I’ve just started a new project in partnership with Timespan, a wonderful arts/heritage center in Helmsdale, a small village in the north of Scotland.
I’ll be spending some time in Helmsdale, with the ambitious aim of trying to record a snippet of sound from every musical instrument in the village. I’ll then edit all of these recordings and use them to make some new music.
I’m currently on my way back home after my first stint. It was very rewarding indeed, both in terms of the sounds I was able to record as well as the general welcoming warmth extended to my wife and me. Everyone was enthusiastic about the project, and I got all sorts of tips about various musical instruments hidden around the town. Whilst recording a piano in one home, the owners mentioned that there was a small chapel 9 miles out of town that had an antique pump organ. Naturally, I had to go have a look.
My wife and I hopped on our bikes the next day, and enjoyed a beautiful ride to Kildonan Farm, where we found the chapel and the fantastic American organ.
I made some recordings for the project and I couldn’t resist making a video of the old Seznec Bros tune “Promised Land”:
The song seemed fitting, as the chapel and churchyard is full of commemorations of the Highland Clearances, when hundreds of local farmers in Kildonan were forced off the land. Many of them emigrated to the promised land of Winnipeg, and the area retains strong links to Canada, with Canadian and Scottish flags both hanging in the chapel.
I’ve recently moved into an apartment with a funky old upright piano, and it’s super fun to play. To celebrate, here’s a video I’ve wanted to make for a while – Fat Fanny Stomp by Jim Clarke:
I’ve never been able to find out any info about Jim Clarke…the record was made in 1928 and it seems to be the only thing he recorded. You can hear the original here:
On that recording you hear him talk over the funny little chorus section, saying all sorts of hilarious things (gut it!) – but the piano playing is super funky as well. It somehow manages to be super minimalist and simple whilst still filling out nicely, and that strange chorus is a great breakdown. It’s a little blues gem, and something that stylistically just about straddles stride and boogie woogie.
If you’re looking for the score, you can find it in Barrelhouse and Boogie Piano – you can actually see the whole book as a pdf here (check page 41 for this tune). The book includes all of the lyrics from the original, though it curiously writes “Ho!” when he is clearly saying “Hold it!”. Hmm.
Anyway, I’ve made a MIDI file of the tune too, download it here if you’re interested or if you think it might help you. It’s a pretty easy little tune to play, but super rewarding and fun. My brother and I used to play it fairly often, I think we’ll have to get back into it.
After a super fun performance with my Fan Club in London at the Southbank Centre (which was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3), we will be performing this week in Edinburgh at the opening of the Edinburgh Art Festival on Thursday evening and on Friday in Glasgow for the PRS New Music Biennial.
In addition, the installation for Currents will be opening up to the public starting this Friday, and running for the duration of the Edinburgh Art Festival. It is comprised of 172 fans inside a Victorian police box which recreate the current wind conditions from six locations around the world. I’m quite excited to open that up to the public.
The police box is on the corner of Easter Road and Albion Road, EH7 5QJ, and will be open every day from the 1st-31st of August, 10am-6pm. More info on the EAF website.
The show in Glasgow is on Friday August 1st at 8:30pm in Glasgow Concert Halls, and it’s free. More information here.
Photo by Elliott Franks.
For this project I am taking hundreds of discarded computer CPU fans and turning them into both musical instruments and an installation in a police box in Edinburgh. This weekend sees the debut of the instruments in a performance at the Southbank Centre in London where I will be accompanied by Sam Beste and Hugh Jones. We are, of course, performing under the name Yann’s Fan Club. The performance is at 1pm in the Purcell Room. It is free but ticketed. Full details here.
This project is about distance and technology, and how that intersects with our constant striving towards change and growth.
The instruments are now finished and we have done some rehearsing. Here are a few pictures of the finished instruments we’ll be using.
The performance will be semi-improvised, with a structure dictated by live wind data from around the world. At regular intervals the fans will switch to recreate the current windspeed in one of five locations, ranging from St Johns, Newfoundland (one of the windiest cities on the planet), to the suburb of Bangkok where the majority of the fans were produced.
Here’s a small glimpse of some early rehearsals with Sam. It was rather hot in the room, the fans came in handy.
