The past is always with us, remembered or not. The past etches itself in faces and folklore, in the curve of the land and the cuttings of the sea. And while most of our memories fall away, many are worth retelling and preserving. This is the premise of Blair Coron‘s reverent Cairn.
This is part two of the project, the first a short film (seen below). The heart of the recording is a series of archival interviews provided by the School of Scottish Studies. Coron builds his pieces around these words, the past echoing into the present. At first, the words are soft, the music restrained; but eventually the conversations grow more immediate, the ensemble lush. The album has a dual tone: gazing through an aural window into the past produces wonder that is offset by deep melancholy, knowing that the voices are stilled and the way of life is gone.
“Calum Ruadh Nicolson, Bard of Skye” is the first one to be interviewed. The elderly gentleman demonstrates a great self-awareness and contagious joie de vive, seeming at peace with himself and the world. The music grows to a celebratory peak, then recedes to piano, as if in reflection or humility. Anne Forbes speaks of great fun in humble amusements: the hills, the barn, the wooden barn, the happy life, seeing the boats come in. She is not too old to remember love with gratitude. The strings seem an extension of her words, the piano flirting with the violin. The contrast with modern life is dramatic, the chasm wide.
Even when the conversations take place in the local dialect, the relaxed tone is clear. The listener imagines a handmade table and a shared pot of tea. No one is in a rush: interviewer, interviewee, musician. This unhurried sense is all but lost, but can still be recovered through sound. A slow ode to birdwatching gives way to the sound of the birds themselves. John Hewit is enamored with the dawn chorus, encouraging others to greet it as well. Be patient, and small wonders will appear.
Coron duets with the past, creating aural illusions. The birds of 1951 are long gone. Younger generations have inherited – or sold – their grandparents’ homes. “Oh, I could tell you plenty of stories, you know, in my boyhood days, cause I used to listen to the old folks,” intones one of the last narrators. “Cèilidh” is a collage of voices, recalling the old practice of sharing stories, poems, song and dance in an intimate gathering. Another voice recalls, “These were wonderful days, and these were very troubled days.” The music reaches its final peak. “When I go, I don’t see anyone else coming after me,” laments the final speaker. If the listener grows wistful, all is not lost; these times may return, should we desire to reconnect, not only with the old ways, but with each other. Coron’s project is an invitation to revisit and relearn. (Richard Allen)