When I was a child I used to sit in the bath and swirl the water around as fast as I could for as long as my arms would allow, trying to create a whirlpool to a new world. I’ve watched my daughter do the same thing, though less so in recent years, but I asked her once what she was trying to do and she said, “I’m trying to see what the other side looks like.” The other side of what, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter. There’s this innate desire to keep searching for that ‘new’ or ‘other side’ using whatever means at our disposal at that moment in time.
Veteran bagpipers David Watson and Matthew Welch embody this spirit on the incredible Woven, two gifted artists using a common language to discover something new. Blissfully, the sun is out and incandescent as Woven steps into existence in the opening, sailing drones of “Weft.” Serrating tones cut across the open spaces, weaving in-and-out of focus like Whirling Dervishes attuned to a higher power. Watson and Welch use a simple framework as a starting point, but once they lift off nothing is tethering the spiraling, shrill tones to Earth.
Dissonance becomes an art form in certain sections of Woven, especially in the middle part of “Weave.” The pipes become howling walls of noise, not quite in harmony but close enough that the whole thing feels heavy. Each piercing roar is like a metal coil being unwound and stretched to its breaking point. Turned up loud, cracks start to split the walls, and windows turn into webs. It’s a chaotic counterpoint to the controlled chaos the duo harness.
In the solid, massive drone sections, Woven sings in the morning stillness. Meditative thoughts seep in like an invisible drip, calming the waters as the sky shifts from navy blue to amethyst before bursting into glowing oranges and yellows. When the pace quickens and the drawn-out hum turns into rapid-fire scale running, I imagine it’s what enlightenment feels like. These quick burst, utterly hypnotic passages are Riley-esque, as if “Anthem of the Trinity” was transported to the Scottish Highlands and covered in moss. Watson and Welch deftly give each other the space to fly in unison, dancing a wild resonant ballet at lightspeed.
Woven is almost unfathomable, except this kind of ground-shattering, forward-thinking music is just what Watson and Welch do. I’ve never heard bagpipe music like this and if they set out to create a new language, to discover what else is possible with this instrument then they succeed. Woven rips a tear in the fabric of the sky and shows us what the other side can sound like.