Syntagma – a marriage of 17th & 21st century tech

One of the fruits of lockdown for me has been the release of this EP recorded in 2010 – more about the reason for the delay in a minute. It’s a showcase of a truly amazing and unusual instrument, a clavicytherium or upright harpsichord, with some thrilling historical resonances. The clavicytherium used is a copy (by the wonderful instrument maker Malcolm Rose) of one in the Nuremberg Germanisches Nationalmuseum, which itself bears an uncanny resemblance to one illustrated in a 1619 musical textbook, Syntagma Musicum, by composer/theorist Michael Praetorius.

Here’s the instrument, in situ in the recording venue, the medieval church in Bignor, Sussex. Note the playing position – the musician is completely immersed in the sound, as if sitting directly in front of a speaker:

The music recorded is kaleidoscopic, ornate, complex, exquisite – it’s by composers and keyboard virtuosi from all over 17th century Europe (Sweelinck, Picchi, Byrd, Schmidt/de Rore and Bull/Palestrina) and works beautifully with the equally complex sound of the clavicytherium. You can hear excerpts and buy a studio master quality download for peanuts here. But just search Syntagma on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music (or even YouTube) and you can stream it from those services too.

About that recording-to-release delay… With Annabel Knight producing I made the recording in a purist style using two Schoeps CMC621 mics into DAV preamps. But what we hadn’t counted on was the swarm of bees up high in the roof of the church. There was no shifting them and the buzz plagued every take, pretty much ruining the beginnings and endings of every piece. We forged ahead with the recording anyway, as it had taken a lot of effort to set up, but listening back days later it was obvious the bees were a bit too intrusive.

So I shelved the recording… and then sort of forgot about it… until a couple of months ago. Listening back once more I realised this was such great music, and (equally importantly) such a beautiful instrument, that it was perhaps worth trying to save. Some quick experiments with Adobe Audition’s noise reduction tools soon revealed they were easily a match for the bees and in no time silence was golden once more.

Syntagma EP download at BCR: £2.50
Also available to stream or download on all major digital services.