Original format: 16mm
Year of release: 1992
Running time: 1 minute 15 seconds
Screening format: digital screening versions available
Credits: A film by Kayla Parker
Director/producer/animator: Kayla Parker
Cinematography: Stuart Moore
Additional animation: Stuart Moore
Commissioned for Canan nan Gaidheal (The Language of the Gaels), a documentary programme (50 minutes) about unaccompanied singers of Gaelic music, produced and directed by Graham Strong for Scottish Television
Distribution and sales: Scottish Television (Copyright © STV)

Sung bagpipe music by Mary Morrison of the Isle of Barra. The music was used to keep time when the herring catch was being landed and whilst waulking cloth. I was told that she also sang at parties, and would stand still in the centre of the room, singing whilst everyone danced around her.

Production notes
Canntaireachd (pronounced 'counter-achk') means ‘chanting’ or ‘mouth music’. Mary Morrison from Barra was famous for her canntaireachd singing, although she wasn’t a piper. Canntaireachd was used traditionally by pipers to pass on their bagpipe music to another person; it was also an important practice by women, excluded traditionally from active participation in bagpipe playing, who would 'sing the pipes' at dances when a bagpiper was not available.

"Canntaireachd was in fact a lifeline to women who, brought up in families staunchly proud of their piping lineage but conservative as regards gender roles, wished to learn and play the pipes but were prevented socially from doing so. This was the experience of Mary Morrison, who learned her craft by observing the piping and singing of her male relatives" (Dickson, 2013: 49).

The director Graham Strong contacted via a Channel 4 link after seeing my film, Unknown Woman at a film festival. After we'd chatted on the phone, he sent me a small black and white photo of Morrison and a cassette of her singing in the 1960s. We filmed the photo reflected in a large photographic developing tray filled with water, shaking it to produce waves of ripples: these had diluted household bleach dripped and brushed along them, and were then washed and dried. We used 16mm colour reversal film so that a blue tone would result when layers of emulsion were removed by engraving, abrasion and bleach. I shot stormy time-lapse clouds racing overhead at Devil’s Point in Plymouth, just before dusk: I overprinted these sequences with my fingerprints. I listened to Morrison’s canntaireachd on a Sony Walkman and danced on a large white backdrop sprinkled with talcum powder while Stuart filmed my legs. Once the reversal film was back from the I engraved the filmstrips of the selected shots and rubbed the emulsion surface smooth with very fine sandpaper, then hand coloured each frame with dyes.

I also made a two minute 16mm film called Puirt-à-beul for the programme, to the singing of a mother and two daughters from 16mm colour footage provided by Graham after we’d spoken on the phone about my ideas for the film. The song was known by us as ‘Stop calling me Nina’ to get into the vocal rhythms while making the visuals: I engraved the positive frames of colour negative film, adding additional colours and patterns to footage of waves crashing against rocks and the sync film of the singers performing in their home.

Both films were made at the studio on Penrose Street in Plymouth that I rented while I was making Cage of Flame. We couldn’t send the original 16mm artwork for the films by courier to Scottish TV, as it was irreplaceable. So, at the beginning of January we drove from Plymouth to Glasgow in my mum’s old Metro, with the boot held shut with a bungee strap (someone had crashed into the back of it and the boot wouldn’t shut properly). Many hours later, we parked up at the television station as it was getting dark and starting to sleet. The security guard let us into the almost deserted Scottish TV building, and we up to the post-production floor to hand over the films. I had a mug of milky tea while the films were being transferred to video, then watched as the telecined films were dropped into the programme on the edit suite. That was the first time Graham and I had met.

Job done, we set off southwards through the snowy darkness, arriving late evening in Matlock Bath in Derbyshire to spend the night at a friend’s house. A couple of weeks later, Graham sent me a VHS tape of the Canan nan Gaidheal programme, which was broadcast across Scotland in January 1992.

Joshua Dickson (2013) 'Piping Sung: Women, Canntaireachd and the Role of the Tradition-Bearer' ‘in Scottish Studies 36: 45-65.

One of Morrison's canntaireachd performances is on The Carrying Stream (Scottish Tradition Series volume 20, CDTRAX9020, January 2005) from Greentrax Recordings. The CD also includes Morrison singing Latha Siubhal Beinne Dhomh.

Publication and comments

Exhibition selected
Hand Eye Visions: the Films of Kayla Parker and Stuart Moore Cine-City, the Brighton film festival; Lighthouse, Brighton, UK. We presented a programme of 17 direct animation films, made over the last 20 years, for the third and final Hand Eye Visions event, curated by Ian Helliwell. We also screened Puirt-à-beul, the second film commissioned by Scottish TV (27 November 2010)

Art into Film event to coincide with the opening of the Tate Gallery’s R.B. Kitaj retorospective; organised by Sarah Stephens, Adam Hodgkins and Maryannick Le Cohu; sponsored by Sight and Sound magazine, The Arts Council of England and the Tate Gallery. National Film Theatre, London, UK. See Art into Film programme with notes compiled by Liese Spencer (17 and 18 June 1994)

Canan nan Gaidheal, Scottish TV. Television broadcast, UK (Premiere: January 1992)