The Gathering: The End of the Little Bridge
Canntaireachd (“counter-ack”), Gaelic for chanting, is a tradition for singing vocables to teach pibroch, the classical music of the Highland bagpipes. To preserve a dying tradition, the vocables for a collection of tunes were transcribed and published by Niel MacLeod of Gesto in 1828; however without hearing them sung, the musicality and meaning behind the text would be lost. An aim of my work is to use the tools of graphic design to bring this meaning back to the text.
Pibroch consists of a chorus (called the "ground", or ùrlar) alongside musical variations on the themes set in the ground. Each tune starts with the ground, followed by a variation, the ground is played again, and then another variation and so on. The variations tend to become more focused, more repetitive. While this sounds like a simplification, as the variations progress, the phrases contain ever more complex fingerwork and embellishments by the piper. The ground allows the listener and performer a brief respite from the intensity – before beginning the next variation.
The tune represented here is The End of the Little Bridge, a call for the clans MacLeod and Cameron to gather; stoking courage in the face of danger.
This cylindrical zoetrope contains a piper slowly striding as he plays; the sound of the tune emanates from the bagpipes and rises upward as the tune progresses. The musical motifs of this tune are highly repetitive and the 1828 text does not reveal the changes in pitch. I have used different colours to solve this problem, and different weights of text to indicate the relative length of time a note should be held. The call to gather becomes more and more insistent as the tune progresses: the musical motif becomes more focused, the notes become higher and higher, and the tempo quickens.
Music inherently inhabits the time dimension; my work prior to this aimed to compress the total experience of a tune into a single static image. While still concerned with translating an aural experience into a primarily visual experience, this exploration of animation has allowed me to reintroduce time as a variable in communicating the feeling of this tune.
Zoetropes (Victorian animation predating film) are a surprisingly apt medium for art interpreting pibroch. Pipers traditionally walk in a circle as they play, and a circle is inherently required by this form of animation. Pibroch is known for its mesmeric qualities; zoetropes also capture and hold viewers in a hypnotic manner.
With thanks to:
Barnaby Brown has been nourishing the growth of the whole pibroch ecosystem since 1997. He is a serial collaborator at the intersection of avant-garde composition, Very Early music performance, cultural inclusion (decolonising curricula), and public engagement. He is currently editing his PhD thesis, ‘The Craft of Pibroch: a study of the technical language of Scottish Gaelic pipers’.
The Pibroch Network curates a digital resource devoted to the classical music of the Scottish Highland bagpipe.