Erdenstern is a German group and is a strong favourite of many of Radio Rivendell’s listeners. Comprising of Andreas Petersen, Eva-Maria Irek, and Per Dittman, this Hamburg based trio have written and released a vast collection of CDs and soundtracks under their own label. They’ve agreed to be interviewed and give us an insight into the inspiration behind their creative genius.
Radio Rivendell: What were you doing before Erdenstern? I hear you were partial to a bit of rock?
Per: In the early 90s, I sang in a band that played Progressive Rock, or as we then called it, "Fantasy Rock". So that pre-empted our later path quite a bit. (laughs)
Andreas: Before we founded Erdenstern, we worked as designers, and still do. Our musical history includes Rock bands, yes. I worked with a couple of very gifted and enthusiastic partners on different experimental music projects. Later on I worked for some TV shows, commercials and documentations.
RR: What made you decide to take the direction that you did?
Eva-Maria: Andreas had composed a range of very impressing soundtracks based on movies and books in the 90s. Per and I were very exited about it, so we started a project called "Literaturmusik", we were making soundtracks for books. And then we realized we even more liked the idea of making music for stories yet untold – that lead us to work with Role Playing Games. What drives us is the passion for creating adventures in our listeners' minds.
RR: It’s obvious through the albums you have produced, that you are influenced by roleplaying. Are there any particular settings or games that inspire you the most?
Andreas: Oh yes. On the one hand we're children of the Big Screen, so quite a bit of our inspiration comes from movies. We also hold true to the literature background there, as we believe the great RPGs are also inspired by, for instance, the works of Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne.
Eva-Maria: Nature a great place of inspiration for us as well.
RR: You’ve produced the soundtrack for the MMORPG “The Dark Eye, Herokon Online”. Do you play this game, or any other MMORPGs?
Per: When working on the soundtrack, we thoroughly looked into the game, of course, to get an idea of the mood and the situations.
Eva-Maria: And apart from that, I play the Star Wars MMORPG once in a while.
RR: Are there any other games that you play?
Eva-Maria: Heroes Of Light And Magic is one of my favorites. Hey, and Little Big Planet for relaxing, GTA and the Uncharted Series.
Andreas: We are also very fond of Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain. I like the dramatic staging and I love the score by Normand Corbeil.
RR: Besides “The Dark Eye”, are there any other computer games that you have composed for?
Andreas: Yes, we are working for a couple of games, but none has been officially released yet.
Per: Apart from that we have worked with the developer of Sonar, an indie game that was released a while ago. The most peculiar project so far has been "Zombie Yoga" for Kinect. We were consulted during the planning stages, but we don't know if the game is still, well, alive. (laughs)
RR: Would you consider moving into movie soundtracks? If you did, what would be the ideal movie to write for?
Per: Definetely Ishtar II. (laughs)
Andreas: (laughs) Oh yes! Or something by Wes Anderson.
Eva-Maria: And Tim Burton!
Andreas: But well, even though we have mainly released Fantasy themed music, I would feel most at home in a SciFi or dystopic background. But every genre has got its own charme. Even a Western, a drama, or even a documentary with an interesting background can be an interesting challenge for a composer.
Eva-Maria: Or the classical horror genre. With "Into The Dark", 13 Briefe.de and Lovecraft's "Mountains Of Madness", we open very different doors to the Dark Side. There could be more to explore. (sinsister smile)
RR: When asked to compose for a project, what factors do you take on board before you approve or reject it?
Eva-Maria: It has to be an interesting challenge for us. And the people who work with us on the project must be committed. Nothing is disappointing like an interesting project that loses steam after a couple of months.
RR: Three of your albums, “Mountains of Madness”, “Chronik Adventuriens”, and “Call of the Titans”, are to accompany pen and paper RPGs. Is the RP scene big in Germany?
Per: When we worked together with the French publisher of Call of Cthulhu, we were impressed by the scope of the French scene. But in Germany, there also are a lot of people who play and who develop and publish exciting RPGs – we are not worried.
RR: What got you into roleplaying to begin with?
Per: My big brother.
Andreas: My big sister, who also infected me with Tolkien.
Eva-Maria: My boyfriend.
RR: If I had to describe your style, I’d say that you were a mixture of mediaeval and classical music, blended with the epic sound of movie soundtracks. Are there any other artists that have inspired your music?
Eva-Maria: I fed my young musical ear Jazz artists like Al Jarreau, and also U2 played a big role. But Kate Bush and Talking Heads were important to me as well.
Andreas: Oh, very hard to answer shortly. The first one for me is definitely Jerry Goldsmith. He is one of my heroes. I was also very early infected by Russian composers like Prokoviev as well as movie soundtracks. Influences also come from Irish folk, artists like Björk, Sigur Ros, Peter Gabriel, African and world music.
Per: Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morrissette and Tom Waits have had a huge impact on me, as well as Pink Floyd – Syd Barrett in particular.
Andreas: We should not forget Basil!
Per: Yes. Basil Pouldoris is one we all share a passion for.
Andreas: He was very influential for Fantasy themed music as a whole.
RR: You have produced a set of CDs in your much loved “Library of Fantastic Music”, which are named after colours and a specific concept for a roleplaying adventure. Each CD takes the listener on a journey through that setting, and I applaud you for this – it is very inspiring to write to, as well as roleplay, or even game to. What gave you the idea to do this?
Per: We have experienced roleplaying sessions with background music very early on and it blew our minds. When we decided to work in that field ourselves, we wanted to be as generic as we could – to include the largest number of players as possible – while at the same time describe very specific typical situations.
Andreas: Thus, our "color concept" was born: it enabled us to set a clear direction without linking the albums too tight to any particular system or setting.
RR: Are you ever worried you will run out of “colours” to inspire a theme?
