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Northern lights: 'Coronal Mass Ejection' sings in Alaska's skies (+video)

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published September 8, 2012

It's that time of year when the green, red and purple northern lights start to dance over Alaska. And thanks to Denali Park Ranger Jake Frank's brilliant time-lapse compilation -- coupled with music from the equally brilliant composer Peter Van Zandt Lane -- Alaskans are in for a treat.

"Lights in Motion: Aurora of Denali," posted on YouTube, illustrates the art and beauty of the northern lights over Denali National Park and Preserve with the original composition "Coronal Mass Ejection."

Here's how the video-music project is described on YouTube:

A 2012 time-lapse compilation of the aurora borealis with original piece, "Coronal Mass Ejection," composed by Peter Van Zandt Lane.

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, has intrigued people throughout time. It was no different for Park Ranger Jake Frank when he first saw them in 2011. He wanted capture the magic of the lights on screen to share with everyone. He would spend many nights, over the course of three months, in sub zero temperatures looking to the north, camera in hand.

Artist Statement from Peter Van Zandt Lane

I've been a big fan of Jake's work for a long time; the walls of my house are filled with his photography. So when he asked to collaborate on a project of images from Denali, I was very excited about the possibilities. We both decided it would be best to have a multimedia piece in which both the video and music stood on it's own, striving to go beyond just "background music." The idea is that the combination of both of our art forms would combine to achieve something more inspiring than either half could create on it's own. It's like chocolate and peanut butter.

I decided to score the piece for marimba, two guitars, contrabass, and electronics. There's a lot of different influences present here: the acoustic guitar technique, riffs, and harmony have a lot of Michael Hedges influence, and overall I brought a lot of my stylistic influences from rock, folk, and Post-minimalism to this piece. But I also wanted to include electronics in order to expand the color palette of the ensemble, and to allow the instruments to interact with the amorphous changing of the colors on screen. This kind of music has a rich history in the American contemporary music tradition, and it was exciting to bring some of the influence of the American electroacoustic avant-garde into a collaborative piece that had very different stylistic roots.

The title, Coronal Mass Ejection, was suggested by Jake. It's a term used to describe a burst of solar wind that ultimately created the effect of the Northern Lights. But I soon realized that the nature of this phenomenon has some interesting parallels in what I tried to do with the music. The cascading color spectrum in the Aurora Borealis is reflected by the shifting colors of the music. We could possibly hear the music as a representation of the Coronal Mass Ejection itself: a burst of solar/musical energy that sets the skies of Denali aflame.

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