The Gathering: A Zoetrope

This cylindrical zoetrope contains a piper slowly striding as he plays; the sound of the tune emanates from the bagpipes and rises upward as the tune progresses.

The tune represented here is the pibroch The End of the Little Bridge, a call for the clans MacLeod and Cameron to gather; stoking courage in the face of danger.

Pibroch consists of a chorus (called the "ground", or ùrlar) alongside musical variations on the themes set in the ground. Each tune starts with the ground, followed by a variation, the ground is played again, and then another variation and so on. The variations tend to become more focused, more repetitive. While this sounds like a simplification, as the variations progress, the phrases contain ever more complex fingerwork and embellishments by the piper. The ground allows the listener and performer a brief respite from the intensity – before beginning the next variation.

The call to gather becomes more and more insistent as the tune progresses: the musical motif becomes more focused, the notes become higher and higher, and the tempo quickens.

Music inherently inhabits the time dimension; my work prior to this aimed to compress the total experience of a tune into a single static image. While still concerned with translating an aural experience into a primarily visual experience, this exploration of animation has allowed me to reintroduce time as a variable in communicating the feeling of this tune.

Zoetropes (Victorian animation predating film) are a surprisingly apt medium for art interpreting pibroch. Pipers traditionally walk in a circle as they play, and a circle is inherently required by this form of animation. Pibroch is known for its mesmeric qualities; zoetropes also capture and hold viewers in a hypnotic manner.

With thanks to:

Barnaby Brown has been nourishing the growth of the whole pibroch ecosystem since 1997. He is a serial collaborator at the intersection of avant-garde composition, Very Early music performance, cultural inclusion (decolonising curricula), and public engagement. He is currently editing his PhD thesis, "The Craft of Pibroch: a study of the technical language of Scottish Gaelic pipers".

The Pibroch Network curates a digital resource devoted to the classical music of the Scottish Highland bagpipe.