Antarctic Artists and Writers

October 28, 2008

Long before my interest in all things polar, I developed a taste for improvisational music. And in savoring downtown New York’s experimental / avant / underground scene throughout the 1980s and 90s, I savored the innovative guitar work of Henry Kaiser. Henry’s prolific collaborative and solo output reached me through WFMU‘s eclectic radio programming, WKCR’s new music programs, and numerous vinyl, tape, and CD offerings. He likely played frequent gigs around town too, but despite my proximity to the Knitting Factory and considerable time spent in clubs back then, I never managed to see him perform live in New York.

Fast forward to March 11, 2006. I’d since moved to San Francisco and heard that Henry was appearing at the downtown Apple Store that very evening. I dropped everything. There was no missing this. He’d recently produced the music for “Grizzly Man” and shot key footage for “The Wild Blue Yonder.” He’d been to Antarctica numerous times. He had stories to tell.
It was gonna be good.

Henry Kaiser's 2006 presentation at the Apple Store, San Francisco.

Henry Kaiser's 2006 presentation at the Apple Store, San Francisco.

It was better than good. He treated the audience to a multimedia presentation of spectacular Antarctic under-ice camerawork accompanied by live guitar and narration. The camerawork was Henry’s of course, combining his talents as professional research diver and underwater cinematographer. The juxtaposition of otherworldly imagery and ethereal guitar was sublime.

Encounters at the End of the World: Henry Kaiser under the ice at Cape Evans, photographed by Rob Robbins.

Encounters at the End of the World: Henry Kaiser under the ice at Cape Evans.
Photograph by Rob Robbins.

That evening I learned of the NSF’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program which enabled Henry’s 2001 project on (and under) the ice, and would also facilitate his production of Werner Herzog‘s “Encounters at the End of the World.” The program had provided many unique opportunities for creatives working in various media over the years and keeps exalted company.

And now I’m two months from deploying to the ice myself, quite ecstatic about having gotten the go-ahead on my proposal, and honored to be doing it during International Polar Year. There‚Äôs much to prepare, and compiling a custom music mix for the trip is on the agenda. The selections will be inspired, adventurous, and… well, Antarctic. At the top of the playlist: the guitar work of Henry Kaiser.

2008-09 Artist and Writer grantees Scott Sternbach, Cheryl Leonard, Michael Bartalos, Lisa K. Blatt, Oona Stern, former program director Kim Silverman, Richard Banek, Anne Noble, Judit Hersko.

2008 A&W grantees Scott Sternbach, Cheryl Leonard, Michael Bartalos, Lisa K. Blatt, Oona Stern, former program director Kim Silverman, Richard Panek, Anne Noble, Judit Hersko.

There are eight program grantees this year with — I believe I can speak for the group here — eight very exciting projects. We had an opportunity to meet in Denver for a day in June where this picture was taken. My project earned me the title of “Recycle Guy” among the Raytheon crew, but among the artists, I think I’ll be remembered for suavely introducing myself in the hotel breakfast room by felling an upright lamp with a deft sweep of the backpack, dramatically smashing the lampshade to bits. Um, nice to meet you… In any case, the staff replaced the lamp with an identical one with speed and nonchalance that suggested such mishaps were an hourly occurrence, allowing us a good chuckle, still evident at photo time.

As to who’s where now: Henry’s in New Harbor field camp through November 22. His team’s dual blogs are found here and here. Lisa K. Blatt is also currently in Antarctica (McMurdo) with camera in hand, as is Scott Sternbach (Palmer). The rest of us — Cheryl Leonard (Palmer), Richard Panek (South Pole), Anne Noble (McMurdo), Oona Stern (Palmer), Judit Hersko (McMurdo) and I — are patiently waiting in the wings, and will all have deployed by December’s end.