Blog Post #2. Out of the Clearing
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
The association between place and the musician is undeniably one of the most powerful factors in the world of traditional music. The answer to the question "Where do you come from?" can infer many things about your musical identity, such as your style of playing or singing, or choice of repertoire. Many musicians proudly represent their home country, county, or region by mastering these native musical traits.
It's a wonderful knack to have, to be able to listen to somebody play a piece of traditional repertoire and identify their "accent". However, I feel that I can't really claim to represent any one of these styles, or accents.
From a young age I've been used to moving home as often as every two to three years or so, and have benefitted from numerous tutors and mentors from varying musical and regional backgrounds. I found it difficult to really "pick a sound" for myself, or identify what components made up my style of playing, even after specialising in traditional music after a decade of classical cello lessons.
Since lockdown has done a pretty good job of keeping me in one place (Milton of Campsie) for what feels like a rather long time, I decided to explore the concept of "place" in a different way to that which I had tried before, and get some inspiration for some new arrangements of tunes: I grabbed my Tascam DR-05 and my phone, and found a spot in a wooded area near my house, and began recording. While I took the brief recording, I let myself sink into the atmosphere of the wood. Afterwards, I chose a couple of tunes and thought "how can I best play these to suit that atmosphere?" and began to experiment with how I recorded the cello.
The result was this video that looks like it takes after an ambient sound or BGM video, but it also reminded me of some slightly aged folk albums that I listened to when I was younger, particularly Celtic Quest or Celtic Tranquility, which also feature sounds of nature.
The first tune here is "Wee Murdie", one of the first tunes I ever learned around fifteen years ago. I picked it up from Christine Martin's Session Tunes for Scottish Cellists, a tune book comprised of some popular old session numbers from Scotland and Ireland. The second tune, "The Strawberry Blossom", is one of my favourites that I learned from the playing of concertina player Liam O'Brien. You can hear it on his album The Lane, although I first learned it from a great video of him with piper Cian Talty playing at the 2016 Concertina Cruinniú. The main element that my ear was drawn to while I was putting the tunes together was the "texture" made by the sound the wind in the leaves. While my editing skills are limited anyway, I wanted to try to use the bow and dynamics to fit into the quiet environment in the trees.
What I have set out to do with this project is challenge myself to base my performance on the 'sense of place' that isn't based as much in on it's historical sense (focusing on how I may interpret a regional style, for example), but in a way that explores how one may be 'musically present' in an environment. I'll be making more videos in a similar format, to try and develop the process and it's application with other locations and repertoire, while hopefully improving my editing skills in the meantime!