Arctic ice concert’s ‘Ocean Memories’ lays bare ocean fragility, global climate crisis

TEMPELFJORDEN, Norway — “It is impossible to copy or replace nature. We do need nature. Nature does not need us.”

Those are the words of longtime Norwegian musician Terje Isungset, who recently led a Greenpeace-partnered climate crisis awareness campaign in the form of the world’s northernmost concert with an unusual twist: instruments the group played were made exclusively from Arctic ice.

To highlight the fragility of the world’s oceans, which climatologists say at least 30 percent need to be preserved by 2030, Isungset and a group of musicians set out to record an ice concert in the far north. With temperatures below -12 degrees celsius, the rhythms of chimes, horns, ice percussion and a cello blended together to create ‘Ocean Memories’ from the fragile instruments.

Protect the Oceans Expedition - Ice Concert
Musicians Terje Isungset, Aashild Brunvoll, Maria Dahlin and Andreas Hatzikiriakidis perform during an ice music concert in the Svalbard Islands. © Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

Isungset, who has released 15 solo albums and 40 commissioned works, said he’s always incorporated environmental awareness into his music. It’s been nearly two decades since his first ice concert in 2000, he added.

“I think to treat nature gently is one of the most important things we can do. It’s outstanding, unique and fantastic,” Isungset said in an interview with States of Life.Most of my work have some kind of a deeper meaning. I don’t necessary say or write the actual meaning. I do prefer a rather abstract message without any use of words.”

Before the concert, the team had to harvest ice from icebergs that were once part of “really old glaciers,” Isungset said. Ice carver Bill Covitz and Isungset crafted the instruments using saws, knifes and a small drill.

Protect the Oceans - Ice Concert Preparations
Ice carver Bill Covitz and Terje Isungset carved the instruments from Arctic ice. © Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

“By putting the spotlight on the Arctic ocean and ice loss, we want to emphasize the immediate need for ocean sanctuaries not only for the north pole, but for the entire planet,” said Halvard Raavand, oceans campaigner from Greenpeace Nordic. “Over the next year, governments are negotiating at the United Nations towards a Global Ocean Treaty that could pave the way for the creation of a network of ocean sanctuaries. This is a unique opportunity for governments to work together and create healthy oceans that are our best ally against a changing climate. The science is clear: our oceans are in crisis. All we need is the political will to protect them.”

In 2019, the Arctic has suffered from record breaking ice loss and in April, the average temperature was eight degrees above normal.

For Ocean Memories, Isungset composed the piece, saying he wanted to give the piece a “positive mood” because, as he said, “I believe people are aware of the beauty of nature and what nature might give us.”

Protect the Oceans Expedition - Ice Concert
An ice cello used to record Ocean Memories. Photo © Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

“So I made a lively piece of music performed on the ice we borrowed from nature,” Isungset said. “It’s like, ‘See what nature can give us.’ What nature can give is fantastic.”

Joining Isungset, who played iceofone and ice horn, were Åshild Brunvoll on ice cello, Maria Dahlin on ice percussion and Andreas Hesselberg Hatzikiriakidis on ice horn.

Isungset said climate crisis deniers need “only to look around” to see the dangers posed to the planet, and criticized U.S. citizens for their willingness to deny unbiased scientific data.

“If they could simply be so kind to look around at what is going on, it might help,” Isungset said. “Lack of water and food may give us serious conflicts between countries and people. We do not want a war. At the same time, we are treating the planet in a way so that lots of wildlife disappear. This is a serious problem that will affect all life as ecosystems are put under pressure.”

Greenpeace is currently campaigning for a Global Ocean Treaty covering all seas outside of national waters, and in 2019, went on a pole-to-pole voyage, sending ships the Esperanza and Arctic Sunrise  to the  northern ice edge to shine a light on the enormous threat posed by climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution to the Arctic ocean.

The Global Ocean Treaty finished two of four rounds of negotiation at the United Nations in April. The third round of negotiations will take place at the United Nations in New York this month, with the treaty process hopefully concluding with a fourth and final round in spring 2020. According to Greenpeace, a robust Global Ocean Treaty could provide the legal framework for the protection of international waters, making possible the creation of fully-protected Marine Protected Areas, or ‘ocean sanctuaries’, free from harmful human activities.


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