In KIN, his Herald Angel-winning Blas festival commission from 2007, Duncan Chisholm used location shots and film to illustrate the land that inspired his music. In 2015 this process was revisited with a group of young musicians from the Highlands, supported by the HYAH. Here, James Bauld gives us insight into what it was like to be involved.
The Kin and the Community project, directed by Duncan Chisholm was a multi art form project that brought together a group of young people from across The Highlands. Funded by the Highland Youth Arts Hub, the project was led by Feis Rois and supported by the Eden Court Digital team. The aim was to create a short film about a real person that had a sincere story. We filmed and edited the whole thing ourselves while playing the music we composed and arranged live at the film’s premiere.
After having submitted an application through Feis Rois, I was delighted to be chosen as one of six young people to be given a place on this exciting new venture. The first day of the project brought myself, Joseph Peach, Ruairidh Gollan, Sara Johnston, Robbie MacKenzie and Duncan MacLeod together for the first time at the Highland Archive Centre for a briefing. Duncan Chisholm showed us an example of his own work and talked us through the project. At this point it became clear that we had a lot of work to do, but that it was going to be really fun and we were going to learn a lot along the way! As Artistic Director, Duncan remained a force of encouragement and inspiration in the weeks that followed. We left the archive with homework to prepare for our research trip to Edinburgh the following week.
I count myself really fortunate to have been able to spend a day in the School of Scottish Studies, where I found myself absorbed in the old archive recordings. This was a really informative but mostly inspirational experience. During our research we found recordings of a man called Alexander Murdie. He told the story of his life with honesty and a great sense of humour which had us enthralled and laughing throughout the project. As he was from Ullapool, where our film debut was to be made, we collectively decided that he was our man and set about making a fitting tribute to him with our film and music.
The bulk of the work was to take place during a five day residential trip to Ullapool. The first job was to edit all the archive recordings, from hour’s worth of material, down to just a few minutes. I had no idea how much work was involved, even just for sound! I really appreciate now all the work that goes on behind the scenes! Two people from Eden Court Creative provided the filming equipment and gave us tips on how to produce high quality, interesting film. At the start of the week it seemed like we had a mountain of work to do but the feeling of achievement throughout the week was immense, seeing lots of progress such as completing sections of sound, viewing some great shots we took with the camera or completing the composition of a tune. We also had the opportunity to interview Catrina Martin one of Alexander Murdie’s surviving relatives and film her outside what had been his house. The last day in Ullapool we concentrated on outlining our compositions for the soundtrack and although by the end of the week, we were exhausted, we were really beginning to feel that the whole project was coming together.
The next stage gave us two days in the Black Isle to edit our film. Although this was a tedious process, it was rewarding to see the lovely shots fitting well together. Then, a few weeks later, having worked individually on our tunes, we came together to focus on our final arrangements. We had composed a mix of tunes from haunting slow airs to upbeat jigs and we worked on balancing the sound between two accordions, two fiddles, a piano and a range of whistles (me!) The most difficult part was the precision timing needed to play a live soundtrack to the film. Start a moment too late or play a fraction too slowly and everything is out of sync.
The culmination of our work was a screening of our short film, with a live music soundtrack, in the MacPhail Centre in Ullapool. We were honoured that some of Alexander Murdie’s family made up part of the audience. After the performance there was a chance for us to meet with the audience and answer any questions they had. We had a lot of positive feedback but people were also very interested in the detail of the process.
Throughout the project I have developed many skills including composing, filming and editing. It brought a new dimension to my group performance and improved my ability to arrange pieces. It was a real confidence booster and has also led to a new-found interest in film. Through the Kin project I have made some great friends that I know I will still be talking to a long time from now. It also led to me becoming part of the HYAH Forum and meeting many other young artistic people.
To find out more about Fèis Rois please visit their website at www.feisrois.org.uk
You can also follow what Duncan is up to via his own website at www.duncanchisholm.com