~ River ~ Ocean : John Kenny: Carnyx,
As soon as I began to work with John Creed's magnificent reconstruction of the Deskford Carnyx, all of us involved with the project realised that we were dealing with something quite extraordinary; a legendary 2,000 year old War Horn which had come to life, not only as a show-case replica, but also as a beautiful instrument with a unique voice, to speak afresh in the modern world.
But more than this, the Carnyx is a key which can unlock possibilities far beyond its own potential, either as a musical instrument or an archaeological artifact - it is a potent symbol of regeneration and reconciliation, representing a common cultural heritage, which can touch and stimulate people of widely divergent race and creed.
The reconstruction of the Carnyx and the projects developed around it so far have brought together archeologist, silversmith, musicologists, composers, and performers. Along with the premiere and tour of Forest ~ River ~ Ocean as part of the Highland Festival in May 1996, a highly successful education and development project, directed by Nigel Osborne, brought children from many isolated communities into contact with the Carnyx. This stimulated them to compose their own music through a process of discovery of their own local environment and history, revealed through archaeology.
Carnyx & Co is committed to continuing and extending this process, both by enabling the commission and performance of challenging new work, and by setting up creative discovery projects within communities that are divided by political, ethnic, or religious intolerance. We intend to commission the manufacture of more instruments, and to pass on the techniques of playing. In the process, more will be discovered about the rich and varied cultures in which the Carnyx once thrived - and through this, in our own small way perhaps we can make a contribution to the richness of our own culture in the 21st Century. John Kenny
Buy this album now CD: £12.00 + p&p
This CD recording is something special! It has been made possible with the very generous support of United Distillers, who have commissioned all the compositions presented here. Proceeds from the recording’s sale will go to Carnyx & Co., a charitable company set-up in 1997 to foster a wide range of Carnyx inspired research, education and performance projects in Scotland and internationally.
As soon as I began to work with John Creeds magnificent reconstruction of the Deskford Carnyx, all of us involved with the project realised that we were dealing with something quite extraordinary: a legendary 2,000 year old War Horn which had come to life, not only as a show-case replica, but also as a beautiful instrument with a unique voice, to speak afresh in the modern world.
But more than this; the Carnyx is a key which can unlock possibilities far beyond its own potential, either as a musical instrument or an archaeological artifact - it is a potent symbol of regeneration and reconciliation, representing a common cultural heritage, which can touch and stimulate people of widely divergent race and creed.
The reconstruction of the Carnyx and the projects developed around it so far, have brought together archeologist, silver-smith, musicologists, composers, and performers. Along with the premiere and tour of Forest ~ River ~ Ocean, as part of the Highland Festival in May 1996, a highly successful education and development project, directed by Nigel Osborne, brought children from many isolated communities into contact with the Carnyx. This stimulated them to compose their own music through a process of discovery of their own local environment and history, revealed through archaeology.
The entire project was sponsored by United DistIllers. Carnyx & Co. a committed to continuing and extending this process, both by enabling the commission and performance of challenging new work, and by setting up creative discovery projects within communities that are divided by political, ethnic, or religious intolerance.
We intend to commission the manufacture of more instruments, and to pass on the techniques of playing. In the process, more will be discovered about the rich and varied cultures in which the Carnyx once thrived - and through this, in our own small way, perhaps we can make a contribution to the richness of our own culture in the 21 st. Century. John Kenny
1-2-3-4 THROAT John
The Gathering: Frances Lynch - soprano, John Kenny - carnyx, Bassain Abdul-Salam - percussion
This is the strangest combination for which I have ever written music; but I must take the blame myself, as I instigated the reconstruction of the Carnyx. When John Kenny invited me to write a work for Soprano, Carnyx, and Percussion, I was delighted to accept. I called the piece Throat because the Carnyx is a kind of extension of the voice; and some of the percussion instruments, especially the bells and gongs, have voices of their own. I have mostly confined myself to a very simple scale that fits with the notes available on the Carnyx; and I have tried to write something that reflects ancient characteristics in our music.
The first movement is a Fanfare for a Pictish King. The Carnyx immediately precedes the Picts and was almost certainly known to them, and was no doubt used to greet a king with a suitable amount of drama. The soprano part is high and demanding, and the syllables she sings are derived from vocables with an ancient history, but still used in Gaelic singing.
The second movement is called They wish the Sun goodnight. Its is a very simple, calm and expressive statement; the sun no doubt being as much a god to them as it is to us now.
