Ice music festival Geilo, a fairy-tale spectacle

Between Oslo and Bergen lies the town of Geilo, centered around ski and nature reserves Hardangervidda, Hallingskarvet and Skaupsjøen Hardangerjøkulen. And the greatest asset is the magical Ice Music Festival, where ice instruments bring primordial sounds from mother earth to life. This makes it an incredible experience that you will never forget

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof

The snow crunches under your feet. The coats and trousers rub against each other Breath swirls up in circles. It is cold, more than eighteen degrees below zero. It is almost full moon and the stars are sharp in the clear sky. In the specially designed igloo structure, the public has nestled close to each other. Terje Isungset softly drums on his iceophone with his thick gloves, which looks like a vibraphone. The relaxing rhythm supports the lovely Norwegian vocal lines of Maria Skranes. As a dialogue with meditative silence, every movement, every detail is audible. It is primarily a sound concert; back to the primordial sounds of mother earth. And that sounds adventurous and free. Anyone experiencing an ice concert for the first time is no doubt surprised that all instruments ‘just’ work. Although, nothing goes without saying, since this is natural craftsmanship and can be influenced by weather and temperature, it remains to be seen what the moment will bring.

The Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset has been giving concerts with ice instruments all over the world since 1999 and has thus created a unique concept and own sound. He has also been organizing his Ice Music Festival for more than thirteen years in Geilo, a village of only 2,500 inhabitants where his roots lie. The four-day event, which will take place from the end of January or the beginning of February in 2018, is still small-scale. In the meantime gained a host of fan bases and a permanent place. The initiator wants to keep the event exclusive, which is important for the atmosphere as well as for the sound. However, enthusiasts and curious alike will come to the event. People combine the festival with a winter sports holiday, for which the area lends itself very well.

Necessity of life

Isungset wants to convey a certain message with his music, because he feels closely involved in creating and maintaining a sustainable environment. “I have a lot of respect for other countries and cultures. Water is one of the five essential basic elements, a necessity of life. In so many countries (clean) water cannot be taken for granted. It is a privilege to be able to work with water, snow and subsequent ice. They are primal sources. When I started these concerts many people did not take my message seriously: that water connects each other, because its veins come together all over the world. We must cherish that. Many people now know better. In addition, ice and water have something mysterious, because only natural ice produces sound. With a chainsaw we collect blocks of ice from local lakes every year. These may sound different every year. The right ice consists of moving water, so that the chance of contamination is small and has no air bubbles. When water is contaminated and freezes, it has no sound. Nobody knows the cause of this. “

“Ice and water have something mysterious, because only natural ice produces sound”

Terje Isungset plays the ice horn

Ice sculpture king

Isungset has an international team of volunteers around him who work on the ice instruments for more than a month from early in the morning until late in the evening. Among them is the American ice sculpture king Bill Covitz. It is intriguing to see him at work, with large chainsaws, chopping knives, drills, chisels and other heavy tools, he is putting the finishing touches to a number of instruments on display at his outdoor workbench. His secret weapon is water glue. If parts must be connected to each other, he will spray it with water, which immediately freezes.

Together with the musicians, Covitz checks the basics and sound of the instruments. He will continue until the musicians are satisfied. “I can create technology, form and structure, but I am not a musician. My chainsaw is my instrument, so I follow their instructions. ”For example, Minna Raskinen brings the right mood to the IJskantele with iron wire and special screws, a kind of small variant of a harp and traditional Finnish instrument. “It is exciting because we have not made this before. It is always a risk to work with ice instruments, but that is also its charm, “says Raskinen.

Bill Covitz has been involved with the festival since the beginning. He used to be a chef in a restaurant and has rolled into the business from his culinary background – where ice sculpture projects are more often used for buffets and weddings. Percussionist Arthur Lipner, who, like Covitz, comes from Connecticut, was the connecting link with Terje Isungset: he asked Covitz to make an ice marimba so that he could study for the first edition of the festival to which he was invited. The ice sculptor thought it was a challenge to make an instrument and was immediately sold. He traveled with him to Norway and has been making all instruments ever since.

