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An Appreciation of Ancient Songs and Instruments

A topic by Minoh Workshop created Sep 09, 2021 Views: 1,016 Replies: 43
Viewing posts 1 to 20
Developer(+5)

As everyone must know by now, Minotaur Hotel is strongly influenced by ancient music and instruments. It's only fitting, after all, that a story based around mythology and different cultures coming together should take that to its soundtrack as well!

As such I'm always looking for (old) songs, which is an enjoyable enough process on its own that I might as well share it. Hopefully it can teach others to have some appreciation for the classics!

To kick this off I think it's only fitting to cover one of the greatest musical influences in the entire game: Lina Palera's performance of the Seikilos Epitaph.

Not only is this song central to the story of Minotaur Hotel, I find it impossibly fitting that it was performed with a recreation of the ancient lyre made by Luthieros. I will admit that, in large part, creating this thread is made with the goal of bringing some attention to their and Lina Palera's amazing work. You can check the comment thread below for more of their work.

Routinely I will post more songs here, both ancient ones reinterpreted and new ones played in old instruments. You are free to share your personal favorites as well, hopefully we can all learn a bit from each other.

Developer

Here are some of my favorite performances of the Seikilos Epitaph:

I also recommend this version, which is the one you can find in the game itself.
Developer

Those are by Luis Paniagua.

Developer(+1)

How to play the Seikilos Epitaph:

And here's a more advanced (and less orthodox) performing technique:

Developer

There is also, of course, our original version of the Seikilos Epitaph by CivValian

And this festive-ish rendition, at least as it goes on:

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This Pindar ode, the First Pythian, has some surviving music, and is oddly catchy. It was written/composed to commemorate a victory at the Pythian games (SPORTS CHANT!!!). I can't recall which event, though.

nice.  this is good sleepy time music... thanksss

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Here's the Lyre Harp I'm currently learning on. It's a 10 string. 

Developer

Another important song to Minotaur Hotel is Mesomedes' Hymn to Nemesis, which some of you may have heard in the Ruthless Route of the story. Nemesis is usually portrayed as the punisher of pride, hubris, vainglory. She brought down those who insulted the gods. She was, we can say, the concept of divine justice. 

But there is also a benevolent side to her. Supposedly some ancient cults worshiped her in her benevolence towards the good and the pious. It would seem that rewarding good and kindness was, too, in her domain.


This is lovely. Music has always been an inspiration and big part of my life and I could tell I was in for something special from the title screen alone. Admittedly, it reminded me of more "modern" music where you're going to find more harps. Songs like Bjork's Moon:

That musically tries to capture the cycles of the moon, both in it's structure and lyrics. The lyrics seem to fit especially well with Minotaur Hotel

All rested
As if the healthiest pastime
Is being in life-threatening circumstances
And once again be reborn
Best way to start-a-new is to fail miserably
Fail at loving and fail at giving
Fail at creating a flow then realign the whole
To risk all is the end all and the beginning all

As well as the music of Joanna Newsom:

This song is, from what I gather, about the death of a child, but I think all the imagery of the sea and some lines in particular work well with Asterion before his current situation.

And in the trough of the waves,
which are pawing like dogs,
pitch we, pale-faced and grave,
as I write in my log.

Then I hear a noise from the hull,
seven days out to sea.
And it is the damnable bell!
And it tolls — well, I believe that it tolls — it tolls for me.
And it tolls for me.
And darling, we will be fine; but what was yours and mine
appears to me a sandcastle
that the gibbering wave takes.
But if it’s all just the same, then will you say my name;
say my name in the morning, so that I know when the wave breaks.

I wasn’t born of a whistle, or milked from a thistle at twilight.
No; I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright.

So: enough of this terror.
We deserve to know light,
and grow evermore lighter and lighter.
You would have seen me through,
But I could not undo that desire.

The Lyre is such a beautiful instrument. It hits that same airiness that defines the harp, but in a more ephemeral way. Harps are large. They're a production and are pretty set to where they are. That production also grabs attention, so it's a sort of inward instrument. Lyres seem perfect for storytelling and exchanges over a fire. There's an outward feeling to its form where it seems to underscore a setting. I'll have to check out more of Lina Palera's work to get a better feel, but judging by how subtly complex most tracks are in MiHo (Seikilos Guitar I is so damn good. I cannot state that enough. Just...bliss.) I imagine I'll enjoy it.

Is there a particular place you'd recommend to start with Lina Palera's work?

Developer(+1)

First of all, 
>Joanna Newsom

Remarkable taste

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I actually met my current boyfriend because I mentioned my love of Joanna Newsom. He told his sister he'd find someone else who loved her since she'd get annoyed by him playing her music. We luckily had a lot of other things in common, but I'll always find that funny. She really is something.

Also shut up, Nanoff. You're not allowed to be the reason Khenbish exists and like Joanna Newsom. That's being greedy with great taste.

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As a quick aside: This might sound a bit weird, but you've got the spirit of an alchemist. On the surface, this post seems to go against your negative reaction to Kentucky Route Zero being too academic. However, you've managed to filter the study of classics through your experience of them, allowing others to find their own connections through yourself and others who have contributed, thus creating their own personal attachment. A catalyst in a sense. It's a bit unorthodox to use this as a major pillar in a work like it is in Minotaur Hotel, but I think the discussions throughout the forum speak for themselves. I don't know how much of this was intentional, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Developer(+1)

I recommend checking the Seikilo Ancient World Music channel, there are plenty of videos of her playing the lyre. Search for "Lina Palera" in the search bar. It's actually kind of funny, a few days ago I was talking with a friend and he told me that Mrs. Palera is "a big name" in the world of lyre players. I am not surprised by that, but it was funny to me because I just enjoyed her music without being in any way aware of her status.

Anyway, I'm posting below two videos I particularly like from her, just as an appetizer.

God, Delphi is just hauntingly gorgeous. Both are great, but that mix of dark and light that Delphi has is something I'll never get tired of. I love how melodic both tracks are, too, and how much they shift to tell stories. It's why I find the Seikilos Guitar Suite, but especially part 1, so powerful. It basically contains every emotion up to that point with the distance between notes slowly getting closer before melody and excitement begin to take over.

I know this is once again modern, but the Joanna Newsom track I picked before was mostly because of how it felt somewhat thematically appropriate. This song is slower, but her voice has toned down and even if you don't like it I think you'd appreciate the last minute even if the song has a lot of crescendos throughout the track.

I'm going to listen to more Lina Palera in the meantime. (Off-topic, but her personal style is wonderful, as is that room.) Thank you again for introducing me.
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Joanna Newsom is the greatest living poet.

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Her music didn't click until I started really diving into the lyrics. And once it did, it became essential. There are a couple of low points in my life where it allowed me to process and move on. "In California" was eerily analogous to my situation, so having "Does Not Suffice" be an almost secret reprise eventually broke through the spiral I was experiencing. 

I know Divers wasn't as positively received, but "Time, as a Symptom" is one of her most beautiful songs. And I love that the album loops so that song transitions into the opening, creating an endless loop. Ys will always be my favorite, though. I can't imagine an album from any artist topping it. I do hope we get more music soon, but with her child, I imagine it will be a while.

ETA: Time, as a Symptom is a very Minotaur Hotel song. Like:

When cruel birth debases, we forget
When cruel death debases
We believe it erases all the rest
That precedes
The nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
Joy of life
Joy! Again, around–a pause, a sound–a song:
A way a lone a last a loved a long
A cave, a grave, a day: arise, ascend
(Areion, Rharian, go free and graze. Amen.)
A shore, a tide, unmoored–a sight, abroad:
A dawn, unmarked, undone, undarked (a god)
No time. No flock. No chime, no clock. No end
White star, white ship–Nightjar, transmit: transcend!
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Wonderfully, there are some surviving examples of vocal music from the Mediterranean cultures in the classical era. This includes quite a few examples from Ancient Greece! MalPerMeCheMaffidai has already posted one here, but there are plenty more!

The nice thing about vocal music is that the human voice is still largely as it was several thousand years ago. So, while of course we need to worry about language, tone and colour, at least we don’t need to recreate the instrument!

Perhaps particularly relevant to this thread is Mesomedes of Crete. Minoh Workshop has already anticipated me in mentioning him – unsurprisingly! – but I’ll include my little spiel here anyway. After all, I’m focusing on vocals here specifically!

Mesomedes lived during the late 2nd century AD, which means he was broadly contemporary with the Seikilos epitaph. Several devotional hymns of his survive, complete with both music and text. These include hymns to the Calliope, Nemesis (see above) and the Sun (and so Apollo).

Somehow, I can see Asterion appreciating a hymn to Calliope, who was the muse related to epic poetry. It’s short, but beautiful:

Here’s his Hymn to the Sun, which is a fair bit longer:

These recordings are a touch over-interpreted – the original hymns are a single vocal line with no accompaniment, while the recordings add various instruments and changes in tone based on modern tastes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Just be aware that the original performances might have sounded quite different from what you’re hearing here. The same goes for the Hymn to Nemesis too. That being said, all these performances are played with real spirit, and are interesting interpretations. I enjoy them!

If you allow short pieces, you can go back much earlier. For instance, music survives for parts of Euripides’s plays, who was writing a good 500 years before the Seikilos epitaph and Mesomedes. (Although still 1000 years after Asterion’s day). Here’s some music from Orestes – κατολοφύρομαι – which was written in 408 BC. It’s particularly interesting, because it includes music for both voice and instrumental accompaniment. That’s quite unusual! This work is a lament on Orestes’s fate:

These are just a few examples. There’s quite a rabbit-hole of fine music from Ancient Greece if you go digging for it. I look forward to seeing what else you post, Minoh Workshop, and everyone else in this thread!

Developer(+1)

Fun fact: the first music that plays when you start the game is called Calliopeia. That was very deliberate on us, I liked the idea of the story beginning (even if stealthily!) with a homage to Calliope. It was our way of asking for inspiration and creativity in this journey, I suppose.

I don't it's an ancient song but, you know, there's some magic there regardless.

And thank you for the songs you posted! Even if I do quite a bit on research on them it's always good being pointed out interesting performances. I particularly liked the very delicate performance of the Hymn of Nemesis in the first video you posted.

Oh, that’s really neat! I hadn’t picked up on that at all. It’s wonderfully fitting that a large work like this, one that looks at events and themes spread over such large timescales, should begin with an homage to Calliope. In a way, it’s your own Homeric ‘Sing, O Muse!’.

