Unusual Instruments

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Obviously, a lot of awesome scores can be produced using a traditional orchestra to play the soundtrack.

But...there are times when using instruments not typically featured can really make the piece memorable.

This can be as simple as the oboe in the soundtrack for The Mission - while an oboe can be found in any orchestra, they don't often get solos like that.

But the intro to 'Concerning Hobbits' is not played on a flute, but a tin whistle, and touches like that are really quite cool.

In The Dark Crystal, Jen's gelfling song is played (onscreen) on a fantastical instrument (a jointed flute that does not exist), but the actual song is played on an ocarina. I suppose they thought that was unusual enough to fit the alien culture they were inventing.

Does anyone have any favorite unusual instruments that they would like to incorporate, and if so, which culture, 'mood' or event would you like to see them used for? I imagine we will have various party scenes throughout the show, and some music would be just the thing.


First up, a couple of Chinese instruments that I found out about 5 minutes ago:

The Pipa:

The Guzheng:

But no, in all seriousness, these instruments evoke a particular culture and I think we should definitely select some 'ethnic' instruments that are appropriate for our project. Suggestions?


Personally, I would be happy if we worked a hammered dulcimer in:



Apparently, the Swedish have something called a nyckelharpa:


And some Ethiopian instruments:

'Bahil' means 'culture', and there is a lot about this video that is uniquely Ethiopian culture - the language, the clothing, the hair, the styles of dancing (all about the shoulders!) and music, not to mention the setting and activities (selling things in the marketplace, etc). Now, I assume that this is not the native culture of anyone here, so this is something foreign. We...are creating some 'foreign' cultures for the elves (and eventually the dwarves and Men as well), so we'll have to consider all of this stuff to make a cohesive picture of each people's culture. Musical instrument choice can play a tiny part in setting different cultures apart.

I mean, Ethiopia is a country that is quite proud of its heritage, so that the number one pop singer in the country can produce a song commemorating a 1895 battle and produce this music video (Tikur Sew = Black Man, and this features Emperor Menelik in the Battle of Adwa):
 
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NotACat

Active Member
I would be infinitely remiss if I failed to suggest that it would be awesome to have at least one set of bagpipes somewhere. It would obviously be preferable to have a whole bunch of them being used to scare the heck out of some opponent or other!

I am reasonable however and would not demand that they emit flames at any point…
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I am not sure how to incorporate bagpipes without invoking Scottish culture. I have to imagine it would take many people out of the story to have any direct real-world connection.

Obviously, I am suggesting using ethnic instruments, which are perforce tied to particular cultures. But for some of them, the style of music or combinations of instruments can be switched up to create something unique. A violin can be played as a fiddle but not all violin music is called 'fiddle music'.

Bagpipes, on the other hand...there's no disguising that! Even when playing a rock song like AC/DC's Thunderstruck, it's quite clearly the distinctive bagpipes we hear.
 

ouzaru

Well-Known Member
I am not sure how to incorporate bagpipes without invoking Scottish culture. I have to imagine it would take many people out of the story to have any direct real-world connection.

Obviously, I am suggesting using ethnic instruments, which are perforce tied to particular cultures. But for some of them, the style of music or combinations of instruments can be switched up to create something unique. A violin can be played as a fiddle but not all violin music is called 'fiddle music'.

Bagpipes, on the other hand...there's no disguising that! Even when playing a rock song like AC/DC's Thunderstruck, it's quite clearly the distinctive bagpipes we hear.
The bagpipes are not a uniquely Scottish instrument. They are played all over Northern Spain, and I suspect up and down the northern coasts of Europe. This is not well known perse, but I don't necessarily think that we ought to not include them because they might sound "too Scottish-y".
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Okay, I went looking, and here is the most non-traditional bagpipe I could find. German jazz for the win! (Not that we want this either, but you are correct, a bagpipe can be used in a non-traditionally-Scottish way.)


While it is true that bagpipes are also played in northern Portugal, they sound no different from Scottish bagpipes to me. That musical tradition is (apparently) tied to a common Celtic ancestry (or something - musical history via You Tube video descriptions likely has some limitations.)
 
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Marielle

Well-Known Member
What about the cittern? If we're not careful, it can have a very Renaissance Festival feel to it, but the instrument is actually a lot more versatile than people give it credit.

