Turning A Glacier Into A Tuba: Ice Music From Norway Playing frozen instruments requires lots of improvisation. Norwegian musician Terje Isungset has a new set for every performance, freshly made to get the most sound out of each instrument before it melts.

Turning A Glacier Into A Tuba: Ice Music From Norway

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It's been a chilly week in Washington, D.C., but for Terje Isungset, it's the perfect temperature. The Norwegian musician carves blocks of ice into musical instruments. We caught up with him at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last night where, dressed in a furry jacket and mittens, he improvised on a sparkling set of ice chimes, drums and horns. He played, well, until they melted away.


TERJE ISUNGSET: My name is Terje Isungset, and I come from Norway.


ISUNGSET: Well, this started in 1999, I think, when I was off to compose a piece to be held in a frozen waterfall. And I found it so beautifully that I kind of fell in love with it immediately. Being an ice musician is a little bit difficult because every time when I go to a concert, I have a new instrument - ice cellos, ice guitars, ice harps, ice fiddle, anything. You know, this year, we have a tube-ice. So - and tube-ice is kind of a tuba.


ISUNGSET: Quite often, I don't actually know how my instrument will sound, so I just have to listen to the sound that is being created and try to create music out of these sounds.


ISUNGSET: If you work like this, then you suddenly can be led into something else, some other kind of music that you did not think of, that you did not plan. It's like you find a new flower, maybe, a new color.


ISUNGSET: We've been experimenting on ice instruments now for 12, 13 years. But still, I go back to where it all started with one little cube of ice and trying to get it to sound.


ISUNGSET: The artificial ice doesn't have any sound at all, nearly, so we had to try to find lake ice. But when you come to lake ice, there is only some lakes that have sound. And even if you find the lake, there might be just a few pieces that will have a good sound. Of course, you have the very crispy sounds that you will have when you walk on crushed ice or snow, but you also have the really low-frequent sounds.


ISUNGSET: But I think my favorite is if I get a little piece of ice to sing long, like a long-lasting tone.


ISUNGSET: When ice can make a tone that lasts for 10 seconds, I nearly start crying. It's - I think it's so beautiful.


ISUNGSET: I would say it sounds surprisingly warm.


LYDEN: Ice musician Terje Isungset.

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