Terje Isungset’s ice music

If I had been in London this weekend I would have gone to Somerset House to hear Terje Isungset play his ice music.  Over the past decade, Isungset has produced a series of entrancing albums on which he plays instruments he has made out of ice: drums, marimbas, chimes and other percussion instruments,  all carved the purest of materials – frozen water from an ancient lake.

Terje Isungset is a renowned Norwegian percussionist whho began making ice music in 2000 when the commission of the winter games in Lillehammer asked him to compose and play in a frozen waterfall. He accepted the challenge and using only the things the river gave him – stones, ice, water and wood – he  produced the first of his minimalist ice compositions.  In 2001 the first of six ice music albums was released.  Each of them have a different character – the most recent, Hibernation,  incorporated lullabies from the Sami people of northern Norway sung by Sami Joik-singer Sara Marielle Gaupand, who joined him for the concerts in London this weekend.

Isungset is playing a series of nine concerts in a temporary geodesic dome beside Somerset House. It’s cold, but nowhere near as cold as Geilo in Norway, where Isungset has established the world’s first ice music festival.

The Guardian has this review of his performance at Somerset House:

Visual spectacle aside, Isungset makes fascinating music – it’s not the sound art or ambient abstraction you might expect. Pure-toned singer Lena Nymark adds wordless vocals: folky, pentatonic motifs on New Day and a longer, more chromatic line that reverberates across Isungset’s four-note ice marimba riffs on Mellom Fjell, a tone poem about the awe felt surrounded by high mountains and deep water.

On the closing Global Ice, a Nobel prize ceremony commission, Isungset picks up the wonderfully odd-looking ice trumpet, and produces a roar that soars across looped and pre-recorded ice percussion – an abrasive, primeval sound that’s far from ice-clear, but magnificent in its madness.

One of his best ice albums is the live Ice Concerts (2008).  Chris Jones, reviewing it for the BBC, had this to say:

Terje Isungset, like many of his Nordic compatriots, straddles the divide between jazz, avant garde and even folk. A lot of this has to do with the inherent Scandinavian respect for nature and its power on the imagination. Isungset, a percussionist who has worked with just about every major name in Norwegian jazz, is a man who uses nature’s materials to make his music. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that he can express himself more fully with a ram’s horn, a bunch of twigs or a couple of pebbles, better than most musicians could with a whole fjord full of modern gadgetry. Ice Concerts, culled from his tour of Arctic spots in 2006, sees him extend the pallette of sounds that he first explored on his album Iceman Is. And yes, it’s all made with nothing more sophisticated than frozen water and the human voice.

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