In April 2003, Andy Lowings and a small group of dedicated collaborators conceived the Gold Lyre of Ur Project, a charitable organisation dedicated to remaking an authentic, playable version of the famous Gold Lyre of Ur, a beautiful instrument from 2,500 BC discovered by archaeologists in Iraq in 1929. The lyre comes from one of the earliest human civilizations – Sumer in Mesopotamia, where the first writing systems were developed. From its large, golden bull’s head, to its tiny, ornate shell and lapis lazuli panels, the Gold Lyre was recreated as authentically as possible, in all its breathtaking detail, by a dedicated group of skilled artists and craftspeople.
Almost ten years after the project began, in 2012, Stef Conner – a composer and performer with a great passion for ancient languages – was put in touch with the Gold Lyre of Ur project through a mutual collaborator. Along with harpist and producer Mark Harmer, Stef and Andy improvised a musical setting of the flood narrative, from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (first millennium BCE). The amazing, unique results of this early experiment took Stef, Andy and Mark, as well as their friends and colleagues by surprise. Excited and inspired by the music these ancient instruments and texts had drawn out of them, they decided to record the first ever full-length album of cutting-edge new music in Sumerian and Babylonian, accompanied by reconstructed ancient lyres.
Who we are:
Andy Lowings is a musician and a civil engineer. Initially studying the guitar and then the harp, he has organised the yearly Stamford Harp Festival for 17 years. He was drawn also to the exotic sounds of Arabic music whilst working in the UAE and became increasingly curious about the extreme boundaries of what traditional music actually is. Studying contemporary African versions of the Lyre and their possible connections to archaeological instruments from millennia past gained him a Churchill Fellowship in 2007. As well as setting up the The Gold Lyre of Ur Project, Andy has played the lyre all over the world, most recently in Baghdad (2013), near to where it was found in the Royal Graves at Ur.
Stef Conner is a composer and performer whose music makes connections between the ancient and modern worlds. She studied music at the University of York, graduating with a starred first in 2005, before joining the Northumbrian folk group The Unthanks, with whom she performed at such venues as The Barbican, Covent Garden Opera House, Glastonbury, Womad, the BBC Folk Awards and the Mercury Music Awards. Her approach to music-making was deeply affected by The Unthanks’ sensitive and honest style of musical storytelling. In 2012 she completed an AHRC-funded PhD in music at the University of York. She was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2011 and in 2014 was named one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners, for her compositions. Performers of her work include the Esoterics, the Kreutzer Quartet, Juice, the Nieuw Ensemble, Cadenza, John Potter, The Renaissance Singers and members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Ensemble 10/10. Two of her pieces premiered at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and she has received performances in York Minster, Waltham Abbey, The Royal Festival Hall, Queen’s College (Cambridge), Cheltenham Festival, Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre and Beijing Conservatory, as well as broadcasts on BBC Radio 2 and 3. She is currently Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera, a charity that uses music to help homeless people make positive changes in their lives.
Mark Harmer is a performer and teacher of the harp, and produced video and audio for the BBC for 20 years including recording unusual sounds and working in nearly 50 languages – both ideal expertise for this CD! He became involved with the Lyre of Ur project after meeting Andy Lowings at Andy’s harp festival in Stamford, and has supported the Lyre of Ur project with video and audio recordings. He is passionate about the power of music to communicate and works with businesses and charities, getting people to create music and explore the way they relate to each other. He also works with hostpital neonatal units and care homes, bringing music into these important stages of life.
It would have been impossible to make The Flood without Jennifer Sturdy, Maeve Lowings and Keith Jobling who, as well as managing the project behind the scenes, made tea, cooked dinner, looked after exhausted musicians, and (most importantly) have been driving the Gold Lyre of Ur Project since it began in 2003. Maeve and Keith must also be commended for Babylonian backing vocals and the playing of whatever resonant metal objects were to hand! Heartfelt thanks go to Rory O’Bryen for The Flood album cover photos.
The project also owes its existence to the wonderful work of Jonathan Letcher, Jeremy Black, Graham Cunningham, Jarle Ebeling, Esther-Flückiger-Hawker, Eleanor Robson, Jonathan Taylor, Gábor Zólyomi, Stephanie Dalley, Andrew George, Anne Kilmer and Martin Worthington, as well as the SOAS Babylonian and Assyrian Poetry and Literature Archive of Recordings and the Oxford Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.