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ICED BODIES Cello – Seth Parker Woods and Spencer Topel

ICED BODIES: Ice Music for Chicago

Inspired by Charlotte Moorman and Jim McWilliams’s 1972 collaborative piece, Ice Music, Seth Parker Woods and Spencer Topel have reimagined the work in the context of our world today, adding layers of meaning – and technology – to this performance with a cello made of ice.

Woods and Topel performed their ICED BODIES: Ice Music for Chicago (© Topel & Woods 2017), on the 45th anniversary of Moorman’s London premiere.

Layers of Meaning

The original piece explored the implications and effects of the passage of time. Woods and Topel’s ICED BODIES does too, but adds more layers of meaning. As Woods explains on his website:

Voice-hearing and undiagnosed schizophrenia in the African American community is linked to incidences of police brutality and prison abuse across the United States. Many at-risk individuals with mental health problems not incarcerated, often end up homeless and unaided. Iced Bodies is an interactive performance installation for cellist and electronic instrumental ice sculpture seeking to dramatize the ephemerality of matter in phase transition.The inherent vulnerability of a melting ice sculpture—with its eventual destruction—serves as a commentary to overlooked and undocumented cases of mental disability within underrepresented populations.

Layers of Technology

Woods and Topel’s cello was extremely high tech compared with Moorman’s ice cube cello used in her London premiere or even with later performances where she employed a space heater to help the ice melt faster and gain more control over the dripping ice sounds.

Woods and Topel carefully planned the shape of the instrument and searched to find a reliable method to make it an obsidian color, rather than a clear or white ice cello.

In addition, they experimented to find the most effective placement for embedding piezoelectric pickups in the ice. The internal electronics allowed Topel to interact with the sounds Wood was creating physically with the cello. In addition, they added a male voice

reciting poetic phrases sonically-diffused on spatialized glass sculptures. These sounds serve as sonic feedback loops, evoking the isolation and neglect of voice hearers battling mental disorders.

By the end of the piece, once the ice is chipped and melted away, Woods is left with electronic innards, adding to the drama of the work. Their ICED BODIES is so much more than a re-make of the original. Woods and Topel have made it their own, with profound meaning and an artistic call to action for our own time.

Learn More from the Artists

Here are two videos about ICED BODIES: Ice Music for Chicago.

Iced Bodies (Documentary) from Topel | Woods on Vimeo.


To contact the artist, email him at seth(at)

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Seth Parker Woods

Seth Parker Woods Performing IceICED BODIES: Ice Music for Chicago. Photo: Elspeth Mary Moore

Hailed by The Guardian as “a cellist of power and grace” who possesses “mature artistry and willingness to go to the brink,” cellist Seth Parker Woods has established a reputation as a versatile artist straddling several genres. In addition to solo performances, he has appeared with the Ictus Ensemble (Brussels, BE), Ensemble L’Arsenale (IT), zone Experimental (CH), Basel Sinfonietta (CH), New York City Ballet, Ensemble LPR, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Seattle Symphony. A fierce advocate for contemporary arts, Woods has collaborated and worked with a wide range of artists ranging from the likes of Louis Andriessen, Elliott Carter, Heinz Holliger, G. F. Haas, Helmut Lachenmann, Klaus Lang, and Peter Eötvos to Peter Gabriel, Sting, Lou Reed, Dame Shirley Bassey, and Rachael Yamagata to such visual artists as Ron Athey, Vanessa Beecroft, Jack Early, Adam Pendleton, and Aldo Tambellini.

In the 2020-21 concert season, Woods will make debuts at EMPAC, The Strathmore, LACMA in Los Angeles and the Spoleto Festival. This season of performances will also include premiere performances of concertos by Tyshawn Sorey with the Seattle and Atlanta Symphony’s (Thomas Dausgaard and Maxim Emelyanychev, conductors), and the late Fausto Romitelli with John Kennedy and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. Woods will serve as Music Director and cellist for Jonathan Berger and Enrico Riley’s opera, Ritual Breath, which will premiere as a mediated performance in Spring 2021. Additionally, Woods will serve as the new 2020-21 Artist in Residence for the Kaufman Music Center in New York City, as well as guest artist and lecturer at the University of Vancouver, Stanford University, Boston Conservatory, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College and Northwestern University - Center for New Music.

