Chasing Frankenstein Above the Arctic Circle


Paul D. Miller on Chermsideouya Island. Image courtesy of Cape Farewell.
This guest post was written by Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, as part of the Cape Farewell project.

"Nowadays everyone knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing."
- Oscar Wild

Today I write to you from the Noorderlicht after we've left a deeply barren island that's pretty much the most northern part of our journey.

The island reminded me of a scene from the 1817 novel Frankenstein where the monster has chased its creator all the way to the Arctic circle, and murders him. In a Promethean gesture, we're left with a sense that artificial life, the Arctic North, and the way stories are told all are revised in the epic tale of Shelley's fevered imagination.Between 1816 and 1817, while she was sojourning in the Swiss Alps, Mary Shelley wrote her classic book of fictionFrankenstein. What interests me today after we've visited several fjords, and walked on the ice island of Chermsideoya between the Nordkappsundet Sound near Beverlysundet is how eerily the region echoes a place that Shelley never visited, but was able to describe with immaculate accuracy.

Throughout the day we've experienced extreme wind—solid gusts that are strong enough to hold you up if you lean into them, and wet enough to leave you feeling a damp ambient cold beneath your clothes. The weather was pretty much a solid wall of gray with gusts of wind, but basically the overall vibe was like a combination of a palette of subtle shades of gray sprinkled with white dust and invisible currents of wind dusting the stone gray rock filled beaches.

There were no even surfaces, and very few places to escape the scouring wind. The meaning of place and geography, of metaphors that I've been looking for with sound in mind were shattered by the arrival of a symbol from the bloody history of the 20th century.

At one point we found a swastika left by a previous expedition of German soldiers during World War II who left a group of stones in the form of the dreaded symbol of Hinduism that the Third Reich reversed. What made it so strange and surreal to see such a symbol of hate left on a remote beach of a desolate and bleak landscape is the eerie fact that the soldiers had left the symbol—a group of stones piled by hand—and that nothing had changed the landscape for over 60 years.

Nearby, another group of stones had been laid by a Swedish ship that had navigated through the Beverlysundet in the 1890's. It too had been left intact by the fierce wind.

The beach was a kind of amber drop, that had captured a world war, a lost vessel, and a group of artists all within the space of a couple of feet. It left a strange impression on me: abnegation, death, an imaginary oasis in the wasteland of the deep north.

Remember the words of the monster after the story's infamous ending? I can only imagine the monster saying this from one of the peaks of Chermsideoya as he does in Shelley's book: "I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who may create such another as I have been. I shall die."

It reminds me of the end of Blade Runner where the main Replicant states simply "time to die." When you see a bleak place like Chermsideoya, one can only imagine the thoughts of the other travelers who have somehow made it there. The bleak landscape asks a question that I'm thinking about as part of my compositions for this project; one that I'm not yet quite able to answer.

I guess that's it for the moment. I finished more notes for a score for today, but it's unfinished, and it's almost midnite here, so...gotta dream and think of more parables for the Ice Music scenario.

Follow the Cape Farewell voyage on the 2010 expedition blog.
Read more about DJ Spooky:
DJ Spooky Sets Sail for the Arctic Ocean
DJ Spooky Channels Arctic Amplification into Song
DJ Spooky Talks About "Terra Nova," His Multimedia Antarctic Climate Change Symphony

Tags: Arctic | Music

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