Compositions of Stone Audio CD - Mike Simmons
£10.50 inc UK p&p Music from the Mountains MFM009CD

kilmartincd.jpg (12816 bytes)The Kilmartin Sessions, The sounds of ancient Scotland - Kilmartin House Trust
Price £14.50 + 1.50 p&p Kilmartin House Trust

All your favourite megatastic megalithic monuments are here on one sleep-tastic ambient album, not available in the shops [wait a minute, who's doing this review, you or Tony Blackburn? - ed].

Sorry, I'll start again. Tracks on 'Compositions of Stone' range from the atmospheric Avebury, the laid back Merry Maidens to the downright horizontal 'Long Meg & her Daughters'. Track three, 'Rollright Stones' will be of particular interest of course. This has some interesting wind and flute effects, but isn't the most exciting (if that is an appropriate word at all!).

stonecd.jpg (39789 bytes)Mike has a range of home-produced CDs and tapes, all taking inspiration from the British countryside. Apparently ambient music of this sort gets serious airplay on some US radio stations. It would make a nice change to hear it played over here - it's an irritation of mine that we are instead fed a wall-to-wall diet of Simply Red and The Coors on most commercial stations.

Expertly woven textures abound, but you may find that after a few minutes you'll be reaching for the Hawkwind or Prodigy to clear out the cotton wool. Overall I found the effect rather artificial; over-reliant on the FM-style of synthesis popular in the 80s, but it certainly holds its own against other ambient offerings I've heard.

This makes for an interesting contrast with the other CD I have for review: The Kilmartin House Sessions, recorded entirely on location with real or replica ancient instruments. I think some of the Mike Simmons' tracks would have benefited greatly from an injection of reality, some samples of the Kilmartin ancient instruments woven in would go down a treat.

In contrast the Kilmartin CD doesn't contain songs as such. It's a more academic work, containing recordings of such things as bones used as instruments, a stone xylophone, and a couple of enormous Celtic battle horns, including a reconstructed carnyx with a boar's head played in the eerie acoustics of Smoo cave. The musicians have tried hard to team the instruments together to create authentic soundscapes. These are interesting, but I'd like to hear the sounds used in a modern music piece, although this would go against the '100% natural' ethos of this CD.

The sounds were recorded for the fantastic, award-winning audio-visual show that is one of the highlights of a visit to the Kilmartin House Museum in Mid-Argyll. The museum is also innovative in featuring listening posts where you can hear extracts of the CD. Whilst I'm reviewing the CD, not the museum, we visited last summer and it is very highly recommended on all counts, including the fantastic home-made food in the café, and not forgetting the dozens of megaliths in the Kilmartin valley itself.

Also featured on the CD are a couple of 'ringing rocks', including one on the small island of Tiree. This is 'played' by throwing stones at it - perhaps this created the prehistoric cup-marks on it?

Those interested in Shamanism, and the possible link with ancient ritual will be fascinated to hear an example of harmonic, or throat singing, whereby two notes are produced simultaneously by a single voice. John Purser, the brains behind the CD speculates that St Columba and the early Celtic missionaries may have sung in this way. There is a particularly good track called 'Invocation', in which this singing is teamed with a large horn that makes a sound very much like a digereedoo.

This CD is a fascinating and highly unusual collection of ancient instruments, including many things we wouldn't immediately recognise as such. This makes it more of a genuine contribution to experimental archaeology than a 'rocking' good listen (groan), but I would have to recommend it to anyone interested in ancient sounds.



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