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Tim Linhart’s Ice Cellos: Extreme Icemanship

A Note from the Curator

One of the greatest pleasures of putting together an exhibition of musical instruments is getting to talk to instrument makers. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Tim Linhart, who is a world-class ice artist.

In response to our request for materials, Tim sent us this article, and we are pleased to share it with you.

Many thanks to Tim Linhart for all of the information he has shared with us and for including his instruments in our Innovations in Cello-Making Materials exhibition. You can read more about his ice cellos here.

– Dr. Brenda Neece, Curator

Introducing Tim Linhart and Icemanship

Tim Linhart iwht ice instrument

My name is Tim Linhart. I am the founder of the emerging art form of Ice Music. Over the past 36 winters, I have been working as an ice artist in the existing winter conditions in Colorado, USA; northern Sweden; and the Italian Alps.

I have created and maintained many hundreds of monumental-scale snow and ice sculptures, hundreds of ice musical instruments, 19 ice orchestras, and 11 gigantic igloo Ice Music concert halls.

In this process, I have developed a wide variety of tools, techniques, and materials, which are suited to working with the various natures of snow, water, and ice, to produce an ever-widening range of beautiful, interesting, and useful objects and buildings. I call it Icemanship.

Snow Sculpture at Ski Resorts

While building a snow sculpture in 1986 at my local ski resort of Taos, New Mexico, I discovered a new artistic material I call “White Ice.” White Ice is a mixture of snow and water. The sticky paste material is applied by the handful and allowed to freeze. Successive applications allow you to grow any structure.

When the sculpting is finished, the sculpture is repeatedly soaked with water which freezes into the spaces between the snowflakes. The sculpture transforms into the White Ice material which is strong, beautiful, and versatile.

I spent all of the winters during my late 20’s and 30’s building snow and ice sculptures for ski resorts and resort hotels in Beaver Creek and Vail, Colorado, 1987-2009. I built, and maintained, several monumental-scale sculptures each winter at various locations both on the ski mountain and in the villages.

Pushing the Boundaries and Learning about Ice as a Structural Material

Pegasus ice sculpture by Tim Linhart

Each of the sculptures I built challenged the perceived boundaries of ice as a structural material. Eventually, I was literally way out beyond the edge of the cliff.

Tim Linhart with huge ice sculpture

Maintaining sculptures over the course of the winter months gave me the opportunity to observe the forces at work and the behavior of the ice under stress, time, and temperature. In the process, I developed an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of ice as a structural material.

First Ice Instrument

Tim Linhart with his first ice octobass.

I built my first ice instrument in 1998 – a gigantic bass called the “Octobass.” I constructed a metal “spine” to hold the tension on the opposite ends of the string and the hollow ice body was grown onto the top and bottom of the frame.

The instrument was strung with strings selected from the bass end of a piano. As I tightened the strings and plucked them a sound came out from inside the hollow instrument.

Remains of Tim's first ice octobass

I tightened the strings again and the octobass suddenly exploded and fell to the ground as a thousand ice chips. It was a humble beginning but I had heard the sound coming out of the ice and I did not give up.

Imagining an Ice Instrument Orchestra

Tim Linhart playing his 1999 ice octobass

In the following winter of 1999, I built a second octobass and played it successfully for the first time. I taught myself to play simple melodies and was surprised at the clear and beautiful sound coming from the instrument.

I imagined an entire orchestra of ice instruments playing Classical music and was inspired to pursue the making of Ice Music. I made a recording of the sounds of the instrument and songs I played.

First Ice Music Concert

By 2000, it was apparent to me that ice did not function well as a fingerboard material, so I redesigned the frame to include a wooden fingerboard. I built a 5 piece orchestra with two octobasses and three cellos.

First Ice Music Concert - Tim Linhart. Photo courtesy Tim Linhart

The first Ice Music concert was performed outdoors at the top of a 3,500-meter mountain in Beaver Creek Ski Resort in Colorado on March 21, 2000, with players I hired from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

More Instruments and a Concert Hall Igloo

Over the following years, I developed an entire orchestra of ice instruments, including:

  • violin
  • viola
  • cello
  • bass
  • guitar
  • mandolin
  • banjo
  • drums
  • xylophone
  • rolandophone
  • graviton
  • steel drum
  • chimes
  • and a variety of other percussion ice instruments.

Each winter I lead the building of a gigantic igloo concert hall with seating for up to 300 people where musicians perform up to 77 concerts during the winter season.

Ice Cellos

Tim Linhart Ice Cello. Ice Music. Photo: Darren Edwards

To date, I have built 26 ice cellos and counting. The greatest challenge in building an ice cello is that when you thin the plates down to a thickness that will produce any sound, they are so thin that they become extremely fragile. Almost all plates break during the process of carving them.

Building an ice cello is only the beginning of the difficulty. Once a cello is built, the ice is always slowly moving under the tension of the tightened strings. Over time the belly of the instrument is pushed down. This requires a frequent readjustment of the height of the strings over the fingerboard.

Sublimation, the transition of water directly from solid ice to a gas state, is continuously removing material from the instrument. This means that to maintain the thickness of the ice, water must be sprayed onto it regularly. However, 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.

A New Discovery!

The cello is perhaps the most mature in terms of its development as an ice instrument. Until last winter I had considered its development to be complete.

But then I made a new discovery! I experimented with 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 weight than usual. I call it foam ice.

bubbles in water

As soon as I touched it with a chisel I could feel that it was totally a different texture and I knew it would sound different.

When the strings were finally tightened, the sound coming from the instrument was louder in volume, much warmer in tone, and more pleasing to my ear.

The process of discovery is ongoing and still fascinating. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.

Contact Tim Linhart

Learn more on Linhart’s Ice Music website.

Contact him via email: info(at)icemusic.se.

Videos about Tim Linhart

These two videos give you the chance to hear Tim Linhart speak about his art and to listen to Ice Music.


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