The instruments are made of thick plywood, which I cut using a CNC router at the DCA print studio. Many thanks go to Rob Jackson and the rest of the DCA staff for all their help.
Most of them are controlled using MIDI, so we will be using standard keyboards and drum machines to ‘play’ them. The electronics are made with Teensy microcontrollers and a set of power circuits for switching. They are powered using standard computer power supplies which are, in turn, cooled by fans.
The first performance is Saturday 5 July at the Southbank Centre at 1pm. We will be performing again in Edinburgh on 31 July and in Glasgow on 1 August.
With the instruments finished I’ll next be working on the installation side of this project, which will be ready for the opening of the Edinburgh Art Festival at the end of July.
In the mean time, here are some pictures of the process of making the instruments.
Here’s music video I’ve made after a visit to the Jura Distillery. Go to the project page to learn more.
Detailed show info on the Barbican website. It’s sold out, but I’ve heard that more tickets may become available before the show.
We did this performance once before a few months ago, at the Cologne Philharmonie, and it was great fun. This time I think it will be even better…
I’ve built a small family of mechanical drum machines using Meccano and solenoids. These will play different rhythms and keep time (the famous repeating C, for example). Here’s a video I made while experimenting and testing the machines:
I’ll also be doing some live sampling/looping/remixing, of course, together with Matthew and Hugh Jones (Crewdson). Hugh will be using his brilliant new hacked concertina, which is one of the nicest musical interfaces I’ve ever seen.
I’m really looking forward to it.
A brief list (in no particular order) of things I have been up to over the past six months since the One Pig Scotland tour:
So, it’s been quite an amazing first half of the year. Writing this post has been an interesting exercise for me in terms of looking back on what I’ve done. More soon!
It will come as no surprise to followers of this blog that I have been touring with the incredible Matthew Herbert on the amazing One Pig show. It has been one of the most rewarding artistic and professional experiences of my career – we’ve played at venues from London to Tokyo, and the rest of the group (Tom Skinner, Hugh Jones, Sam Beste, and Dilip Harris) are out of this world.
So it’s with great pleasure that I can announce that One Pig is coming to my (adopted) home of Scotland for a seven-date tour. We will be starting in Glasgow, working our way up to Shetland, and finishing off in Aberdeenshire.
Spread the word, and come to a show near you! I will of course be playing my bizarre and intriguing “Sty Harp“, and every show will be accompanied by local chefs cooking delicious pork. What’s not to like?
For more information about the show, check onepigscotland.com. It’s quite a treat.
3rd – Glasgow, Tramway
4th – Dundee, Dundee Rep Theatre
5th – Inverness, Bogbain Farm
7th – Shetland, Mareel
8th – Edinburgh, Queen’s Hall
9th – Dunfermline, Carnegie Hall
10th – Banchory, Woodend Barn (Sound Festival)
Through some terrible organisation and forward planning on my part, I somehow managed to neglect posting here about the now nearly-complete Seznec Bros tour. Over the past week my brother and I have played shows in Bath, Torquay, Oxford, London, Penryn, and more. We are finishing it all off tomorrow night in Fulham at Brook’s Blues Bar. It’s been a brilliant little batch of shows, especially since we were joined for several of them by the incredible Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Amadou Diagne.
Our show in Oxford was organised by our amazing friend Malachy, who then put us up in his gorgeous home in the countryside. He has in his possession a lovely Wurlitzer electric piano, which I completely fell in love with. Cory and I made a few videos with it, here’s the first one for you:
Be sure to check the Seznec Bros website, where you can buy our new album, watch more videos, and get details on our activities!
I’m just getting ready to head off to Paris to meet up with Cory for a couple of Seznec Bros shows. It’s been a little while, so we’re really excited!
We’re going to be using these shows to record some video and take some photos, so hopefully I’ll have plenty of content to post here and on the Seznec Bros site in the coming weeks.
Be sure to Like us on Facebook for news, updates, and goodies, and if you’re in Paris or Brittany this week come down to the shows!
12 July, 9pm, Chat Noir, Paris
13 July, 6:30pm and 10pm, Café Toucouleur, Tregastel