Spellweaving: Online resources for a CD by Delphian Records

DCD34171_coverThis page links to material relating to 8 tracks recorded 8–10 June 2015, released 20 May 2016:

Ancient Music from the Highlands of Scotland

European Music Archaeology Project Vol. 1
Delphian DCD34171

Barnaby Brown pipes & vocals
Clare Salaman fiddles & hurdy-gurdy
Bill Taylor lyres & harp

Reviews:  The Sunday Times  |  Planet Hugill  |  The Guardian  |  Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review  |  Andrew Benson Wilson – Early Music reviews  |  Music News Scotland  |  West Yorkshire News

The CD Spellweaving and the experimental rehearsals that led to it form two pathways by which Barnaby Brown’s PhD research at the University of Cambridge is reaching beyond academia. The learning was reciprocal: by testing out ideas in a practical context, the rehearsals informed his research, provoking a deeper understanding and better communication of unfamiliar musical concepts. The recording is a collaborative project funded by the AHRC research project Bass culture in Scottish musical traditions, the European Music Archaeology Project, the University of Huddersfield and Delphian Records Ltd.

All tracks are arranged by Barnaby Brown from Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797. For source facsimiles, further reading and performing editions, click on the Piobaireachd Society (PS) catalogue number below. Documentation of the rehearsal process is being published on the Learning Living Pibroch site – instalments published so far are listed under each track:

1. Hindorõdin hindodre: One of the Cragich (a ‘rocky’ pibroch) PS 53

Barnaby Brown Highland bagpipe

2.  Cumha Mhic Leòid (McLeod’s Lament) PS 135

Bill Taylor Highland clarsach

Rehearsal recording with feedback notes, May 2015

3.  Fear Pìoba Meata (The Timid Piper) PS 103

Barnaby Brown canntaireachd, Bill Taylor wire-strung lyre

Rehearsal recording and discussion, January 2016, with info on an Iron Age find from the Isle of Skye

4.  Cruinneachadh nan Sutharlanach (The Sutherlands’ Gathering) PS 72

Clare Salaman Hardanger fiddle

Excerpt of track 4 with feedback notes from the last rehearsal recording, June 2015

5.  Hiorodotra cheredeche (a nameless pibroch) PS 126

Barnaby Brown vulture bone flute

Experiments and rehearsal recording, June 2015, with info on a 30,000-year-old archaeological find

6.  Port na Srian (The Horse’s Bridle Tune) PS 107

Bill Taylor gut-strung lyre

Preliminary experiments adapting this pibroch to an 8th-century north-European lyre, January 2015

7.  Pìobaireachd na Pàirce (The Park Pibroch) PS 21

Clare Salaman hurdy-gurdy

8. Ceann Drochaid’ Innse-bheiridh (The End of Inchberry Bridge) PS 165

Barnaby Brown canntaireachd, Bill Taylor Highland clarsach, Clare Salaman medieval fiddle

More about Spellweaving

Spellweaving sets out to give a voice back to some of Europe’s most illustrious ancient instruments. It is all very well having beautiful reproductions, painstakingly copied from originals, but what sort of music did our ancestors enjoy? We focus our attention on a type of music whose trance-inducing long spans and elaborate formal patterning echo the knots 
and spells of Celtic culture. Each piece was written down from oral tradition by a Highland piper, Colin Campbell, using a unique notation based on the form of Hebridean ‘mouth music’ known as canntaireachd.

There are several remarkable things about Campbell’s manuscript, compiled in 1797 near Ardmaddy Castle on the west coast of Scotland. There 
is the sheer bulk of it – approximately 25 hours of music. There is its marriage of written and unwritten musical cultures, with only four of the 167 pieces found in earlier sources. There is its unique notation, developed from the syllables used by the MacCrimmons and Rankins to communicate and memorise bagpipe music. But above all, Campbell’s repertoire fills a void left by European instrumentalists who chose not to fix their art in musical notation. Perhaps they viewed it as a technology incapable of conveying essential evanescent or fluid subtleties. Or as an act of professional suicide, giving trade secrets away to competitors. Or as undermining a culture of apprenticeship, vital to keeping a venerated inheritance in safe hands. Whatever the reason, surviving notations of instrumental music represent only a fraction of past musical activity. The most exciting thing about Campbell’s book is that it begins to reveal how unrepresentative that fraction is.

A key impetus for this project was to break out of the Highland piping ghetto, initiating a cultural exchange with the wider musical world. Just as Indian classical music is not confined to the sitar, or Bach to the organ, does Campbell’s manuscript provide a window on to a musical culture beyond the pìob mhòr or ‘great pipe’ of Highland culture? If our experiments enliven debates on the evolution of pibroch (pìobaireachd, literally ‘what the piper does’), that is a bonus; our goal was to draw out of the shadows the instruments our ancestors loved, giving them a voice worth hearing in contemporary society.