Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unusual Instruments: Night of the Swallow

Kate Bush: Night of the Swallow


In the 1980s, synthesizers reached a level of sophistication that allowed musicians to add texture to their songs by creating unusual sounds and tones. But this could be done before the 1980s by using instruments that sounded odd in context. Even now, some musicians prefer to use instruments old and new out of context to enrich their music. This week, we will be presenting some of this music, and seeing how context can matter. We may also feature some instruments you (or I) have never even heard of before.

To start, here is Kate Bush‘s song Night of the Swallow. Bush‘s synthesizer of choice on her 1982 album The Dreaming was the Fairlight, and she got some great sounds out of it. But Bush also used other instruments. Night of the Swallow starts with a slow section that has a fairly normal arrangement. But the faster section on the chorus has this high-pitched instrument that you might think at first is a fiddle. You would be partly right. It doesn‘t sound quite like a fiddle because the line is doubled, played in unison by a fiddle and the uillean pipes. The uillean pipes are the smaller Irish cousin of the Scottish bagpipes. Like the bagpipes, the uilean pipes are used in traditional Irish folk music. By now, some Celtic rock groups are also using them, but Kate Bush in 1982 was one of the first to use them in a rock context.

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