City of Songs was the first joint project between Luleå and Austin, Texas. Despite the many challenges, musicians from Luleå and Austin successfully produced nine new songs performed on ice instruments.

Rebecka Digervall on vocals and ice guitar.
Rebecka Digervall on vocals and ice guitar.
Phoebe Hunts' first concert on an ice violin.
Phoebe Hunts' first concert on an ice violin.

In February, City of Song’s had its world premiere. Luleå’s unique cooperation agreement with Austin has begun to take shape and the cities have presented their first joint project. It was no coincidence that it started with music. Austin profiles itself as the live music capital of the world, and Luleå is investing heavily in the music industry, including through music development company BD Pop.

“Music is a good common platform for meetings. That’s what brought us together and made a good relationship possible. Music extends beyond national boundaries,” says Lindsey Verril, musician from Austin.

The musicians who participated in City of Songs from Austin were put together by Michael Blair and Troy Campbell, founder of the House of Songs. The musicians from Luleå were chosen by the music development company BD Pop.

“It’s a totally unique experience playing an ice instrument. When I asked our superstar Charlie Sexton, who receives lots of requests, if he wanted to join, he accepted without flinching,” says Troy Campbell, founder of House of Songs.

For a week the musicians from Luleå, Austin and Copenhagen stayed together in a house in Luleå. During the days they wrote songs together in the house, and in the evenings they went to the Ice Music concert hall to practice on the ice instruments. The whole process was documented by a film crew from Austin and Luleå. The documentary will be shown on one of the largest US television channels later this year.

“The dynamics between the musicians has worked from the start. We come from different musical backgrounds and everyone has contributed their part” says Rebecka Digervall, a Luleå musician.

The challenges of ice music

The day before the premiere one of the ice guitars broke during rehearsal. The musicians were forced to change the whole arrangement. On opening day, the weather was mild which affects the climate inside the ice concert hall. The ideal temperature for ice instruments is minus five degrees Celsius, but during Friday’s premiere it was plus two and a half degrees inside the Ice Music concert hall. These were the conditions without the audience and the concert was sold out. The audience’s body temperature and respiration increases the temperature in the hall. Therefore, the instruments had to be both cooled and re-tuned before every song.

“This is a new way for me to create music. Many things I cannot influence, I have to listen and put feeling into it,” says the world-renowned guitarist Charlie Sexton.

For the musicians from Austin, Luleå’s arctic climate has been a completely new experience. Musician Lindsey Verril from Austin had never experienced freezing temperatures before she came to Luleå. To cope with the cold, she borrowed winter clothes from friends.

“This landscape is quite alien to me. It is like visiting another planet. This morning we had a picnic on the ice. It was a completely new experience for me and something I had previously only read about in Hans Christian Andersen’s books,” says Lindsey Verril.

Different and similar cities

Luleå and Austin differ in many ways, not least when it comes to city size and climate.

“What has made Austin the innovative and expansive city that it is today is largely due to the fact that we have The University of Texas. This means that there are many young people in Austin with ideas and energy. I can see that the same spirit is in Luleå,” says Charlie Sexton.

Contributing musicians

Michael Blair, musician, songwriter and music producer who has worked with artists like Tom Waits, Lou Reed and Elvis Costello
Lindsey Verril, musician
Charlie Sexton, guitarist, singer and songwriter, works with, among others, Bob Dylan
Phoebe Hunt, singer/songwriter

Anders Bo Eriksen, musician

Olle Nyman, The New Man, musicians
Rebecka Digervall, musician.

Text: Amanda Karlsson

Photo: Luleåfotograferna