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ICED BODIES: Ice Music for Chicago
Seth Parker Woods and Spencer Topel
Topel & Woods copyright 2017

Voice-hearing and undiagnosed schizophrenia in the African American community is linked to incidences of police brutality and prison abuse across the United States. Many at-risk individuals with mental health problems not incarcerated, often end up homeless and unaided. Iced Bodies is an interactive performance installation for cellist and electronic instrumental ice sculpture seeking to dramatize the ephemerality of matter in phase transition.The inherent vulnerability of a melting ice sculpture—with its eventual destruction—serves as a commentary to overlooked and undocumented cases of mental disability within underrepresented populations. This work serves as an ode to these struggling minds, and bruised, tattered, and broken bodies on display.Vocal emanations from within the cello serve to bridge socio-political themes in this work to the introspective and personal experience of the audience. In addition to sounds captured and activated through the ice, a disembodied male voice is heard reciting poetic phrases sonically-diffused on spatialized glass sculptures. These sounds serve as sonic feedback loops, evoking the isolation and neglect of voice hearers battling mental disorders. The audience at the end is left to revel in the visual image of freed bodies, represented by shards of ice, electronic entrails, and the sounds of an unrestrained voice liberated from the ice, symbolized by the performer clutching a sound emitting transducer.

Through experimentation, a carefully sculpted sonic universe exposes and amplifies the raw beauty of ice acoustics. Choreographic strikes, taps, scrapes, bowing and gouges produced by Woods, translate into sound by Topel who responds, processes and diffuses these actions across glass panels suspended around the gallery. Over several hours Woods feeds the sonification of material transformation by hastening the process through meditative and violent destruction. Once melted away, fragments of ice reveal the inner “organs” of the sculpture, consisting of hydrophones, wires, and a black Lucite fin.Iced Bodies programmatically engages the cellist by supplanting the cold body—the frozen body—of those lost to mental illness and violence in the African American community, with that of the ice cello. The voice, represented by trapped and fragmented vocalizations from within the ice, links mental illness to the conversation around neglect for those individuals battling these conditions, and acts as a call to action for those of us who can do more to help.

In 1972, artist Jim McWilliams devised a piece for cellist Charlotte Moorman called Ice Music for London. Moorman, nude, “played” a cello-shaped ice sculpture with a plexiglass “bow” for multiple hours. On the 45th anniversary of the original work, Seth Parker Woods and Spencer Topel readdressed McWilliams’ concept with an immersive two-hour performance installation experience. Woods, in a wetsuit, played an obsidian ice cello as Topel mixed and spatialized the sounds from the ice across seven panes of glass distributed around the gallery.

Read more here:
Cacophany Magazine
MIT Music Journal Review & Twentieth-Century Music 

Funded in part by:
The Arts Club of Chicago
The Thayer School of Engineering
Dartmouth College

Cinematography: Ben Kolak, Scrappers Film Group
Video Editing: Spencer Topel and Ben Kolak
Sound: Ben Kolak