Live Earth unleashes its Antarctic monkeys.
When Al Gore and his colleagues dreamed up the idea of a climate-change consciousness-raising Live Earth event featuring concerts on every continent, they came up against a problem. The event's 7 July date corresponds with midwinter in the Antarctic, when no one gets on or off the seventh continent. So flying in Bono and Madonna to frolic with penguins would not be an option.
Enter Nunatak, a five-strong band of guitar, bass, drums, fiddle and sax, whose members are part of the crew at the Rothera Research Station, run by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
It is not the only band on the continent. Every New Year's Day, the US McMurdo base hosts the Icestock festival, and even in winter there's plenty of music. “All the bases have bands except maybe Bird Island, as there are only four overwintering people there,” explains Julius Rix at the BAS's more southerly Halley base. But being the farthest north of the bigger bases gives Nunatak an advantage. “Rothera has double the satellite bandwidth compared to us,” says Rix. And so Nunatak got the gig.
They will be throwing their underwear.
Even so, the webcam set-up on Rothera isn't quite up to sending broadcast-quality sound and visuals live to the world. “To do it live we would need a very fast satellite link,” says Matt Balmer, an electronics engineer and Nunatak's guitarist and songwriter. So the performance will be recorded 'as live' a day or so beforehand. “We're effectively e-mailing it in,” says Balmer.
Despite the technical delay, the performance should be pretty authentic. The band plans to perform outside — which might make their instruments “sound a bit funny”, according to the BAS's Linda Capper, back in balmy Cambridge, UK, not withstanding the rigours faced by the performers.
Balmer is tough enough to dismiss such worries: “It's only minus six outside; you get used to these sorts of temperatures.” Nor does the prospect of a global audience chill him, in part because it doesn't feel that real. “We don't have an appreciation of it,” says Balmer. “We see the world through the Internet.” The last ship out of Rothera left in April. “Until October we won't see anybody else.”
Saxophonist and marine biologist Alison Massey expects the rest of the base to be an appreciative audience, not least because after weeks of rehearsal at close quarters, “it will be the last time they'll hear the songs”. Balmer hopes for something a bit more rock and roll: “There will probably be groupies throwing their underwear at us,” he says. With only 17 people in the audience, though, matching the knickers to the punters may not be too hard.
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Sanderson, K. The great gig in the South. Nature 448, 9 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/448009a