Auksalaq, the Inupiat word for “melting snow/ice”, is an opera that provides an in-depth journey into the vast and remote, yet rapidly changing arctic regions of Alaska and Canada. Created by composer Matthew Burtner and media artist Scott Deal, the work integrates artistic expression, scientific information, and social/political commentary into an interactive, multi-dimensional collection of narratives that provide a stirring and sobering commentary on a world that is disappearing as a result of global climate change. The narrative of Auksalaq incorporates fragmented and conflicting perspectives about the state of climate change as experienced in Alaska and the Arctic. These accounts, portrayed in the form of a scientific commentary and interviews with people of the region, are woven into a story about change in the far north. The music expresses interlocking environmental forces as eco-musical forms, expressing the profound changes in the ice-flows of Arctic waters. The media presents vivid imagery of Arctic land, sea and sky, as well as scientific data and animation. An interactive audience-participation software called NOMADS enables engagement with the performance in real-time across all the stages.
While the diverse narratives are woven into a story about change in the far north, an environmental drama set at the north pole unfolds through through media onstage. Here, characters personifying wind, sun, shifting ice, and clouds portray an ecology of ephemera and transition. The multimedia evokes the alien quality of the North Pole, a place where each day lasts one year, where all directions face south, and where floating ice and clouds create a constant shift of real place.
The layers of plot interweave human social, spiritual and political narratives with ecological systems. Using science, testimonial and narrative, Auksalaq tells the story of change in the Arctic. Matthew Burtner’s score incorporates sung and spoken voices, instrumental soloists and ensembles, computer-generated sound, video, theatrical staging and movement art. Each location constitutes a layer of the multimedia opera and together they form a complex counterpoint of mixed media. The composition foregrounds “remoteness” creating a spectacle that is both complete and incomplete in each location. This perception of both embodied and disembodied place creates a unique sense of attachment and intimacy to the performance. In this way Auksalaq captures a feeling experienced by people living in the far north, a centered feeling of deep attachment to the land but also an uncomfortable sense of isolation. The people of the Arctic call this profound attachment to the land, Unganaqtuq Nuna.