The third movement is called Lament. It is based on the ancient Gaelic pre-Christian lament known as the pi-li-li-liu. This used to be sung with emotional abandon; there was no modesty about grief in the past. I have tried to reflect this in the virtuosic vocal line. The percussion consists only of cowbells, similar to those used by early Celtic Christians for their own ceremonies.
The final movement is called They go to War and speaks for itself. The name of Nechtan, a great Pictish king, is invoked. But otherwise the soprano sings only harsh syllables. The movement is a naked display of triumphant power, produced by a tiny but imposing ensemble. John Purser
John Purser’s works cover a wide range, from a television opera The Undertaker to a Prelude & Toccata for solo guitar. Among his many orchestral works, Epitaph 1916 and The Stone of Destiny are best known. His chamber music Includes a cello sonata, a violin sonata, and a string quartet (1981). He is also the author of several radio plays, three books of poetry, an award-winning radio series of 30 hour-long episodes, Scotland’s Music. He lectures and broadcasts on the history of Scottish Music.
5 Ran Na madadth - Allaidh (Cry of the Wolf) John Kenny
During October 1997, whilst on tour throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with The Gathering, in a program that included, both the world premiere of John Purser’s Throat and also of my own earlier composition Voice of the Carnyx (the title track on the CD BML0I6 Voice of the Carnyx), I found myself preoccupied with the program for this CD, and felt the need to produce a piece in contrast, not only to the pieces by Nigel Osborne and John Purser, but also to my own Voice
I was also finding myself irritated by the oft-repeated, glib commentary that ‘the Carnyx is played like a didgeridoo’. There is justification for this remark, of course, because I frequently employ techniques drawn from the didgeridoo in my playing of the Carnyx, most noticeably circular breathing. But this does not make the Carnyx a Celtic didgeridoo, and in Ran Na Madadh - Allaidh I deliberately set out to keep all the material in single breath phrases. Also, I wanted to explore less violent, more contemplative ideas than in my earlier piece.
This work is an exploration of the purest sounds I can obtain on the instrument, and their systematic colouration with degrees of vibrato, pitch bending, addition of voice to the tone, inhaled tones, varied tonguing techniques, and control of the amount of air allowed into the pure note.
The title of the piece, and the sound world I try to evoke, came to me during a solitary walk through the harsh, windswept wilderness of Cape Wrath. Here there are no roads, and virtually no people. Caithness and Sutherland, together comprise a vast glacial flow country of 22,000 square miles, with only 13,000 inhabitants, making it the most sparsely populated area in Europe. It is easy to feel very alone, at the mercy of the elements, and easy to understand why animist cults developed to appease the powerful and malevolent gods and spirits, which seemed to manifest themselves in nature.
From time immemorial one of the most feared, mysterious and yet horribly tangible spirits, recognised by all Europeans, is the Wolf. So I have tried to identify with that spirit, to capture my own fantasy in an animist piece. It is an incantation, both to emulate and to appease that spectral beast. John Kenny
6 FLIGHT — a spontaneous improvisation Yggdrasil Quartet/John Kenny
From the first rehearsals of Forest ~ River ~ Ocean in 1996, the Yggdrasil Quartet and I established a firm friendship, as well as a practical professional relationship. Its the kind of relationship that means you can take chances or make a mistake in a performance, and be confident that your colleagues have their ears on stalks, ready to respond.
In November 1997 we worked intensely for several days to prepare for several performances of Forest ~ River ~ Ocean and Edward McGuire’s beautiful Zephyr, for trombone and string quartet, in Aberdeen’s Cowdray Hall, and at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, leading to recording for this CD. We found that our session on the Osborne was completed with time to spare, so I suggested that we keep recording and improvise, just for fun.
There was no prior discussion - we were all in good spirits, and, relieved from the pressure and concentration of trying to play Nigel’s piece accurately, ideas just popped out and got passed around in a game of musical catch-who-can. This is the first, and so far, the only time we have improvised together. Sometimes it is great just to play together for the hell of it, and let the music take Flight. John Kenny
YOU DIDN’T LAUGH, YOU’D HAVE
TO CRY John
John Kenny - Trombone / Alphorn / Voice John Whiting - live sound transformation
I have performed in Russia frequently since the mid eighties, both as a recitalist and in theatre, and enjoy close contact with several Russian artists - so I have been able to experience for myself the mood on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg at regular intervals during the past decade. I have watched the mood of ordinary people pass from hope to expectation, general elation, then a rapid slide into disillusion, anger and cynicism.
