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Frozen Tunes

At a festival in Norway, artists play instruments made of ice!

Emile Holba Photography

An ice cello


This February, hundreds of people will make their way to Kommune, Norway. They will brave temperatures far below freezing to see very special outdoor concerts. Every instrument the musicians play is made almost entirely of ice!

This event is called the Ice Music Festival. Musicians and artists work together to carve everything from horns to guitars. Even the stage they play on is made of ice. Festival founder Terje Isungset built his first ice instrument 20 years ago. “When I heard the sound of ice, I fell in love with it,” he says.

Emile Holba Photography

An ice harp



Preparations for the festival begin about a week before opening night. Workers use large saws to cut giant blocks of ice from frozen lakes. Each block weighs about 3,500 pounds!

Carving each instrument can take up to 12 hours, says Bill Covitz. He’s an ice carver from Connecticut who helps with the festival almost every year. To start making an instrument, Covitz cuts out a rough shape with a chain saw. He uses smaller tools, like chisels, to shape finer details. Carvers work outside, where the air is usually about 19°F in the winter. That’s well below water’s freezing point of 32°F.

To hollow out a horn, Covitz slices a piece of ice down the middle. Then he carves a groove in each half for the musician to blow through. Finally, he puts the halves together and sprays them with water. The water quickly freezes solid, sticking the two halves in place.

Emile Holba Photography

An ice guitar


An ice concert is a chilly experience. Musicians perform at night, when the temperature drops as low as -15°F. The cold makes the music better, says Covitz. “The instruments sing beautifully,” he says.

Warmer air can cause ice to soften and melt. If an ice  instrument gets too warm, parts of it will start to melt into liquid. That can dull the sound. This sometimes happens during performances, when a musician’s breath heats up a horn. But Isungset thinks that keeps ice music interesting. “My favorite thing is when the audience gets surprised.”

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