The Warm Sound of Ice Music

A man in a white coat and black gloves plays a horn instrument made out of ice

Musical instruments have been made with dried animal intestines, stalactites, and even vegetables. But did you know ice can also be used to make music?

Twenty-one years ago, Norwegian composer and percussionist Terje Isungset performed the world’s first ice music concert using instruments like an iceofon, a cross between a xylophone and a marimba, an icehorn, and a saxophone made of ice.

The instruments are created out of huge blocks of natural, frozen ice using chainsaws for the main cutting and knives to carve out their shape.

Isungset was drawn to the unique and warm sound that comes from these instruments. He emphasizes that to sound good, they have to be made from natural, frozen ice—for example, 15 blocks of ice from a nearby lake.  Because the ice is volatile and always moving, the instruments sound different each time they are played.

In 2006, Isungset launched the Ice Music Festival, held in Norway in February. The first event was held inside a frozen waterfall, but like the instruments, the venues are designed and created especially for the concerts.

Unlike other types of performances, ice musicians aren’t usually able to practice beforehand, and part of the draw of the experience is the ability to improvise in front of a live audience.

American ice sculptor Tim Linhart, founder of the Ice Music concert series, has also created hundreds of ice instruments, as well as nearly two dozen ice orchestras and ice concert halls across Europe. The music ranges from classical to good old rock-and-roll.


He also uses crushed mountain snow and carbonated water to craft some of his instruments, which include everything from a violin to a Gravaton, a 37-string instrument sculpted from two tons of frozen water.

To build the concert halls Linhart’s team, based out of Italy and Sweden, turns a snow hill into giant domed igloo amphitheaters using snowblowers. The frozen structures have a hole in the roof to keep the heat from people’s bodies from impacting the temperature of the venue and melting the instruments.

Isungset has taken his ice music concerts all over the world, including Australia and India. In addition to sharing the unique sound the instruments create, he uses their delicate nature and the material they’re made of to raise awareness about the effects of climate change on snow and ice.