The Russian people have had it rough, abused by church and feudalism, oppressed by the state, and currently abandoned to unrestrained capitalism. But, life carries on - and one of the most effective mechanisms for dealing with the harsh realities, of every day life, is to cultivate a sense of humour, which the Russians certainly have, black and rich in irony.
Upon returning from a recent visit to Moscow, I had to go immediately to a recording session with John Whiting. John and I have been working together for seventeen years at the time of writing. On the way to the studio, he asked me what it was like over in Russia. I said ‘It you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry’. Then two hours later, we found ourselves improvising this piece, which now has that title. John Kenny
~ RIVER ~ OCEAN Nigel
Yggdrasil String Quartet, John Kenny - Carnyx, John Whiting - Sound Projection
From time to time something we dig up from the ground or find on a seashore acquires an unexpected meaning from us. I’m reminded of EE Cummings’ Maggie and Milly and Molly and May who go down to the beach to play, but end up discovering objects and creatures which somehow embody the whole of their lives. As Cummings has it ‘it’s always ourselves we find in the sea’. Such is the Deskford Carnyx. This instrument, fashioned in the form of a wild boar’s head, dug up in a field near Fochabers on the Moray Firm, has emerged from the shadows of an ancient Pictish past to become something unexpectedly meaningful for music at the end of the twentieth century.
There may be several reasons for this unlikely turn of events, but one is the Carnyx’s dangerous intimacy with both the closeness of the sound of a Carnyx to the calls of wild creatures and wild nature, and at the same time the instruments beautiful harmonic instabilities which constantly reveal the inner nature of it’s sound like a prism splitting light.
With these thoughts in mind, I recorded the sounds of nature around the Deskford field where the Carnyx was discovered: the wind in the woods at Deer Hill, the fast flowing Deskford Burn, the estuaries and the majestic sea of the Moray Firth at Tugnet and Culien Bay (resonating in places with the same pedal E flat as the Carnyx itself). These sounds appear unedited in this piece, like sound photographs. But they also shape the instrumental material around them. Every rhythm, harmony and melodic fragment the Carnyx and String Quartet play, is drawn directly from these natural sounds, mixed together with the sounds and rhythms of the Gaelic language. F-R-O was specially commissioned for the Highland Festival in 1996 and funded by United Distillers. Nigel Osborne
Nigel Osborne has worked extensively in areas of community music, music therapy, and music for the disabled. His Music in the Community course at Edinburgh University, where he is Reid Professor of composition, won the Queen’s Award, presented at Buckingham Palace in February 1997. Osborne is a composer who has worked extensively in opera, dance, orchestral music and film, including collaborations with many of the principal European orchestras, theatres and dance companies. His opera, The Electrification of the Soviet Union, directed by Peter Sellars, was premiered at Glyndbourne. He has written and produced the opera of the Yugoslavian conflict, Evropa, which was staged at the National Theatre of Sarajevo in 1995.
The Deskford Carnyx is the head the head of an Iron Age lip-reed instrument. Found in the north-east of Scotland around 1816, it has long been recognised as a masterpiece of Celtic art, shaped to resemble a wild boar with its upturned snout and decoration which mirrors the folds of akin around a boar’s face.
It is a complex composite construction, wrought from sheet bronze and brass. This helps us date it because brass is not native to Scotland: it represents recycled Roman metal. Along with other evidence, this suggests a date between c.100 and 300AD for its construction.
Today only the head survives: it lacks the erect crest, ears, enamelled eyes, wooden tongue and long cylindrical tube which it once had. For evidence of these we must turn to other examples.
The Carnyx was once common throughout much of Europe, although only five fragments are known to us, of which Deskford is the finest. It flourished between 300BC and 200AD, and found widespread use in Britain, France, parts of Germany, eastwards to Rumania, and beyond. Bands of Celtic mercenaries took it on their travels: Carnyxes were present at the attack on the Greek sanctuary at Delphi in 279BC; Carnyces defied Julius Caesar in Gaul; Carnyces faced Claudius when he invaded Britain. They are often represented on a sculpture in India, proof of the far-flung connections of the Iron Age world. Yet they are not, as is often stated, purely a Celtic instrument they were also used among the Dacians, in modern Rumania. The term Celtic is, in any case, a difficult one. The idea of a Pan-European Celtic culture is a myth: rather, aspects of art and technology were shared over wide areas among diverse cultures. The Carnyx was one facet of this.
