Wouldn’t it be ice?

Terje Isungset brings the heat to the coldest musical genre known to man: ice music.

Terje Isungset blowing Ice Horn

Emile Holba

Terje Isungset blowing Ice Horn

Lucy Nieboer

What: Ice Music

When: 7:30 p.m., Monday

Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 S. Cedar Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $20 in advance, $25 at the door

Ages: All ages


Musicians often look to the natural elements for inspiration; the shining sun and pouring rain provoke sweet ballads and catchy melodies. Earth, Wind and Fire even chose to name their group in honor of nature’s great forces. The inspirational powers of the elements are infinite indeed, but it seems outlandish and impossible to try to incorporate these physical elements into musical performances.

Terje Isungset took on the impossible 13 years ago with the creation of a drum made out of pure, frozen water. The ethereal, gong-like tones of the ice percussion were a hit, and Isungset has been attempting to tune ice to his fancy ever since.

He admits working with such a volatile medium is not without its challenges.

“The actual temperature, the way the ice freezes [or] how the winter is will change the sound,” he said.

Known for his experimental percussion and composing in and around Norway, Isungset was commissioned in 1999 to create a piece that would be performed inside a frozen waterfall for the Lillehammer Winter Festival. Through trial and error, Isungset created the world’s first-ever ice instrument.

After the success of that first concert, Isungset began to perform all over Scandinavia, expanding his definition of ice instruments along the way. Although trained as a percussionist since the age of 8, Isungset soon added ice horns and string ice instruments to many of his shows.

As ice music gained popularity, the ice master began to travel farther and farther away from his frozen homeland He explained that in warmer climates and indoor venues, beating the odds of melting ice can prove difficult.

“There’s nothing I can do with it except be aware of not playing too long [of] concerts,” he said.

Most musicians travel with roadies. Isungset travels with his own personal ice carver. This carver molds huge blocks of ice into musical instruments — usually the day before the scheduled show.

“It’s very difficult for me as a musician to actually practice those instruments — they are always new,” he said.

Although songs can be planned to an extent, much of the show is improvised due to the constant fluctuation of the ice instruments’ tuning.

Challenges of ice music aside, Isungset loves what he does. He even follows the cold to keep performing. He spent last summer in Australia. He believes his music — like the elements from which his instruments are created — is universal.

“I’m able to perform music on the most important resource in the world — water,” he said. “We only borrow these instruments from nature and give them back after use.”