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PASSO TONALE (Italy): A musician performs with a double bass made from ice during a concert on Presena glacier.—AFP
PASSO TONALE (Italy): A musician performs with a double bass made from ice during a concert on Presena glacier.—AFP

WHEN Tim Linhart started making instruments from ice they were more likely to explode with a bang than produce music, but things have come a long way since then. Today, the US-born artist is in charge of an ice orchestra of local musicians playing a series of concerts at sub-zero temperatures in a vast, custom-built igloo high in the Italian Alps. “I made snow and ice sculptures in the ski resort where I’m from in New Mexico [for 16 years] ... and then I decided it would be cool to make a sculpture of a violin,” said Linhart, 59. “I heard the sound coming from inside and thought ‘wow this is super exciting, if I just tighten up the strings a little bit more it would be louder’,” he recalled. Overtightening the strings, however, caused the instrument to shatter into little pieces, he recounted. “But I had heard enough, it was the beginning,” said Linhart, his large frame treading nimbly among the delicate instruments on stage in the igloo.

In the Passo Paradiso winter sports station at an altitude of 8,500 feet, instruments still at times spontaneously implode due to the brittleness of the ice, but less frequently. Here, the artist has built a violin, viola, timpani drum set, xylophone, double bass, mandolin, cello and even his own invention, the giant Rolandophone, a huge percussion pipe instrument, all from ice. After moulding front and back plates, Linhart uses a white-ice mix of water and snow to build the instrument’s walls, around a metal backbone, over which the strings are stretched and tightened. A mandolin takes five or six days to make, bigger instruments can take months. For storage, many are kept in niches carved out of the igloo walls.

Linhart spends the summer with his Swedish wife and their young son in Sweden, gardening and creating non-ice art, while some of the better instruments are kept in a freezer for the next winter. His current project is teaching people how to make the instruments, and the concert hall, themselves. But this means resisting the constant temptation to think up even bigger instruments in “the cutting edge, the invention side of ice music again”, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019