Drones dance hypnotically in an intriguing trance-like state, where small pipes and the tradition are but a diving board to new ground.
Release Date: 14th April 2023
Label: tak:til (Glitterbeat)
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Let’s not pretend this is a straightforward listen. Not that should ever put you off; please, don’t, as, with the right time and place, this could be 35 of the best spent minutes of the year. Far from wasted, anyway. Challenging, even, in a good way. You’ve maybe heard the name, she the small pipes prodigy from the Isle of Skye, whose debut, The Reeling caught so many ears in 2019, such was its mesmeric and eerie charm, having almost a spiritual effect. Since then she has teamed up with Ross Ainslie, another champion of piping, and Steven Byrnes, on a percussive and acoustic rhythm guitar, for LAS, which we reviewed here. This time she is joined by Canadian sax maven, Colin Stetson. He has been plying his own idiosyncratic for a tad longer, producing vivid widescreen sonics that sound never quite like his chosen instrument, such is his skill in circular breathing, multiphonics and multitones, none of which I can fully conceive. As well as solo projects and soundtracks, he has also played for and with artists as varied as Tom Waits and Chemical Brothers.
Stetson co-produces this recording, along with Chaimbeul, as well as co-writing the original material. For the rest, he helps to extemporise beyond the initially traditional and archive derivations of the music. He joins her instrumentally also, for a number of the tracks. As does, somewhere, Jamie Murphy, on Uillean pipes, if almost beyond my paygrade of recognition. And even where Stetson appears, I challenge you to discern who is reponsible for what, the two players merging together, remoulding any expectation of how each should sound. Or which, sometimes, which is which. This is exemplified by opener, Pililiu, or The Call Of The Redshank. Now, knowing not how a redshank might call, it wouldn’t surprise me, were it a long and mellow drone. The tune certainly starts that way, clearly small pipes to start, but, as it evolves, there is a second drone entering, alongside. There is a tune within, slow and delicate; this is no display of discordancy, and the mood inspired is restful and of contemplation.
Tha Gonn Bhi Trom follows in a more imperious vein, sounding like coronation music in a faerie universe. Translated, it means I Am Disposed Of Mirth, into which I hope there is some tongue in cheek. As it unwinds there is a glorious roundabout swirl of countermelody, presumably Stetson’s anything other than sounding like a sax. Go listen below, it’s entrancing. With Banish The Giant Of Hope And Despair following, that same titular OTT portentousness is preserved, with it actually being quite a jolly jig.
Crònan (i), first of a two-parter, is the first all new tune, and starts with a long drawn out note of melancholy, with only slight shifting up and down away from that starting point. If this is zen, then sign me up. Very little happens, beyond gradual semitones veering in from the sides, getting ever more guttural. Print is maybe the last medium suited to describe this music, but, stay with me, immerse. Uguvio (ii) is then positively the dance of a dervish by contrast, that contrast the perfect complement. There is more of the cylinder roll style accompaniment of Stetson, my ears beginning to find and feel the gaps between them, and I can entirely see how these two individuals came to collaborate. Says Chaimbeul: “his style and breathing fit with the pipes”, and she is not wrong.
It is back to the traditional for Piobaireachd Nan Eun, which, clearly, as its name suggests, is one of those glorious Gaelic airs, that sound as if they should echo across a treeless wintry landscape. As this embalms you, lo and behold, a voice. Singing. This is Chaimbeul too, a hitherto unrealised and unheard presence, soaring, wraithlike, over the pipes. Totally unexpected, it comes as a stunning surprise. A second vocal track, Oran an Eich-Uisge (Song of the Waterhorse) follows, again keeping you waiting for that vocal moment. Drawn from an archival recording, this track is all Chaimbeul’s work, without Stetson’s input. If I am to hazard a guess, ‘S Mi Gabhail an Rathaid (I Take The Road), the next track, is where Murphy appears, the additional skirl of the Irish instrument, in unison with Chaimbeul, and propelled by a simple drumbeat, apparent, distantly, in the mix. I am realising there is harmonium here, Chaimbeul, and there probably is elsewhere. The track then goes off kilter as Stetson adds his tongue-swallowing calisthenics to the fray, it becoming almost quite Indian at this stage (which, given the Gaelic language may have evolved, initially, out of, or with, Sanskrit, isn’t quite the stretch it might otherwise seem.)
Closing with another of Chaimbeul’s archival discoveries, Bonn Beinn Eadarra, The Haunting, which is every bit as spookily spiritual as it should be, not least as Chaimbeul chimes in once more. Her simple untutored voice throws a fair shiver up the old spine. And that’s it, unless you have it, already, on a loop, which would seem a neat idea.
Ancient music has seemed seldom so avant-garde, and, at a time when drones are suddenly so de rigeur, this drone, if you will, is a Queen.
As promised, here’s Tha Gonn Bhi Trom, whether your mirth be disposed or not:
Brìghde Chaimbeul online: website / facebook / twitter / instagram
If you would like to keep up with At The Barrier, you can like us on Facebook here, follow us on Twitter here, and follow us on Instagram here. We really appreciate all your support.
Leave a Reply