Art for the Soul
Most artists create art with the expectation that it will be around for awhile. But ice artists aren’t like most artists. They know their creations will eventually turn back into water and seep into the earth or evaporate into the air. This was true about the ice sculptures created by artist Tim Linhart, until he started carving instruments from ice. Now, his ice art turns into something else before it melts: music.
Linhart is the founder and artistic genius behind Ice Music, a new hybrid art form in which musicians play instruments made of ice. Linhart hand-carves all the “ICEstruments” played in the Ice Music concerts. He creates them in his backyard, in Lulea, Sweden, which is just south of the Arctic Circle. There, winter temperatures are often way below freezing, especially at night. Working outdoors, wearing only rubber dishwashing gloves—or no hand covering at all—Tim carves violins, violas, cellos, contra basses, banjos, mandolins, xylophones, drum kits, organs and instruments of his own invention, all from ice. The instruments are visually breathtaking, with an ethereal translucency. He often embeds colored LEDs in the instruments, which enhances their otherworldly appearance.
Linhart, originally from Taos, NM, has been an ice artist for 34 years. He originally went to Sweden to create ice art for the Ice Hotel. He then met his wife, Birgitta, married, and settled in Lulea. We caught up with him just before one of his big concert weekends, to talk about how ice, sculpture, and music came together for him.
OSM: What inspired you to carve instruments out of ice?
TL: Before Ice Music, I had been an ice artist for 18 years. I worked at resorts, hotels, and other venues. For many years, I was the sculptor in residence at Beaver Creek Ski Resort in Colorado. During this time, I kept stretching the boundaries of what snow and ice can do. I believe that the more you push the boundaries of a medium, the more artistic freedom it yields. One day I was hanging out with a friend who builds guitars and I started thinking about building a giant violin out of snow and ice. I wondered what it would sound like. And once that question was in the air, it demanded to be answered. So I built a giant violin from ice. I used the bass strings from an old grand piano. It made a great sound, but I wanted to try making it louder by tightening the strings. So I tightened the strings and it did get louder—much louder—it exploded! That was the end of the giant violin, but it was just the beginning of “Icestruments.”
OSM: Are the Icestruments made of ice or snow?
TL: Both. I use a combination of white ice—which I create by mixing snow and water— and clear ice.
OSM: Are the string instruments solid, or hollow, like their wooden counterparts?
TL: Hollow. The thickness of the ice varies depending on the instruments, but sometimes it is just over an inch thick. The only glue I use is water. The only non-ice parts are the wooden fretboards and metal strings.
OSM: How does the sound of ice instruments compare with traditional instruments made of wood?
TL: The acoustics of ice are great. Wood is soft and absorbs a lot of the sound vibration. Ice absorbs the vibrations, too, but not as much as wood. The sound is sharper than wood. It is brighter. The ice allows you to hear more details, more texture. It produces a sound you can feel more intensely in your body. Imagine a wavelength with peaks and valleys. If you zoomed in on that waveform you would see tiny variations in the wavy line, like saw teeth. Those are the finer details, and ice lets us hear and feel more of those details.
OSM: What do you like best about working with ice?
TL: I have been working with ice for 34 years. I love the material. It’s magical and so easy to work with. I can grow it, shape it, cut it, shave it, and melt it. I can work with it using just about anything. I have hundreds of tools in my tool chest—everything from drinking straws to chainsaws. It is a wonderfully malleable material. Its only shortcoming is that it melts.
OSM: Has melting ever been an issue?
TL: Yes. Once we built a pipe organ with 56 pipes for a concert at the Ice Hotel here in Sweden. 450 people showed up for the concert. Their body heat and breaths elevated the temperature to 55 degrees. The tuning of the instruments went haywire and it was a musical disaster. After that, I decided to build my own concert hall in a nature park just outside the city of Lulea. It is essentially a giant igloo designed to provide good acoustics and address the needs of the fragile instruments. There’s a hole at the top, which acts like a chimney for the heat of breaths and bodies to escape, so that the inside temperature stays at approximately 23 degrees Fahrenheit all the time.
OSM: Which instrument has been the most challenging to build?
TL: An instrument I invented—the Gravaton—was mind-boggling to build. It has 37 strings and requires 2.2 tons of ice, and a massive steel frame for support. I also invented the “Rolandophone,” which is a percussion instrument that looks like a giant Pan flute. Its longest tube is over 6 feet and its shortest is 10 inches. I think it is the grooviest instrument in the entire orchestra. Every band should have one! It sounds a little like a bass, but with a more energetic sound.
OSM: I know you have several free downloadable mp3 files on your website, but do you have any plans to release a CD?
TL: We already have enough material for 11 CDs and will have several more CDs recorded by the end of this year. Eventually we will release them all, but for now we just have the online files. In the meantime, we are broadcasting our concerts live from our concert hall over the internet.
OSM: It seems like ice as an artistic medium has really come into its own over the last few decades. Artists, architects, and engineers are creating ice hotels, ice castles, ice bars, ice and snow sculpture festivals, and now ice music. Is there anything else that artists could do with snow and ice? Is there anything that you’re thinking about doing next?
TL: I think aviation is the next challenge—a flying machine made of ice. The challenge will be how to spread it thin and keep it flexible. I have seen ice bow and then spring back without breaking. That was very unexpected. So one of these days, after I have done all that I want to do with ice music, I will try to build an ice plane.
OSM: So when it comes to ice, the sky’s the limit?
TL: Maybe not even that!
The ICEconcert hall at Gültzauudden in Luleå offers concerts in a wide variety of musical genres, from classical and jazz to folk and pop/rock—all on instruments made of ice! Concerts start in January and run through the end of March, with the 2015 season concluding on March 28, 2015. Concert program and ticket information available at: webbtv.compodium.se/icemusic/
Selected Concerts will be webcast during the 2015 season of Ice Music. New broadcasts will typically air Saturdays at 7:30PM Swedish time.
Belinda Recio is a writer and curator working at the intersections of nature, art and soul. She owns True North Gallery in Hamilton, MA, and is a contributing editor and columnist for Organic Spa Magazine.