On a frozen glacier, at an altitude of 3200 meters above sea level, Norwegian percussionist and composer par extraordinaire, Terje Isungset, performing at the Ice Music Festival in the Schnals Valley in northern Italy, draws a substantial crowd of high altitude concert goers and generates international press coverage. The unique ‘ice musician’, accompanied by among others vocalist Lena Nymark, conjures up images of frozen worlds and creates an intimate setting in close symbiosis with instruments carved out of ice by the musician himself.
Watch BBC video footage of Terje Isungset’s ice concert in Italy here.
Time and again Terje Isungset has been described as one of the most innovative percussionists around. With a background from Norwegian traditional music and with an intimate sensibility to the naturalistic and spiritual elements that play such a big part in this tradition he has been at the forefront of merging these traits with jazz and modern concepts of musical improvisation. In a plethora of projects and constellations he has pioneered the use of archaic instruments and sounds in contemporary musical contexts. His work with Karl Seglem, another jazz musician deeply rooted in Norwegian traditional music, and in groups Utla and Isglem, has defined new conceptions of experimental, expressive and meditative music by linking a contemporary artistic state of mind with age-old sounds and gestures of invocation.
Isungset has been a great innovator in terms of customized instruments and the use of bare natural materials to create sound. He uses wood, rock and most prominently ice, as the basis for new kinds of instruments, which he designs and plays to great effect. This makes his performances more than just musical expressions but rather a composite experience where visual and material aspects are also conveyed.
Over the past few years he has made “ice music” his specialty, and he has developed and refined a special expertise in creating his own ice instruments –customized for each concert, and meant to last only for the limited duration of the actual performance. He has thus explored the special relationship between music – in the way a live performance is a one-time event- and the non-durable, fragile material of ice.
Ice music is therefore an artistic expression that goes well beyond traditional musical performances because the material aspect is so prominent, and the hardware so fragile and unpredictable. Adding to the visual aspect - and the sort of shared haptic realm that playing on ice instruments creates between Isungset and his audience - there is also the element of unpredictability and uncertainty that comes from making music on “natures own condition,” so to speak, rather than on regular instruments over which the musician has complete control. Isungset thus combines musicianship in the normal sense with an aspect of playing along with and and harnessing the raw natural material he makes use of. It is no surprise then that Isungset and his ice music has become a sought after artistic expression at events and in circumstances where the aim is to give the audience an experience out of the ordinary. This goes for regular musical settings (jazz and contemporary), where the use of ice gives the aforementioned flavour of fragile and unpredictable naturalism, but also for the kinds of events where the material itself and its wintry nature, rather than music, is in focus.
Terje Isungset’s MySpace site
Terje Isungset on Last.fm
Terje Isungset, Drummer, Composer