Late one night in Antarctica's remote Taylor Valley, scientists moved in rough formation, using stones and their voices to create an eerie symphony of rhythmic echoes and animal howling.

This was not some ancient ritual. They were simply making a video recording for a Phil Dadson art installation.

The 56-year-old Auckland sound and intermedia artist spent three weeks on the ice last month for a fellowship funded by Antarctica New Zealand and Creative New Zealand.


When Dadson - best-known for his work in the avant-garde percussion group From Scratch - arrived at Scott Base, his reputation had preceded him. Staff nicknamed him the "Rock Banger" for his past use of "song-stones".

A team of soil scientists were soon to play an important role in one of his sound works.

"We were camping in a valley, not doing very much, just sitting in a tent talking," says Dadson.

"I suddenly said I wanted them to help me with something. They were very generous and just jumped into it because in a way it broke their routine. We did this at midnight until about one in the morning."

Dadson is interested in the link between artists and scientists.

"They have one very strong thing in common and that's an insatiable passion for knowledge and inquiry, about the nature of things."

Dadson, a composer who builds his own instruments, founded From Scratch in 1974. As well as the famous song-stones, the band used PVC pipes and even a kitchen sink.

His art pieces involve video and sound installations, sound sculptures and radiophonic works.


Before being chosen as an Antarctic Arts Fellow, Dadson was named Artist Laureate in 2001 by the Arts Foundation, and in 1991 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to tour the United States.

He has also been a long-term senior lecturer at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland.

The Artists to Antarctica Programme has been running since 1996, giving people a few weeks on the ice before returning to New Zealand to work on a project inspired by their experience.

The main criteria for the growing number of applicants are that they should be prominent in their field and their work must be accessible to a large audience.

Most of the artists' travel and accommodation costs are covered by the fellowship, and Creative New Zealand offers them up to $9000 while they work on related pieces.

Antarctica New Zealand hopes the artwork will promote understanding about the importance of the region. Similar programmes are run for journalists, educators and school groups.


Previous art fellows include poets Bill Manhire and Chris Orsman, painters Nigel Brown and Margaret Elliot, children's writer Margaret Mahy, sculptor Virginia King and composer/musician Chris Cree Brown.

Antarctica can have a profound effect on the artists.

"It puts you in touch with something that's a part of your primitive being," says Dadson.

He would like to combine the material gathered in Antarctica with something totally unrelated - "a personal statement".

Dadson says it was hard gathering the material because very little happens sonically on the ice. But any sound is extraordinarily acute and clear.

"There's a certain window between midnight and six in the morning when the glacier just starts speaking. It's kind of creaking and groaning and cracking."


Back home, he is sifting through the recordings and a body of drawings based on rocks.

"In a way I want to choreograph the imagery, so that in a sense you're lulled into nothing, and then things will just go 'bang'. There'll be this huge dynamic shift and change in imagery ...

"I've never seen so many colossal glacial shapes, built up over thousands of years, that seem to be doing nothing, but they're actually moving, inexorably creeping down the valley, freezing and melting, layering, moving fractionally.

"Occasionally, they tumble off the end and there's this huge crash, which will resound through the valley for about five minutes, and then nothing else will happen."

Antarctica has inspired Dadson to seek out other similar environments. He hopes to visit a desert.