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Terje Isungset
Glacial Poetry

All Ice Music
Review by Mike Adcock


Terje Isungset is a Norwegian percussionist who has long explored the sound-making potential to be found in the natural materials of his homeland, whether it be birch wood, lumps of granite, slate or, as we find here, ice. Over twenty ago years ago he began staging an annual ice music festival each February in Norway, and Glacial Poetry is his ninth Ice Music album. For these recordings and for live performances of his ice music, Isungset insists on using natural ice - tap water just doesn't sound right – and this latest recording was made in a specially built igloo high in the mountains over one winter.

The title track which opens proceedings has a soft rhythmic pulse running through it interwoven with improvised cross-rhythms played on an Icefone (tuned percussion of the frozen kind) setting the mood for what is to come. In a way the sound is unlike anything else we are likely to hear and yet there is also something familiar about it, recalling aspects not just of other music of Scandinavia, including that of the Sami people, but also percussion from a wider musical reach, such as the west African balafon or Indonesian gamelan


By way of contrast "Majestic Movement" has no regular pulse but a series of solitary sounds, each occupying their own space and left to reverberate until finally dying away. Instead of listening to a web of rhythms we are offered the opportunity to appreciate the individual glacial sounds themselves and their surprising range of tonal colour.

There has been much lazy use of cliché when it comes to describing music of the north, and sometimes in the production of the music itself, with an implication and assumption that vast open landscapes have a natural music equivalent. Glacial Poetry was created in such a landscape and there is certainly a sense of space conveyed in the music, but there is also abundant energy, sometimes gentle yes, but never resorting to vacuous washes of sound - Terje Isungset is too good a percussionist for that.


Isungset employs a range of percussive techniques to coax different sounds from the ice and has also made an ice horn which he can be heard blowing on occasions, its leather mouth-shield which protects his lips from frostbite being the only non-ice concession he allows himself. In live performances of Isungset works with a range of musicians and singers from different backgrounds but here all tracks are confined to the sound of the ice itself apart from “Farewell Glacier” which adds bass, harp, guitar and vocals (Toivo Fjose, Julie Rokseth, Lyder Øverås Røed and Maria Skranes.)

Through the process of making his ice instruments and having to transport them to concerts Isungset has become well aware of the fragility of his chosen material. With the world's glaciers receding before our eyes, an important part of the reasoning behind his project is to use music to help focus attention on the issue of global warming and in 2019 worked with Greenpace on a video to highlight the issue (second video below). In the words of Terje Isungset himself “You have to treat ice with respect, otherwise it breaks. We should do the same with nature.” In Glacier Poetry he has produced a fine album with a laudable musical and cultural agenda,

Glacial Poetry is our selection of Music of the Month for May, 2022
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More about Isungset's Ice Music

Further reading:
Mats Edén and Stefan Östersjö - Wind, water, strings, bow Barbora Xu - Olin Ennen

Photo by Emile Holba

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