The music within Isola explores the tactility and fragile timbres of string instruments, shifting between melodic line and gesture, spoken word and grit. It takes influence from free improvisation and Scottish traditional music, as well as contemporary classical practices.
Sequoia, adopting its name from the species of tree, is a Glasgow based string duo comprising violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty. Since launching at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, they have firmly rooted their place in the Scottish arts scene, revealing an innate desire to use music to explore, recognise and engage with the natural world as well as championing new music by Scottish based composers.
I really enjoy independently implementing creative projects like this one, and opening up opportunities to peers within the industry. Though we are all individual in our compositional voices on the album, there is a commonality to the way we approach string instruments that focuses on the grittier side of the instruments with heavy influence from folk music and free improvisation. Sequoia were the perfect fit for this album, not only because they are highly skilled musicians, but because conservation and the natural environment are a central to their musical practice, themes that are often pertinent in our work as young artists.
The title track of the record, Isola (meaning island), examines the wildlife and landscape of the deserted St Kilda Archipelago, with themes of isolation, distance, and remoteness. This sets the scene for the rest of the album with much of the music being concerned with landscape and natural phenomena but also distance, separation and the fragility of the natural world. Isola was written in collaboration with celebrated Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. We responded to each other's work throughout the process; McCall Smith himself is featured in the recording, reciting his poetry.
The other main body of work on the album, Crossing the Simeto, also features poetry. Archival recordings of poet and folklorist Hamish Henderson, obtained with the blessing of his family, are heard throughout the track, which was written in 2019 during the centenary of Henderson’s birth.
The process of making the album took a number of years. Some tracks were written years before the pandemic, some just as it was started, and some amid various lockdowns with musicians collaborating via zoom.
The album was recorded over three and a half days at Luss Parish Church in Loch Lomond. It was recorded on site and mixed by Gus Stirrat and mastered by Geoff Allan.
The album is available to buy and download via bandcamp.
All music performed by Sequoia, who are Alice Rickards (violin) & Sonia Cromarty (cello)
Produced by Fergus Hall
Recorded by Gus Stirrat at Luss Parish Church, Loch Lomond on the 6th-9th of December 2021.
Mixed by Gus Stirrat at Solas Sound Studios, Glasgow.
Mastered by Geoff Allan
Cover design by Iain McIntosh
Crossing the Simeto features extracts from Ballad of the Simeto (for the Highland Division) and So Long, written by Hamish Henderson during WWII while fighting in North Africa and Sicily with the 51st Highland Division. The poems are performed by Hamish Henderson.
Permission for use of extracts from Hamish Henderson - Pipes, Goatskins and Bones (The Songs & Poems Of Hamish Henderson) was granted by STV Footage.
Permission for use of poetry by Hamish Henderson was granted by The Estate of Hamish Henderson, for which we are incredibly grateful.
Isola was written and performed by Alexander McCall Smith who has been immensely supportive of this project from the very beginning.
Alice, Sonia and Fergus would also like to thank to following people for their help and support throughout the process of making this album;
Alexander McCall Smith, Gus Stirrat, Iain McIntosh, Rylan Gleave, Aileen Sweeney, Sonia Killmann, John Taylor, Donald Hardie, Luss Parish Church, Janet and Kätzel Henderson, Stuart MacRae, Chamber Music Scotland, Lea Shaw, David Fessessy, and Martin Wiggins.
This album was made possible with support from Creative Scotland and The Hope Scott Trust.