My primary research interest is the treasure trove of repertoire in the “Campbell Canntaireachd” (1782–1819). These manuscripts use a unique notation system developed from the teaching chant for pibroch:
A complete recording of the “Campbell Canntaireachd” 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 unwritten traditions 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 (? 1690s) 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 ‘Grounds and variations: memory and creativity in the instrumental traditions of northern Britain, 1550–1750’, I am interested in restoring orality to the performance practice and transmission of pibroch. This is part of an inter-institutional, AHRC-funded project, ‘Bass culture in Scottish Musical traditions’ led by David McGuinness of the University of Glasgow.
On the northern triplepipe, I cannot claim that what I play is medieval. However, almost all my research to date informs my creativity designing revival instruments and composing music for them.
Some of the publications chronicling or disseminating my research include: