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Each Adiemus album is a collection of song-length pieces featuring harmonised vocal melody against an orchestra background. There are no lyrics as such, instead the vocalists sing syllables and 'words' invented by Jenkins. However, rather than creating musical interest from patterns of phonemes (as in scat singing, or in numerous classical and crossover compositions), the language of Adiemus is carefully stylised so as not to distract the listener's attention from the pitch and timbre of the voice. Syllables rarely end in consonants, for example. In this respect it is similar to Japanese and several other languages. The core concept of Adiemus is that the voice should be allowed to function as nothing more than an instrument, an approach that was a trend in some New Age and World Music choral writing in the mid to late 1990s. (compare, for example Vangelis's score for the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), or "Dogora", a symphonic suite by French composer Étienne Perruchon).
The word Adiemus itself resembles the Latin word 'adeamus' meaning 'let us approach' (or "let us submit a cause to a referee"), or, is sometimes regarded as the future tense of the same verb, meaning "we will approach" or "we will take possession. Jenkins has said he was unaware of this. Perhaps even more appropriately, the song title also resembles two forms of the Latin verb 'audire' (to hear): 'audiemus' (we shall hear) and 'audiamus' (let us hear).
Instrumentation and performers
- Scoring for Songs of Sanctuary
- recorder, 8 percussion, 4 tom-toms, congas, cymbals, claves, floor tom, bass drum, mark tree, bass bell in C, cabassa, wood block, triangle, strings
- Scoring for Cantata Mundi
- 2 flutes (1 doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling on English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, claves, cowbell, güiro, 2 cabacas, triangle, chenchen, Egyptian tabla, doholla, tom-tom, cymbals, chekere, xylophone, glockenspiel, bass marimba, bongos, rek, udu pot, tablas, sticks, pandeiro, timbales, surdo, bass drum, tamtam, suspended cymbals, tambourine, recorder, strings (featuring on album are also the violin, electro-acoustic percussion and gemshorn)
- Scoring for Dances of Time
- 7 singers, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, 8 percussionists: bass drum, bongos, cowbell, chekere, chocolla, cymbals, claves, congas, cabaca, castanets, dholak, güiro, 5 low drums, low chekere, marimba, rainmaker, rek, snare drum, shaker, surdo, tom-tom, tabla, tamborim, tambourine, triangle, udo, wood block, xylophone, recorder, strings (featuring on album are also the electro-acoustic percussion and gemshorn)
- Scoring for The Eternal Knot
- recorder, accordion, percussion, harp, strings (on album also the acoustic guitar, Uilleann pipes)
- Scoring for Vocalise
- for voices and orchestra
Session singer Miriam Stockley performed the vocal parts on the first four albums. Stockley was described by Jenkins as central to the Adiemus project due to her range and intonation; however, she was not re-engaged for Vocalise. Additional vocals were provided by Mary Carewe on all but Dances of Time, which saw the introduction of the Finnish Adiemus Singers (who would later appear on Vocalise). Extra vocals and the chorus effects were created by overdubbing multitracked recordings of the singers (in some cases up to 40 times) and varying the speed of the tape.
The Songs of Sanctuary orchestra consisted of a string section augmented by various ethnic percussion instruments, with occasional further additions such as bells, a recorder and a quena. Mike Ratledge, with whom Jenkins had played in Soft Machine, contributed to the first album as well. Jenkins added brass and woodwind for Cantata Mundi, and continued to add more diverse instruments such as acoustic guitar on later albums. From Songs of Sanctuary to Dances of Time, the London Philharmonic Orchestra was used; Jenkins later formed his own Adiemus Orchestra to perform on The Eternal Knot recordings, returning to the London Philharmonic for Vocalise.
- Miriam Stockley
- Pirjo Aittomäki
- Mervi Hiltunen
- Anna-Mari Kähärä
- Merja Rajala
- Säde Rissanen
- Hanna-Riikka Siitonen
- Mia Simanainen
- Nina Tapio
- Riikka Timonen
an excerpt from the piece.
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- Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary (1995)
- Adiemus II: Cantata Mundi (1997)
- Adiemus III: Dances of Time (1998)
- Adiemus IV: The Eternal Knot (2001)
- Adiemus V: Vocalise (2003)
- Adiemus: Colores (2013)
- The Journey: The Best of Adiemus (2000)
- Adiemus Live (2002)
- Adiemus New Best & Live (2002)
- The Essential Adiemus (2003)
The musical language of Adiemus draws heavily on classical and world music. Jenkins follows conventions of tonality up to a point—his harmony is derived from gospel and African music, decorated with functional dissonances such as suspensions and with greater freedom of movement between loosely related key areas. He avoids the most common time signatures, such as 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4, with a slow 3/2 being very characteristic along with 6/8, 9/8 and even 5/8 (Cantus Inaequalis from Songs of Sanctuary). "Free time" is also prominent, in this as well as the majority of new age projects. The percussion section, when used prominently, typically gives the pieces an upbeat, tribal-like rhythm.
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Songs of Sanctuary was a commercial success, topping classical album charts. Though none of its successors has achieved the same critical acclaim, Adiemus acquired a cult following and maintained a place in mainstream consciousness through its use in TV commercials, in particular the track "Adiemus" in a Delta Air Lines commercial (for which the project began) and "Cantilena", from Cantata Mundi, in a Cheltenham & Gloucester commercial. "Adiemus" was also the eighth feature track of the original 1997 Pure Moods album. It was used at the beginning and end of James Brandon's magic show "Imagine" which played at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas in the late 1990s and used as the soundtrack behind the Kubla Khan pillar show at the end of the Rotunda cave tour in Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona. "Adiemus" was used in the trailer to the Invisible Children's documentary film and featured in the titles of the 1996 BBC children's series Testament: The Bible in Animation. That same year, it was used in the Baywatch episode "Beauty and the Beast". "Tintinnabulum" was sampled in Solarstone's 1999 Ibiza trance anthem "Seven Cities".