Tim Linhart’s Ice Cellos
Tim Linhart has been building ice cellos for 20 years, and in that time has made 26 – and counting.
It takes Linhart about a week to construct the ice body of a cello. Inside the instrument is a metal spine, and this (along with a wooden neck, fingerboard, and traditional tailpiece) is re-used each year.
Linhart’s ice cellos have thick ice bridges with a metal guard on top to protect them from the cello strings.
Linhart started as an ice sculptor 36 years ago and made his first ice instrument – an octobass – in 1998. In spite of having this first ice bass explode as he tightened its strings, he persisted and has made successful instruments ever since. He made his first ice cellos in 2000.
In addition to being an expert with ice, he also studied traditional violin making, learning about shapes and thicknesses.
He says that the
greatest challenge in building an ice cello is that when you thin the plates down to a thickness which will produce any sound, they are so thin that they become extremely fragile. Almost all plates break during the process of carving them.
Maintaining an Ice Cello
Even after an ice cello has been completed, the ice continues to move under the tension of the strings. He explains
Over time the face of the instrument is pushed down. This requires frequent readjustment of the height of the strings over the fingerboard.
Another issue is maintaining the thickness of the instrument. Sublimation results in the thinning of the plates, so in order to maintain an ice cello
water must be sprayed onto the instrument regularly.
However, this can lead to other problems. The
relative heat in the water can cause the ice to rapidly expand and crack. The solution is to always consider the temperature before applying water to the ice.
Custom-Built Igloo Performance Space
In addition to making new ice cellos and other instruments, each season Linhart leads the building of a new concert igloo to seat up to 300 people.
The walls are 15 feet thick at the base and 3.5 feet thick on the ceiling. Over the winter season, musicians perform up to 77 concerts in this custom-built space.
Ice Cellos vs. Wooden Cellos
Ice and wooden cellos are very similar, but Linhart’s ice cellos are not mobile – they are fixed in place in the concert hall. The player must play without moving the instrument.
Another difference is tuning. Ice cellos need to be tuned much more often than wooden cellos. In concerts, they need to be re-tuned between each piece.
A New Discovery in Ice Cello Construction
With 20 years of experience making ice cellos and having made 26 in that time, he says
the cello is perhaps the most mature in terms of its development as an ice instrument.
But Linhart is always observing and learning, and he says he recently
made a new discovery! I experimented using “bubble water” instead of ordinary “still water” while creating the white ice material for the front and back plates of the instrument. The resulting material was more opaque and much lighter than usual. I call it foam ice. As soon as I touched it with a chisel I could feel that it was a totally different texture and I knew it would sound different.
He says that when the strings on this new cello were tightened,
the sound coming from the instrument was louder in volume, much warmer in tone, and more pleasing to my ear.
Linhart’s love of ice cello making is very clear, even after two decades. He says:
The process of discovery is ongoing and still fascinating. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
We can’t, either.
Watch Tim Linhart Make an Ice Cello
This video, with Italian narration, shows Linhart make an ice cello.
Listen to Cellist Giovanni Sollima Play Linhart’s Ice Cellos
Contact Tim Linhart
Learn more on Linhart’s Ice Music website.
Contact him via email: info(at)icemusic.se.
- “Experience the Magic of Ice Music with Us.” Ice Music in Swedish Lapland, www.icemusic.se/.
- “Ice Music.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/icemusic.sweden/.
- “Ice Music: Tim Linhart.” Ice Music, Ice Instruments and an Igloo Symphony Concert Hall, www.mountainyahoos.com/Ice_Music_Instruments_and_Symphony.html.
- Phone Interview with Tim Linhart.