In January 2016, while working on a new video project for Lonely Planet, I was sent to Norway to film at the Geilo Ice Music Festival.
Geilo is a tiny ski town in the mountains in the middle of the country, about halfway between Oslo and Bergen, and every year since 2006 they’ve held a festival of Ice Music. Which is exactly what it says on the tin: music made from ice. I know, weird, right? But it turns out it IS possible, and someone has done it.
That someone is a Norwegian fellow called Terje Isungset. That’s him in the photo below. He’s a percussionist and experimental musician who decided one day to see if he could make music with ice. I guess if you’re Norwegian you’re so used to being surrounded by snow and ice that you might start trying to think of other uses for it. In the UK every time it snows we’re all too busy posting overexcited photos of it on social media and complaining about the trains not running.
All the instruments are made from ice, sculpted by hand with chisels and chainsaws from blocks of ice carved out of nearby frozen lakes. Performers are recruited from around the globe – there was even a guy from Burkina Faso. You wouldn’t think playing an ice instrument would come all that naturally to him, but he seemed to manage just fine!
The musicians have to be incredibly skilled and talented. Every instrument is obviously brand new, and they can’t practise on them before the performance in case they melt. Terje told me that the wind instruments are particularly challenging: just breathing into them causes them to melt, so they change in tone as the performance progresses. You have to be an incredibly talented musician to be able to keep in tune while your instrument is disappearing from underneath you!
Concerts are performed at an amphitheatre dug out of the snow. It’s a weird and slightly surreal experience, sitting in the snow, listening to the strange sounds. Some of it was beautiful, some eerie, some a bit too experimental for my tastes. But when you’re sitting outside with the snow falling, it works. And it looks AMAZING!
I wrote an article about my trip for the Lonely Planet Blog. You can read it here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/blog/2016/03/29/just-back-from-norway/