Clearly the Carnyx can only be understood in an international context. It is to Europe and beyond that we turn for parallels. Yet it must also be studied in its local context if we are to get the full picture. Although it is a type found across Europe. this a specifically local variant. The decoration is typical of metalwork in north-east Scotland at the time, where there was flourishing tradition of fine bronze-working.
The local context can also help us understand it’s fate. The original account of its discovery records that it was found at the bottom of a moss. Excavations by the National Museums of Scotland, over the past four years, directed by the writer, have examined this findspot. We can now show, beyond reasonable doubt that the Carnyx ended it’s life as a sacrifice, a votive offering to some unknown god. There is a widespread belief that wet locations were sacred places where you could contact the gods. Valuable finds often occur in peat bogs as gifts to win a deity’s favour.
At Deskford we have evidence of a series of offering made in pits cut into the peat: smashed pottery, joints of meat, a cache of charm-stones. These are the offerings of the everyday, the tokens of a farming people asking their gods for good weather or thanking them for a fine harvest. The Carnyx was more than this: it must have been a spectacular sacrifice, at a time of great danger or great celebration. Before being offered to the gods, it was ‘killed’ by dismantling it, and perhaps only the head was placed in the bog.
The impetus for this research came from John Purser and his desire to a reconstruction Carnyx. With funding from the Glenfiddich Living Scotland Awards and the national Museums of Scotland, this was carried out by John Creed, The design for the reconstruction was based on the extensive European parallels mentioned above. Although surviving examples are few, there are many depictions of Carnyces, especially on Roman triumphal sculpture and coinage: the legions encountered it in battle, and thought it so strange that it was used as an emblem of the tribes they fought. This gives us a wide range of comparative material, of varying quality. Some factors in the reconstruction are inevitably speculative: the original length and diameter of the tube, for instance, is unknown, although the dimensions fall within the known range. More awkward is the nature of the mouthpiece, for which evidence is poor. However the reconstruction is a as accurate as we can make it on current knowledge.
What did we learn from it? We leaned that a combination of archaeology, craftsmanship and music is a powerfully creative one in deciphering such fragments. We learned about the effort involved in making these instruments; it took four hundred hours to craft the reconstruction, showing what prized possessions they must have been. And we now know something of what it sounded like. A reconstruction can never recreate the sounds of the past: apart from imponderables in the instrument design, we know nothing of Iron Age views of music. However, it can evoke these sounds, and show what could have been played on such instruments. As the contents of this CD show, the possibilities are greater that anyone could have believed. It makes a fitting tribute to the craftsmen and musicians of almost 2000 years ago.
Frazer Hunter, Dept. of Archaeology, National Museums of Scotland
Illustrations © National Museums of Scotland.
The Gathering is an ensemble formed by Frances Lynch and John Kenny to explore their mutual love of music and theatre in the context of challenging musical and technical language. They first encountered each-others work at the Kishinev Festival, Moldova, in 1994 and found extraordinary parallels between their two instruments - voice and trombone - and their performance styles, that they could not contain their enthusiasm to join forces and expand into new territories - adding percussion and electronics to widen the available sound world. For the performances on this compact disc they are joined by Bassam Abdul-Salam, percussion with John Whiting, electronics.
The Yggdrasil Quartet was formed in 1990 by four Swedish musicians, after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm and with the leader of the late Amadeus Quartet, Norbert Brainin. In 1995 a 4-year project was created by a partnership between the University and City of Aberdeen and the Scottish Arts Council for a quartet to reside and perform in Aberdeen for several months each season. The Swedish BIS label recording of the Berwald quartets, was short listed for a 1997 Gramophone Award. Their playing has prompted many composers to write for them, including Nigel Osborne. Future commissions include a trumpet quintet from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
John Kenny was born in 1957 Birmingham. As a trombonist, though mainly known as a specialist in contemporary music, his interests include modern jazz and early music, he also works as an actor, and is active as a composer, having received commissions from the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and in 1989 was Strathclyde Composer in Residence with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. After studying with Harold Nash at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then on an Arts Council bursary with James Fulkerson, Kenny worked as an actor/musician with the Bubble Theatre in London, then made his debut as a soloist in the Purcell Room in 1982. A year later he was prize winner at the Gaudeamus International Competition in Holland, and has since given recitals and broadcast worldwide, both as soloist and with groups, such as, Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt, Ensemble Advance of Cologne, and Ensembles Aitemance and 2e2m in Paris. In 1984 he was a founder member of the TNT Music Theatre Company. He is a guest lecturer at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, and a professor at both the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he specialises in contemporary music, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where he specialises in the interpretation of early music.
