An evening sky faded into night filled with stars on the ceiling of the Anchorage Museum planetarium on a recent night, as songs by northern musicians faded in and out accompanied by images of planets and constellations.
Together, the nine tracks make an album called “Arc,” the inaugural vinyl release on the museum’s new record label. The museum celebrated the occasion with the planetarium show and performances by artists on the album.
The label, called Unbound Records of the Anchorage Museum, aims to convey the sounds, landscape and people of the circumpolar north. Hollis Mickey, director of learning and engagement at the museum, said the record label represents a different way of thinking about museum publishing.
“Museums have this history of putting out beautiful coffee table books and objects that commemorate an experience," she said, and a record is another way of doing that in audio form.
“In thinking about how we can push the boundaries of publishing and sharing contemporary creative practice, the museum thought that producing some sound work would be an exciting step," Mickey said.
“Arc” — pressed on blue-and-green vinyl — focuses on artists who are doing experimental work in their genres, Mickey said. The album includes songs from Canadian musician Cris Derksen, Icelandic band Amiina, Swedish-Finnish artist Tsembla, two Alaska bands and more.
“I would say it feels definitely like a reflection of the environment quite a bit,” said Rebecca Menzia of the band Harm, when asked about the sounds that define the North. Harm formed in Fairbanks and has a track called “Cope Alaska” on the album.
“Definitely unique, at times maybe even a little bit stark, as a reflection of the landscape," Menzia said. "Maybe — I know for us at least, a little bit of a darker sound.”
At the album’s release party at the museum on Feb. 8, Harm opened its performance with that song, which featured Joanna Newsom-like vocals on top of beat-boxing, dreamy guitar and synthesizer.
“There’s so many musicians and artists and writers that I think really hunker down in the dark, in the cold, and have all this space to create,” said Heather Warren, another member of Harm. “And this is like a perfect showcase for it.”
Nicholas Galanin is a member of Indian Agent, a Sitka-based band that also has a track on the museum’s first record. Asked about the album, he talked about the role of environment in shaping artistic work.
“You can’t deny it, really, how much we’re impacted by where we are when we’re creating,” said Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂. “It’s unique in that sense.”
A second album from Unbound is already in the works and due out later this year. That one will focus on circumpolar hip-hop, with many of the raps in Sami and Greenlandic.
Since there’s not a record production facility in Alaska, Mickey said, the museum worked with a company called Erika Records in California to make the vinyl.
Want to hear a sample? Watch a previous performance of Harm’s “Cope Alaska,” one of the tracks on “Arc,” in the video below: