Astrid Nielsch Musician ‘Asni‘ sends this along: I’ve been working hard promoting my CD launch in the last few weeks. For those interested, below is my media release. I have finally managed to do a little work on my “Travelguide to Middle-earth” section, at least the photos and the info in this press release are online now, and it looks a wee bit nicer.

If you live anywhere near enough Wellington, please do note the date of the launch in your calendar! It is intended to be a bit of a farewell gig, since I plan to focus on things other than performing in the future – it may be quite a while until you get another chance to see and hear me live! So, do come – and don’t say you haven’t been warned. 🙂

For immediate release

WHAT: Asni: *Travels in Middle-earth* CD Launch
WHEN: Tuesday 16 September 2008 from 8 pm
WHERE: Happy Bar & Venue, corner Vivian St and Tory St, Wellington WHO: Asni – formerly a world-traveling harper who settled down in Wellington five years ago and now presents her first New Zealand solo CD release featuring an unusual combination of medieval, traditional, contemporary and original harp music with Maori traditional taonga puoro (performed by Alistair Fraser).
Support: Tahu – Henare Walmsley, taonga puoro & Mike Hogan, guitar.
WHY: Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience Asni performing live!

*Travels in Middle-earth* is available online on and other outlets.
CDs will be available for sale at the door – buy a CD and get in free!

Music in Middle-earth: The fantasy world created by J.R.R.Tolkien has woven itself into our modern global culture – and boosted not only the NZ film industry, but even the development of the internet! It is a metaphor for a world where people increasingly refuse to define their identity by “where they are from”, by their nationality and ethnicity.

Asni is a citizen of that world. Born in what was then West Berlin at the height of the Cold War, she found refuge from dreary surroundings and very real fears in Tolkien’s writings. They are what gave her the idea to learn harp in the first place! Her collection of instruments would not look out of place among Dwarves, Elves or Gondorians. She has traveled three continents as a virtuoso harp player of international reputation. Her fresh approach is gaining new audiences for an instrument that tends to live on the fringes of contemporary music culture.

Five years ago, Asni took up the New Zealand government on its offer to give her residency on the strength of her artistic reputation, and settled down in Wellington. Although adapting to a new and very different artistic environment has been by no means easy – an environment where the question “Where are you from” sometimes seems more important than “What do you do and how good are you at it?” – she has never looked back.

*Travels in Middle-earth* is Asni’s third CD production and the first produced in New Zealand. The idea for the album grew out of her performance at the Return of the Ringers fan party on the eve of the Return of the King premiere in 2003. John Howe, renowned Tolkien artist and conceptual designer for the Lord of the Rings movies, was so impressed with Asni’s first solo album 700 Years of Pop that he offered the use of one of his illustrations for the cover of the new CD. The project has had enthusiastic support from the fan community.

Never one to conform to role expectations, Asni has left her origins in classical music behind and has created her own contemporary style. She draws on a profound knowledge of musical traditions, and has worked with a wide range of musicians, from alternative pop to traditional Maori music. She was fortunate to collaborate with Alistair Fraser, who plays his taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) on several tracks of her new CD. A powerful combination of sounds and ancient musical traditions!

Music plays an important part in Tolkien’s fictional universe – but what did it sound like? Not content with just adapting a few songs from Howard Shore ’s film soundtrack, Asni took inspiration from the same sources that spurred Tolkien’s imagination: The album combines Medieval songs, dance music not only from Ireland and Scotland, but from Finland and neighboring Estonia, and even from as far afield as Spain and Western Africa, as well as original tunes inspired by texts from Tolkien’s book.

Asni realized the opportunities the internet offered for independent musicians quite early on. In 2002 she took a weekend class and built a website in a text editor: now attracts some 500 visitors every day. Asni has built an international following through the net and was able to raise the funds for producing her new CD through pre-sales to fans in twelve different countries. New Zealanders at large have yet to discover Asni and her way out of the ordinary music.

More information: please visit


“To me, the whole point of engaging with music that has been buried by time is to eventually create something new.”

“Often, particularly with very old music, there is so little knowledge left that there are vast spaces to be filled by the imagination. It is a play with possibilities, all of them equally valid, rather than an attempt to arrive at one “correct” version of a tune.”

“As a teenager, I spent several years living in Middle-earth. It is what gave me the idea to learn harp in the first place. When I turned up for my first harp lesson I was severely disappointed: that huge, heavy, mechanized monster had very little to do with the mental image I had formed from reading and re-reading Lord of the Rings. Then I discovered the vast variety of harps that existed during the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods, and the fascinating palette of sounds they produce. Now this is what I imagined the peoples of Middle-earth would have played! I was hooked.”

“One lead to discovering what the music of Middle-earth might have sounded like, are the music of those peoples on whose languages Tolkien modelled his invented languages of Middle-earth. Gaelic and Welsh were major influences – and so was Finnish. Estonia’s language and culture is closely related to that of Finland. The Estonian folk tunes I chose also have a very personal signifi-cance: I found them in a book on Estonian folk dance which has come down to me on my mother’s side of the family. They mix well with some German dance tunes from J.S. Bach’s time: like childhood memories, they represent my own personal Shire.”

“One thing we do know – people played harp an awful lot in Middle-earth”

“Tolkien’s fictional universe is created through music: it comes into being through the song of the Ainur, the Angel-like beings that take the place of Gods in Tolkien’s world. Among the musical instruments that are mentioned in Tolkien’s writings, the harp takes pride of place. But what did the music sound like that Thorin’s dwarves played in Bilbo’s cave, right at the beginning of The Hobbit? Or the lament that Lady Galadriel sang as the Fellowship was leaving Lothlorien? Or the festive music performed by the harpers of Gondor at Arwen’s and King Elessar’s wedding?”


Asked what made her want to play the harp, Asni’s answer is spontaneous: “Reading too much Tolkien!” Disappointed with the decidedly un-elfish unwieldiness of the modern pedal harp, which she had learned as a teenager, she became involved in the revival of medieval and baroque harps after finding out about the fascinating varieties of the instrument that had existed in older times. She quickly established herself as one of the leading modern performers on early harps.

After an international career that took her to most European countries and across the United States, she decided to settle in Wellington after coming to New Zealand for a tour, and took up a position as Artist Teacher at the New Zealand School of Music. She has toured for Chamber Music New Zealand in 2005, and went back to Europe in 2006 to perform and teach at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, as well as recitals in the Czech Republic, Sweden and her native Germany. She has performed with a wide range of musicians both in New Zealand and abroad, ranging from alternative pop to traditional Maori music. She appears on a number of CD recordings and was featured in the BBC’s “Destination Music” series.

Since coming to New Zealand, she has been able to more fully explore the other side of her creativity in visual arts – painting, photography, and more recently, video production and animation. Earlier this year she completed the Diploma of Multimedia at Natcoll. Since 2002, she has been running her own website,, where she sells her CDs, photography, artwork and a range of sheet music edited from historical sources.

Asni holds an MA in music history and theory from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. She is a member of APRA and of WIFT- Women in Film and Television.


Of Katimana and Kati Pakeha descent, Alistair Fraser was born in Dunedin, NZ, now lives in Wellington, and specialises in building, performing and teaching taonga puoro (Maori traditional musical instruments).

With Henare Walmsley and Mike Hogan, he has founded Tahu, an ensemble specializing in the revival of ancient Maori musical traditions. This Matariki, Tahu has released their first cd recording.



Am very happy recipient of a CD that turned up recently. New Zealand harper Asni’s album Travels in Middle-Earth is just out. Now there is no shortage of Middle-Earth-inspired music, but this is the top of the pick. Middle-Earth is the stage for a solid exploration of a real variety of themes with the harp – original, traditional, folk, modern. Buy it, not only will you be helping out an artist who has the courage to self-produce without any compromises what she believes in, it really is lovely. In fact, pick up her other CD 700 Years of Pop, which is truly delightful. ***Okay, so I stole that from the debut album of Pink Floyd.
John Howe, in his newsletter

I arrived back in New Zealand two days ago and got the CD at the marina office yesterday, listened to it last evening on deck through cockpit speakers. It is great, as is the entire production: liner notes—if that is what they are still called, photographs, illustrations. – I carry my music from one side of the world to another in iPods I imported your CD this morning, including taking a photo of the cover illustration art work.

About half my music is classical and half other, mostly what could be called ‘world’. Your’s is the only harp music. You have a unique talent and sound, and I’m very glad that I happened to hear you one day on Radio New Zealand.
Webb Chiles, yacht Hawkeflown, currently sailing around the world

I have played my copy and I really like your music; very atmospheric and melodic. I constantly play Tolkienian music in my shop and your cd’s will certainly be one of them with others like the Howard Shore complete soundtracks, The Tolkien Ensemble, Lingalad and Glass Hammer.
René van Rossenberg, The Tolkien Shop, Leiden, The Netherlands

Dear Asni – I wanted to write and say how much I love listening to your CD. I like your settings of the LOTR film music, especially ‘Evenstar’. … The mix of music and instrument styles is good. Being a musicologist & musician’s daughter, I can think of many people who would object snootily to putting all these different things (film music, folk, classical etc) on one CD but I never saw any reason for such narrow-minded purism, especially since you’ve done it so well here. So yeah, I’m very glad you made this CD! The texts inside about the various harps of Middle-earth are great too.

Just to finish things off nicely, here’s what my sister just e-mailed : “I also got the lovely Asni CD, thank you so much! I think it is lovely. I have put it on my ipod and listen to it on the train, wishing I were in Middle-earth…” (She’s a Tolkien/Fantasy literature specialist and much more knowledgable about Middle-earth (and early music, come to think of it) than I.
C.A. Hiley, Edinburgh

Many thanks for the CD! Listening to it is great pleasure, especially that being ill now I have lots of time to explore your music. The pieces on the CD really evoke memories of Valinor, Beleriand, Rivendell… Many thanks for your beautiful music!
Marcin, from Poland

I enjoyed it very much – thank you for something that fills a spot where the vast amount of nonsense that passes for music these days can’t. Thank you.
David, from Australia

…. whoauuuuu , what a beautifull sound ! pure sound ! i was afraid to listen an entire complete music with harp …and the resultat is very excellent ! wonderful beautiful moment, the journey is superb….
Fabien, from France

Many thanks. It is excellent, beautiful music.
Ola, from Norway

I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your CD.
Myra, from the UK

The harp is truly a wonderful instrument with a lot of possibilities, at least that’s the impression I have.
Hélène, from Switzerland


Now that the Peter Jackson film craze (and the deluge of music triggered by it) has subsided somewhat, more thoughtful and sustained interpretations of Tolkien’s world are beginning to emerge. One recently recorded specimen is German-born/New Zealand-based harpist and musicologist, Asni’s, soon-to-be-released Travels in Middle-earth.

A medley of original compositions, arrangements of early music and folk melodies, and renditions of Howard Shore, Travels comprises twenty-five vignettes grouped around thematic headings such as “Rivendell,” “Into Darkness” and “Echoes of Beleriand.” Accented by recordings of nature sounds gathered during visits to various NZ film locations, and adorned with handsome artwork by John Howe, Asni has delivered the Tolkien music aficionado an elegant evocation of Middle-earth.

A Middle-earth album inhabited predominantly by traditional rather than original pieces is likely to arouse suspicion from some quarters, and even provoke dismissal as “false advertising.” And to be sure, since 2001 there have been plenty of self-proclaimed “Tolkien-inspired” CDs that turn out to be anything but. Travels, however, is not one of these. On the contrary, Asni has selected a repertoire that effectively captures the same sense of an “imagined past” that grounds Tolkien’s legendarium.

The richness of this repertoire lies not only in its stylistic diversity, but also in its cultural breadth, drawing inspiration from Spain and Estonia no less than England and Ireland (not to mention New Zealand and Gambia). Most welcome to this reviewer’s ear is Asni’s ability to include Celtic themes without allowing them to dominate the album. This musical journey spans the whole of Middle-earth, not just one corner of it. … In my opinion, Asni’s translations of Shore from an orchestral to a solo harp idiom – in the context of the larger tapestry she has woven – actually achieves this sense of arresting distance better than Shore. Or maybe it’s just that Shore has become too familiar after the umpteenth listen. – Kudos to Asni.
Reviewer: Chris Seeman – The Tolkien Music List (