Instruments Made of Ice: Terje Isungset, Two Moons

By Daniel Garrett

Terje Isungset
Two Moons
All Ice Records—Norway, 2007

If I live to be one-hundred years old, Terje Isungset’s Two Moons is likely to ring still as one of the most interesting musical recordings I have ever heard: all the instruments played on the album were made with Norwegian ice, and the music was recorded in an igloo and at an ice festival. On Two Moons, the musicians are Terje Isungset, who sings and performs with ice percussion and an ice horn, and Per Jorgensen, who sings and plays ice trumpet. Such stark and somber music is an affirmation of nature and of nation. The sounds on Two Moons remind me of piano, drums, primitive tribal singing, giving birth, calls to prayer, wolf howls, throbbing machinery, the wind, and western classical solo singing. If civilization as we know it comes to an end, this kind of music can survive. It is a music of contemplation: and what I thought while hearing it was, How do we reconcile ourselves to our animal natures, our selfish impulses, our ignorance? How do we embrace the complexity of existence?

Terje Isungset’s Two Moons is the kind of work that compels one to ask, What is music? Is it all sound, any sound? Is it whatever sound is intentionally made; and made by a self-described musician? Is it organized sound? Sound intended to be pleasing to the ear; or, simply, sound intended to be contemplated as music? One listens to Terje Isungset’s Two Moons, with compositions by Isungset and Per Jorgensen, and the listener is inclined to try to find all kinds of analogies, as when faced with a new experience, a way of transforming something unique into something familiar. I hear the piece called “Mountain,” and emerging out of great silence is what I identify as something bell-like, a shouting voice, a murmuring voice, and notes that bring to mind that of a xylophone. I hear “Black Moon,” and think I hear a sawing sound and again something that reminds me of a bell. “Silent Blue”—a wolfish sound, “Long Shadow,” a horn blow, and in “Vista” a keening that seems Asian (Japanese), and in “Solar Freeze” a voice, and in “Moon Sphere” a tin-pan kind of sound and that of pieces of ice moving, a wheeze, and deep breathing. For certain pieces—“Peak,” “Darkest Hour,” “Silent Yellow,” “Two Moons,” and “Serene,” I do not try to differentiate, or I can’t: I just listen. All these musical pieces can sound, in the end, like one long composition. Does this work herald a new age, or a very old one? I do not know, but the music is interesting to hear, interesting to think about.

Daniel Garrett is currently a New York resident, and his work has appeared in The African,, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Changing Men, Cinetext.Philo, The Compulsive Reader,,, Option, Offscreen, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today.