Ice instruments ring out coolest music in Norway

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Terje Lsungset (C), the founder and artistic director of the Ice Music Festival, performs with a musical instrument made purely of ice during the festival on February 2, 2018 in the small mountain village of Finse in the municipality of Ulvik in southern Norway. (AFP)
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Terje Lsungset, the founder and artistic director of the Ice Music Festival, shapes a musical instrument made of ice outside his workshop ahead of the festival on February 2, 2018 in the small mountain village of Finse in the municipality of Ulvik in southern Norway. (AFP)
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Terje Lsungset, the founder and artistic director of the Ice Music Festival, tests a musical instrument made of ice outside his workshop ahead of the festival on February 2, 2018 in the small mountain village of Finse in the municipality of Ulvik in southern Norway. (AFP)
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Terje Lsungset, the founder and artistic director of the Ice Music Festival, tests a musical instrument made of ice outside his workshop ahead of the festival on February 2, 2018 in the small mountain village of Finse in the municipality of Ulvik in southern Norway. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2018
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Ice instruments ring out coolest music in Norway

FINSE, Norway: Inside a giant igloo in a snowy Norwegian village, the sound of a horn rings out, warming the mood of a freezing audience, huddled together in -24 Celsius.
But the four musicians performing are even colder: the instruments they are playing are all made of ice.
The xylophone, claves and wind instruments have been painstakingly carved from ice blocks extracted from a frozen lake, and are now part of a finger-numbing performance at the 13th Ice Music Festival in the mountain village of Finse.
The problem is, the longer the musicians play, the more the instruments start to disintegrate.
It is not an easy task “to perform on instruments that are melting while you play them,” says percussionist Terje Isungset, also the founder of the festival.
Wearing thick wool gloves, he blows warm air into his ice-sculpted horn, illuminated under blue and turquoise lights.
Next to him, a singer with an angelic voice covers her mouth with a scarf to stay warm, while a bass player removes his gloves so he can pull the strings on his ice-made instrument.
The setting of the festival, 195 kilometers (121 miles) west of Oslo, is not for anyone sensitive to a shivering climate.
Held between February 2 and 3 inside an igloo built solely of ice, dozens of people wearing clothing fit to survive freezing mountain weather sit on snow benches while cheering and wrapping their arms around each other.
As the night grows older, a band member blows into a long ice wind instrument shaped like an Australian didgeridoo, vibrating across the venue.
“It’s a fine line between art and madness,” Emile Holba, a UK-based photographer and crew member, tells AFP as he bursts into laughter.
“Things can go wrong, instruments can break...the audience likes the purity of it,” he adds.
The festival has previously been held in Geilo, a ski resort in the central mountain region of Norway.
But organizers say the weather there has become milder, making it difficult to build ice venues and harder to prevent the instruments from melting.
“This winter... the ice was really slushy and difficult to deal with,” Isungset said.
“It’s the first time I have seen ice like this.”
In search of guaranteed freezing temperatures, the festival moved further west to Finse, a 30 minute train ride from Geilo.
Surrounded by mountains framing a glacier, the area was used to create the snow planet “Hoth” in the opening scene of Star War’s movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”
The village was also the base for Antarctic expedition training by British explorer Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) and his Norwegian counterpart Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930).
“It’s kind of otherworldly...there is magic there,” says Holba.
Preparing the festival is no simple task.
It took organizers a week to build the igloo and the ice needed to be sourced and collected by a crew of more than 20 people.
Large chunks were removed from a nearby lake and the musicians used chainsaws, hammers and chisels to carefully sculpt the instruments.
“It’s just music....and trying to create something out of nearly nothing,” Isungset said.
After the festival, some of the instruments do become nearly nothing again, the ice dripping away back into the earth.
But a few of the ice-creations do survive.
If deemed to be in good enough shape, the instruments are stored inside a freezer, waiting in frozen isolation, to be used again the following year.


