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27 October - 28 November 2007
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University Music
13 November 2007

sound at the Institute of Medical Sciences
John Kenny, trombones & carnyx

The Atrium at the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences is the ideal venue for a concert that marries acoustically played instruments with an electro-acoustic background. For a start, the venue resembles no other. If it reminds me of anything, it is of the city of the future in the 1930’s classic science fiction film The Shape of Things to Come. The acoustic properties of the Atrium also added several extra layers of character to all the sounds we heard last night. It was not just the echoes, often a very significant factor at certain points in the performance, but also the varied points of origin of the instrumental sounds in addition to the movements of the electro-acoustic sounds achieved by altering the levels in the different speakers.

Trombone virtuoso John Kenny provided a staggering range of acoustic sounds while Pete Stollery was in control of the electro-acoustic element.

I have to say that I emerged from the concert with my mind totally blown by the experience. Seldom have I witnessed such amazing virtuosity from a wind player, and never before have my ears experienced such a seemingly limitless palette of amazing sounds, some terrifying, some very beautiful indeed.

The first piece explored the astonishing sound world of the ancient instrument which we call the carnyx. John Kenny explained that this instrument was known all across Europe two thousand years ago. The particular version which he played is a very accurate re-construction of an instrument excavated from a site at Deskford near Huntly. It was made not by the Scots who had not yet arrived in this part of the world at the time but by a race of long gone Celts whom we call the Picts. The name Pict and the word carnyx are actually derived from the expressions used by the Greeks for these people and that instrument. As John Kenny explained, we have no idea what the Picts called themselves nor sadly do we have the least idea what they called the carnyx. It is the most striking instrument to look at; a narrow tube about six feet long with at the top, a bell shaped like the head of a wild boar with a protruding tongue that can be made to produce a rattling sound. It was probably used in battle to scare off the enemy. Both its appearance and its sound would probably have done the trick, especially if there had been several of them. John Kenny also mentioned that regarding its playing properties, the carnyx is the ancestor of the trombone and indeed in the final piece that he played on Tuesday he achieved on the trombone, sounds similar to those which he had already produced on the carnyx. In the first piece he played, the electro-acoustic element controlled by Pete Stollery provided the sound of a quartet of carnyx to add to the one played by John Kenny from several different parts of the auditorium. The range of sounds was quite astonishing from horn calls and trombone like sounds to whoops and roars that could have come from crowds of Pictish warriors charging the enemy.

The second piece also featured the many amazing voices of the carnyx and much more besides. Entitled Doric,it was composed by John Kenny when he was composer in residence for Deveron Arts in Huntly in 2005. It is based on a huge variety of sounds which John Kenny experienced when he was resident in the area including the Doric voices of the local people some of which were reproduced as part of the electro-acoustic backing. It opened with John Kenny producing high pitched vocalisations which were accompanied by oriental bells and clashing stones. Trombone, carnyx, recorder used whole and in parts, rainsticks and more were used to produce the sounds of machinery, weather, sheep, birds, bees, guns, drums, people talking and much more, all with a background of electronics. I was particularly tickled with John Kenny’s creation of lifelike birdsong to match the recording which he achieved using the top part of a recorder.

By the time we reached the third and final piece, Ankh composed by Montrose born ex-percussionist Morris Pert, I was really getting into this amazing sound world. The opening with whoops from the carnyx backed by tearing sounds from the recorded tape was tremendous. Alphorn, conch shell, tenor, alto and bass trombones, Aztec horn, and more all contributed to this astonishing sound cavalcade. The last two pieces were quite extensive and possibly not to everyone’s taste, you had to let yourself go with the flow. To those like me who did, it was ….. well….mind blowing!

The talent of John Kenny can be heard again in a totally different musical world when he appears on Thursday evening with the Edinburgh Quartet at Woodend Barn.

Copyright Alan Cooper
Thanks to University Music



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