Image 1. Ice is sensitive. During Ice Music performances, musicians have to tune their instruments after each song.
Do you play a musical instrument? Could you imagine playing one made from ice?
Tim Linhart is an American ice sculptor who has created a small orchestra of ice instruments. The performances have been entertaining people for more than 20 years. Linhart's first ice instrument was a giant violin. It was 10 feet tall. "A friend of mine made guitars, and I thought, I wonder what an instrument would sound like made from ice and snow," he says.
Linhart got to work shaping his ice instrument. He used bass strings from an old piano. "When I plucked the strings of my ice violin, the sound was great. Unfortunately, when I tightened the strings to make a louder sound, my violin exploded into thousands of pieces."
That experience just made him more determined to create ice instruments.
Zoom-outImage 2. Tim Linhart calls his instruments ICEstruments. He has this advice for kids: "If you have a big idea, you have a choice to do it or give up. When an idea comes by, grab hold of it." Photo: Highlights for Children
Chainsaws, Chisels And Drinking Straws
Linhart uses white ice, a mixture of snow and water. He also gathers clear ice from nearby rivers and lakes. He lives near the Arctic Circle, so that isn't a problem. With a chainsaw, he harvests the ice he'll carve into a musical instrument. "You have to dig about 8 inches down into the frozen lake to get bubble-free ice," he says. His other tools include chisels, shavers and drinking straws. The straws help to seal cracks. Blowing into the straw, he melts the ice a bit with the heat from his breath. Then he lets it refreeze. His "glue" is water.
Zoom-outImage 3. Tim Linhart's ice instruments are not made entirely out of ice. Some parts are made of wood and steel. Photo: Highlights for Children
An Intense Sound
The name of Linhart's orchestra is Ice Music. Instruments in Ice Music include violin, viola, cello, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, guitar, drums and xylophone. Linhart has also created what he calls a rolondophone. It's a percussion instrument made up of 44 tubes, and every tube plays a different note. "You hit the top of each tube like you would a drum," he says. "It's like a very large pan flute." Some of the tubes of a rolondophone are 6 feet long or more. The smallest tubes are about 10 inches.
Linhart likes the acoustics of ice. Wood is soft and absorbs a lot of an instrument's sound vibrations. Ice absorbs the vibrations, too, but not as much. This makes for a very sharp sound. "Ice instruments produce a sound you can feel more intensely in your entire body," Linhart says.
Linhart says the instruments have a sound that becomes louder and sweeter as they're played. The instruments are very fragile. Even the warmth of a musician's breath can cause the sound to change. So the instruments need to be retuned between each piece of music. Backup instruments are kept on hand in case one breaks, but some can be "repaired" with just a bit of water.
Freezing-Cold Concert Halls
Most performances by Ice Music take place in a specially created concert hall in Luleå, in northern Sweden. The hall seats up to 200 people, and the temperature inside is about 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The audience is encouraged to wear several layers of clothing, a hat and gloves. Body heat and breathing can melt the instruments, so Linhart designed the hall as two igloos connected with a stage in the middle. A hole above each side of the audience acts as a chimney, allowing heat to escape. Because the concert hall cannot last through the warm season, it must be rebuilt every winter.
Zoom-outImage 4. Musicians play the ice violins. The instruments are heavy. They are suspended from the ceiling so they're easier to hold. Photo: Highlights for Children
Ice Music concerts have taken place in other places around the world. Linhart has recently built an 80-foot-high cathedral-like hall inside a glacier in the Italian Alps. When winter ends, Linhart tries to freeze some of the instruments in his "freeze house" for the next year's performances. Others that are too worn are allowed to melt in the sun.