In recent years, Woods has appeared in concert at the Royal Albert Hall—BBC Proms, Snape Maltings Festival, the Ghent Festival, Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain, Le Poisson Rouge and the Bohemian National Hall, Cafe OTO, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Klang Festival-Durham, INTER/ actions Symposium, ICMC-SMS Conference (Athens, GR), NIME-London, Sound and Body Festival, Instalakcje Festival, Virginia Tech, La Salle College (Singapore), and FINDARS (Malaysia), among others. Recent awards include a DCASE artist grant, Earle Brown/ Morton Feldman Foundation Grant, McGill University-CIRMMT/IDMIL Visiting Researcher Residency, Centre Intermondes Artist Residency, Francis Chagrin Award, Concours [Re]connaissance-Premiere Prix, and the Paul Sacher Stiftung Research Scholarship.

His debut solo album, asinglewordisnotenough (Confront Recordings-London), has garnered great acclaim since its release in November 2016 and has been profiled in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, The Guardian, 5against4, I Care If You Listen, Musical America, Seattle Times, and Strings Magazine, amongst others.

Woods serves on the performance faculty at the University of Chicago as a Lecturer/Artist in Residence for Cello and Chamber Music. He previously served on the music faculties of Dartmouth College and the Chicago Academy of the Arts, and holds degrees from Brooklyn College, Musik Academie der Stadt Basel, and a PhD from the University of Huddersfield. At present, he is the Artist in Residence with the Kaufman Music Center, and former AiR with Seattle Symphony and the interactive concert hall, Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center.


To contact the artist, email him at seth(at)

Spencer Topel

Spencer Topel is an American artist combining sound, installation, and performance. His practice is often characterized as an exploration between sculpture and musical instruments, expressed in a variety of works ranging from site-specific installations to performance art pieces. At the heart of this inquiry is the notion that objects have their own unique voice, and the task of the artist is to reveal and amplify this quality. 

Topel’s current and past projects with international arts and performing arts institutions include: Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Caramoor Festival; The Barnes Foundation, PA; The Juilliard School; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, NY; Drawing Center NY, The Estonian Music Days, Tallin; The Arts Club of Chicago; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park Boston, LiteraturHaus, CPH; The Huddersfield Festivaal, UK; the Arts and Ideas Festival, New Haven; the Proctor Academy, New Hampshire; and the Caramoor Festival, NY. His work has been performed by celebrated ensembles that include the Minnesota Orchestra, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Oregon Symphony, the Juilliard Symphony, Ensemble Third Sound, and the FLUX Quartet. 

Educated in music composition at The Juilliard School and Cornell University, Topel later joined the faculty at Dartmouth College as a professor of music. There he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on several projects including Capturing Resonance for the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.

Collaboration is a central part of Topel’s practice, which led to the formation of Physical Synthesis in 2019, a company focused on the development of sound devices of the future. Notable collaborations continue with architect and artist Hana Kassem, cellist Seth Parker Woods, and violinist-composer Pauline Kim Harris. Most recently, Topel was Artist-in-Residence at The Yale Quantum Institute, where he and his collaborators developed the first-ever musical synthesizer using Qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers. 

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Jim McWilliams

Jim McWilliams (born February 10, 1937) is an American artist and graphic designer who was active as an avant-garde performer and composer during the 1960s and 1970s.

After 1966, McWilliams's artworks and performances were often realized in collaboration with Moorman. He composed numerous works for her, including Ice Music (1972), in which she used a file, a saw, a long strip of plexiglass, and other tools to play a cello made of ice until it melted.