Taiwanese ‘graffiti village’ eases elderly loneliness

Updated 18 July 2019
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Taiwanese ‘graffiti village’ eases elderly loneliness

  • The paintings have started to bring young visitors — always keen for a selfie in a photo-friendly location — back
  • The Hakka are linguistically distinct group of people who trace their origins back to southern China

RUAN CHIAO, Taiwan: Nestled in the mist-covered foothills of Taiwan’s central mountain range, Ruan Chiao village is virtually devoid of young people, but artist Wu Tsun-hsien is coaxing the Instagram generation back by transforming local homes into a canvas of color.
Dipping his brush into a tin of beige emulsion, he carefully applies new layers of paint to his latest production — a vibrant rural scene depicting farmers in traditional weave hats tending to a flock of animals.
Behind him an elderly villager with a walking stick shuffles his way down the main street, which is plastered with Wu’s colorful paintings.
“This village is full of old people,” the 55-year-old laments, explaining how the vast majority of youngsters — including his own children — have moved to the city, leaving elderly residents listless and lonely.
But paintings have started to bring young visitors — always keen for a selfie in a photo-friendly location — back.
“These drawings attracted many tourists to come visit. The old people who were left here are no longer so bored. This was my biggest gain,” he beams.
Wu is not alone in this adopting this strategy.
There is now some half a dozen so-called “graffiti villages” in Taiwan that have been festooned with artwork in a bid to inject some life into rural places that have been emptied of its young.
Like many industrialized places, Taiwan’s remarkable economic transformation over the past few decades has upended rural communities and unleashed huge demographic changes.
“It’s perhaps a more recent phenomenon than it would have been in some other places,” explains Shelley Rigger, an expert on Taiwan at Davidson College in North Carolina, who said much of Taiwan’s industrial manufacturing stayed in the villages.
“People sewed Barbie doll clothing in their houses and then carried it down to a packaging plant in the middle of a village,” she tells AFP, as an example.
Ruan Chiao village, for example, used to churn out paper temple offerings.
But once much of the manufacturing shifted to mainland China in the late 1990s and Taiwan moved up the value chain, many of those jobs left.
“That’s when you see rural areas kind of emptying out,” Rigger adds.
Taiwan’s 23 million population is also rapidly aging. The birth rate has plummeted — only 180,000 children were born last year, an eight-year low.
The Wu family have experienced this flight first hand.
The ancestral home is occupied by his wife’s father, 81, and mother, 72, who still work a few plots of land in the hills above the village growing organic vegetables. But Wu’s own children both went to university and have left, one to Australia, the other to a nearby city.
Wu’s wife Fan Ai-hsiu explains their bid to draw Instagram-happy crowds of youngsters was less about economics and more about giving her parents something to look forward to.
“They want to have conversations with people, that’s what they miss, it’s not about money,” Fan says.
But it was not initially an easy task to persuade fellow villagers to use their houses as a canvas.
“People here are fairly conservative,” she recalls, adding: “But once the first few paintings went up, they could see it brought people in.”
Most of Wu’s paintings in the village stick to rural pastiches or traditional symbols of good fortune.
It is the family home where he really gets to express himself — and which has quickly drawn a mass following on social media.
Perched on a slope overlooking the village, the whole house is covered in images, many of which detail Wu’s politics.
He’s an avid believer that not enough is being done to tackle climate change, so some of the scenes show apocalyptic scenes of environmental devastation.
Others are commentaries on social issues like gay marriage — which he opposes — or how the elderly are treated in an increasingly consumerist society.
“This mural depicts the present Taiwanese corrupt society,” Wu remarks as he walks along a huge painted wall featuring hundreds of images.
“This one is society’s mayhem due to mobile phones, computers and television... and this one is our cultural loss where many of our Hakka young generations don’t know the culture,” he adds.
The Hakka are linguistically distinct group of people who trace their origins back to southern China. They have lived in Taiwan for some four centuries and make up 15-20 percent of the population.
Evelyn Sun puts on art and food events in Taipei and found out about Wu’s paintings via social media.
She visited with friends who all soon found themselves sitting around a table with the Wu family, eating traditional Hakka vegetable dishes and tucking into eggs boiled in a secret recipe of local herbs.
The 25-year-old enthuses: “Taiwan has many ‘graffiti villages’ that are beautiful scenic spots where people will just leave after taking pictures.”
“But I realized when I came here that every mural here is depicting a social problem faced by society.”
She hopes other young Taiwanese will explore the nation’s rural villages more often.
She explains: “These people are our culture, they are our history, we have to get to know them.”