As for whether it’s an ancient song or not, I’m not sure I particularly mind. It’s a fine piece of music either way! I always like to think of music performed as having its own merit, regardless of its origin.

For instance, I do think it’s really important and interesting – not to mention enlightening – to perform historic music in ways that try to recreate how those works would have sounded at the time they were written. But I think it’s also informative to reinterpret this music with a modern mindset. Likewise, I think it’s worth using historic themes in new music, and also to write new music in historic forms. There’s a real art in writing good pastiche of historic styles. If this Calliope is a pastiche, or even simply evoking a certain style, I think it’s pretty decent.

As for using ancient themes, I think it’s interesting that the Greek Gods have never really left us, at least in art. We might not build temples to them these days, but they’ve been a continuous part of many cultures for thousands of years. I’m a singer myself, and I sing music from a wide range of eras – spread over a good thousand years or so. And I can think of references to the Greek Gods that span most of that time. There are just so many examples!

One song springs to mind. I’d post it here, but sadly no-one seems to have recorded it yet. It was written in the 1670s/80s, and has as its text a poetic translation of Anacreon’s Ode ΕΙΣ ΛΥΡΑΝ. At least to me, the text seems to sit well alongside Minotaur Hotel. The title refers to the lyre, and the song is accompanied by the lute – the lyre’s close companion – so that too seems fitting!

“I'll sing of Heroes, and of Kings;
In mighty Numbers, mighty Things.
Begin my Muse! but lo! the strings
to my great song rebellious prove,
the strings will sound of nought but Love.

“I broke them all, and put on new;
'tis this, or nothing sure will do.
These sure, said I, will me obey;
these sure heroic notes will play.
Straight I began with thund’ring Jove,
and all th’immortal Pow’rs, but Love.

“Love smil'd, and from my’nfeebled Lyre,
came gentle Airs, such as inspire
melting Love, and soft Desire.
Farewell then Heroes, farewell Kings,
and mighty Numbers, mighty Things;
Love tunes my heart, just to my strings.”

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On the subject of that two-square-inch surviving fragment of Euripides music, this is an interesting video for its thoroughness-- showing the original text and notation, a transliteration, a translation into Spanish, and a sheet music realization on screen (showing off the use of quarter-tones)-- though the performance itself is not very good:

i was actually planning on posting the Orestes piece, but wanted to make sure to find the translation of it-- but got too lazy to do it until now-- I believe it is from this part of the chorus's first big part, having just witnessed Orestes have a bout of madness and then pass out:  

Here is another version just because it is quite a good performance:


The dearth of surviving music of these operas is a complete fucking travesty.... :'c

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Sorry. I didn’t mean to steal your thunder!

I really appreciate you holding off on talking about Orestes until finding a good translation. And, even better, putting it into context! While there was a translation attached to the video I posted, it rather misses the sense of the text. That’s one reason I didn’t want to point it out. The translation you posted here is much, much better. Anyone who wants a translation of the Orestes fragment, use MalPerMeCheMaffidai’s!

I really like your two videos, too. The live performance is great! It’s sung and played with real spirit, which I really appreciate.

The more academic video is interesting, not least because of how much information is clearly presented on the screen at any one time. It raises a rather nice point, too. This video uses a different set of intervals to the other Orestes fragment videos in this thread. It uses quarter-tones, whereas the other videos use semi-tones, along with some other slight differences.

I may be wrong about this, but I believe this is because of ambiguity in the notation. This notation is so old, and we have relatively little of it, that we can’t be completely sure what it represents. Those small intervals could be interpreted as a semi-tone, or quarter-tone, or even as smaller increments (at that point, the notes are essentially the same). The only way to know for sure would be to find more material to compare against! Of course, if I’m misunderstanding something there, please do correct me!

Interestingly, this isn’t the only fragment of Euripides’s music to survive. There are also two fragments from ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’, one of which has alternation between Iphigenia herself and the chorus. I gather these are fairly complete fragments, and I have the impression that enough information survives to produce short performable versions – much like with the Orestes fragment.

Curiously, though, I’ve yet to actually find any performances of them. Does anyone know why that is? Is there something odd about those fragments?

Also, complete aside, but I’ve also just come across this. It’s not ancient, but it reflects on the Labyrinth. Says Ariadne: “For ‘tis a Lab’rinth of more subtle art, To have so fair a face, so foul a heart.”:


https://imslp.org/wiki/Ariadne%27s_Lament_(Lawes%2C_Henry)

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It seemed necessary-- being music for drama-- that the text be available (for reference, it is the William Arrowsmith translation). But yeah, there is some unclarity in exactly how to read the music due to a dearth of example or guidebooks or whatehaveyou. I even found one performance of the Orestes piece that is strikingly different than any posted so far-- I only didn't link it because I just kind of don't like it. Haha. But yeah. I have kind of shitty tone-sense, so I didn't pick up that other performances were evidently not employing the quarter-tones. I figured it was just some weird shit with how modes might work, mostly. Haha.

