“Listening to a disc of experimentally-minded highland bagpipe ensemble music with a head cold = not a real smart idea.” That’s the basic take-away lesson here, and also a bit more evidence that I care for my readers– while I enjoyed David Watson’s release for XI Records thoroughly, I’m pretty sure I’ll like it a lot more when I’m feeling better!
All joking aside, this is a terrific release: two discs comprising long-form works for bagpipes and guitars (separately). I am especially impressed with the “Dexter” disc, which features the bagpipe recordings. It positively leaps from my stereo, and quickly fills my house with shimmering drone of the fullest variety imaginable. Remembering the listening hints in my copy of XI Records head Phill Niblock’s “YPGPN,” I took a stroll through my home, experiencing the delight of passing through doorways and hearing the sounds from other rooms– the physical qualities of this recording cannot be overstated.
I am also seriously excited to finally hear someone (and on some tracks, there are as many as six pipers) use the bagpipes in this manner. I had grown tired enough of not hearing their potential put to any use outside traditional music that I had honestly given up on the instrument entirely. “Fingering An Idea” has effectively resurrected the bagpipes for me, especially on the second track, which is so alien to any pipe recording I’ve previously heard that I was completely amazed during my first listen.
The second disc, “Sinister,” features de-tuned guitar hammering from Watson; who was inspired to revisit one of his earlier cassette recordings from 1987. Presenting a scuttling and percussive sound of whipped and frisked guitars, Watson leaves behind the extraordinary fullness of “Dexter” for a more intimate setting.
Taken on it’s own, “Sinister” is a passable disc, though ultimately somewhat forgettable. The clangorous ringing of de-tuned chordwork grows tiresome, and seems directionless, or mildly repetitive. Unfortunately, I can’t take “Sinister” on its own– as a companion disc to “Dexter,” it is simply blown out of the water. Only in the fifth track does “Sinister” seem to take wing, briefly gathering some real energy, but ultimately returns to the haphazard and lackadaisical string attack.
As another small bit of grief, the liner notes to “Fingering An Idea” accomplish very little towards shedding any light on either disc. We are told about some specific recording details of the three “Dexter” sessions, but not given any way to tie these to specific tracks. “Sinister” is almost glossed over completely, merely stating some dry facts about what occurs during the recording, but revealing nothing of Watson’s intention or inspiration for the original.
Sadly, the guest-written liner notes by Anthony Coleman, Chris Mann, and Jon Rose are even more useless. Rose labors on about the history of the bumbass, Mann experiences serious difficulties with his shift key, and Coleman seems to have dropped in accidentally from another album. It’s more than a little bewildering, especially from XI Records, whose liner notes are usually so complete.