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Ice is the Star: Ice Music Festival Norway 2019

The 14th edition of Ice Music Festival Norway ended last February 16 after three days of “Ice Music”, and as the name suggests we are talking about music played with instruments made of ice. It is one of the most incredible music festivals in the world, since 2 years it has been organized in Finse near the Hardangerjøkulen glacier, Norway.

Ice is the Star: Ice Music Festival Norway 2019

Ice Music Festival Norway where musicians play with ice is truly one of a kind. It takes place in Finse, a remote village lost in the mountains that can only be reached by train in the Winter months, because of ferocious snowstorms and freezing cold wind it has been described as an Antarctica in miniature. Well, for this year’s edition Finse has completely changed its face, the ice music lovers experienced a temperature of some degrees above zero even after sunset.

Because of the “high” temperatures, the beautiful icy structures of the Festival (built up by professor and architect Petter Bergerud with the help of students from the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design of the University of Bergen) have collapsed, a new snowy stage and bleachers have been set up in half a day in front of an old barn. Even the musical instruments (made out of ice) were about to melt, but thanks to the experience of the organizer Terje Isungset celebrated as the World’s only “Ice Musician” by CNN they got safely stored in the freezer of Hotel Finse 1222, ready to be played.

“We had bad luck with the high temperatures but this year’s ice coming from the lake of Finse has one of the best soundings I’ve ever heard,” tells Terje Isungset to the audience at the first concert on February 14. It’s true, because when it comes to ice instruments everything depends on the porosity of the ice and every year the sound changes, it’s different.

It is not even an option to do some practice before a performance because ice is a very fragile material, after playing for a while it will inevitably melt or slightly crack making a preparation in view of the concert impossible and unnecessary, the same musical instrument will sound differently a second time.

For Kjetil Møster (veteran jazz musician) and Thomas Linde Lossius (former jazz student at the University of Bergen) Ice Music is also conceptual art represented by the beauty of the glacial setting and the musical instruments themselves. The context helps people to approach music with new ears and a more open mind, according to Dj Bendik Baksaas.
What makes Ice Music Festival Norway even more special (incredible but true) is that the ice instruments played by the musicians present at the festival are entirely made by the musicians themselves, a few hours before the concerts.

“Can I use this piece? I have no idea, but I’ll have to come up with something for tonight’s concert. We have to deal with nature which is unpredictable and similarly the sound produced by the ice is.” These are the words of Gaute Ullestad Moen, student of the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design of the University of Bergen, while he is busy making his icy drums for the concert of the second day of the festival.

Also present at the cultural event is Mari Kvien Brunvool, an exceptional Norwegian musical talent who represented her nation on numerous occasions and has also performed “Ice Concerts” in the past together with Terje. Unfortunately, this afternoon she broke the ice horn she was carving. It doesn’t matter:

“Mari was so eager carving the ice that ended up breaking the horn she was making but that’s not important, no horn no problem,” says the reassuring voice of the world’s first Ice Musician, because playing with ice is pure improvisation, one has to be prepared for the unpredictability of the final result and find solutions to the hardships that nature puts you in front of. All of this also recalls the typical spirit of the Norwegian people.

On February 15, Mari did anyways an excellent performance since in her case that horn was not fundamental, she could also rely on a synthesizer, her voice and other percussions.

Playing Ice Music takes away the craving for perfection because you are forced to work with imperfect objects and then you are able to let go, it’s a peaceful and pleasant encounter with imperfection, because there is really no way to know how an ice instrument will sound before the concert. ” Mari Kvien Brunvool said.

After her, two veterans of the festival, Snorre Bjerck and Ivar Kolve, play together with a young talented Dj from Oslo, Bendik Baksaas. Snorre sings guttural litanies that closely resemble the sounds of the Sami language (native indigenous population of northern Scandinavia), Ivar plays an icy marimba while Bendik captures the sounds emitted by the ice instruments of the two with his synthesizer and uses them to accompany the concert while it is taking place, another simply spectacular performance.

Finally comes the long-awaited midnight concert, a happening capable of dragging you into a world of silvery and icy sounds, the voice of Maria Skranes accompanies Terje Isungset masterfully (the two play together since 2010) and the light of the full moon reflecting on the iced surface of Lake Finsevatnet adds an almost sacred character to the harmonies played (contained in the album “Beauty of Winter” available on Spotify).

It almost seems to hear the very sound of the Northern Lights.

February 16, the last day of the Festival begins with the meeting with a Norwegian scientist, Silje Smith-Johnsen from Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research assigned to the project of EastGrip. Such program aims to drill and extract a piece of ancient ice from the remote Cold Cap in North-East Greenland in order to study “Ice Streams” and acquire knowledge about climate changes occurred over the eras (many nations finance the project including Italy).

Silje explains to the audience how the temperatures of these days in the area represent an alarming signal regarding the threat of global warming, also telling the risk that the Hardangerjøkulen glacier of Finse is running, which is that of disappearing in little more than a century.

In the next concert there’s Snorre Bjerck playing again drums of ice thanks to swimming caps used as drum skin, Daniel Herskedal Tuba musician and world-record holder for being able to reach the lowest tone executable with this instrument and Bjørn Tomren that gives an impressive performance of jodel perfectly in line with the glacial sounds of the other musicians, yet another stunning execution.

The most surprising thing about this festival is certainly the philosophy behind the Ice Music, concepts such as the proximity to nature, the unpredictability of atmospheric conditions and the extreme devotion of the musician to his/her instrument: Ice is the Star both Maria and Terje confirm, and the musicians are nothing but the support band.

“This is a high-risk festival, which is why we can invite here only the best musicians (laughs), while working with ice I put myself completely in the hands of Mother Nature, both in terms of atmospheric conditions and ice quality, I’m myself not so important, music is much more important. ” Says Terje Isungset.

These are the words dictated by the humanity of a great artist who despite the numerous concerts of Ice Music held all around the world, a long twenty-year career and CNN defining him as the first and only Ice Musician still remains humble, stating that most of the work is done by ice and Nature itself.

He is not interested in certain titles, Terje Isungset is not a pompous and vainglorious musician at all, he is rather a fun companion who enjoys to joke around by placing himself at the same level as the spectators. He might be the first Ice Musician but his heart is big and warm, so as to create a perfect balance.

Respect and devotion to the forces of Nature, glacial harmonies capable of dragging you into a sacred dimension and enchanted atmospheres impossible to find elsewhere if not at 1222 meters of altitude in Finse: this is Ice Music Festival Norway.

“Sometimes I go with a small boat between two peaks in front of a thousand-meter deep fjord and I feel really small, I think that sometimes it’s important to feel small, maybe the ice wants to tell us something, you have to treat it gently because it breaks with extreme ease, perhaps we should all treat nature with the same gentleness.” Concludes the artist.

Written and Translated by Gerardo Iannacci.

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