I had to look up the Ipheigeneia In Aulis fragment you mentioned, because I couldn't remember if it was because it wasn't consecutive lines or what-- but it turns out why it doesn't have any recordings is that, because it's not in a strongly strophic section, where it would be known to have repetitive phrases, it can't really be reconstructed from having the start of one line and the end of another, and such. Here it is from the ML West book of ancient Greek music fragments:


There are a few other interesting fragments from otherwise unknown plays, such as a fairly extended monologue (with some gaps) from a satyr play (which I think is actually in the game as some flute bullshit that Argos plays with a drum), and a few stray lines of Tecmessa from a non-Sophocles Ajax play. The latter has some recordings, but I believe the former does not. The first one I'm linking because it has the sheet music, but I am not terribly fond of the super breathy performance-- the second one holds its own better and is more believable as what you would hear as a dramatic performance (though maybe, Ms Soprano, some clearer/crisper consonants would be appreciated...):



"

There are some gaps, but the translation given by West is: "With suicidal hand and . . . your sword, Ajax son of Telamon . . . because of Odysseus, the villain . . . wounds, he whom we miss..."

Speaking of Ariadne and opera, there is another work that treats the exact same subject as that Henry Lawes composition you linked-- there is the famous Monteverdi aria "Lasciatemi Morire", Arianna/Ariadne's lament on Naxos-- early opera/florentine camerata works being inspired by ancient Greek music-dramas in the first place:


(translation available if you scroll down here: https://www.girolamo.de/single/g11005E.html ) 

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Thanks so much for the information about Iphigenia in Aulis!

I think my problem was that I slightly misinterpreted the sources I was reading. They went into some detail about the structure of the music in this fragment, and various stylistic approaches used in the melody. I got into my head that this meant that the fragment was in good shape. I hadn’t thought that all that information could be determined even from a heavily damaged papyrus. Oops!

The image you posted is a really nice one, since it gives a good indication of how much damage there is. It’s a real shame that we can’t make more of it – although I suppose we can be thankful that at least those small portions of music survive! It’s a tantalising window into a musical period that is so nearly lost to us ...

By the way, don’t worry too much about having trouble hearing quarter-tones! That’s actually really quite common. At least in modern Western cultures, the ear is trained from an early age to recognise semi-tones as the smallest unit of music. Quarter-tones appear so rarely that the ear isn’t trained to recognise them. Because of this, it’s easy for listeners used to Western music to confuse semi-tones and quarter-tones. I know I do!

Thanks also for posting Tecmessa’s Lament! I wasn’t aware of it, and it’s quite striking! I rather like the chromaticism, and some of the dissonant intervals (the end of line two is great). I think it’s interesting that I would naturally associate both of these features with a lament – although, given the large expanse of time between then and now, that may well just be a coincidence.

Good choice on posting the Monterverdi, too. It’s a fine, fine work, and it’s great to have a good excuse to listen to it again! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lawes was aware of it. It’s entirely possible Monteverdi’s work inspired his own setting. At the time Lawes was writing, Italian music was becoming increasingly popular in Britain. Scores was being brought over from Europe, and composers were studying and copying the continental styles. Lawes made strong use of the new Italian style first popularised by Monteverdi. You can hear the similarity in styles between the two Ariadne videos we posted, I think!

I’m in danger of getting off-topic here, but just a brief aside. Compare those Ariadne videos to the one below. This is British, based on Greek/Roman myth, but predates both Ariadne works by a few decades. It’s in a much more ‘British’ style (which really means that it uses older Italian influences!). The work describes how various important deities from the Greek/Roman pantheon give honour to a famous mythical British Queen: Oriana. Since the video doesn't mention it, this madrigal is by John Lisley. It looks to be his only surviving work!

“Fair Cytherea* presents her doves,
 Sweet Minerva singeth,
Jove gives a crown,
a garland Juno bringeth.

“Fame summons each celestial power
To bring their gifts to Oriana's bower.
Then sang the Shepherds and Nymphs of Diana:
Long live fair Oriana.”

*Cytherea (‘Lady of Cythera’) is another name sometimes given for Aphrodite.

Developer(+1)

Last night I was dying because I couldn't find a song that had been ringing inside my head. It isn't an ancient song, but I was so happy when I found it and so glad it was just like I remembered that I feel like sharing it.

I'm a sucker for the lyrics. Hopefully you'll feel how it can touch a bit, even if distantly, on some moods/ideas we have in the game.

And another one from the same artist for good measure.

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It's interesting that you bring up this song to the sun when a lot of the times, Bulls are a solar symbol.... 

Well that and their horns can be considered a Lunar symbol as well. 

Developer

Asterion is tied to stars, I wonder if Oscar has a connection to one of the other ones... Oh, who knows!

A bit of a silly idea but Night Sky Asterion skin? Maybe triggered by finding something made of Lapis Lazuli?  I wonder how the dear moo will react, bashful? amused? or cringe?

Developer

I came across a few more songs I'd like to share, here are a few:


And, of course, this very Minotaur-related song:
Developer

Here are some more songs I enjoyed recently. I hope it pleases you guys as well.

Might be worthwhile following the artist in this video, Bettina Joy de Guzman.

This is a nudge nudge wink prompt, huh? Is the association perchaps with the moon as raccoon mentioned? Saying other ones in that context makes it sound like a celestial body. His relations to Poseidon by extension links him to the sea and fishing (not to mention his history)-- which makes the moon among the choices the best fit. The moon affects the tides after all, which also affects fishing to some degree.

Looking into it now, Oscar has more incriminating ties to Poseidon than what I've seen in the threads so far. First, storms are Poseidon's domain, which is coincidentally also Oscar's self-made nickname. It's also noted that white and black bulls are sacrificed to him. Poseidon is of course linked to seas and fishing, which are highly involved in Oscar's lineage/ancestry. The family on his mother's side were fishermen and lived near the coast, after all.

