A unique programme, featuring unique instruments

A programme that dares step outside the box in such a decisive way, will be called out to go the full distance, and that includes the instrumentation. Inevitably, a novel programme is designed not just with a certain set of pieces or songs in mind, but with a full concept, full visuals and full sound spectrum. In the early days of Songs Contained, Michiel Niessen was already programming songs with something like the E-Lute in mind - an instrument which didn’t even exist at the time.

Collaborative effort, two years in the making

Luthier Ian Schneller of Specimen Products, a custom workshop in Chicago, needed some persuading initially. Says Ian Schneller:

Michiel managed to convince me, through a series of eye-twinkling emails, that he was indeed serious and that this instrument was something perhaps no one has ever tried, although in retrospect it seems like such an obvious idea.

A hybrid of the ages

horn clear

The E-lute has grown into a remarkable hybrid, it is perhaps a combination of all the most beautiful sounds some 50 years of electric guitar development have to offer: the dark precision of a Fender jazz bass, the warmth of a Gibson Les Paul, the E-lute never forgets its ties to the past through a bright and taut melodic tone caused in part by the characteristic tuning and short playing scale of a traditional lute.

When electric instruments are involved, amplification becomes a factor. Here too Ian Schneller’s creations play an important role. The songs of Songs Contained are amplified by Specimen’s custom tube amplifiers and his spectacular brainchild, the Specimen horns.
One-of-a-kind, tradition and avant-garde rolled into one.

For smaller venues, a sublime Mesa Engineering Express 5:25 all-tube amplifier is on hand. The stunning soundscape is further enhanced by Native Instruments' Guitar Rig 5, an Apple MacBook, and carefully selected effects by Strymon, Effectrode, Boss and Electro Harmonix.

Traditional, but no less unique

The 16-course traditional archlute as built by master luthier Richard Berg of Ottawa, Canada is no less unique. Michiel Niessen, a long-time specialist of the lute asked Berg to make him the ultimate lute, adding two extra bass strings to extend the chromatics in the lower register, and using exceptional tone materials: mammoth ivory aged ca. 30.000 years and African Blackwood, a tough member of the ebony genus. It adds exceptional warmth and clarity to the Songs Contained programme.

Michiel Niessen 2011