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Frozen notes come alive

Bindu Gopal Rao 22:14 IST
Cold chords Ice musician Terje Isungset during a performance.
Did you know that there is music in ice? Well, I am not hallucinating. As far-fetched as that sounds, it is closer to reality than you think. Terje Isungset, a Norwegian musician, makes music from uncanny elements of nature and is one of the three ice musicians in the world! The multi-talented musician was into music even from his childhood.

“I started playing instruments with my father when I was a kid and we played drums together at parties and weddings. I later moved to town and became part of several bands and played a lot of jazz.” However, it was when he was in his mid-20’s that Terje had a feeling that he had not done enough in music and started his journey from scratch.

“At that time, I started my search even though I did not know what I was looking for. All I was clear was that I wanted to make my own style and be my signature.”

In 1999, Terje was commissioned to perform at a concert held in a frozen waterfall during the Lillehammer Winter Festival. He decided to use elements from the river itself as musical instruments in his composition. Stones, wood and finally ice were included. “I started with wooden instruments and then moved to ice. I have been using several natural elements since then. Among my first concerts with water was when I used the sound of a waterfall, which was beautiful,” he recollects. Since 1999, Isungset has used pure ice to make musical instruments and he has also composed music for the ice instruments. This has resulted in six CDs of his “Ice music”.

Icy tunes

What makes his music unique is that the instrument decides how he’ll play it. “For one, it is a lot of hard work as I can never practice on my instruments — I make new instruments every time. Of course, from experience, I can tell what some instruments will sound like. For example, I know what crushed ice sounds like, but I don’t know what the sound will be like when I need to improvise and use melodies,” Terje explains. Moreover, he says, with ice the issue is that it is fragile and can break if it is hit hard.

“Also, it can start melting and then the sound just changes completely. As a musician, there is no excuse to make bad music and the audience cannot be taken for granted.” Incidentally, working with ice also means that the sound will change depending on the temperature, and on the ice itself. Usually, ice at sub-zero temperatures is crispier and has higher frequencies. “I had a dream that I was performing using ice from the mountains of India and I hope that comes true soon.” Incidentally, Terje says that the sound of ice varies depending on where it is sourced from and he has made music from ice sourced from the South Pole, The Arctic, Greenland and the Glaciers of Europe among several others! Terje continued his work with ice music and founded All Ice Records, an independent record company to release music played on ice instruments only, in 2005. The same year, he got the idea of making an ice music festival. The world’s first ice music festival took place at Geilo-Norway in 2006, and the first ice music tour took place in 2007.

Concerts & more

One of Europe’s most accomplished and innovative percussionists, Terje has over two decades experience in jazz and Scandinavian music and is taking genres far beyond their traditional boundaries, becoming more like a cross between a sound artiste and a shaman. Terje has also been performing approximately 120 concerts a year.
“I have also done indoor concerts in north Norway and developed a special refrigerator system so that the ice does not melt. I hope to use this technique in warmer countries like India.”

All set for a world tour, he will also be in India. “India is my favourite place in the world and I absolutely love Indian food even though I have only been there once. I am really looking forward to performing in India soon.”

He has just had his latest CD release and says that his next project will be all plastic! “All the instruments will be made of plastic. In fact, it is a huge production and the entire focus is on using recycled garbage!” He is also in the process of finishing his latest music album and says that he is using more electronic beats for the first time. This is one musician who certainly has several aces up his sleeve, much to the delight of all music aficionados.

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