Developer

More ancient songs! These ones are Roman, though. My favorite is by far the second half of the 3rd song.


I dunno if you've already found this guy, Petros Tabouris, but he does a lot of Ancient music reconstructions https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOzeon4e2i8MvUHbUU50iug as well as more recent Greek art-songs, and Byzantine era stuff too.

KING OEDIPUS

semi opera by HARRY PARTCH

text by SOPHOCLES OF COLONOS

translated and edited by W B YEATS.

This work was explicitly written to try to recreate the overall musicodramatic/semi-operatic nature of how the ancient Attic Tragedies were originally performed in its composition, instrumentation, and performance. Partch even famously created his own instruments which could play microtonal intervals, so he could get at the "pure intonation" of ancient Greek music. It can be a bit unsettling at times, but there is a real beauty to it as well. It is mostly percussive and rhythmic, and is very convincingly ancient in overall tone. (Kind of weird in how the final scene with Creon and Oedipus being banished is cut, but it still works)

Oedipus is a manic and powerful figure in this interpretation. Jocasta and the Chorus Leader both have kind of weak voices that don't carry next to him or the extremely dramatic Partch as Tiresias and the Old Shepherd, but they are servicable.

Really worth listening to. I could have gone for more music underneath the dialogic sections more consistently, but still good.

Developer

This new lyre video from Seikilo just came out and I'd like to share it here, along with some other musical recommendations.

Fun fact: I listened to this song a lot while writing 0.5. nanoff gives me shit that I have a very small musical repertoire so, take that, I added one more song from King Crimson! This and the next one, Abusey Junction, are part of my writing playlists.

And this was one of the songs that gave me a few ideas for Storm having a more alternative musical taste.

Developer(+2)

I dream of one day playing the lyre as well as this galaxy-brained being. And I like how happy he is in the video.

I've also come to have an appreciation for the kora

If I ever master the lyre, the kora just might be my next musical adventure.

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While looking for something completely different, I came across this:



This is music for two Ancient Greek works already mentioned in this thread! No. 12 is Mesomedes’s Hymn to Nemesis – important for the Hotel – and No. 13 is the opening eight verses of Pindar’s first Pythic Ode. The surviving parts have been fleshed out by the 19th century composer, Dr. Crotch. (No, I’m not making that name up.)

I thought I’d put this here in case anyone wanted to play along to these – particularly to Nemesis!

(In a second nice coincidence, Minoh posted in this thread earlier today. So I don’t even need to look it up. Hooray!)

Developer(+1)

Oooh... I just might try the Nemesis Hymn, now that I'm spending more time with my lyre.

Developer(+1)

Lately I've been taking lyre lessons, studying some music theory here and there... And the deeper I go, the more I realize what an awesome instrument the West African kora is. In reality a lot of the so-called "lyre" songs in Minotaur Hotel were recorded with a kora by David Gilden.

If/when I ever master the lyre, chances are I'll have a go at the kora next. What an incredible sound... For some reason I'm just not into harps, which is what some people would suggest instead of a kora.


And here's a lyre+cello song, too.

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A very good non-traditional song with Kora is "Go Long" by Joanna Newsom (although it does also use harp mainly. Haha)


A dramatic reminisce about her failed previous relationship with a songwriter, framed within the metaphor of the myth of Bluebeard (particularly using how Bela Bartok's opera treats the myth)

And a more traditional use of the Kora, along with a Balaphon (like a xylophone) and the recitation of the only still-living Epic Poem Bardic Recitation tradition today,-- singing a passage of the Sundiata/SonJara epic of Mali:

Just because I was thinking about it recently, and it's fucking hardcore, Strauss's operatic version of Sophocles's Elektra is fucking rad:


Here is Elektra's entrance, where she basically jills off to the idea of murdering people in her father's name. Beautiful and dramatic. Not ancient, but has an ancient basis.

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So, I was wandering around the British Museum the other day, and came across a couple of fascinating instruments I hadn’t seen before. I thought they’d make an interesting addition to this old thread!

I was originally going to post some pictures I took myself. However, there’s an image on Wikipedia that’s so much better than my attempts, and I thought it would be best to use that instead. So, here’s a picture of these two instruments, taken by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg):

This image shows two lyres, found at the Royal Cemetery in the ruins of Ur, dating from about 2600BC. It’s hard to stress just how early this is. This is nearly *2000 years* before Homer, and centuries before the Minoans built their first palaces!

The thing I find so striking about these instruments is that they’re *huge*. Thankfully, the person in the picture above helps to give an idea of scale. Both lyres are around 1m tall! That’s much, much larger than the traditional dimensions of the classical Greek lyre! They both contain large amounts of metal, too, so these instruments would be *heavy*. And yet, remarkably, murals from the period show that they were simply held in the hand when they were played. These musicians would have had to be strong and dextrous, I think!

Interestingly, all the instruments from this set are decorated by bulls!

Here’s an informative video which demonstrates how a lyre like this might have sounded. The instrument here is a replica, but it’s enough to give a rough idea! The metallic frame gives the instrument quite a distinctive colour:

I was thinking about this, and started to wonder what sorts of instruments Asterion might have played in his lifetime. Feel free to ignore the rambling theorising below!

It’s only really possible to guess what instruments Asterion would have been familiar with if we know roughly when he lived. It’s possible some dates have already been given – if so, I’m sorry for being forgetful! – but here’s some crude guesswork. We know that Asterion knows Linear A well, but not Linear B. Thankfully, that helps us to tie things down pretty neatly. From archeological records, we know Linear A was only widely used from about 1625BC to about 1450BC. That’s a pretty narrow window. So we should be able to place Asterion somewhere within this two century gap! Given he’s at least aware of Linear B, he’s probably closer to the 1450BC end – but probably not pushing right up against that boundary.

But there might be a problem here, at least so far as lyres go. The earliest record we have of a classical Greek lyre is a Minoan mural on the Greek mainland – which is good! – but it only dates to about 1400BC. That’s ever so slightly later then the Linear A period. In other words, there’s no evidence that classical lyres were used while Linear A was also in popular use. So, if Asterion speaks Linear A, then the historical record suggests that he might have slightly *predated* the Greek lyre. At least, when he was alive. Maybe he picked the instrument up later, in the underworld? Could his childhood lyre have been something else entirely?

If Asterion played something different during his physical lifetime, what might that have been? Well, even in his relatively late period of Minoan history, the Minoans would presumably have been powerful maritime traders. Asterion lived before the sacking of Troy, so Crete would have had a powerful trading partner close by. And the Trojan borders covered much of the distance from Crete, in the west, to the Babylonian Empire, in the east. So it’s a possibility – albeit it a shaky one – that Babylonian instruments could have made it all the way to the Minoans.

So perhaps Asterion would have been familiar with huge lyres like these after all?

Of course, there’s a bundle of problems with this theory. We don’t see big lyres during this period *either*, so my earlier argument cuts both ways. And Asterion clearly *does* know about classical lyres! As much as I’d want to argue he might have picked that up in Hades, I can’t really justify that. Asterion pretty much contradicts that himself.

Still, I rather like the idea that both types of lyres might have been competing in the Crete of Asterion’s day. Maybe he actually learned on both sorts of instruments, but eventually ended up preferring the newer Greek style?

Anyway, sorry for the theory ramble!

Developer(+3)

Ah, yes. I've been aware of those Mesopotamian lyres for a good while now. I think I want to geek out about them, if you'll permit :)

There's a lot more engineering in them than meets the eye, some of which Peter Pringle talked about here and there. The first attempts at recreating those lyres — including trying to get something like the sound said to come out of them — ended quite catastrophically. If memory serves me, there was a lot of debate over how those "pegs" at the top could be used to tune them (which I know for a fact is a solved problem nowadays) but mainly getting the tuning right seemed impossible.


The issue was that the tension on the strings was so high that the crossbar would bend down with each string that was tuned, which in turn made all the previous ones out of tune. Wood alone just couldn't take it! I think the video you posted was recorded back when Pringle was still commenting about this issue, which I believe he later solved as you can see in this beast of a performance below.

I can't quite pull a quote here, but I believe he ended adding a metal bar inside the crossbar to be able to bear the load... And this refinement might have been there in the original specimens of this instrument, I was told. It's really incredible, isn't it? The instrument itself does sound like a cow, and in the video description Peter Pringle explains a lot about his rationale in the recreation.

Now, another very interesting lyre comes from Crete itself, from the Hagia Triada sarcophagus, which I had the pleasure of seeing for myself.


It's also visible in this pottery from around 1200BC:


It's also been recreated by Luthieros, though it naturally comes with a number of creative liberties.

I bring all of this up for a reason, though. Crete was quite the maritime and economical powerhouse back in its time. There are Cretan artifacts spread all over the Mediterranean and North of Africa, and there's been a very healthy cultural mixing between Crete and Egypt. Scarab jewels were found in Crete, and it seems like there was a lot of artists coming back and forth learning techniques in foreign lands.

Mind you, both the Mesopotamian and the Hagia Triada lyres far precede Ancient Greece as we know it! The myth of Hermes tells of his mother, Maia, giving birth to him and his little adventures shortly after, wherein he killed a turtle and some of Apollo's cattle, then used the shell, horns, leather and guts to fashion a lyre. If we think of this as belonging to "Ancient Greece" as a historical period, then look how advanced the Cretans and Mesopotamians that preceded them were! And that's being generous to the Cretans, because I wouldn't be surprised if the Hagia Triada lyre actually originated from Egypt. And Mesopotamia was not too distance from Crete either — don't quote me on this, but I think I saw on the Heraklion Museum some stuff about Cretan artifacts being found in Mesopotamian ruins.

Mind you, nowadays I play the lyre and I've become very immersed on its research and recreation. My interpretation, or perhaps I should call it my hypothesis, is that lyres must have been a very developed and refined category of musical instruments back in 1400BC. The ancients were no less criterious with their songs than we are today, they must have been inventive and ingenuous. I believe the most traditional turtle shell lyres (called chelys lyres) must have been extremely ancient, and by the Neopalatial Period (between 1750 and 1490BC) there must have been a wide variety of them. The consensus among historians and players is that, for example, the kithara (another kind of lyre, which you can see below) seems to have been exclusive to professional players, while the more average people used simpler versions of the instrument.

