When British Antarctic Survey engineer Mat Richardson was stationed at the Halley Research Station in Antarctica, he wasn’t going to let some of the harshest conditions on the planet get in the way of his music making, so he decided to have a sturdy and compact recording studio shipped to the facility.
“Although we are here to support incredibly important scientific research,” says Mat, “we also make as much use of our spare time as possible. We have a superb opportunity to learn all sorts of things, from languages to engineering skills and, in my case, music.”
So Mat approached Guitarworks, Reading, for some advice. The company’s MD, Nigel Turner, takes up the story.
“We chose equipment that we were confident was top quality and reliable in use. We had to be conscious of the weight because it was being hand-carried to him. There are only two supply drops a year so we couldn’t afford any mistakes!”
The set-up, which included a Focusrite Saffire interface and Novation ReMOTE SL25, was flown to the Falklands, transported via Icebreaker ship, plane and finally Sno-cat to Halley. Mat has already used the set-up to record several new songs and is particularly pleased with how easy it is to get to grips with.
The Sno-cat and the set-up that it transported.
“The ReMOTE SL is a superb piece of equipment,” he says. “It’s incredibly easy to use and offers real hands on control. It travelled many thousands of miles to get here, I plugged it in and it worked straight away. I use it all the time without any problems at all, and I can’t ask for more than that! Automap is a revelation. I just start Cubase, load my project and it’s all there ready to go! It’s very intuitive to use.”
“The Saffire is incredible,” Mat continues. “I’m amazed by the quality of the sound every time I use it. It’s incredibly easy to use either via the software or the unit itself. I very quickly got it set up for monitoring and for recording and now it just sits there doing its job. It does everything I want it to do, my guitar and mic are always plugged in and the quality of the recordings always astounds me. The software is very easy to operate and the bundled plug-ins are all I use.”
“It always makes me sound better than I am and, as with the Remote SL, I’m restricted by talent rather than equipment!”
And while the Antarctica might well be one of harshest places for a studio, it is also one of the most inspirational places for making music.
“The Antarctic is an incredible environment to live in,” say Mat. “It’s very remote, isolated and stunningly beautiful. It’s easy to take inspiration from the sheer beauty of the place but I also find that I’m affected by thoughts of home and friends and family that I miss back there. There is also loads of history here, photographs of every wintering team that has manned Halley Research Station since 1956. It makes you feel very proud that you are a part of something important and it’s easy to take inspiration from the pioneers that have led the way in Antarctic science and made a real difference.”
So what plans does he have for his music?
“I’ve really enjoyed having a go at writing some songs and I find recording what I come up with a brilliant experience. It’d be great to think I can carry on trying to write some stuff when I get back home. I still have a year to go down here so will hopefully get a bit better as I write more.”
Check out Mat’s work on www.myspace.com/matrichardson. The tracks When You’re Gone and All That I Am were recorded on the new equipment.
About the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley Research Station:
Halley Research Station is the UK’s most isolated station and is afloat on an ice shelf on the mainland of Antarctica. In winter there is darkness for 105 days - darkness relieved by magnificent auroral displays. The relief of Halley is a major undertaking with supplies being landed twice a year by ship onto the ice shelf and then towed on sledges by Sno-cats to Halley, some 12 km distant from the ice edge.
Halley V is the fifth station to be built on the Brunt Ice Shelf. The first was established for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58, and named after the astronomer Edmond Halley. It filled an important gap in the IGY Antarctic network with studies in meteorology, glaciology, seismology, radio astronomy, and geospace science. Many of these studies have continued uninterrupted since then.
Studies at Halley are crucial for a global perspective on ozone depletion, atmospheric pollution, sea level rise and climate change. Ozone has been measured at Halley since 1956. A spring-time depletion in stratospheric ozone was discovered by BAS in 1985, and this led very quickly to the international response to curtail production of CFCs.
Halley, lying within the auroral zone, is ideally situated for geospace research. An HF (SHARE) radar, supported by a suite of other powerful radio and optical instruments including remote unmanned Automatic Geophysical Observatories, provides an unparalleled spatial picture of the consequences of geospace interactions in the upper atmosphere over an area of around three million square km above the South Pole.
Halley V contains a mix of building technologies. Three buildings are located on platforms on steel legs, which are jacked up annually to keep them clear of the accumulated snowfall. An accommodation building and a garage weighing over 50 tons are mounted on skis and towed each year to a new position. Halley I to Halley IV were built directly on the snow and were each abandoned within ten years, having been crushed by the overlying ice.
The station operates throughout the year with a maximum population of 65 in the summer and an average of 15 over winter. The Emperor penguin colony near Halley, which is present from May to February, is a special attraction, while other recreational trips take members further inland towards the “hinge zone” where the floating ice shelf is joined to the continent.
The British Antarctic Survey: www.antarctica.ac.uk
Further information and higher resolution product images (see the VIP area) from www.focusrite.com