The American making ‘ice music’ in the Italian Alps

When Tim Linhart started making instruments from ice they were more likely to explode with a bang than produce music, but things have come a long way since then.

The American making 'ice music' in the Italian Alps
Artist Tim Linhart with one of his ice instruments. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Today, the US-born artist is in charge of an ice orchestra of local musicians playing a series of concerts at sub-zero temperatures in a vast, custom-built igloo high in the Italian Alps.

“I made snow and ice sculptures in the ski resort where I'm from in New Mexico (for 16 years)… and then I decided it would be cool to make a sculpture of a violin,” Linhart, 59, told AFP.

“I heard the sound coming from inside and thought 'wow this is super exciting, if I just tighten up the strings a little bit more it would be louder',” he recalled.

Overtightening the strings, however, caused the instrument to shatter into little pieces, he recounted.

“But I had heard enough, it was the beginning,” said Linhart, his large frame treading nimbly among the delicate instruments on stage in the igloo.

Tim Linhart at work. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

In the Passo Paradiso winter sports station at an altitude of 2,600 metres (8,500 feet), instruments still at times spontaneously implode due to the brittleness of the ice, but less frequently.

And when they do, it's not altogether a lost cause.

“Then you know you're as close to the edge of ice music as you can get,” Linhart said.

Here, the artist has built a violin, viola, timpani drum set, xylophone, double bass, mandolin, cello and even his own invention, the giant Rolandophone, a huge percussion pipe instrument, all from ice.

“The only setback is they melt”

After moulding front and back plates, Linhart uses a white-ice mix of water and snow to build the instrument's walls, around a metal backbone, over which the strings are stretched and tightened. 

A mandolin takes five or six days to make, bigger instruments can take months.

“It's a great material because you can both grow it and cut it away, and it's free,” said Linhart. “The only setback is that it melts above freezing.”

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Because of their weight, some of the instruments are played while suspended from mountaineering carabiners attached to steel cables drilled into the ceiling of the 200-seater igloo.

For storage, many are kept in niches carved out of the igloo walls.

Cellist Nicola Segatta, who helped build his own instrument out of ice, says their sound is “more crystalline” than the classic wooden instruments. 

“They're incredibly fragile. When you're building them there's the constant risk that they'll disintegrate into a thousand pieces,” said the musician, who had been part of the orchestra that day.

But the intensity of the music produced by the ice instruments brings out a strong emotional reaction in the audience, in counterpoint to their fragility, he added.

The ice instruments require amplification, and technicians battle constantly to keep the sound coming in the adverse conditions.

As the audience enters the igloo, where temperatures average minus 12 degrees C (10 degrees F), it begins to warm up, and so do the instruments, forcing the musicians to constantly retune.

But the ice's flexibility is also a blessing, as it adapts to being played..

“The instruments when they're first newly built, they sound kind of tinny, a weird-sounding little thing, and the more you play them, the bigger the sound gets,” Linhart said.

“Within the first couple of hours, the sound will be twice as big as it was just before and much nicer, sweeter sounding, because the ice is responding to this vibration passing through it and getting warmed up like it's getting a massage.”

Linhart spends the summer with his Swedish wife and their young son in northern Sweden, gardening and creating non-ice art, while some of the better instruments are kept in a freezer for the next winter.

“If they're old and worn we'll just hit them with a hammer or leave them out in the sun and let them die,” he said.

His current project is teaching people like Segatta how to make the instruments, and the icy concert hall, themselves.

But this means resisting the constant temptation to think up even bigger instruments in “the cutting edge, the invention side of ice music again”, he said.

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Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website