"Ice Man" Plays Ethereal Music on Instruments Carved From Ice

A man playing an instrument made out of ice.

Dan Kitwood / Staff / Getty Images

The Ice Man cometh to London, in the rain. Terje Isungset, pioneer composer, creator and player of ice horns and the "iceophone" was playing his frozen instruments in a geodesic dome by the Thames River.

It couldn't have seemed less like home (in his native Norway). But it was still a stunning performance of ethereal, jazz-like music.

Terje Isungset performed with Lena Nymark who is a singer with a very pure voice. Her songs are wordless but haunting as the duo filled the cold room with tone poems about the mountains and the water.

Isungset is quite funny when he talks about his work. "This is not the easiest way to make music" he says as he picks up his ice horn. As the rain pelted down he said that the audience should think of it as last year's ice instruments being recycled.

The instruments have been carved from the ice in a Norwegian lake a year ago and kept frozen since then. Due to the warmish weather in London, his assistant (with Ice Crew written on the back of his red parka) was busy taking instruments on and off the stage, returning them to the freezer in between numbers.

Other ice instruments used in the performance included an iceophone which was a xylophone, only made of ice bars. Sometimes he whistled so that it sounded like the wind. Some of the sounds are very gutteral.

The ice horn sounds just like a shofar (ram's horn). At times he makes short repetitive noises which are very reminiscent of sounds heard on the Jewish high holidays. The last piece was an environmental piece in honour of water. The last time he performed it was in Norway in the alps, in -33 C weather.

In between sets there was a sound and video installation projected on the walls of the dome. Visitors were meant to be "immersed in the sights and sounds of cracking ice and falling snowflakes." However due to the light outside and people inside this was less effective.

Isunset has been making his instruments out of ice for the last twenty years. He started experimenting with the sounds of stone and glass and then progressed to ice. There is a difference between natural ice and factory ice--the ice from the factories is "dead and has no sound". Even with the natural ice, some instruments have amazing tones whilst others have nothing.

So how does he do it? It's simple: "We travel to a place, find ice, then carve the instruments there, play the concerts, and then give the instruments back to nature where they belong. You can have 100 pieces of ice; they will all sound different. Perhaps three will sound fantastic. Nature decides whether it's possible to play or not: if it's too mild or windy, we can't."

Now he runs the Ice Music Festival in Geilo, Norway which is held at the time of January's full moon.