My primary research interest is the treasure trove of repertoire in Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797. This uses a unique notation system developed from the teaching chant for pibroch:
A complete recording of this Instrumental Book would fill 21 CDs. Like Gregorian chant, the music has been refined by oral transmission and is characterized by melodic ecstasy and formal dignity. It contains much that died out in the 19th century and is found in no other source.
My interest in grounds as a method of composition in the oral traditions of Britain and Ireland led to an investigation of the harmonic grounds of ceòl beag. This set the context for my interpretation of Stirling Head 20, covered widely by the media in August 2009, including BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Good Morning America and The Daily Mail.
I have collaborated with Julian Goodacre on the critical reproduction of period Highland bagpipes since 1999. Our reproduction of Iain Dall MacKay’s pipe chanter (? 1680s) reintroduces an intonation striking to modern ears but traditional in Highland piping before the 1960s: it features a fourth roughly 20 cents sharper than pure. I played this chanter at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival (read the review in The Scotsman).
In October 2012, I began a PhD at the University of Cambridge supervised by Susan Rankin. Provisionally entitled ‘The craft of a Scottish Gaelic piper: a study of Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797‘, my thesis has two counterparts: a CD released by Delphian Records, Spellweaving, and a digital library of source materials, altpibroch.com.
On ancient pipes, I am a composer introducing new sounds to contemporary society; I make no claim that the results are Medieval, Ancient Greek, Mesopotamian or Paleolithic. The discipline of trying not to ignore or contradict the ancient evidence is one I relish. A particular interest is the performance of ancient literature that would have been accompanied by musical instruments, presenting multiple solutions, all compelling and plausible.
Publications chronicling or disseminating my research include:
- Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Newsletter (Autumn 2016)
- Piping Today 61 (2012)
- Piping Today 38 (2009)
- Early Music Today (August/September 2007)
- Piping Today 21 (2006)