Terje Isungset - Igloo (All Ice CD)

Ice: who knew? Apparently Terje Isungset has been working in the field of ice music for a few years now (the liner notes boast that the first recording of ice music was by Terje in 2002) and this seems to be his magnum opus. This CD was recorded at the world-famous Sweden Ice Hotel in February 2004 with Isungset on ice percussion and Sidsel Endresen on vocals. According to the CD innards, Isungset also plays iceofon, icehorn, iceharp, whirling overtone hose and he contributes vocals on some tracks. But the important thing here is that 100% of the sounds were made straight-up with nothing more than frozen water. So what better antidote to these muggy days of summer, then?
The album starts out promisingly enough with the title track, a frosty drag through frozen tundras with what sounds like ice/snow being crushed and crunched, and Sidsel Endresen adding some very Bjork-esque crooning. Later on in the track Isungset finds a pretty groovy if subdued rhythm with his ice crushing that kind of reminds me of Matmos' "A Chance to Cut" album (which made use entirely of hospital sounds). "Song" is a tuneful little ditty again featuring Endresen vocals but this time teamed up with the iceofon...a xylophon made out of ice, one presumes. It actually sounds exactly what you'd expect an icy xylophon to sound like, but strangely distant and alien at the same time. "Morning" is a very minimalist re-visit to the ice crackling and crunching of the first track, with Endresen's voice blowing over top like a cold wind. "Floating" and "Ice Beauty" are both album highlights, featuring amazing organic sounds from the whirling overtone hose and iceharp, probably the most lush and fully-formed sonics the album has showcased yet. It actually sounds a bit like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor/Do Make Say Think/Sigur Ros warm-up (is "warm" up the right term?). "Iceman 2" sees Terje gettin' all personal with various moans, hums and breaths muffled by what I hope is a very warm parka while "Hymn" is a solemn affair with gently plucked iceharp and scattered, chanted vocals this time from Endresen. "Mammoth" and "Bird" are both kind of jarring in that they're much more filled with activity than anything else thus far, the former featuring sounds so wild they must be processed and the latter sounding like Daniel Menche's "Concussions" album if you replaced all the fire and brimstone with...well you know what by now. Album closer "Wisdom" is an all-encompassing jam featuring some of the best and most cohesive instrumentation on the entire album as well as Endresen singing in the very forefront.
"Igloo" is a very curious album. As far as the music goes in terms of "songs", the album is not a total grand slam. It's a lot more interesting to play the disc while constantly reminding yourself that these are all sounds made from ice, and little else. So if you dig "sound experiments" by guys like Aube and the aforementioned Matmos, you should find enough meat here to hold your interest for a couple of listens. But on the other hand, some people just might see this as a mediocre ambient/electronica album, which it very well might be taken for if one was listening to it not knowing about the album's background. It reminds of Pink Floyd, and the conundrum they faced making the album that would eventually become "Atom Heart Mother". They were planning to make an album that sounded like it was played with real instruments, but was in fact entirely played with household items fine-tuned to sound like their musical counterparts. But in the end, they said, "if you're going through all that trouble to make something sound like a guitar...why not just use a guitar?".
Also, special credit must be given to the packaging of this release. The jewel case comes in a thick, opaque, die-cut sleeve and the booklet is made of transparent vellum. The coup-de-grace for the art though is the little vial of actual water inside the jewel case. Inspired!


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