Mt. Erebus is a work in three movements, depicting the crash of Air New Zealand flight 901 into the antarctic mountain Mt Erebus in 1979. There is little detail about the event, and Dale chose to create a dark story line of events that could have taken place to depict.
The work reflects the modern orchestral style of playing, featuring atonality rarely seen in the banding world. The trombones use extended techniques including multi-phonics, glissando, trills and tremolo to create a dramatic soundscape, rich in expressive opportunity to depict a specific narrative.
Movement I, Flight, depicts an aircraft taking off with a sense of foreboding doom. Trombone multi-phonics are used to depict the rise of the aircraft and the roar of the engines. For a while, the aircraft is battered around in perilous weather, climbing higher and higher, using ambitious tonal centres and rising patterns. There is a moment of calm, the eye of the storm, before finally, the disaster is imminent. The trombones reiterate the fanfare motif, in a panicked, agitated manner, before reversing the multi phonics that depicted the ascension, to depict the flight plummeting to the ground. The “camera” shows the flight in the distance fading from view, spiralling out of control towards the mountain, before four unison Trombones end the movement with a enormous shot note, as the plane crashes.
Movement II, The Frozen Slopes, depicts a fictional scenario post crash. 257 people died in the crash with no survivors. However in this movement, we follow a single survivor crawling out of the wreckage onto the icy mountain slope. A trombone cadenza depicts the man processing what has happened, understanding his grievous injuries, before deciding to make one final climb to the nearby summit. The man finally reaches the top of the mountain, in a blazing suspended chord feeling the sun on his face, looking over the beautiful plains of white snow that is Antarctica. Content that he has finally seen the continent he had dreamed of visiting, he lies down, closes his eyes, and passes on. A heartbeat can be heard, until finally all is quiet.
Movement III, A Cold Day in Hell, refers to the devastation of the families. The music depicts a series of emotions that may have been experienced by individuals affected by this disaster. Disbelief, anger, despair, we experience a spectrum of colours evoking a small insight into the loss they experienced. We hear a recap of the multi phonics motif, this time depicting emotions overwhelming the affected. Finally, when the music can take no more, the bottom drops out, and is replaced by a new colour. Forgiveness? A day that likely has not come to pass, but may one day. The music ends with a beautiful chorale depicting a sense of relief that comes with letting such emotions go, and moving on. The heart beat motif returns, shared by the ensemble, dissipating into the distance, this time not signifying the end of life, but being allowed to move on in peace.