Frances Lynch’s first major solo appearance was in Judith Weir’s A Night at the Chines Opera, with Kent Opera. Since then she has gone on to perform a wide variety of styles including Mozart, Monteverdi, Finnissy. Berlo, Kagel, Boulez, and Poulenc. In recent years her work has centered on two main projects: I x electric voice, a music-theatre project featuring works for solo voice and live electronics which she has toured throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and the Far East; and the award winning Vocem Electric Voice Theatre, which has commissioned works from many composers, writers and artists, performing on television and radio, and produced numerous community and educational events. In 1997 Vocem collaborated with composer Alejandro Vinau, and librettist Craig Raine, to produce Rashomon the Opera for the opening of ZKM’s new media technology centre in Karisruhe, Germany.
Bassam Abdul-Salam was born in the North German port of Kiel, of Palestinian parents. He studied percussion at the Freiburg Hochschule with Bernard Wulff and has performed with many leading German ensembles, notably, Ensemble Modern and Junge Deutche Philharmonic. He has a particular interest in Latin American music and has worked to develop instruments and sound environments as part of his passion for electro-acoustic music, working extensively with the sound sculptures of German artist Klaus Gundchen. He is a founder member of Polarity Percussion Ensemble and a director of Nomad, an electro-acoustic music theatre ensemble.
John Whiting has been Sound Designer for Electric Phoenix, London Sinfonietta, and Glyndebourne Opera, as well as providing sound projection for the Kronos Quartet, the Hilliard Ensemble, Frankfurt Opera, Music Theatre Wales, and dozens of major symphony orchestras from Leningrad to Los Angeles. He has worked as electro-acoustic collaborator in duo recitals with John Kenny, James Wood, Roif Gelhaar, William 0 Smith, John Potter and many others. In his London studios, October Sound, he has produced prerecorded performance tapes for Henri Pouseur, John Gage, Nigel Osborne, Luciano Berlo, James Wood, Neely Bruce and other European and American composers. His recordings appear on many of the major classical record labels.
John Creed studied at Liverpool College of Art and qualified as a designer and silversmith. He worked in the trade in Sheffield and the South of England before opening a studio in Leeds. In 1971 he moved to Glasgow to lecture at the School of Art in the Department of Silversmithing and Jewellery. As a craftsman in the team who created the first reconstruction of the Carnyx, he has been excited by the enthusiasm generated to create as perfect a reconstruction as possible. All the skills of the silversmith have been utilised to match those of our Celtic masters in order to accurately recreate the shape already known and to develop it as an authentic musical instrument. But this is only a beginning of a Pictish revival: a second Carnyx is about to be born.
United Distillers’ sponsorship programs in Scotland have always reflected the cultural roots of the Scotch Whisky industry, involving communities and demonstrating a sense of adventure and innovation. But, even for United Distillers, commissioning a major new work for the Deskford Carnyx was a challenging proposition. The Carnyx was an obscure instrument, recovered from the far past, but with no known body of music behind it. However, the company’s faith In composer Nigel Osborne was well rewarded in the final shape of Forest ~ River ~ Ocean premiered at the inaugural Highland Festival in 1996. Following this success it was only natural to support John Kenny’s request for a second, complimentary work - and Throat by John Purser, was the result, premiered on the Isle of Skye and touring the Highlands & Islands in 1997. Since its discovery in 1816 the Deskford Carnyx has challenged archaeologists to define its form and function, musicologists and silversmiths to reconstruct it, and musicians to create new work for it. The challenge is now with you, the listener!
Details of John Kenny’s compositions,
recordings, music archaeology.
John Kenny performs and records on Conn 88h tenor and Conn 36h alto trombones
Cover Picture: Mary Kenny
Recorded: Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh
Recording Engineer: Philip Stokes and John Whiting
Editing, Mastering & Artwork: Mike Skeet, FRC, 01908 502836
Exabyte & CD Authoring: CRS, 01424 436426
CD Production: CRS 01424436426
National Museums of Scotland
Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh
All rights of the producer and of the owner of the recordings reproduced re reserved. Unauthorized copying hiring: lending: public performance and broadcasting are prohibited.
FORTIES RECORDING COMPANY: 44 CHALLACOMBE: FURZTON: MILTON KEYNES: MK4 1DP (01908)502836
|Instruments:||Carnyx / Trombone / Alphorn (some with String Quartet)|
|Label:||British Music Label|
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