbergen.

We'll be posting updates online as we travel through this land of polar bears and glaciers. Follow our Arctic adventures on the Adfreeze Project blog.

You can help support the project by purchasing special limited edition or subscription artworks, or by making a tax-deductible donation in any amount through our fiscal sponsor, the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

KALW Radio Interview

I recently spoke in depth with KALW's Martina Castro about my Antarctic music. Check out her radio feature about my work, which aired earlier this week on Crosscurrents from KALW News: The Audiophiles: Finding Music in the Sounds of Antarctica.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Australia Bound - Kickstarter

In a little over a month Ann and I will be heading to Canberra, Australia to perform four of my compositions in a festival of Antarctic music at the Australian National University. I need your support to make this concert the very best it can be and have set up a Kickstarter project to raise the needed funds.

Ann and I are offering some very cool (pardon the pun!) rewards for contributors. These include field recordings, archival prints of photos from Antarctica, and your own musical instrument or composition. I am also producing a SPECIAL LIMITED-EDITION CD for donors only. This CD contains recordings of my first three Antarctic compositions (these will not be available elsewhere until the project is released it's entirety in 2012), and previously unreleased Antarctic field recordings. Plus each CD comes with a one-of-kind handmade cover.

Please consider donating and/or spreading the word. Thank you! Your support really makes a difference and is greatly appreciated.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Brash Ice Video

Here is a short portrait of brash ice that Oona Stern and I created with audio, video and photos from our adventures at Palmer Station.

brash ice from oona stern + cheryl leonard on Vimeo.

Please use good quality speakers or headphones when listening so you can hear all the low bass sounds.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Elephant Seal Research

Elephant Seals (Southern and Northern) in the news!
Researchers from UC Santa Cruz's Institute of Marine Sciences are studying the vocalizations of Northern Elephant Seals:

Satellite tags attached to Southern Elephant Seals are providing data that measures changes in the Southern Ocean and its ecosystems, and helps map the Antarctic seafloor:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Instruments Photo

Most of the musical instruments I have constructed with Antarctic objects so far (I still plan to build more)...

Adélie penguin bones and Antarctic limpet (Nacella concinna) shells mounted in driftwood. Pictured (left to right, back to front): Vertebrae Mobile, 7" x 4" x 5", 2009; Limpet Shell Spine, 20" x 5" x 8", 2009; Coracoids, 13" x 5" x 5", 2010; Ghost, 8" x 5" x 7", 2010; Bone Slug, 10" x 4" x 6", 2009; Octobone, 12" x 7" x 6", 2010; Keel, 9" x 4" x 10", 2009.

Friday, April 8, 2011

DIY Instrument Tailgate Party this Sunday

I'll be demonstrating my Antarctic instruments at this free event at Stanford University on Sunday. Come on by and make some sounds with my penguin bones, limpet shells and stones from the Antarctic Peninsula...

Sunday, April 10, 2011 | Noon to 4pm
White Plaza, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Free, Open to the Public, Family-Friendly (with activities for kids!)

Stanford University and Thingamajigs present a meet-up-style afternoon of demonstrations, sharing, and performances by and for the Bay Area instrument-building community. Two dozen instrument builders and musical inventors from the Bay Area and beyond will participate and demonstrate their projects. Visiting artist... and MacArthur Fellow Trimpin will serve as honored guest and Grand Marshal of the day's festivities, mingling with presenters and demonstrating some instruments of his own design.

Participants include:
Craig Parada / Matthew Goodheart / Tom Duff / chas smith / Fernando Lopez-Lezcano / Jiffer Harriman / Will Grant /Babak Falsafi / Sean Simon / Cheryl E. Leonard / Andrew Werby / Tim Thompson / Danishta Rivero / Wendy Reid / Stewart Port / Peter Nyboer / Larnie Fox / steve cooley / Ed Christensen / Alan Adler / courtney sexton / Bryan Day / Alan Tower & Kim Riccelli

Special guest artists will also
perform throughout the afternoon:
- Tom Nunn and Bart Hopkin Duo
- Mobius Operandi
- The Wreck of the Old #10

The event is co-hosted by Thingamajigs, the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and Stanford Lively Arts, with support from Stanford Continuing Studies.

Maps and Directions:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Antarctic Music Festival and Conference

The Australia National University will be hosting an Antarctic Music Festival and Conference in Canberra this June. I am thrilled to announce that I will be performing several of my Antarctic compositions at ANU and will also give a talk about my work.

Antarctic Music Festival
June 24-26, 2011

Antarctica: Music, Sound and Cultural Connections

June 27-29, 2011
A creative arts conference that highlights the importance of sound (or lack of it) and music as part of the unique Antarctic environment

Both events are being hosted by ANU's Department of Music and celebrate the centenary of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglass Mawson. I am scheduled to perform Saturday June 25th at 8 pm, and to speak on Monday June 27th in Session 2, 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm.

Interview and Podcast

Works and Conversations has posted an in-depth interview with me (discussing music, aikido, Antarctica, climbing and more) at

Also Bay Area Sound Ecology has posted a podcast of the Antarctic sounds talk I gave at BASEbot 005 last year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Little Ice Piece

So far I have eight Antarctic compositions that I am working to complete and record this spring and summer. These works range in length from 6 to 10 minutes each, so I already have close to an hour of Antarctic music. Additionally, I have ideas for two more pieces I'd like to write: one that combines my recordings of sparring Southern Elephant Seals with kelp horns, and a more gritty noise-oriented piece crafted from glacier ice recordings.

The Melting Marr Ice Piedmont, from Amsler Island

While searching out fodder for the ice noise composition I decided to put together a short glacier piece as a fun side project. So, here is Terminus, a little piece created entirely from field recordings of the Marr Ice Piedmont, including calving, small cubes of ice rolling down steep ice cliffs, the surface of the glacier creaking under my weight, and gurgling and percussive rhythms from small meltwater streams.

Terminus (1:00, CD-quality wav file, 9.7 MB)
Terminus (1:00, mp3 file, 2.2 MB)

I recommend listening to this piece on headphones or speakers with good bass response so you can hear the booming of the calving glacier properly. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oona Stern Solo Exhibition

Oona Stern, my compatriot and Artboat Co-Captain at Palmer Station, has a solo exhibition of her Antarctic work up right now at Westchester Community College in New York. If you are in the area, I highly recommend that you go see it!

Also, I'll be speaking about my Antarctic music and doing a short performance at the opening reception next Wednesday...

Oona Stern
the reluctant naturalist

In January 2009 Oona Stern traveled to Palmer Station in Antarctica as a fellow with the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The study of ice and its structures was the focus of Stern's Antarctic research, and the reluctant naturalist is the first solo exhibition of work based on her residency.

A gallery talk with Oona Stern will be held on Wednesday, February 2, from 11am – 1pm.
Special guest Cheryl E. Leonard, sound artist and composer, will perform music also developed in Antarctica.

75 GRASSLANDS ROAD VALHALLA NEW YORK 10595 • 914.606.6621 •

In 2009 I was in Antarctica with the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. My focus was the study of ice and its structure. I returned with dozens of field drawings and over 4000 photographs. Previously my work had been inspired by architecture, construction and (sub)urban environments, resulting in public installations with a range of materials from decking to advertising posters. Nature appeared with a small “n” - a context for architectural practice, nothing more. Now, with Antarctica as source material, my work has shifted content, and Nature plays a leading role. I find myself examining natural patterns and structures as I did previously in an urban context. In my drawings the plaid-like patterning of glaciers and other ice forms has become an obsessive exploration, and in developing a visual vocabulary of nature’s frozen grids and plaids, I am echoing my earlier architectural iconography. The first sculptural work shows a dramatic shift in scale from room-sized to table-top. It is only with time that projects on a more environmental scale will take shape.

the reluctant naturalist is a survey of these varied practices. Field drawings of the Antarctic Peninsula and Palmer Research Station, collages, table-top icebergs, a room-sized mural all reflect my attempts to translate Antarctica’s richness into my own vocabulary. It is in its early days yet, and the show reflects a process; these assorted pieces are the seeds of work that I will be building on for years to come.

Oona Stern