Michael O’Neill – Ontophony – New Music for Highland Pipes and Percussion featuring Mearingstone & Uzume Taiko – Songlines

by | Oct 15, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Michael O’Neill – Ontophony – New Music for Highland Pipes and Percussion featuring Mearingstone & Uzume Taiko – Songlines Multichannel SACD SGL SA2405-2, 66:57 *?*:

Perhaps I can save some readers time perusing this review by stating at the start that there are probably three prerequisites for anyone to enjoy this disc: You should like bagpipes, you should like Taiko drums, and you should like Steve Reich. If you don’t qualify for at least one and hopefully all three of these criteria, you need not read further.

Mearingstone is made up of four bagpipers, three of them named Andrew.  The one who isn’t named Andrew also doubles on percussion. The Uzume Taiko group has three members. Added to these musicians are Alcvin Ramos on Shakuhachi, Neelamjit Dhillon on tabla and Duncarl Millar on snare drum. The initial selections is a suite of seven movements titled Being and Doing. The first four movements – Being – are meditations on aspects of living and speculations about death and beyond. They grew out of the sort of ceremonies for which pipers frequently play. The last three movements – Doing – are described only by a quote from Joseph Conrad about “the rapture that is associated with being alive.”

Luffness and Jedaya are more highly developed pieces – the latter involving East Indian drones and rhythms in the percussion. Special extensions are used on some of the pipes in some selections to get different and deeper pitches. Most highly inventive is Horse of a Different Colour, the closing piece. It makes use of hocketing – the spreading of a melody thru different instrumental lines to simulate motion. On this one especially, the immersion of the listener in the different drums and bagpipes via the surround field adds an almost interactive quality to the listening experience. However, it should be pointed out that bagpipes have a limited span of pitches at their disposal – something like the natural horns before the invention of valves.

This limitation is exploited in some of the works, which set up a hypnotic groove of repeated figurations which can become quite compelling. The surround reproduction helps greatly. Still, even one into pipes, Taiko or Reich may not want to subject themselves to this entire hour-plus onslaught at a single sitting.

Tracks of Being and Doing: A Walk Supreme, Migration of a Triad, Ontophony, The Shiftings, Astralis, Ogdoadic Zone, Re-entry.

– John Sunier

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