Martin Springett: The River of Stars Suite

April 5th, 2014

englandfionavar1new7_thumbAs any book lover knows, the reading experience goes beyond words on the page. It starts with the cover, which can (when properly rendered) do more than attract potential buyers. In the hands of a master, a good cover – like any work of art – informs in subtle ways that change and grow richer over time.

It is this quality that I consistently find in the cover art of Martin Springett, particularly those that he did for the first editions of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry. Consider, for example, the beautiful wrap-around cover of The Summer Tree (pictured above). It’s the kind of art that delights on first impression and becomes richer with each successive viewing, acquiring new meaning each time the reader returns to the book.

But Martin Springett is one of those artists who can deliver more than visual wonders. He’s also an accomplished musician, a creator of fantasy soundscapes that can enhance a reading experience as well as an exquisitely rendered cover.

ROSS webConsider his newly released EP The River of Stars Suite, based on Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel The River of Stars (NAL, April 2014). Featuring kodo drums, flutes, vocals, and an orchestra of acoustic and electric guitars (all played by the composer), the CD features six tracks (five movements and one remix) guaranteed to transport the reader into the mist and wonder of Kay’s fantasy.

The CD opens with “River of Stars,” an overture that evokes the feel of Imperial China’s Twelfth Dynasty. It builds on hammered strings to a percussive crescendo, then disperses like a shower of petals. It’s a beautifully constructed overture.

 The second track, “Shan’s Theme,” extends and builds on the themes introduced in the overture. Named for Lin Shan, the songwriting protagonist of Kay’s novel, the piece clocks in at just under two minutes – a length that belies its instrumental complexities.

The third track, “Poet,” features lyrics translated from “Li Qingzhao,” a poem by Li Ching-chao (1084-1155).  After a pensive guitar intro, the lyrics begin:

The lotus has wilted, only a faint perfume remains;
On the bamboo mat there’s a touch of autumn chill.
Softly I take off my silk dress
And step on board my orchid skiff alone.

The singer is Suzanne Hillier, and her voice soars solo above the music until she is joined by Springett, whose counterpoint vocals guide the lyrics to a deeper place.

Flowers fall and drift away,
Water glides on,
After their nature.
Our yearning is the sort
Both sides far apart endure—
A melancholy feeling there’s no resisting.

The song ends as it begins, carried away by the guitar. In all, it’s an evocative piece – a soundscape which, like Springett’s landscapes, lingers in the mind.

Larger-cover_River_of_StarsClocking in at nearly seven minutes, “Fox Woman” provides the longest and most complex soundscape on the EP. Moving from a guitar prelude and through a shimmer of falling rain to arrive at a sequence driven by powerful electric guitars.

Finally, the suite ends with “Two Cups,” which features the sound of voice and flute weaving together like slow moving butterflies or drifting thistledown. It’s a beautiful conclusion to the suite.

With a run time of just under 20 minutes (not including a sixth track, which presents a “Fox Woman” remix, The River of Stars Suite my not provide the hours of ambient music needed to sustain a complete reading of Kay’s 656 page novel. Nevertheless, those readers who like to score their reading experience will have no problem filling out their ambient playlists with Martin Springett’s other compositions, all readily available on iTunes.

In all, The River of Stars Suite by Martin Springett is highly recommended. Together with Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel, it provides a door into wonders that are certainly not to be missed.

  1. This entry was posted on Saturday, April 5th, 2014 at 11:29 pm and is filed under 21st-Century Scop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply