Writing an Album with a Newly Invented Bagpipe – by Malin Lewis

My debut album Halocline is out. It’s been a long journey and it means so much to share it with the world.

I began making Smallpipes at the age of fourteen after approaching a local woodturner for lessons. I was always fascinated by sound itself, how simple tubes of wood and reeds could make such pure sounds and how their different shapes and styles influenced the timbre.

When I first heard about the Lindsay System Chanter I thought it sounded too good to be true; A Scottish Smallpipe with two octaves that was chromatic without any keys. When I auditioned for the Conservatoire in Glasgow I organised a meeting with Donald Lindsay the inventor of this magical chanter.

From the first note I played on these new Smallpipes I fell in love with them. They were rich warm and zingy but most of all they had this extended range the same as a whistle or Uilleann pipe. It felt like the potential was endless and no longer was I restricted by the 9 notes of the highland pipes. I asked Donald if he’d let me try making the first chanter out of wood and he generously shared the design and drawings with me.

I spent a month working away in my shed to build this new instrument which until now had only ever been made with a 3D printer. The result was better than I could have hoped. Eager to learn to play it, I fine-tuned the individual holes using a needle and beeswax, and I began to experiment with the shapes and intervals that fit under the hands.

I’ve always enjoyed writing tunes on instruments that I can’t play or have little understanding of; it forces you to listen and follow the melody, not your muscle memory. What I had now was a truly unique instrument with a familiar but new layout. It felt as though the instrument was guiding me as to what to play and what phrases it wanted to express. I started writing tunes that I would never have come up with on the fiddle or whistle. It felt like a blank canvas where everything felt fresh.

Hiraeth and Trans, the first two tracks on the album, were some of the first tunes I wrote with the chanter and they feel almost like a collaboration with the instrument itself. The two grew together.

At the same time as all of this I was getting to know my own identity as a trans person. It was a time for a lot of personal growth as well as moving to Glasgow from Skye.

There was less queer representation within the folk scene then and I feel like the Lindsay Chanter gave me a voice. It’s timbre let me express individuality with a personal sound and helped me to view our tradition from a truly unique and new perspective. It also let me explore bagpipe music from all over Europe, with it’s extended range and chromatic scale it can play harmonic minor scales for example which are particularly good for Finnish melodies.

The tunes from Halocline were written over the next five years. Moments in my life that felt particularly poignant combined with shapes and patterns that formed on this new bagpipe.

In February 2022 I was asked to write a New Voices commission for Celtic Connections. Although I began by writing a folk/techno piece using only acoustic instruments I quickly realised that this was my opportunity to write and perform on this new bagpipe with a larger band and create an album (which would soon become Halocline) in the fullest possible way.

After the sold out New voices concert and with the generous support of Creative Scotland I recorded Halocline in March 2023 in Gloworm Studios in Glasgow. I enlisted the skills of Andy Bell to record and mix my album and together we produced the album.

What has emerged is a record that encapsulates many of the emotions that I’ve been trying to express all my life. It is a deeply personal account of the joys of humanity and being your true self. I hope that when people listen to Halocline they can find their own stories, memories and relationships with the tunes.

It feels like a huge creative relief to let these stories out into the world. I’m so excited to tour the album with my lovely band (Ali Hutton and Sally Simpson) and share it with live audiences before beginning the next creative chapter!

Website – malinlewis.co.uk

Listen to Halocline – https://hudsonrecords.ffm.to/Halocline

Hiraeth – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ura9KBlAcuo

Halocline Mini Documentary – https://youtu.be/UlmxkWHz1dE