‘Cairn’ by Blair Coron

Cairn is the second album from Blair Coron, a composer, songwriter and musician from the village of Springfield in Scotland. 

This new work is firmly rooted in his Scottish heritage, utilising recorded voices from Scotland’s past in a marriage of contemporary folk and electronica to create a soundscape that ebbs and flows wistfully from track to track, evoking the passing of time, life and traditions.

The voices have been taken from sound archives of interviews of those living in the Highlands and Islands during the early 20th century discussing local legends, their childhood reminiscences and traditions that have now passed into almost-forgotten history, brought again to life in this novel context.

Sources are The School of Scottish Studies, Tobar an Dualchais, and The National Trust for Scotland’s Canna House.

This has obviously been a carefully approached labour of love, with painstaking attention paid to musically complementing the voices and trying to create an appropriate atmospheric context for each track. As Blair has mentioned, the experience of lockdown has played a very big part in this process. 

The voices come from residents of places such as Skye, Caithness, South Uist, with a language rich and very much of its time and place, carrying an expressiveness that often belies the simplicity of the life of these folk. 

The main instrumentation consists of piano, fiddle, cello and what seems to me to be a Hardanger D’amore Nordic violin, all played by Blair and his associates in this recording carried out in a Scottish cottage.  Ambient electronic washes and pads quietly fill the spaces without being intrusive, adding to the colour of the musical palette.

As a sound engineer and producer myself I admire that the artefactual noises from the piano soundboard, such as hammer movement and hammer return to the felt pads, have been retained and utilised to give a feeling of intimacy and proximity to the playing, as opposed to the distraction they can often be in a recording. This in turn gives a harp-like feel to the piano, a unique signature sound that suits every piece in which it is used, and highly reminiscent of some of Catriona Mackay’s solo works such as ‘’Harponium’ and ‘Starfish’.

Overall, in the music there is a sense of time and tradition lost, a truly melancholy feeling for a Scotland that is now gone, and for which we are all the poorer. 

What is truly remarkable is the vision of Blair Coron in the creation of the piece, a deep maturity despite his youth that reflects his belief and love of his environment and history, and in the accompanying YouTube video, a taster and ‘making of’ the album, he speaks of the Scottish soul in a way that someone in the next century may perhaps use in a future echo of his own work.

The video is a must to fully understand the work and to introduce it fully in context, and I feel should be experienced prior to absorbing the music itself.

My own favourite is the beautiful ‘Birdsong on Canna, Midsummer 1951’, where a distant Thrush and the piano duet 70 years apart. Haunting and exquisite.

I have long been a favourite of ambient instrumental music, from the 70s work of people like Beaver and Krause, and most of all Brian Eno, which this music most resembles in its atmospherics, particularly ‘Music For Films’ and ‘Music For Airports’, and I feel it sits comfortably and confidently well within the genre.

‘Cairn’ is an apt name for this work. A cairn is built from individual stones left by travellers, being built as they come and go over time, each with their own story, mirrored by this collection of reminiscences of past lives live. 

This is music for quieter moments, for contemplation and relaxation, and a balm for a troubled soul.

The CD is available on all the usual streaming services as a download or stream, and physical copies can be purchased via Blair’s Bandcamp page.

Enjoy

Eamonn Keyes

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