January 31, 2006 marks the American release of Voiceprint Records (UK) “In Elven Lands,” music inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Some of your readers may have heard the rhumors over the past few years of a project that features musicological reconstructions of what the music of Middle-Earth might sound like, including several songs with Quenya and Sindarin lyrics. A few of you probably even have the pirated demos that leaked out in spring of 2001 (thanks to the Audio department of Weta) that feature Jon Anderson (of Yes fame), if you do, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.
First, I should make clear that this is not a Yes album. All respect to Jon and the Band, but from the beginning, we all decided to set aside our egos and professional personae to serve the vision of professor Tolkien. If anything, you can think of it as an album of ancient music. It also includes performances by Adam Pike (of The Syrups), legendary punk-rock producer Ethan James (on hurdy-gurdy), the world-music experts from Icarus Studios, Oakland-based early-musician Caitlin Elizabeth, Las Vegas-based world-music vocalist Kate St.Pierre and myself, Carvin Knowles, a world-music artist and film composer of some small note, just to name-drop a few.
* * * * * * *
My involvement with “In Elven Lands” began in 1998, when my contacts at New Line approached me about creating a demo of ancient music based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. They knew of my studies with the great early musicologist Eugene Enrico and asked me to do a simple reconstruction based on such clues found in poetry, myths, languages and actual descriptions of performances in Tolkien’s many writings. I turned in the first demo a week before their films began shooting in 1999. Jon Anderson joined us at around that time. He too had been approached by New Line.
While we were recording, New Line Cinema’s music department had three complete changes of personnel. All of my old contacts were long gone before the first demo shipped. None of us knew that Howard Shore had already been chosen to score the films and there would be no “songs” licensed from outside sources.
So without knowing that little fact, we mounted a major production. We unsuccessfully negotiated with the Tokien Estate for use of lyrics. Jon decided that I should write replacement lyrics and, after studying both Elvish tongues and Tolkien’s theories about how languages change over time, I set to work creating some sacred poetry that illustrated linguistic evolution and …well… the versatility and character of these languages.
When we found out that Howard had the score and we were completely out of the film, Jon asked me to finish the reconstruction as an album. But shortly after that, his success with Yes took him away from the project. He only finished four of the songs. Those of us who remained worked like madmen (and women) to create something worth having.
Jon only actually sang on four of the songs and wrote music and lyrics for two of them. He had intended many more but his renewed success with YES took him away from the project. But his guidance on the project was pretty phenomenal. He was a real sport about singing in Elvish, too. Hearing Sindarin with his Yorkshire accent is enough to make any fan smile.
The song that brought Jon onboard was a setting of the “Hymn to Elbereth,” which had to eventually be re-written because of copyright issues with the Tolkien Estate. The result was “Verses to Elbereth Gilthoniel, ” which were my own addition to the praises of the Vala who set the stars into the dome of heaven. It was, of course, modelled upon the existing verses scattered throughout the LOTR. My concept was simple: Like the mediaeval Catalonian “Cantigas de Santa Maria” which were a series of songs composed to the Virgin by various authors and musicians over the course of about a hundred years, I would add my praises of the Vala Varda: Elbereth Gilthoniel, to those of the great Author, using the same metre and language. Our performance goal was to to create a feeling of spirituality that mirrored the sacred-ness that Tolkien gave to the original hymn.
Jon’s lyrics for “The Sacred Stones” mentions “The Songs of Evermore” and we were obliged to follow it with the classic Led Zeppelin song. That was sung by Adam Pike (of The Syrups). We knew that it would be pointless to try to out-zeppelin the Zeppelin, not to mention completely out of character for the album. So intead, we used our early-music techniques on their song and took it as far as we could, completely re-harmonizing it using ancient pythagorean systems. Adam’s voice can be as dark as Jon’s is light, so we went for the contrast. I can say with complete confidence that this is the most unique cover of this song ever.
To give each civilisation it’s own character we have assumed some simple analogs: The English Folk tradition is used to represent the Hobbits. The Elves music is based on the mediaeval sacred and art-music styles and the Troubador/Trouvere tradition. The music of Numenor is an evolved version of the Elven music with added Greek and Macedonian influences. The Dwarves music follows the same rules as the Elves music, but instead of flowing musical lines there is a solid and angular architecture. The music of Rohan has harmonies in common with the Hobbits’ music. A look at latter-age music comes when we apply Shape-Note traditions to Organum-style harmonies to give an impression of a religious hymn to Illuvatar, as performed in the countrysides of Gondor.
Our influences included the works of Troubadors (Alan de la Halle), the Minnesingers (von Eschenback) the Notre Dame School (Leonin and Perotin), Ars Nova (Hildegard von Bingen, Machaut and Landini), early English composers (John Taverner) as well as anonymous works such as “Sumer Is Icumen In” and all those 13th century dance pieces and John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master 1652.”
I’m sure that’s enough information to get you started. I have, if you are interested, the complete text of the album notes, which includes brief concise statements about our approach and execution and some notes about language and mythology.
If you need more information, feel free to contact me. I will be attending ORC in a couple of weeks and I should have some promo copies available before that.
Thanks for your kind attention
In Elven Lands