The world’s smallest music scene

Penguins! In Antarctica! This is copyright me, so please ask permission if you're going to steal it

Penguins! In Antarctica! © Me!

Antarctica doesn’t have a national anthem. For somewhat obvious reasons; no one owns the place.

But it is – and always has been – filled with music. Scott took two gramophones there. Shackleton made sure the one thing he saved when his ship was crushed by the ice was a banjo.

While I was there earlier this year, I decided to ask all the scientists I met if they ever played their anthems or any music. The Argentines told me they sung theirs drunk at the top of a mountain. The Ukrainians said they sung theirs whenever someone arrived at the base, and they did so with passion because of all the political troubles in their country. The Americans told me they, er, couldn’t remember having ever sung it. “We have streaming internet, so we just bang on Pandora”

Those, slightly weird, chats did lead me to learn several scientists’ fascinating life stories: from the American whale biologist who spends his days blasting opera out over the oceans, to the Ukrainian who makes instruments in his ice cold lab.

I’ve just turned those tales into a piece for the BBCRead it here.

The reason I went wasn’t actually for music: it was to interview a penguin counter called Ron Naveen for British Airways’ High Life magazine. You can read the feature about him here or download the full issue via the App Store. I’m worryingly pleased with it, which probably means it’s awful (there’s an old journalists’ saying: “Kill your darlings”), but I hope you enjoy it regardless.

Meet the Sound Hunters

The London Sound Survey at work recording in Stamford Hill, north London

The London Sound Survey at work recording the babble of Yiddish in Stamford Hill, north London

I’ve just had an article in the New York Times about going “sound hunting” with some of the world’s leading field recordists: the London Sound Survey, Kate Carr and Chris Watson (you’ll have heard his work since he does the sound for David Attenborough’s documentaries).

Read it here, and scroll down to hear the sounds of the “carnage” of bats eating at night and a waterboatman smashing its penis against its stomach!

There were a few other people I’d have loved to get in, but didn’t have the space: Des Coulam, who does the amazing Soundlandscapes blog in Paris where you can find the noises of everything from hospitals to riots; Vladimir Kryuchev who runs the Oontz site from smalltown Russia; and Cheryl Tipp, who’s one of the British Library’s sound curators (and sometimes writes for its Sound and Vision blog).

Check them all out. No, this isn’t anything about national anthems – my usual subject – but I hope you enjoy the piece.