Song of the Tortoise Shell Lyre | Michael Levy


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A presentation of track 2, “Song of the Tortoise Shell Lyre”, from my new album, “The Cave of Hermes” – out on all major digital music platforms from 1st January 2022, this release is available to pre-order now, from Bandcamp & direct from my website:

This track features one of my two Luthieros custom made tortoise shell lyres, with a Greek tortoise shell foraged from the forests near Thessaloniki – as no two tortoise shells are the same, as this track illustrates when compared to track 1, the timbre of a tortoise shell lyre is always unique to the specific tortoise shell used in its construction!

This piece attempts to evoke the first melody Hermes played on the first tortoise shell lyre he made, as recounted in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes:

“Born with the dawning, at mid-day he [Hermes] played on the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollon on the fourth day of the month; for on that day queenly Maia bare him.
So soon as he had leaped from his mother’s heavenly womb, he lay not long waiting in his holy cradle, but he sprang up and sought the oxen of Apollon. But as he stepped over the threshold of the high-roofed cave [of Maia on Mount Kyllene], he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer.

The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. When be saw it, the luck-bringing son of Zeus laughed and said : ‘An omen of great luck for me so soon! I do not slight it. Hail, comrade of the feast, lovely in shape, sounding at the dance! With joy I meet you! Where got you that rich gaud for covering, that spangled shell–a tortoise living in the mountains? But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me. It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors. Living, you shall be a spell against mischievous witchcraft; but if you die, then you shall make sweetest song.’

Thus speaking, he took up the tortoise in both hands and went back into the house carrying his charming toy. Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain-tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious (kydimos) Hermes planned both thought and deed at once. He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut.

But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvellously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches, even as youths bandy taunts at festivals. He sang of Zeus Kronion and neat-shod Maia, the converse which they had before in the comradeship of love, telling all the glorious tale of his own begetting. He celebrated, too, the handmaids of the Nymphe, and her bright home, and the tripods all about the house, and the abundant cauldrons.

But while he was singing of all these, his heart was bent on other matters. And he took the hollow lyre and laid it in his sacred cradle, and sprang from the sweet-smelling hall to a watch-place…”

In my continuing efforts to create the evolution of a truly distinctive ‘New Ancestral’ music genre, throughout this album, I also attempt to further enhance the dreamy quality of the timbre of the recreated ancient lyre, with a subtle palette of contemporary studio effects, ranging from reverbs sampled from actual cathedrals & caves, to specific melodic phrases enhanced with dream-like echoes & delays.


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