It’s almost summer, an odd time to release an album titled Beauty of Winter. But despite its cold pedigree, the music sounds warm. The sound of an ice pick may remind some of shave ice, a summer treat drawn from the opposite season. The joy of these performers, from percussion to song, exudes the energy of a festival ~ in this case Norway’s Ice Festival, but applicable to warm weather events as well.
Terje Isungset has been recording for over 20 years, using instruments sculpted from ice. He’s (literally) carved himself a niche as the founder of both the Ice Festival and All Ice Records. His studios are igloos, reconstructed with every new performance. A wide supporting cast has helped bring his dream to life. On Beauty of Winter he expands his vision, reaching into the past for “Blue Horizon” (a traditional Inuit song) as well as the foreboding future (“Glacial Motion,” which includes the crystalline sound of melting glaciers). He may be the only living artist whose instruments are endangered.
There’s little hint of such sadness in this recording, save perhaps for “Sea Horn,” which incorporates the sounds of blue whales and seals, whose timbres tend to sound melancholy to human ears. For the most part, the music conveys a sense of wonder. The instruments include ice drums, ice bells, voice and even light electronics (not made with ice). As expected, the ice is the draw, a constant character from the opening notes forward. Whether the ice is trod upon, hit or blown, it remains central to the presentation. In “Snowflake,” the sounds of chopped ice are interspersed with those of ice bells as Maria Skranes’ onomatopoeic song wafts over the percussion. The interlude “A Glimpse of Ice” incorporates the sound of children playing, a welcome gift no matter the season.
Simone Hooymans’ ebullient video for “Arctic Ice Music” is constantly in bloom, from cherry blossom to coconut. The visuals emphasize the fact that this music need not be confined to the colder months. The track ends with images of turtles and samples of birdsong. Isungset’s music flips Camus’ famous statement on its head: “In the midst of summer, I found there was, within me, an invincible winter.” In the hot summer days to come, remember this album, and turn to it for sweet relief. (Richard Allen)