The Bagpipe Society

Review: Stephane Mauchand - Oxymel

The French piper Stéphane Mauchand will be familiar to many Chanter readers as he’s played in various bands since the early 1990s as well as being a teacher of pipes. His new album ‘Oxymel’ features cornemuses du centre (16 & 23 pouces), border pipes in D and hümmelchen - and that folks is where any similarity to the majority of bagpipe albums stops. Subtitled ‘cornemuses et guitare electrique’ it’s a meditative exploration of the textural and ambient possibilities of drone music with the (often plaintive) sound of bagpipes.

It’s easy to reach for simple analogies, but the one that sprang immediately to mind was that there’s a kinship here with the contemplative electric guitar-based instrumental music of the band Mogwai. Both conjure hypnotic soundscapes that slowly build and morph with a reliance on gritty tone and texture more than melody – although melodies are present here too. For me it works well – bagpipes and electric guitars have an affinity. Something he points out in the sleeve notes. Maybe the latter is just the modern version of the former in terms of its basis in popular music? I was listening to an old Alan Stivell album from the 70s the other day. One of the reasons it still sounds great is the guitar playing and tone of Dan Ar Bras.

To make music that is both simple and complex at the same time isn’t easy and a lot of thought, technique and hard work has gone into this. That includes the sticky subject of naming tunes – ‘Le cabinet des chimères’ being a good example of a title that evokes what the piece of music delivers. Whether this rocks your boat musically is neither here nor there. Personally it’s more an album I’d play on a long journey than at a party! The main point is that it can connect to a wider contemporary music audience than most ‘folk’ or bagpipe albums do, and that for that I say ‘Bravo!’.