Ice Instruments


Written by Kinsey Sullivan
07 Wednesday 07th March 2012

Top image: The Iceguitar at Ice Festival by Bjorn Furuseth

"The sound of ice is unique, I think, and it is inspiring for me to work with. Also, it goes 'deeper' as it is part of something larger than human beings," he says. Some of the ice he uses is from glaciers that are more than 1000 years old. 

The music Isungset creates is atmospheric and simultaneously bodily. Something about ice allows the sound to have a depth, a reverberation, that is both familiar and distinctly different from traditional instruments. The ice trumpet sounds a bit like an oboe stuck in a whale's throat - a low, melancholy, beautiful moan. 

Isungset usually harvests the ice for his instruments from rivers and lakes, cutting blocks out with a chainsaw. He then shapes and tunes the blocks, sculpting the instruments, with smaller knives. He says that different types of ice from different regions have distinctive sounds, and the best he's found comes from a glacier in northern Sweden.

Although an accomplished musician, Isungset says that playing ice instruments is particularly challenging because of the limitations of the medium. "With ice, you cannot practice and the instrument is not stable. It [the sound] actually does change. Also, weather does affect the instrument a lot; it's very difficult indeed," he says. 

Because the ice is ever-changing as he's playing, Isungset says he tries to let his songs evolve organically. "I try not to use my intellect while composing or performing music, that way I can be in the music itself, and simply let the music show me where to go." During performances the ice inevitably melts. Isungset claims that this melting enhances the sound quality, giving the instruments a more natural and unusual sound. However, because of melting, each instrument can usually only be played once.

Isungset's career is marked by world "firsts." In 2002, he released the world's first recording of ice music, called Iceman Is. Since then, he's produced and released six more CDs using exclusively ice instruments, and contributed to many others. Three years since Iceman Is, he launched a record label exclusively for ice music called All-Ice Records. He also started the first and only ice music festival in 2006, which is still running; Ice Music Festival 2013 will occur from 25-27 January next year. He is one of approximately ten known musicians to make and play instruments made of ice, so putting together the roster can't be too hard. 

Most recently, Isungset composed a concert to be played in conjunction with a production The Norwegian Opera and Ballet's National Ballet: The Ice Palace. That performance will continue until mid-April, after which Isungset will continue performing in Norway, Germany, Sweden and France. 

Check out Terje Isungset's website here to learn about upcoming concerts and purchase CDs. Share any thoughts, comments, questions and revelations below. 

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