Iceodelic trip

When we have hoisted ourselves again in four layers of (thermo) clothing, we walk towards the ice stage. The semicircular decor blends into the white landscape and when darkness falls and atmospheric spots come on, an unreal fairy-tale spectacle arises, as if you have landed in the world of director Tim Burton. When double bass player Steinar Raknes picks and strikes the first notes, this mystical “iceodelic” trip begins. We almost fall into a trance because of the pulsating, meditative rhythm, which slowly increases in intention. With sound effects the Polish Grezch Piotrowski conjures up dark sounds from the ice saxophone. We forget the cold and let ourselves be carried away by the music. During the second concert, the Finnish Minna Raskinen is a bit nervous, since she has never played on the ice cantal. The sound is oriental. Picking and plucking the strings, she searches for sound. The instrument regularly detunes. Terje Insungset jokes: “This song is called Finnish voices”, to which Raskinen responds: “A common title.” It should not spoil the fun, that is part of this unpredictable festival.

Generosity everywhere

With a clear blue sky and a nice warming sun, the ice stage gets a completely different atmosphere during a daytime family concert than in the evening. No less beautiful, because the beautiful mountains are visible behind the stage and the landscape turns white. Many locals and tourists have brought their offspring and are packed with flashy sunglasses on the nose. Bill Covitz gives a short ice sculpture demonstration, quietly working on an ice harp on stage, while various musicians appear on stage. Generosity everywhere. That is the beauty of this festival: the small scale and activity of Ice Music Geilo make it a personal, accessible event, in which the friendliness of the people and the magical atmosphere embrace you like a warm blanket.

to it

Various flights are possible to Oslo or Bergen. If you take a morning flight with KLM, there is a good connection by train, so that you arrive in Geilo at the end of the afternoon. The comfortable NSB train only goes a few times a day, so it is good to plan in advance. Travel time: four hours and one of the most beautiful train journeys through Norway. Info: |


Geilo has around seven hotel chains and there are many affordable apartments and houses in the surrounding mountains. We stayed in the Highland Lodge. The standard rooms are neat but small. The hotel has a large funky lobby where you can relax. Furthermore, half the village buys fresh bread here, at the indoor bakery. And after all that cold, your body relaxes in the swimming pool, sauna or with a spa treatment.

Food & Winehouse

Hallingstuene is Geilo’s showpiece in the culinary field. In this authentic restaurant, which is decorated as three traditional intimate Norwegian living rooms, top chef Frode Aga presents local specialties with rich sauces and game. The chef is a familiar face among cullis in Norway and even serves specialties only on request. The impressive wine cellar contains more than 6000 bottles, mainly from France. Here you can also taste wines separately. A pricey top-class restaurant!

NOTE: After the publication of this article, it turned out that the location has changed. The Ice Music Festival is now taking place at the old location. Keep an eye on the website for the latest news:

Snow workout & huskies

In addition to the Ice Music festival, Geilo has much more to offer, such as countless winter sports options. Geilo is located in the Hallingdal, parallel to three lakes and at the foot of Hallingskarvet, Skaupsjøen and Hardangerjøkulen. The village in the west also forms the gateway to the largest Norwegian National Park, Hardangervidda. Compared to the Alps, it is relatively quiet here, but bypass the Norwegian holidays because the locals know how to find this area flawlessly. Furthermore, the area of Geilo is extremely suitable for a sled ride with huskies. Read more about our snow workout with Geilo Aktiv here. And watch here how we glide huskies across the ice with an enthusiastic pack.

If you want to know more about the sustainable life of the inhabitants of Geilo, read the book Generation Geilo: Portrait of a Community of the British photographer Emile Holba, that child is at home with both the community and Music Ice Geilo.

With thanks to: Innovation Norway, Visit Geilo (Pål Knutsson Medhus), CherryLab, Terje Isungset, Emile Holba, Fagerlund Husky and Nina Gässler.

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