Icebreaker (band)

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Icebreaker live at QEH 2010.jpg
Icebreaker live at QEH 2010
Background information
Origin London, England
Genres Post-minimalism, minimalism, totalism
Years active 1989-
Labels Cantaloupe Music
Orange Mountain Music
New Tone Records
Members James Poke
Rowland Sutherland
Christian Forshaw
Bradley Grant
Dominic Saunders
Andrew Zolinsky
Walter Fabeck
Emma Welton
Audrey Riley
Dan Gresson
James Woodrow
Pete Wilson
Ernst Zettl
Past members (selected:)
John Godfrey
Damian LeGassick
Arun Bharali
Ian Watson
Richard Craig
Katherine Pendry
Tom Armstrong
Joanna Parker
Tracey Goldsmith
Darragh Morgan

Icebreaker is a UK-based new music ensemble founded by James Poke and John Godfrey. The group have established themselves as one of the UK's leading new music interpreters specializing particularly in post-minimal and "totalist" repertoire. They always play amplified and have a reputation for playing, by classical standards, "seriously loud".[1] More recently they have also incorporated more ambient repertoire, particularly in their version of the Brian Eno album Apollo.[2]


Founding and musical identity[edit]

Icebreaker was formed in 1989 to play at the new Dutch music festival in York.[3] The group consists of 12 musicians, with an instrumentation that includes pan-pipes, saxophones, electric violin and cello, guitars, percussion, drums, accordion and keyboards as well as a sound engineer and production manager. Richard Witts is consultant to the ensemble.[4]

Their repertoire encompasses music by a variety of well-known composers, including Louis Andriessen, Julia Wolfe, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, Yannis Kyriakides, David Lang, Steve Martland, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Donnacha Dennehy, and Diderik Wagenaar.[5] Icebreaker's unusual instrumentation gives the band's music a distinctive sound and allows the blending of contemporary classical, rock and alternative music. The instrumentation evolved from the line up of the Dutch group Hoketus, who had operated between 1977 and 1987, and served as an inspiration and model for the formation of the group. The presence of pairs of pan-pipes and saxophones derives from Icebreaker's performances of several works from the by now defunct Hoketus's repertoire, including the eponymous work by Louis Andriessen.[3]


Icebreaker have made concert appearances in the UK, US and Europe, including the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the Warsaw, Aarhus, Ghent, Grenoble and Budapest festivals, Sonorities in Belfast,[6] the Baltic Gaida Festival and the NYYD Festival in Estonia, as well as a dedicated Icebreaker festival with the Wiener Musik Galerie in Vienna.[7] In London they have appeared at Meltdown,[8] the ICA, the Place Theatre, the South Bank, the Barbican, the Warehouse, Ocean and the Almeida, among other venues. They have appeared on two Arts Council Contemporary Music Network tours of England. United States appearances include New York City's Bang on a Can Festival, the Lincoln Center Festival,[9] and a performance at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers' Orchestra in Stewart Wallace's The Book of Five.[10]


Since 2005 most of Icebreaker's albums have been released on the New York-based label Cantaloupe Music.[11] 2005 saw the release of Cranial Pavement, including music by John Godfrey, Richard Craig, Yannis Kyriakides and Conlon Nancarrow,[12] as well as the worldwide release of the new version of Michael Gordon's Trance. This 52-minute work was originally released on Argo in 1996 and has been completely re-worked and re-mixed for the Cantaloupe version.[13]

Icebreaker's first album Terminal Velocity (music by Andriessen, Gordon, Lang, Gavin Bryars and Damian LeGassick), also originally on Argo,[14][15][16] has also been produced in a remastered version for Cantaloupe.

In 2007 Icebreaker's version of Philip Glass's "Music with Changing Parts" was released on Glass's own label Orange Mountain Music.[14]

Other albums include Rogue's Gallery (NewTone), with works by Andriessen, Lang, Godfrey, Michael Torke and Steve Martland; a portrait of Diderik Wagenaar (Composers' Voice)[17] and Extraction (between the lines), containing music by LeGassick and Gordon McPherson plus a remix by Mel. Contributions to compilation albums include works by Graham Fitkin (Argo), Steve Martland and John Godfrey (Century XXI A – M / NewTone).

Icebreaker's recording of Apollo, their recent project based on the Brian Eno album Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, was released in June 2012.

Work with dance[edit]

Tanzwerk Nürnberg, West Australian Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet of Seattle have used Icebreaker's recordings for performances. In June 1998, Ashley Page created Cheating, Lying, Stealing, featuring Icebreaker as guest performers, for The Royal Ballet at Sadler's Wells, a programme which was revived in September/October 2003 and again in April 2009 for Scottish Ballet.[18] AtaXia, a collaboration with Wayne McGregor's company Random Dance, based on Trance, premiered in Sadler's Wells, London in June 2004 with further performances in Amsterdam and New York.[19]

Multi-media work[edit]

The 2003/4 season saw a major multi-media collaboration with the renowned Dutch ensemble Orkest de Volharding, and singer Christina Zavalloni, entitled Big Noise.[20][5][21][22] The project, consisting of four new commissions from leading composers from Britain and the Netherlands (Yannis Kyriakides, Diderik Wagenaar, Joe Cutler and Cornelis de Bondt, each working in conjunction with a video artist (H C Gilje, Hexstatic, Jaap Drupsteen and Thomas Hadley respectively), toured major venues in the UK and the Netherlands.

Other projects have included a further performance of The Book of Five with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra in Germany, recording the music to the independent American film Book of Love, and further work with film.

Educational work[edit]

They have been resident ensemble at the Dartington International Summer School for the advanced composition course led by Louis Andriessen, and have held composition workshops for the SPNM in Bangor and Belfast as well as additional workshops in New York and London. In June 2005 they took part in the Popular Music course at Goldsmiths College in association with John Paul Jones. In April 2009 they performed four new student commissions for the RSAMD in Glasgow.[23]

Internet radio show[edit]

Since 2006 Icebreaker have had a monthly show on Brighton-based, including interviews with composers and playing a wide range of music in mixed and contrasting genres.

Recent work[edit]

In 2005 Icebreaker were invited to revive Philip Glass's epic 1970 work Music with Changing Parts, which had remained unperformed since the early 1980s.[24] Icebreaker's recording of the piece, based on material recorded live at Dartington College of Arts, was released in spring 2007 on the Orange Mountain Music label.

In 2009 Icebreaker played further performances of Cheating, Lying, Stealing with Scottish Ballet, and appeared at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in two concerts celebrating Louis Andriessen's 70th birthday.[25] In July 2009 Icebreaker, with guest B. J. Cole on pedal steel guitar, premiered a new arrangement (by Woojun Lee) of Brian Eno's Apollo album, consisting of music by Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, at the IMAX cinema at London's Science Museum, alongside Al Reinert's film For All Mankind, for which the music was originally written. An expanded version of the arrangement received further performances at the Brighton Festival in May 2010, before touring later in the year. The album of the music was released in June 2012.

2014 saw the launch of the band's Kraftwerk Uncovered project. Going under the full title Kraftwerk Uncovered: A Future Past, the live show consists of reworkings and re-imaginings of Kraftwerk's music by German electronic artist J. Peter Schwalm, with a film by Schwalm's long-term video collaborator Sophie Clements, working with Toby Cornish. The project was another collaboration with the Science Museum, and received its first performance at the museum's IMAX cinema in January 2014, before touring around the UK and Ireland.[26]

2014-15 also features the Recycled Project, a new concert programme featuring new works by Ed Bennett, Roy Carroll, Paul Whitty, Matt Wright, Missy Mazzoli and a new arrangement of a piece by Julia Wolfe.[27] with performances in Canterbury, Oxford, Birmingham and Guildford.

Critical appraisal[edit]

Early critical response[edit]

Critical response to Icebreaker has generally been positive. Their London debut in 1989 was greeted by The Guardian and The Independent in enthusiastic terms: Robert Maycock in The Independent felt that "there is plenty of material here for British audiences to catch up with and Icebreaker have what it takes to deliver it,"[28] whilst Meirion Bowen wrote in The Guardian that "Icebreaker deserve an enthusiastic following.".[29] Some more conservative critics have had more problems with the group and its musical direction: Nicholas Kenyon, then a music critic at The Observer, subsequently director of London's Proms, described Icebreaker's music as "unbelievably banal" and Michael Dervan, writing in The Irish Times, described it as "music for the aurally challenged ... or the braindead"[30] and "ideal for the deaf and stoned".[31]


A number of critics have had difficulty with the very loud volumes of Icebreaker's concerts, which, whilst not excessively loud by rock standards, have challenged the ears of more classical critics. Keith Potter, a critic who has often praised Icebreaker's work ("Icebreaker's performers ... play with a passionate commitment as well as the requisite and highly demanding rhythmic precision"[32]), nevertheless complained of the high volume of Icebreaker's 1996 concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall: "This concert ... was loud. Seriously loud. It was also designed ... to "ramp up the audience's visual input to an equal energy level" to that of the sound. ... I found all this rather too much to take.".[33] For Brian Hunt, writing in The Daily Telegraph, an April 1995 Icebreaker concert was "too loud and not short enough.".[34] Others have been more enthusiastic: for Christopher Lambton, in The Guardian, a 2003 concert was "loud and all-enveloping, offering an experience closer to a rock concert: Icebreaker... creates the blueprint for live contemporary music."[35]


Icebreaker's albums have met with a very positive response. Terminal Velocity was described by Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle as an "electrifying new disc ... superb"[36] and it was described by the American Record Guide as "a stimulating, well-filled disc".[37] Trance was also well-received, particularly in its remastered version: the BBC Music Magazine referred to its "furious precision",[38] whilst Gramophone described parts of it as "genuinely mesmeric".[39]

Responses to Music with Changing Parts included a 4-star review in The Times,[40] and an appreciative review in The Wire ("appealing ... warmth ... vividness"),[41] although Andrew Clements was less enthusiastic in The Guardian, awarding it two stars.[42]

T J Medrek, in the Boston Herald, wrote about Cranial Pavement and the re-released Terminal Velocity that "Icebreaker's music is not only marvelous ear candy but also work of real structure and substance, as demonstrated in two superb new discs".[43]

Jim Farber in the New York Daily News described Apollo as "sumptuous".,[44] whilst the New York Music Daily called it "mesmerizing ... brilliant", writing that Icebreaker's version "enhances the hypnotic, enveloping, raptly warm ambience of the original, giving it a more organic feel".[45]

Further international response[edit]

Icebreaker have garnered further plaudits in the United States and Europe. For Alan Kozinn in The New York Times, the group was "unabashedly virtuosic";[46] Kyle Gann in The Village Voice described them as "rhythmically engrossing";[47] Alan Rich in Los Angeles Weekly as "amazing ... high-powered";[48] and Tristram Lozaw in The Boston Herald as "a harmolodic carnival of battling textures, symphonic discombobulations, and noisy innovations, all delivered with the visceral force of the best rock'n'roll".[49]

In Europe Icebreaker have been "mercilessly exact" (Der Standard, Vienna);[50] "impressive ... fascinating ... almost ecstatic" (NRC Handelsblad, Amsterdam);[51] and "commanding ... impressive " (Niedersächsische Allgemeine).[52]

David Bowie cited Icebreaker in an interview for Q magazine in November 2006, stating that he "would drive a mile" to see Icebreaker play live, describing music from Cranial Pavement as phenomenal.[53]

Members 2018[edit]

  • James Poke (artistic director, flutes, pan-pipes, wind-synthesiser, keyboard programming)
  • Rowland Sutherland (flutes, pan-pipes, voice)
  • Christian Forshaw (saxophone, clarinets)
  • Bradley Grant (saxophones, clarinets)
  • Dominic Saunders (keyboards)
  • Andrew Zolinsky (keyboards)
  • Walter Fabeck (keyboards)
  • Ian Watson (accordion, keyboards)
  • Emma Welton (electric violin)
  • Audrey Riley (electric cello, keyboards)
  • Dan Gresson (percussion, drums)
  • James Woodrow (guitar, bass guitar)
  • Pete Wilson (bass guitar)
  • Mel (production assistant)
  • Ernst Zettl (sound engineer)



Official Bootleg (ICC, 1991, live album, cassette only)

Terminal Velocity (Argo, 1994)

Trance (Argo, 1996)

Rogue's Gallery (New Tone, 1997)

Diderik Wagenaar (Composers' Voice / Donemus, 2001)

Extraction (between the lines, 2001)

Trance (Cantaloupe Music, 2004) (Remix and re-master of Argo album)

Cranial Pavement (Cantaloupe Music, 2005)

Terminal Velocity (Cantaloupe Music, 2005) (Re-master of Argo album)

Music with Changing Parts (Orange Mountain Music, 2007)

Apollo (Cantaloupe Music, 2012)

Appearances on other albums[edit]

Hook, Mesh, Stub, Cud (Argo, 1993)

Short Cuts – Breaking the sound Barrier – An Argo Sampler (Argo, 1994)

Century XXI UK A–M (New Tone, 1996)

Bang on a Can plays Louis Andriessen (Cantaloupe Records)


  1. ^ Keith Potter (1996-12-04). "CLASSICAL MUSIC: Icebreaker; Queen Elizabeth Hall, SBC, London - Arts and Entertainment". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  2. ^ "Icebreaker with BJ Cole perform | BRIAN ENO'S APOLLO". Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "". Glossary. Archived from the original on 12 March 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "I C E B R E A K E R". I C E B R E A K E R. 2013-11-22. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  5. ^ a b [1] Archived 17 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "Sonorities Festival of Contemporary Music - Archive". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  7. ^ "Wiener Musik Galerie". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  8. ^ "James Lavelle's Meltdown | Southbank Centre". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  9. ^ "Lincoln Center Festival 2005 (III): Icebreaker, The Allen Room, Time Warner Center, New York City, 23 July, 2005 (BH)". 2005-07-23. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  10. ^ "American Composers Orchestra - March 10, 2002 - Carnegie Hall". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  11. ^ [2] Archived 8 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ [3] Archived 8 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ [4] Archived 16 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ a b "Icebreaker (5) Discography at Discogs". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  15. ^ [5] Archived 8 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "home entertainment". Herald Scotland. 1994-05-27. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  17. ^ "Diderik Wagenaar". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  18. ^ [6] Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ "Collaborators". Random Dance. Archived from the original on 13 May 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  20. ^ [7][dead link]
  21. ^ Pascal Wyse. "Big Noise, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  22. ^ "The Argus, news, sport, events, jobs, homes for Brighton, Hove and Sussex". Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  23. ^ "Royal Conservatoire of Scotland". Archived from the original on 10 September 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  24. ^ Bob Gilmore, liner notes to Music with Changing Parts CD, Orange Mountain Music, 2007
  25. ^ "Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival : the UK's largest international festival of new and experimental music // Festival Programme". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  26. ^ John Lewis. "Icebreaker: Kraftwerk Uncovered – review | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  27. ^ "Touring Programme for 2014/15". Sound and Music. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  28. ^ Robert Maycock, The Independent, London, September 1989
  29. ^ Meirion Bowen, The Guardian, September 1989
  30. ^ Michael Dervan, The Irish Times, 10 May 1995
  31. ^ Michael Dervan, The Irish Times, February 2004
  32. ^ Keith Potter, The Independent, 14 November 2001
  33. ^ Keith Potter, The Independent, 4 December 1996
  34. ^ Brian Hunt, The Daily Telegraph, April 1994
  35. ^ Christopher Lambton, The Guardian, 15 November 2003
  36. ^ Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 12 June 1994
  37. ^ De Jong, American Record Guide, 1995,
  38. ^ Roger Thomas, BBC Music Magazine, February 2004
  39. ^ Barry Witherden, Gramophone, March 2004
  40. ^ Geoff Brown, The Times, 27 April 2007
  41. ^ Andy Hamilton, The Wire, August 2007
  42. ^ Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 2007
  43. ^ T J Medrek, The Boston Herald, 18 March 2005
  44. ^ New York Daily News, 10 June 2012
  45. ^ "A Brian Eno Classic Live in Concert | New York Music Daily". 2012-06-12. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  46. ^ Alan Kozinn, The New York Times, May 1991
  47. ^ Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, May 1991
  48. ^ Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly, May 1994
  49. ^ Tristram Lozaw, Boston Herald, May 1997
  50. ^ Der Standard, September 1999
  51. ^ Isabella Lanz, NRC Handelsblad, April 2005
  52. ^ Georg Pepl, Niedersächsische Allgemeine, 8 October 2007
  53. ^ Q, November 2006, page 86

External links[edit]