Icebreaker are a 12-piece post-minimalist music group founded by James Poke and John Godfrey in 1989. Since then Icebreaker have developed into one of the most exciting and cutting edge contemporary music ensembles in the world. Their characteristically individual repertoire includes original works and arrangements of music by some of the world’s best known and most influential music creators, such as Louis Andriessen, Brian Eno, Julia Wolfe, JLin, Michael Gordon, Anna Meredith, Kate Moore, Kerry Andrew, Kraftwerk, Philip Glass and Gavin Bryars.
Icebreaker are a unique voice in British music. With their unusual instrumental combination of saxes, guitars, electric strings, keyboards, flutes, pan-pipes, accordion, drums and percussion, Icebreaker's unique amplified sound appeals to contemporary classical, rock and alternative music audiences alike.
Icebreaker have appeared at most major contemporary music festivals around the world, including New York's Bang on a Can Festival, the Lincoln Center Festival, Southbank Centre’s Meltdown, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Matera European Capital of Culture 2019, festivals in Warsaw, Aarhus, Gent, Grenoble and Budapest, plus Sonorities in Belfast, Sound Festival in Aberdeen the Baltic Gaida Festival in Lithuania and the NYYD Festival in Estonia, as well as a dedicated three-day Icebreaker festival with the Vienna Musik Galerie and a featured concert accompanied by the Bochum Symphony Orchestra.
Frequent visits to the United States include appearances at major venues such as Carnegie Hall (with the American Composers' Orchestra in Stewart Wallace'sThe Book of Five), the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington. Regular performances in London have taken place at the Barbican Centre, the South Bank, Kings Place, Sadlers Wells, the ICA and the Almeida Theatre, amongst others.
In summer 2009 began a collaboration with London's Science Museum and the museum's Head of Research Tim Boon, to explore the concept of electronic music re-envisioned for live performance. This project began in the context of celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the moon landings with the premiere of a live version of Brian Eno’s classic ambient album Apollo (music by Brian Eno, Roger Eno & Daniel Lanois) at the museum's IMAX cinema in London, performed alongside the film For All Mankind by Al Reinert. The music was arranged by South Korean composer Woojun Lee (aka Kayip), chosen personally by Brian Eno, also featured the pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole as soloist, and was received with widespread acclaim. Subsequently, two sell-out nights at the Brighton Dome as part of the Brian Eno-curated Brighton International Festival, featured song arrangements with Brian Eno appearing personally on vocals.
In summer 2019 the project was revived for the 50th anniversary of the moon landings with a large scale performance in Matera for its celebrations as European City of Culture. For the performance Icebreaker and BJ Cole were joined on stage by one of the work's composers - Roger Eno - on piano.
The Apollo project has been toured extensively, including concerts at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall and Barbican Hall, as well as performances at Camp Bestival, the Aldeburgh Proms, Glasgow City Halls, The Sage Gateshead, Dublin's National Concert Hall, Birmingham Town Hall, and other venues in the UK, Ireland, France, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Belgium.
Kraftwerk Uncovered & further projects
In 2014 Icebreaker continued their collaboration with the Science Museum with a performance work based around the music of Kraftwerk. The work was created and arranged by German artist J Peter Schwalm with a new film by Sophie Clements and Toby Cornish. Kraftwerk Uncovered was premiered at the Science Museum in January 2014, before touring in the UK and Ireland.
In 2015-16 Icebreaker toured with a new project, Recycled, featuring new work by Ed Bennett, Linda Buckley, Roy Carroll, Paul Whitty and Craig Vear, with a new arrangement of a work by Julia Wolfe. The project explored more experimental techniques, improvisation, use of computer technology and electronics, and extended instrumental techniques, with music based around the idea of recycling/rewriting/found objects and so on.
System Restart was Icebreaker's next major project in 2017-18 - a programme of mostly newly commissioned work by a selection of all women composers, partly inspired by Icebreaker's wish to address a historical gender imbalance of composers, which had been enhanced by funding bias. The programme featured new works by Jobina Tinnemans, Kerry Andrew and Elizabeth Kelly with new arrangements of music by Anna Meredith, Kate Moore and Linda Buckley.
Icebreaker are currently planning a further collaboration with the Science Museum, with hopes that it might be realised in 2021, subject to restrictions on performance and plannig caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Icebreaker's first album Terminal Velocity, with music by Andriessen, Gordon, Bryars, David Lang and Damian leGassick, was released in 1994 on Argo and re-released in a remastered version on New York-based label Cantaloupe Music in 2005. Their other releases on Cantaloupe are 2005’s Cranial Pavement (music by John Godfrey, Richard Craig, Yannis Kyriakides and Conlon Nancarrow), and an updated version of Michael Gordon's Trance: originally released on Argo in 1996, this classic 52-minute recording was completely re-worked and re-mixed for the 2004 Cantaloupe version.
In 2007 their version of Music with Changing Parts by Philip Glass was released on Orange Mountain Music. The piece is a significant early Glass work, unplayed for many years, which they were given special permission to revive and arrange by the composer.
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) and Extraction (Between the Lines), containing music by leGassick and Gordon McPherson, and a remix by electronic artist and Icebreaker member Mel (I D Mellish).
Their most recent release, with BJ Cole is the recording of Apollo, which was released on Cantaloupe Music in June 2012 and reissued in 2019 on Firebrand in 2019.
Icebreaker Collaborations & Other Work
In 2003/4 Icebreaker initiated a major multi-media collaboration with the renowned Dutch ensemble Orkest de Volharding and singer Christina Zavalloni, entitled Big Noise. The project, consisting of four new commissions from leading composers from Britain and Holland, each working in conjunction with a video artist, toured major venues in the UK and the Netherlands, supported by the Arts Council Contemporary Music Network and the BBC, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Icebreaker have collaborated on a number of dance projects, most notably in two tours with Scottish Ballet in Ashley Page’s Cheating, Lying, Stealing, originally created by Page in collaboration with Icebreaker for The Royal Ballet at Sadler's Wells in 1998. They have also performed the music for Siobhan Davies's White Man Sleeps for Scottish Ballet.
In June 2004 AtaXia, a collaboration with Wayne McGregor's company Random Dance, based on Trance, premiered at Sadler's Wells, London with further performances in Amsterdam and New York in 2005. In January 2015, members of Icebreaker performed music by Julia Wolfe for the dance work Madcap at Sadler's Wells for the Richard Alston Dance Company.
Icebreaker have been resident ensemble at the Dartington International Summer School for the advanced composition course led by Louis Andriessen, and have held composition workshops in New York, London, Glasgow and Leeds, amongst many others. In June 2005 they took part in the Popular Music course at Goldsmiths College in association with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).
In 2016 Icebreaker premiered a live version of Scott Walker's Epizootics, from the album Bish Bosch, arranged by Icebreaker's musical director Audrey Riley, performed to Walker's recorded voice and video, with approval from the artist. The work was revived for performances in Italy, Lithuania, Ireland and the UK in 2019 in commemoration of the artist's death.
Other recent projects include a new arrangement of Glassworks (by special permission from Philip Glass), a new work commissioned by the European Space Agency by Kate Moore, although the performance at the ESA's ESTEC facility is currently postponed due to Covid-19, and further arrangements on the ongoing theme of live versions of electronica, including music by Anna Meredith and JLin.
Since 2006, Icebreaker has hosted an internet radio channel on totallyradio.com (which is fully accessible in archive), where their own music can be heard alongside an eclectic and heady mix of music from a wide spectrum of genres, and also features Icebreaker flautist Rowland Sutherland's shows on Brazilian music and jazz flute.