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Ice breaking on the Merrimack River

Frozen_Merrimack_MusicToday’s sound is a remarkable field recording of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts, USA – cracking and popping as ice breaks up on the river’s surface.

Marcus Lisle, a local improvising musician, sent in the recording and was dealt the cards Trust in the you of now and Work at a different speed to develop this sound into something new, as he explains:

“On January 17, 2015 I was driving along Pleasant Valley Road, which hugs the shore of the Merrimack River in Amesbury, Massachusetts. An unusual pattern of snow and ice on the surface of the river caught my eye and inspired me to park my car so I could get out and take some photographs.”

“As I lifted my iPhone to shoot some video, I heard some very surprising sounds. Because the river flows to the Atlantic Ocean (about 8 miles away), the tidal action moves the water in opposite directions twice per day, and the ice that had already formed was cracking, popping, colliding, and shifting.”

“I was standing perfectly still, and the sounds the listener hears of ice cracking was the river breaking itself about 50 feet away. In addition, there were eerie tones emanating from the river that I theorize were being caused from the movement of air or water underneath wide sheets of ice.”

“This field recording was made using only my iPhone’s built-in microphone while recording video on the phone. These events took place about 10 days before the first of a series of blizzards and winter storms which broke all records for total snow falls in this area.”

“The next difficult weeks of winter were memorable for others reasons as well. I began to learn how to use Ableton Live 9 software for music arrangement and I also rescued/adopted a 1957 Hammond S6 chord organ that adds some tones to the reimagined mix.”

“My two randomly-assigned Oblique Strategies cards were:
1. Trust in the you of now
This allowed me to accept that I am a novice at editing sounds and a beginner-user of Ableton Live, but I trusted that the me-of-now would be able learn as I explored Ableton Live.”

“2. Work at a different speed
I slowed tempo settings and also sped some clips up, as I experimented with the plastic qualities of audio time.”

City version:


Memory version: