A0273-CD: The Voice of the Carnyx

The Voice of the Carnyx by John Kenny

CD CoverThis recording is the first in a series on the British Music Label representing a cross-section of my work as a performer and composer. An ancient and until recently neglected instrument, the trombone has been undergoing something of a renaissance in the past 40 years. John Cage wrote his Solo for Sliding Trombone in 1955 and Luciano Berio his Sequenza 5 in 1966. These pieces were the start of an explosion of composition for the trombone which has led to the possibility for trombonists to seriously contemplate careers as soloists. Even at the time I left the Royal Academy of Music in 1978 this was still considered a ridiculous idea.

In spite of the staggering virtuosity of jazz trombonists like Frank Rossolino, and though Stewart Dempster in the USA and Vinko Globokar in Europe were recognised leaders in the Avant-Garde, the instrument still didn't register with the concert going public and promoters. However these great players inspired my own generation and trombonists the world over have been tempting composers into writing for our instrument in even greater numbers.

These CD issues represent my own efforts to generate new repertoire which I am now passing on to players of the next generation. It is very appropriate that the first of the series should be by Scottish composers.

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Audio Samples & Track Listing

Track Listing

1. The Voice of the Carnyx - 6'38 (John Kenny)
2 -5. Trombone Sonata - 19'27 (David Horne)
6. Zephyr - 16'41 (Edward McGuire)
7-8. Skyelines - 6'57 (John Purser)
9. O How I Love Thee - 13'13 (David Dorward)
10. Bone Tone Pome - 5'22 (Tom Bancroft)
11. Leo Dreaming - 8'14 (John Maxwell Geddes)

CD Notes & Credits

Show All

A CarnyxTHE CARNYX - what is it? The carnyx was a long Celtic trumpet made of beaten bronze and held vertically so that the sound travels from more than three metres above the ground. It was known through much of Europe from about 200 BC to 200 AD and was widely depicted - notably on the Gundestrup bowl which shows three carnyx’s being played simultaneously.

The best surviving part of a carnyx was found in north east Scotland and exhibits local design elements. The end of the instrument is in the form of a wild boar’s head, and it has a movable tongue and lower jaw. The craftsmanship is superb The reconstruction was coordinated by myself as musicologist, made by John Creed, with archaeological advice from Fraser Hunter, and in consultation with John Kenny. It was funded jointly by a Glenfiddich Living Scotland award and by the National Museums of Scotland, who own both the original artifact and the reconstruction.
John Purser

This recording is the first in a series on the British Music Label representing a cross-section of my work as a performer and composer. An ancient and until recently neglected instrument, the trombone has been undergoing something of a renaissance in the past 40 years. John Cage wrote his So/o for Sliding Trombone in 1955, and Luciano Berio his Sequenza 5 in 1966. These pieces were the start of an explosion of composition for the trombone which has led to the possibility for trombonists to seriously contemplate a careers as soloists. Even at the time I left the Royal Academy of Music in 1978, this was still considered a ridiculous idea.

In spite of the staggering virtuosity of jazz trombonists like Prank Rossolino, and though Stewart Dempster in the USA and Vinko Globokar in Europe were recognised leaders in the Avant-Garde, the instrument still didn’t register with the concert going public and promoters, however, these great players inspired my own generation, and trombonists the world over have been tempting composers into writing for our instrument in even greater numbers.

These CD issues represent my own efforts to generate new repertoire, which I am now passing on to players of the next generation. It is very appropriate that the first of the series should be by Scottish composers.
John Kenny

John Kenny: I am not a Scot, but of Anglo-Irish stock, being brought up in Birmingham followed by study in London. But my spiritual home was always the stormy north west coast of Ireland, and when I fell in love with a lass from the west coast of Scotland, I took little persuasion to follow her up here. That was fourteen years ago , and I have no intention of leaving! In addition to a peerless natural environment, I discovered in Scotland a vibrant contemporary culture, enriched by an ancient national consciousness.

I was also refreshed, after the claustrophobia of London, to find a community of composers able to offer each other mutual support and encouragement whilst maintaining highly individual voices. In consequence, I enjoy both physical and metaphysical fresh air! This CD is a big thanks to my adopted home­land, and I dedicate it specifically to Dr John Purser, who, through his research, writing, lecturing and broadcasting, has done so much to foster international recognition of Scotland’s unique musical heritage.

The Voice of the Carnyx John Kenny

This piece is for four carnyx, recorded by overdubbing with un-edited single takes by John whiting in the main hall of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. One day, I hope it will be possible to perform with four musicians live, but as yet there is only one playable carnyx in the world!

The first question everyone asks about the carnyx is how did they play it?’ The short answer is: not; we just don’t know; but we do know they were played in time of war from Roman accounts. The terrified invaders described not a mere musical sound but the very landscape coming to life! These instruments were used in multiples, obviously to great effect. They were almost certainly also used in times of peace for other functions in society, perhaps rites of passage, funerals, festivals.

The instrument is magnificent in its stylised embodiment of a wild-boar’s head, highly tooled and crafted, Out of exceedingly valuable materials. Indeed, analysis of the bronze alloy shows that the Picts hi-jacked some of the constituents from the Roman invaders! It is certain that the players of such an instrument occupied an important place in society, and likely that the craft of playing would be passed down from father to son, becoming a guarded mystery. These were highly sophisticated people, with a mighty oral poetic tradition. Most unlikely, then, that the playing technique should not have been fully explored.

As a modern brass player it is fairly easy to get a sound out of the carnyx in the conventional manner. However, because the tube and mouthpiece aperture are so wide, the breath disappears very quickly; one blast and its all over! I found I could achieve a range of nearly five octaves, with a moat unusual overtone series and some overtones much stronger than others. In addition, the wooden tongue becomes a percussion instrument as it moves inside the head; the head itself has a bronze soft-palette, and so the sound emerges through a divided resonating gourd. The full range of brass players tonguing effects can readily be employed, but to find a distinctive voice for the carnyx, I believe one must look closely at the instrument itself, and what it represents: a wild boar.

This beast, once common throughout northern Europe, was a terrifying adversary, fast, powerful and vicious, and totemic to the Celts. The scream of this animal is shrill and almost human, and so I have combined my voice frequently with the instrumental sound, to try to animate it. Finally, to overcome the problem of lack of sustaining power, I have incorporated the technique of circular breathing, further bending the sound by changing the shape of the oral cavity in exactly the same manner in which we produce the varied vowel sounds of speech. Given the ancient predilection for drones in music, I think it is not too far-fetched to imagine that these people learned how to circular breathe, as so many other ancient cultures have done, most notably Australia’s Aboriginal folk, whose Didgeridoo is the worlds most ancient lip-reed instrument.

The Voice of the Carnyx was recorded in the glass-vaulted hall of the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, on 24 May 1993. John Whiting recorded the individual tracks and then played them back in the space with me playing sound on sound in real lime. The final section, an amalgam of ideas from the rest of the piece, was then subject to live digital sound transformation.
John Kenny

Trombone Sonata (with David Horne, piano)  David Horne
1 Calm and reflective
2 Rhythmic, biting & persistent
3 Slow, meditative & very tree             
4 Extremely vigorous
Recorded at BBC Studio Theatre, Edinburgh, on 24 May 1994 by John Whiting.

David Horne’s Trombone Sonata was composed in January 1993 and premiered the following May in the BBC Concert Hall, Edinburgh, with John Kenny and the composer performing. It is in four movements, the first and third extremely calm and reflective, the second and fourth contrasting sharply with their vigour and energy. Though the music is very much intended to be absolute there is a sentiment that pervades the slower music and ends the piece, this being one which could perhaps suggest mourning. In the faster music though, the mood often seems playful, particularly rhythmically, and this tends to become more serious, more brutal, towards the climax of both the second and fourth movements. This is particularly clear at the climax of the fourth, where many different musical ideas from other parts of the piece collide rather precariously. The ending of the work is extremely withdrawn and spent of all energy. The last notes on the trombone are rather like final breaths, weak but resigned.

David Horne was born in Stirling in 1970 and studied piano and composition at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh and then went on to study composition at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. His composition teachers have included Geoffrey King, Ned Rorem, and Mario Davidovsky. His music has been commissioned, performed and broadcast in Europe, Asia and North America, including the Tanglewood and Marlboro Festivals, the latter where he was composer in residence in 1993. He recently had works premiered by the California E.A.R Unit, the Mendelssohn Quartet, the New Millennium Ensemble, and Evelyn Glennie. Current compositions include a new viola work for Nobuko lmai to be performed on three continents, and a work for the RPO in London.

Zephyr, for Trombone and String Quartet  Edward McGuire
with members of the Chamber Group of Scotland
Ian King, Angus Ramsey - violins; James Durrant - viola; Robert Irvine - cello.
Recorded in the Stevenson Hall, Glasgow, 7 April 1995 by John Whiting.

Zephyr, meaning gentle breeze, was premiered by John Kenny with the Chamber Group of Scotland in May 1993 at Glasgow’s Mayfest, and their performance won the Festival’s prestigious Paper Boat award. It is one of a series of works using the names and imagery of various types of winds. Zephyr is designed to follow Mistral, a rather more stormy piece premiered by Glasgow Wind Band. Just as Mistral explores the emotional symbolism of it’s hot, dry, tension-inducing subject, so to does Zephyr have a human element. The gentle breeze in its objective and innocent beauty may drift over scenes of human suffering be they on a battlefield, at a funeral, or occasion of lost love.

The trombonist is in a sense a dancer, creating the drama with musical gestures, conjuring imagery from the unseen corners of our perception. Unusually in a piece of mine there is no influence of folk music styles. The extensive use of glissandos, quarter tones and harmonics serves to constantly dissolve and shift the imagery. I also wished to explore the results of gradually changing pitches, and the trombone with its slide and the string quartet with their fretless fingerboards are ideal instruments upon which to do so.
Edward McGuire

Edward McGuire was born in Glasgow in 1948 and studied composition in the music academies of London and Stockholm. His instrumental music has been widely successful, frequently broadcast and performed with commissions coming from leading ensembles, such as Lontano, Composer’s Ensemble, Fires of London, Paragon and Nash Ensembles, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Group of Scotland. His work, Rant won the competition to find a test piece for the 1978 Carl Fleish International Violin Competition, and his String Quartet was chosen for the 25th anniversary gala of the Society for the Promotion of New Music. Recent large-scale works include Peter Pan for Scottish Ballet, and an opera, The Loving of Etain for Paragon. He has performed with the Whistlebinkies, one of Scotland’s best known folk groups, for over twenty years.

Skyelines for Trombone & Organ (1994) John Purser
1 Largo Sostenuto 
2 Vivace Animato, Largo Maestoso
with John Kitchen at the Organ of Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh
Recorded by Tony Kime on 28 March 1995.

I wrote Skyelines for John Kenny and John Kitchen. The title refers to the dramatic coastal scenery of the Isle of Skye on the west of Scotland, where I live for much of the year. The two short movements outline the varied shapes of the skyline sod the varied moods of the weather, and their underlying and irresistible spirituality, for which the combination of trombone and organ is ideally suited.

John Purser’s works cover a wide range, from a television opera The Undertaker to a Prelude & Toccata for solo guitar. Among his many orchestral works, Epitaph 1916 and The Stone of Destiny are best known. His chamber music includes a cello sonata, a violin sonata, and a string quartet (1981). He is also the author of several radio plays, three books of poetry, an award-winning radio series of 30 hour-long episodes, Scotland’s Music. He lectures and broadcasts on the history of Scottish Music.

O How I love Thee  David Dorward
with David Home piano
Recorded on 25 May 1994 at the BBC Studio Theatre, Edinburgh by John Whiting.

The title comes from the scene in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the queen of the fairies Titania, under a magic spell, falls in love with Bottom the Weaver, who has turned into an ass.

She invites him to: sit thee down upon this flowery bed
White I thy amicable cheeks do coy
And stick musk-roses in they sleek smooth head  

and ends with the passionate declaration: O how I love thee! How I dote on thee!

Although the work is not intended to be a musical representation of this scene, the trombone, to an extent, depicts both the ludicrous passion of Titania and banal incomprehension of Bottom. It calls for virtuoso skill; the performer has to rhapsodise at the top of the trombone’s compass as well a plunge to its lowest depths. Quarter-tone intervals are often employed, and at the beginning and end of the piece a harmon mute without its central tube is employed deliberately shifting the pitch upward so that the extraordinary effect is achieved, when the piano enters, of it sounding Out of tune! The piano accompaniment is comparatively straightforward: like Shakespeare’s magic forest, it is the background against which the action is played. Its musical material is separated from that of the trombone, except for moments when the sustaining pedal is held down and the strings resonate in sympathy. At the end, its the piano that breaks the spell with three abrupt chords, and the dream vanishes leaving only a plaintive echo from the muted trombone. The work was commissioned by the BBC for John Kenny in 1992.
David Dorward

David Dorward was born in Dundee. He took an Honours degree in English and Philosophy at St Andrew’s University, and subsequently won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. While there he won many composition prizes, including the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize and the Wind Music Society International Prize. His music has been performed and broadcast world-wide, and covers many genres, from a musical for the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh to an opera fro Radio 3. These include orchestral works and chamber music (including four string quartets), solo pieces, songs and works for young people and amateurs. For many years he was a BBC radio producer in Edinburgh, where he still lives and continues to write.

Bone Tone Pome (with Tom Bancroft drums) Tom Bancroft
Recorded by Davie Grey at The Sound Cafe, Penicuick, 25 August 1995

It is in the nature of the rest of this album’s program, that the music should be highly prepared - so I thought it might be nice to include one item which is utterly un-prepared! I have played a great deal in the past with drummer / composer Tom Bancroft, but not in the last 18 months - so I suggested to Tom that we just get together for a blow to see what we came up with. Tom arrived with this piece already conceived, and in keeping with the spirit of the event, this is our first, unedited response.
John Kenny

Leo Dreaming for tenor trombone doubling alto and tape  John Maxwel Geddes
with John Whiting as sound projectionist and recording engineer.
Recorded in the Concert Hall of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London 15 May1995.

Leo Dreaming was commissioned by Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust for John Kenny, with financial assistance from the Scottish Arts Council. The work is scored for trombone and tape, which consists, in the main, of material processed from samples of John Kenny’s playing.

Leo is a cat who spends most of his time dreaming. After supper, he likes to settle down to remembering the good old days, when a cat was really scat and hunted for his supper. The work begins with un pitched clucking and breathing; this gives way to pedal notes rich in overtones, and motifs based on altered harmonic series. Sounds of the jungle are heard, ancestral race memories of whirring and chirping sounds. Fragments derived from Messian’s Revile de Oiseau appear; a Golden Oriole becomes prominent (played on the alto trombone) and is attacked and devoured.

The closing section mirrors the opening, and Leo falls into a deep sleep. Leo has travelled widely in his sleep, and has appeared with John Kenny in Moscow, Minneapolis, Stuttgart, London and Tokyo, to name but a few ports of call! 
John Maxwel Geddes

John Maxwell Geddes was born in 1941 and studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and at the Royal Danish Conservatoire. Formerly an associate professor at Oregon State University and lecturer at St Andrew’s College, he lives in Glasgow with his wife and three children; the family pet, Leo (1972 - 1992) was Scotland’s biggest and most famous cat!His works have earned him a reputation for powerful imagery and brilliant instrumental writing, and in recent years he has attended prestigious performances of his works, such as Ombre in Manchester and Dublin; Callanish in Boston, San Francisco and Nurnberg; Lacuna in Trondheim and Monterey; Voyager at it’s premiere at the opening of the BBC SSO Centre. His song cycle for Susan Kessler and Geoffrey Parsons has received many awards from the British Council / Scottish Arts Council/Scottish International Education Trust amongst others. Recent works include an Oboe Concerto and his Symphony No 2.


David Home, pianist, has won numerous awards, including first place in the National Mozart Competition in 1987 and the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition in 1988. He has performed extensively in the UK in recitals, and has played with many of the major orchestras, as well as giving performances in Europe and the United States, He has made many television and radio appearances, and made his BBC Proms debut playing Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. His large concerto repertoire ranges from Mozart to Gershwin, and he has played a great deal of new music, including works specially written for him.

John Kitchen, organist, is a lecturer in the music faculty of Edinburgh University. He was educated at Glasgow and Cambridge Universities, was organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, where he studied organ with Gillian Weir, and was for twelve years lecturer in music and organist at St Andrew’s University. His wide-ranging teaching commitments include a part-time post as harpsichord tutor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He is a member of the Scottish Early Music Consort, playing organ, harpsichord and fortepiano, and performs regularly as a soloist throughout the UK and Europe; his recent recordings of the complete harpsichord music of William Kinloch for Linn Records has received much critical acclaim. His is also in demand as a lecture-recitalist, particularly in the fields related to his research work in French 17th and 18th century keyboard music. He has been collaborating with John Kenny since 1988, and they have developed a repertoire spanning five centuries, with pieces dedicated to them from composers of many nations.

Tom Bancroft, drums, was born in London in 1967, moved to Scotland at the age of nine, and began playing professionally at the age of sixteen. He and his saxophonist twin brother Phil are amongst the most innovative jazz musicians working in Scotland today -whilst both being professional doctors! Tom took time out from medical studies to spend eight months studying composition and arranging at McGill University, Montreal, and there formed the Orange Ear Ensemble, which has since performed in Canada, the UK & France. The Tom Bancroft Orchestra has become a focus for new Scottish talents, and has been featured in numerous Festivals. Current projects include work with dance, jazz education, and a pan-european jazz collective, Europhonium.

John Whiting has been Sound Designer for Electric phoenix, London Sinfonietta, and Glyndebourne Opera, as well as providing sound projection for the Kronos Quartet, the Hilliard Ensemble, Frankfurt Opera, Music Theatre Wales, and dozens of major symphony orchestras from Leningrad to Los Angeles. He has worked as electro-acoustic collaborator in duo recitals with John Kenny James Wood, Rolf Gelhaar, William O Smith John Potter and many others. In his London studios, October Sound, he has produced prerecorded performance tapes for Henry Pouseur, John Gage, Nigel Osborne, Lucian Berio, James Wood, Neely Bruce and other European and American composers. His recordings appear on many of the major classical record labels.

The Chamber Group of Scotland was formed in 1991 as a reflection of the blossoming of interest in contemporary music and the activities of Scotland's composers. Its artistic directors include composers Sally Besmish and James McMillen, and the cellist Robert Irvine. The Chamber Group has performed at all the major festivals in Scotland, including the 1993 Edinburgh International Festival, and in Mayfest 1993, where they won Scotland on Sundays Paper Boat award for excellence and innovation, in a program featuring the premiere of Edward McGuire's Zephyr, and recently had a collaboration with Ghanaian choreographer Resins Bonsu.

John Kenny was born in 1957 in Birmingham. As a trombonist, though mainly known as a specialist in contemporary music, his interests include modern jazz and early music. He also works as an actor, and is active as a composer, having received commissions from the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Scottish and English Arts Councils, and in 1989 was Strathclyde Composer in Residence to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

After studying with Harold Nash at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then on an Arts Council bursary with James Fulkerson, Kenny worked as an actor/musician with the Bubble Theatre in London, then made his debut as a soloist in the Purcell Room in 1982. A year later he was prize-winner at the Gaudeamus International Competition in Holland, and has since given recitals and broadcast worldwide, both as a soloist and with ensembles including Ensemble Modern of Frankfurt and Ensemble Alternance of Paris. In 1984 he was a founder member of the TNT Music Theatre Company, collaborating with playwright Paul Stebbings to produce shows which have toured hundreds of venues in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Russia and Japan. He is a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, guest lecturer at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, and in 1993 was elected Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two sons.

Mike Skeet, proprietor of The Forties Recording Company gets bored typing out artists ego-ographies for his Classical Music CDs, so he has typed out his own. He too was born. Attempts at education included a visit to Borstal. He has been to Oxford and Cambridge: the former by bus and the latter by train. His career in the British Army was interesting, including the persuasive nature of his induction. This involved arrest by the Local Constabulary, as he had no wish to go, custody awaiting Military Escort, and two blissful years at Catterick Camp terminating in having two stripes (on his arm). His benevolent CD music labels, British Music Label and Ensemble Music Label have, over the two years, produced a deficit of £7,000 with the twelve albums involved, despite never paying any artists. The sales of his unique third CD label, the Steam Train Label, have been so appalling that he has issued a second CD in the same genre. This very individual and unusual Marketing Technique has been widely noticed and used as a fine example of WNTD** in many Business Colleges .........
** What Not To Do


John Kenny plays a Conn 88H trombone, and is an Affiliate Artist of United Music Instruments, USA.

The Music on this album is obtainable from the following publishers:
Leo Dreaming - Periwinkle Productions: 21 Cleveden Road: Glasgow: G12 0PQ
Skyelines & O How I love Thee - Warwick Music: Holloway House: The Market Place: Warwick: CV34 4SJ.
Horns Sonata - Boosey & Hawkes

Acknowledgements for assistance with this project are due to:

The National Museums of Scotland Charitable Trust.

My sister Mary Kenny for her original cover picture 'The Voice of the Carnyx'


Album & Artist Information

Instruments: Carnyx, Trombone, (Piano, Organ, Strings & Drums)
Genre: Contemporary
Format: Audio CD
Our Ref: A0273
Label: British Music Label
Year: 1995
Origin: UK

Please click here for Artist Information and Contact Details

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