When Mountains Meet - The Music
Blog piece by Anne Wood.
Originally, I planned to make a piece of music to mark the journey my Dad and I had made in getting to know each other over decades within Pakistani and UK culture. That was my plan when I signed up for Kath Burlinson’s Authentic Artist workshop.
A couple of years later with R&D funding under our belts (thank you), several lockdowns which allowed time for experiments, writing, and working with collaborators in UK and Pakistan, we have some work we can share, and many more strands to develop.
I wanted to find a musical language that could work for the piece as it moved between South Asia and Scotland, so I started lessons in Hindustani (North Indian classical) vocal music so I could learn the raags from the inside. This continues, slow and steady and is a journey in itself.
I hoped my practice of North Indian music would let it naturally seep into the music I was writing, but I was also listening to Highland pibroch (memories of my piper grandfather), Arabic pop from the Karachi streets, and the Strauss waltzes that my dad loved to sing with me, as our party piece at polite dinner parties, bellowing them ecstatically at the top of his voice!
So there were a few mountains to meet in the score.
Happily, there’s a common element: drones. I set myself some compositional starting points: a Gaelic air or pibroch over a tanpura drone, a Scottish reel with North Indian teental rhythmic cycle, then rewriting the tune to fit a less symmetrical tal. A strathspey on the sitar.
Lockdown forced us all onto Zoom and my first online musical collaboration. Working with Lahore based sitarist Rakae Jamil was a delight. Rakae brought his sublime playing to several tracks, both recording parts I’d written and improvising solos.
In Alap Map, I wrote a slow Gaelic style theme over a tanpura drone in which the sitar and fiddle take alternate lines. Originally it was this way so we could perform it live on Zoom – it was a thrill to do this live from Ullapool and Lahore! John McGeoch made an animation which turns a lichen covered Highland rock into maps of Pakistan and Scotland and mountains, eventually fading back into the natural rock.
Continuing the wild landscape inspiration, I wanted to bring a sense of ancient land, rock twisting, continent shifting, mountain building geological time into the piece as we grapple with issues of perceived difference among cultures and people.
And the timeless feeling you get of oneness with the land when you’re walking in wild landscape. Thinking about the land and the rocks holding their own stories, and after a good few geology walks and talks (I live in NW Highland Geopark after all, it’s what we do),
I wrote Schist:
Afnan Iftikhar arrived for an in-person R&D week in Scourie in farthest NW Highlands after a two day journey from Middlesbrough, and brought his powerful, beautiful vocal skills to the project, and Rick Wilson drove from North Wales with a car full of percussion including a slate marimba and a whole lot of magic.
John McGeoch sliced some metal fisherman’s buoys in half to create bells which he and Rick played together to great effect in our rehearsal room of a converted Highland church.
And when co-director Niloo-Far Khan stepped forward to perform it was great to have her strong singing voice join Afnan’s.
So I’m all fired up now. We’ve made a start. The Hindustani singing practice continues, often as I drive through mountainous Highland landscapes on my way to teach in remote Highland schools. They work well together: the drama of the geologically rich landscape and Hindustani music. Which is great, as they represent the cultures within me and my tussle and search for identity. Mountains meet music.