Now, I'm very eager to talk about all of this because recently I've been doing a lot thinking on this subject. Asterion's lyre will pop up a lot on Chapter 20 and I plan on giving it a new look. Back when the game started we didn't know much about lyres ourselves, so we went with a pretty standard design but now that I've been playing it for a while I have a better feel for what kind of lyre Asterion would want and how it would be preserved across the centuries.

It's probably a bit dorky of me, but I want Asterion's lyre to be reproducible in real life because I've been approached by a handful of people who want to learn it because of Minotaur Hotel. In short, I'd love it to be a design and a sound that Asterion would be satisfied with, and I want it to have the standard of quality I've demanded out of my own lyre. Though I will say that I've realized that Asterion would not want a truly traditional Greek (chelys) lyre because they really are a bit too limiting. Someone like him, with all the time he's had, would want something more, which we will probably see soon. We haven't settled on a design, but for sure it will be one that is possible, good and affordable*

But I should probably confess that I'm not the most traditional of players myself! My lyre is almost 1 meter tall too, which almost every person on Earth would say is too much but I love this beast.

*Affordable in comparison to the usual price good lyres go for, which are easily above the 600-700USD range for even basic ones with only 7 strings, which I consider overpriced (my big beast of a lyre came out cheaper than that, it's better and has 13 strings, so I think I'm in a position to say this). 


Anyway, I hope I've given you some food for thought, Sirius. As you can see I have a lot of opinions about lyres.

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Me, complain about geeking out over early instruments? You must be kidding! :)

Uh, I did get a bit over-zealous in thinking about this, though, producing a bit of a hefty ramble. So sorry in advance for being a bit wordy here ...

I had a feeling these instruments wouldn’t be new to you! Thanks for going into detail. You’ve certainly given me plenty to think about! These instruments are a new discovery for me, so it’s great to have more information about them, and their modern reconstructions too. I’m slowly reading more, as and when I have time, and I’m having a whale of a time.

It sounds like I should really start looking into Peter Pringle in more detail. He’s clearly put a lot of thought and effort into reconstructing these instruments, over many years to boot, and he’s produced some really impressive results. He must have some insightful things to say about the reconstruction progress! That point about adding a metal bar into the frame to support the tension of the strings under tuning clearly shows that he knows his stuff!

Thanks, by the way, for posting his Lament for Gilgamesh. It’s phenomenal! I appreciate how he’s really going all out in that performance, fully emoting all the way. The two instruments and the voice combine beautifully, too. And the sound of the lyre is really quite something. Those deep metallic overtones are extraordinary. I really can’t think of any other instrument that produces a tone quite like that!

You’ve also pointed out something really obvious, but which I somehow hadn’t clocked. I’d thought about Crete being a powerful trading centre, but only in the sense of collecting artifacts from other cultures. Somehow, I hadn’t thought about the *reverse*! It makes perfect sense in hindsight that Minoan artifacts would have spread widely around the Mediterranean area, and that the cultural mixing would go both ways. I think, whenever I’ve looked at Minoan artifacts in the past, I’ve not really checked where they were actually *found*. I’ll have to pay to may more attention to that in the future!

For instance, I find the idea of cultural mixing between Egypt and Crete rather appealing. I’d always held the two cultures in my head separately, not properly realising that these two cultural powerhouses would naturally have been in contact. It’s interesting to think about how they might have interacted! I had no idea that there were Scarabs were found in Crete, for instance. I’ll have to look those up!

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Minoan artifacts turned up in Mesopotamia, too. It they made it as far as Egypt, I can image them getting to Babylon as well. I did propose something like that, but it would be interesting if there were artifacts that actually backed that up. I’ll keep an eye out for any references while I’m reading around!

For what it’s worth, I do like your theory that lyres were a highly developed class of instruments in c.1400BC. That makes a whole lot of sense to me.

My thinking on this comes down to the time factor. We know that lyres were in use in 2600BC, over a thousand years previously. And there’s evidence of other stringed instruments that goes back even further. I had a dig around for another reference while thinking about this, which I’ll put here just for fun. Here’s a cylinder seal found in a broadly similar area to the Mesopotamian lyres, Uruk this time, dating from c.3100BC. The general consensus seems to be that the figure on the left (of the righthand portion of the image) is playing a sort of lute. This artifact is in the British Museum, and the image is under their copyright:

Also, there seems to be good consensus that people were employed as professional musicians as far back as the Mesopotamian lyres, and possibly even earlier. That ties in with what you said about the kithara! (Fun fact, references to the kithara pop up in my work from time to time, but almost exclusively in Latin texts.) Moreso, it seems that musicians were employed by royalty, presumably in well-paid, honourable positions.

As soon as you start giving people power and status for something, you get innovation! I simply cannot imagine that musical instruments and playing techniques would have remained static for a thousand years, given that. Musicians would surely have competed with each other for the top jobs, developing refinements to existing instruments, new ways of playing instruments, new modes of composition, even new instruments, all to gain an advantage over the competition. Since lyres were around in at least 2600BC, they must have received significant refinement by the high period of the Minoan civilisation. And with refinement comes variety. I can well imagine that a great variety of different types of lyre would have developed, much as there is great variety of violin-like instruments in the modern day.

So I would totally buy your idea of lyres being a highly developed set of instruments by c.1400BC.

I’ll tie that into your comment about lyre sizes, too. While there seems to be a broad consensus on the sorts of sizes of ancient lyres, I – speaking only as an amateur, of course! – think it’s possible to read too much into the archeological evidence. Lyres are relatively fragile instruments (except for these hardy metal early models, I suppose), and decompose easily. We really don’t have all that many surviving examples of them, in the grand scheme of things. And the ones we *do* have are presumably fairly traditional. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that lyres produced and played by the common person would have been largely lost.

So, while we do have a range of lyres in the archeological record, I’m not convinced they’re a representative sample. I would guess there’s more variety than we strictly have evidence for. And I don’t think there’s any harm in making some logical guesswork about what might be missing, given what we know about music in general.

I think one fairly natural innovation in music is in pitch. If you have instruments playing together, it makes sense to have the instruments playing at quite different pitches. That makes the different parts easier to hear. Since we have some evidence of people singing to lyres – that is, two musical instruments playing together – then wouldn’t someone also have thought to have several *lyres* playing together as well? That might also help explain the rather elaborate tuning systems on these instruments, too. While these are naturally needed to keep the instrument in tune with itself, one important facet of a tuning system is to help one instrument play in tune with *other* instruments.

When you propose an idea of a ‘lyre consort’, like this, it makes sense to have lyres of different base pitches too.

Since the pitch of a lyre scales with its size, then I’d argue that you should expect lyres of several different sizes to exist. The two obvious sizes to have are ‘big’, making a ‘bass’ lyre, and ‘small’, making a ‘treble’ lyre. If you add more instruments, you’d put them in-between those two sizes, where they can add internal harmony (giving you ‘alto’, ‘tenor’ ‘mezzo’, etc. lyres). It looks like there’s variation like this in existing lyres already, to some degree – hopefully I'm not rehashing something that's well-known! – but I’d propose there’s more variation than we have evidence for.

So, while your 1m tall lyre might seem large compared to the historical record, I’d just argue that you’ve made a ‘bass lyre’! Or maybe even a ‘contrabass’!

Now that I think about it, I wonder if Asterion might have some views on this? I can picture Asterion wanting to teach the lyre to the player (perhaps particularly for an artist-type player?), but maybe they could also play *together*? I’m envisioning a situation where Asterion and the player form a little lyre duo! (In a slightly niche reference, I can’t help but think back to the little duet between Marin and Link in the original Link’s Awakening).

It’s interesting to hear that you’re working on a new design for Asterion’s lyre, too. One thing that got me wondering about this topic was thinking back to the early design you used. Reading what you’ve said here, it makes perfect sense that you’d go for something straightfoward (and easily recognisable!) early on, when you didn’t know as much as you do now!

I have to admit, I’ll be really interested to see the sort of design you come up with. I can imagine Asterion going in a bunch of different directions with an expanded instrument, especially if modern design techniques come into play. I look forward to seeing how that looks!

And no, it is absolutely *not* dorky to want to make his lyre reproducible! Anything that encourages people to play music is a great thing, especially if it’s in relatively niche areas such as ancient (or ancient-ish) instruments. I think that’s a pretty cool venture, myself. Kudos for you for wanting to make it affordable, too.

Now, you’ve probably already thought really carefully about this. And you already know far more about the design of these instruments than I do! So anything I come up with you’ve probably already thought of! Still, I couldn’t resist having a little think about how a good-quality, affordable lyre could be produced. It’s an interesting little puzzle.

This might be a bonkers idea, but I’m wondering whether one solution might be making it out of metal? As I understand it, the high cost of many high-end string instruments is due to the time and skill needed to carve the wood. Making metal objects can be much quicker and cheaper, under the right circumstances. That’s particularly the case if you choose the metal well – certain metals come surprisingly cheap.

This is bit beyond my simple metalworking skills, but I think you could make the frame of a metal lyre using a casting process. You make a mould, pour molten metal into it, and when it cools you have a metal frame. With the Mesopotamian lyres, you do have some degree of historical precedent too! I say this with the caveat that the internet claims that such a process is unsuitable for short production runs, although I’m sure my serious metalworking friends do things like this quite regularly. I’d have to check with them – it’s possible I’m being stupid, and misunderstanding something they’re doing! At least using this approach you’d only need to pay for the production of the mould first off, and then just the material and time taken to pour and cast after that. Maybe it would come out cheaper than wood?

The other option that comes to mind, which people could make independently, is 3D printing. It should be possible to create all the components of a particular lyre (minus the strings, naturally) out of plastic. This approach has the advantage that you could make an official Minotaur Hotel CAD design, which people could download and use straight away! The worry I have with this, though, is that I’m not sure how a plastic lyre would sound. I think that the material of a lyre should be really important for its tone quality. Since plastic isn’t very dense, it won’t make a very good resonator, and I’d worry that a lyre made using it would be quiet and tinny. It might not be nice to hold, too. And, somehow, I can’t quite envision Asterion going for plastic. But maybe it’s worth experimenting with, just in case?

Anyway, you’ve probably had better ideas than those already!

By the way, there’s something I meant to say earlier in this thread, but never got around to. Would you perhaps consider sharing some sound files of you playing your lyre at some point? I’d be interested to hear your instrument, and your interpretations, and I’m sure other people would be too. Your beast of a lyre must produce a pretty awesome sound! (Of course, no pressure. I know only too well that public performance is a whole different world to playing in your own company!)