Donald WG Lindsay and I have come to know each other over the last decade through the very small network of bagpipers pushing the boundaries, capabilities, and future possibilities of the bagpipes and bagpipe music. His recent explorations in smallpipe and chanter design are seen through the lens of a 21st century visionary. His innovative instrumental concepts, or Lindstruments, are springboards for creating entirely new kinds of musics not possible on the bagpipe before, yet they still possess the ergonomics to play traditional music.
History of Sleep is Lindsay’s latest album with experimental electric guitarist, Richard Youngs. It was released in September 2020 on Good Energy Records. Pairing the bagpipe with one of my favorite instruments, the electric guitar, is a choice move, as the electric guitar is very suitable to working musically with the idiomatic sustain and volume of a bagpipe. The compatibility in tone of Lindsay’s Lind-System smallpipes and Youngs’s guitar with effects is astoundingly organic: that both play essentially ancient instruments made anew with technology brings a poignant expression fitting to contemporary life. The album as a whole, however, develops its musical ideas in a way that resembles both freely improvised music and ambient and minimalist music composition. Each track sits with a clear idea through which the sound and expression are given focus in a present-moment bliss, not unlike our best dreams while we are asleep.
Opening with an abrupt analog start-up sound, like a tape-reel firing up just after hitting the record button, Lindsay and Young frame their journey from the history of recorded music. Track one (from whence the album title comes), ‘History of Sleep’, presents a slowly trading counterpoint of long lyrical tones from both Lindsay and Youngs (via E-bow or similar effect). These long, slowly unraveling lines bask in sublime consonance and buzzy passing tones, ever broadening in scope, as if continually ascending above and beyond a metaphorical ancestral landscape. In this landscape we see unfolding past and future: ourselves along with our companions towards an unknown destination, compelling as it is spiritually atoning and cleansing. This music spirals on as if an emotional climax were forever in the horizon, yet each step brings newly present bliss.
The second track, ‘June’, starts with a plaintive, catchy and spacious guitar ostinato with a classic, twangy electric guitar tone. Over this vamp, Lindsay further explores the vast range of his new instrument to great lyrical effect. Both play with a sound range of purely sonorous lines to intentionally expressive dirty moments, pushing their instruments to the brink of noise to raise tension in the wave-like cycles feeling. Eventually, Lindsay’s aria gels with the guitar riff, like a gradual agreement has been achieved, to the chagrin of the pipes, which make a wonderful 1970s car-chase-style screech to a stop.
In ‘International Bagpipe Day’, Youngs’ guitar returns to its wide range of sustains and textural effects, bringing back the sound-bath in which Lindsay’s pipes splash. Youngs’ guitar delay loops flicker along while Lindsay blips traditional embellishments. Effervescent bursts ripple on the surface of this deep, sonic cleanse. The combination of sustains and blips create a soothing yet enchanting shimmer, whose undulations lull one to linger in a dream space before submerging fully into a slumber.
‘Dorrington’ has a similar inside-the-instrument feeling to the start-up, and soon after, Lindsay states the topic melody, and selects running variations from the early 1700s William Dixon tune, ‘Dorrington’. This is the point of departure from where the duo begins their sonic adventures. Let’s say it is a journey though time, guided by Chrono-Cosmonauts Youngs and Lindsay with their most modern axes slicing through time and space. Youngs guitar effects hum along Lindsay’s drone with near-psychedelic tremulous phasing, warbling, and timbral enveloping. William Dixon himself is effectively abducted and brought away into the musical mystery and eternal nature of dream time.
After the chanter drops out, Youngs takes a solo on guitar, further sculpting his sound-bed, gradually broadening out from the drone of the bagpipe. Lindsay returns with snippets of ‘Dorrington’ interspersed with long tones, and joins the overall sonic blend, approaching a singular voice. The composition continues to build and propel interest, and Lindsay plays a few jig-patterned solos going between foreground and background of the tonal picture. This keeps the 20-minute vessel of a track moving before the pipes finally die a wheezy, sonic death.
History of Sleep warrants many listens. I found it valuable from a piper’s perspective in both what a piper could hear and learn in Lindsay’s and Youngs’s music. I recommend listening to this loudly, and also quietly when dozing off. If there were any literal history of sleep, its books would have infinite pages, as sleep and dream are where we process the past, and also envision the creation of the future. Like a dream, this album can also bring the listener to both past and future. I highly recommended the album to any listener.
* Find History of Sleep and Good Energy Records at BandCamp!
- Matthew Welch is a California-based piper, experimental composer and performer. He is probably best known through his ensemble, Blarvuster. Go to kotekanrecords.com