When I received a copy of Mac-Talla Nan Creag from Forestry Commission Scotland archaeologist Matt Ritchie I was interested in hearing what had been produced. I had previously managed to see an insert from the Mac-Talla Nan Creag LP and was aware the work engaged with the laser scanning of several prehistoric archaeological sites by AOC Archaeology Group.
Four archaeological sites which have survived to this day from Scottish prehistory and are currently on land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland
Caisteal Grugaig an Iron Age Broch
Ormaig Neolithic rock-art
Bucharn Bronze-Age burial cairn
Kraiknish Iron Age dun
were subject to laser scans producing point cloud data which provided the basis of some of the artwork.
What I had seen before as outputs from the laser scan were some striking digital images from the survey of archaeological sites : but to be honest I was a bit doubtful as to whether the resulting music would be of merit.
and was immediately drawn in by the rhythmic tension of the first track NR 8720 9577 and then taken by the wonderful lyrics and vocals of ‘Where the Corries Hold the Snow’ (Track 2)
‘What is your idea of North,
to what places do you go,
to the lands beyond the Forth,
where the corries hold the snow’.
The album is a fine mix of electronica and traditional folk : blended with found sounds and marked nods to world music and esoterica. Tracks are in some cases primordial (Track 6 – EternalDawnAndGloaming) and in other cases, while in danger of touching on playful Scottish kitsch, instead produce a fresh cyclical dirge (Track 5 – Dearg Agus Dearg). Others evoke traditions of Gaelic song, the deeply soulful (Track 8 – 3rd Pass) (which I must confess produced tears : I have a soft spot for certain vocals), while others are reminiscent of how we may imagine shamanic chants from ceremonies past (Track 9 – Invocation). A chiming glitchy interlude of NG 8663 2508 (Track 14). The album finishes with the pulsing 18 minute epic Caisteal Grugaig (Track 16). Mac-Talla Nan Creag is beautiful and uplifting album, an interesting conduit to the remains of the past, to which I will listen to over and over…
There has also been the bonus of introducing me to the work of some wonderful musicians, Wounded Knee, Lord of the Isles, Other Lands and House of Traps : who appear to have worked collectively in the production of different tracks. It is this aspect of the process of making which is also of significance. Other forms of collective collaboration is something the heritage sector could benefit greatly from in terms of how we approach the production of outputs and outcomes. At times the heritage sector is highly formulaic and methodology driven. Thankfully there are increasing opportunities, and I would argue need, to develop new processes and forms of collaborative expression to better explore our complex relationship to the past and the vital role, in terms of place and identity, this has for our futures.
Mac-Talla Nan Creag is a great example of how the ongoing conversation with the heritage of our landscapes can be extended through creative practices. It is also an important reminder that through exploring the past we can produce more than academic knowledge through this conservation: only by the sharing and celebration of our archaeological and historic environment assets through different mediums can we grow their relevance.
Overall Mac-Talla Nan Creag as a collaborative musical response, to archaeological digitisation, with support by Forestry Commission Scotland to take such an approach, is to be commended. It would, however, be interesting to discuss with the musicians to what degree, and how, the experience of archaeology and its laser scan affected (if at all) their compositions?
In the meantime please go to Firecracker Recordings and treat yourself to Mac-Talla Nan Creag