Two very different performances on a modern cittern

 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
And from Japan, the nijugen-koto:



And the (similar) Korean gayageum being played in a non-traditional way:

 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Yes; I think there are variations on size/number of strings, but it's certainly the same concept.
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
Tolkien once said that he wanted his stories to evoke the legends and atmosphere of northwest Europe, but he also said that his stories were specifically not meant to be Celtic. I think that the music associated with the Eldar and Edain should evoke that same atmosphere: northwest European, but nothing associated specifically with "Celtic" cultures. That isn't to say that the Eldar and Edain actually played the same musical instruments and traditions as Europeans thousands of years later, but because music so strongly evokes an atmosphere and puts audiences in mind of a particular place, time, or emotion.

So I would want to avoid bagpipes, as much as I like them. But I second the cittern and hardanger fiddle -- those fiddles have a drone sound that can replicate some of the feel of a bagpipe, without being associated in audience minds with Scotland. IMO harps are a must since they're mentioned as an Eldarin instrument that even the early Beorians used - but preferrably not modern concert pedal harps. Flutes, pipes (Daeron's favored instrument) trumpets/horns (valveless if possible). Maybe lutes, or even mandolins or dulcimers. I love oboes, but a shawm or English horn could be an equally nice double-reed woodwind -- maybe not specifically the duduk (if it can be distinguished from a shawm at all), although I like the duduk too.

That doesn't mean that nothing "foreign"-sounding (non-northwest-European) should ever be used with Eldar or Edain, but I think the aim should be to avoid evoking any specific, recognizeable musical tradition from a particular ethnicity outside that region. Regarding East Asian and Ethiopian stringed instruments, I think it could work if their sound is "disguised" to obscure their origins, so to speak. For example, tuning them to a Western scale. Same with a duduk - can it be played in a way that doesn't sound specifically Armenian? The lyre is another possibility -- they aren't solely Greek, and I think early northwest Europeans might have used them. Ocarinas could work.

I'd like to consider avoiding pianos, accordians, and keyboard instruments altogether -- to me, they're rather modern. And avoiding electric instruments.


For some reason, I imagine a crystal or glass instrument being associated with the Noldor and/or Vanyar. I don't think the cristal baschet has quite what I'm looking for; instead I imagine some kind of percussion in which the struck bars are glass chimes/bells. But perhaps metal chimes or bells would get at a similar musical quality.

For the Teleri in Alqualonde, and the Falathrim, I request an instrument that sounds like "the cold cries of gulls" or just actual seagull recordings -- preferrably a European species such as the mew gull. Billy Joel once recorded a song with seagulls in it, and they sound wonderful.


For hobbits, since the Shire is so English I think a northwest European atmosphere would be best, maybe leaving out the specifically Scandinavian sounds. But Breeland and Dunland, and maybe Buckland, are where I could imagine bagpipes and noticeably "Celtic" music and instruments fitting quite well. That could also be used to distinguish the Halethrim from the other Edain. Bagpipes, Breton bombardes, etc.

For Druedain, I imagine lots of drums, tuned drums, and bird-call flutes. For really unusual instruments, perhaps a lithophone or even a txalaparta. Although the later is specifically Basque, it is also literally two boards played like a xylophone/drum combo. Stalagtites can be played as lithophones.

For Ents, I'd like to hear bassoons for sure, and perhaps low-pitched drums and horns. Maybe a bullroarer, bass shawm, or a wooden frog? Or even the txalparta.


But for the Ainulindale, Valar, and Maiar, anything could work -- evoking a particular ethnic atmosphere doesn't matter to me with the Ainur, other than it may be a good idea to try to avoid evoking just one particular tradition.



I think The Road Goes Ever On could be a good resource -- I don't have a copy, but I think it has musical scores for Elvish songs, composed under Tolkien's direction. Maybe he even indicated the instruments he wanted used. Does anyone have a copy of this book?
 
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Haerangil

Well-Known Member
One comment about bagpipes: bagpipes do NOT come from any celtic tradition! They were common in medieval europe and are most likely derived from persian and anatolian predecessors. They just largely faded out of use in germany, france and other countries in the 19th century. The reason they stayed in use in scotland was largely their use in the military... i don't know why spanish bagpipes did not die out though.They also were still used in the folk music of some balkan states...

I am not a pro in knowledge on bagpipes but i also believe that the mohawked guy in that video does not play a traditional bagpipe. I believe it's a "marktsackpfeife" a modern instrument very popular with some distinct german folk rock/metal musicians.That modern kind of bagpipe was invented in the 1970ies in socialist eastern germany.
 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I think The Road Goes Ever On could be a good resource -- I don't have a copy, but I think it has musical scores for Elvish songs, composed under Tolkien's direction. Maybe he even indicated the instruments he wanted used. Does anyone have a copy of this book?
I have a copy, yes.
 
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