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DISCOVERY & INVENTION

The Coldest Concert

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

Every February, hundreds of people make their way to the frigid town of Finse, Norway. There, they brave temperatures far below freezing to attend a series of special outdoor concerts. Every instrument the musicians play—and even the stage they play on—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. Festival founder Terje Isungset (TAHR-yeh EE-soong-set) built his first ice instrument 20 years ago. “When I heard the sound of ice, I fell in love with it,” he says. 

Cool Carving

Festival founder Terje Isungset uses a chainsaw to carve a horn out of ice. 

Preparations for the festival begin about a week before opening night. Workers use large saws to cut giant blocks of ice from frozen lakes near Finse. Each block weighs about 1,600 kilograms (3,527 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 an instrument, Covitz cuts the rough shape with a chainsaw. He uses smaller tools, like chisels, to shape finer details. Carvers work outside, where the air is usually about -7°C (19°F) in the winter. That’s well below water’s freezing point of 0°C (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.

Showtime!

An ice concert is a chilly experience. Musicians perform at night, when the temperature drops as low as -26°C (-15°F). The cold makes the music better, says Covitz. “The instruments sing beautifully,” he says.

Warmer air can cause the ice to soften. If an 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.”

Changing States

Ice and liquid water are different states of matter. The molecules in water move freely past each other. As water freezes, the molecules form a pattern and lock in place.

Think: How might the instruments’ state of matter change after the festival?

Continue the Learning Journey
SLIDESHOW
Seeing Sound Waves

Follow these steps to observe how sound waves move.

Sound is produced when a moving object causes air particles to vibrate, or move rapidly. These vibrations, called sound waves, are invisible. But there are ways to observe sound waves in action! Check out the slideshow above for an experiment on sound waves.

GAME
Matter on the Move

Use different states of matter to move through a maze.

Let’s make matter move! Play the game above to change water into different states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) by increasing and decreasing its temperature. See how fast you can get to the exit! When you’re done playing, answer this question: How did the properties of each state of matter help you travel through the maze?

VIDEO
Norway Ice Music Festival

Watch a video about a music festival in Norway featuring instruments made from ice.

Watch the video with a friend or family member. Then talk about the following questions together:

  • What did you think about the sounds that ice instruments make? 
  • Would you want to learn how to play any of the ice instruments from the video? If so, which one? 
  • How does ice music compare to your favorite type of music? 
  • What are some of your favorite musical memories, like attending a concert or singing at a family event?

This article was written by Mara Grunbaum for SuperScience magazine.

Image Credits: Emile Holba Photography (header); Jim McMahon (map); THIBAUT VERGOZ/ZEPPELIN/SIPA/Newscom (Terje Isungset); Designua/Shutterstock.com (ice)