Andreas: One of our reasons for concluding the Library with "Into The Light" was that we have gained almost eight years of experience since "Into The Green" was released in 2005 and we want to see how that will translate in the next big project.
Per: We don't think that one day arriving at "Oh, we didn't have Dark Turquouise yet, did we?" would help the range. But of course we still believe in the form of concept album, *and* we're already busy discussion different ideas, so there is definitely something to look forward to!
RR: Before making an album, do you have a story in mind already? Or does the story progress and unfold to you as you make the album?
Eva-Maria: A bit of both. We begin with a basic concept and collect ideas that fit. Then we arrange them so that they form a storyline, and then Andreas start the composing. All the while, the story evolves as we try out and further develop every aspect of it.
RR: As you take the listener on a journey with these CDs, have you yourselves travelled, and been inspired by music of far off lands?
Per: Our music is very European-inspired. There are a lot of exciting places everywhere just around us.
Andreas: France and Ireland.
Per: Southern France and Tuscany.
Eva-Maria: Scotland. Oh, and Canada!
Per: Scandinavia is a particularly mystical land. Great, intense winters and the most amazing of summers. But you might know that. (all laugh)
RR: “Into The Grey” is very different to the other CDs in your “Library of Fantastic Music”, as it is set in a future world. Why did you decide to use a science fiction setting for this CD?
Andreas: As I said, we have always had af soft spot for SciFi, so we were thrilled when our fans in large numbers asked us for an album with such a setting.
Per: And among the 11 albums we released so far, "Into The Grey" is the one I like best. "Mega City" and "Mothership" are among the best Andreas has written. And of course, "Mercenary"!
RR: Why did you chose not to end “Into the Light” with a rhyme like the other albums in this series?
Eva-Maria: We talked a lot about that. The last part of the CD is called "The Last Days" and is our dystopic vision of the end of the world. The music ends with a Geiger counter. Very likely no one will sing anymore at that point...
Andreas: It was a decision that became clear when we listened to the whole album. Every part of the four-part album would have deserved a song.
Per: But as the singer, I enjoy being missed. (laughs)
RR: Do you prefer to write about the more traditional High Fantasy settings?
Andreas: We have a feeling that we can still tell a lot of musical stories set there. And we experience that that is the background most of our listeners can relate to.
Eva-Maria: High Fantasy has the greatest pictures in it. To compose generic Fantasy soundtracks, to create an epic feel of a distinct world of its own was a big challenge working on the "Into the..." albums.
RR: What sort of setting would you consider exploring in the future?
Eva-Maria: As Per said, we are discussing different approaches for the future. We might revisit one or two places we have been before. But probably with a different take on them.
RR: How do you produce your music? Could you describe how you compose your work together?
Eva-Maria: We discuss the theme, collect ideas and make up the story. Then Andreas retreats and hits the keys. The first drafts of a new piece are often still pretty raw, just the Piano and "here I want the strings" and some singing of horn tunes. (laughs)
Andreas: And then we work from there. We discuss the melodies and possible arrangements –
Eva-Maria: – take out the tambourine, will you! –
Andreas: – and refine the piece again and again. Sometimes we notice that something doesn't work as intended –
Per: – and sometimes the idea comes up again years later and works like a charm.
Eva-Maria: In the end, we wrap up the album, and usually, it is three to eight minutes too long, and we have one or two bonus tracks... (laughs)
RR: How many recording sessions does it take to finalise one track?
Andreas: That depends. Sometimes one day, three or four takes, and we're done. But mostly, it takes a lot longer – sometimes weeks. Almost always there is one piece on the album that has seen up to ten sometimes totally different versions before we are satisfied.
RR: Would you like to use more acoustic instruments in the future?
Eva-Maria: Yes. We have been working with a couple of musicians with acoustic instruments on a side project (we can't tell you much about it yet, but hopefully soon!) and we have enjoyed that a lot! We hope we can include more acoustic instruments in more of our projects.
RR: Is there any particular instrument you would like to feature in one of your pieces that you haven’t used yet?
Andreas: Yes! And I would love writing for a smaller chamber suites. I love the Mongolean Morin Kur or strange connections, for instance more percussive instruments like Taiko drums or Arabic percussion combined with orchestra.
Eva-Maria: Maybe we could do more with chimes (laughs) or Tibetan horns.
RR: Are there any plans for live concerts? Have you done this in the past?
Per: As Eva-Maria said, we have started to work with live musicians and we have, well, tasted blood. (laughs)
Andreas: A live concert would mean a lot of effort and a lot of people, so we're not sure what will prove possible. But we can dream.
RR: What can we expect next from Erdenstern? Do you have any projects in the pipeline, another colour perhaps?
Eva-Maria: At the moment, we are developing The Next Big Thing. But we do not plan to remain silent while we're doing that. We have a couple of gems in our treasury we consider sharing with our fans. Stay tuned!
RR: If your life was a movie, who would you put in charge of the soundtrack?
Per: Danny Elfman. We want a life that sounds like Danny Elfman.
Andreas: Yes Danny – this would be very funny and exiting.
Eva-Maria: And a little bit strange.
RR: Finally, if you had to become a character in any setting, who would it be, and why?
Andreas: Oh, maybe captain of my own space ship. Because ... then I would be captain of my own space ship.
Per: A ship's kobold. (something in the background falls down and breaks.)
Eva-Maria: Warrioress. Always enough hit points.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! Readers can find out more, and purchase music from Erdenstern’s official website: www.erdenstern.com. We also feature their CDs in our own webshop!
Erdenstern's profile page here on Radio Rivendell: www.radiorivendell.com/music/Erdenstern/
Credits for this interview goes to Lilu with some help from Allanon and Ivy.