Milestone is the new album from composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Duncan Lyall. A busy performer on the folk scene as bassist with Kate Rusby and Treacherous Orchestra, Lyall’s profile is rounded with cross-genre collaborations including touring with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Vince Mendoza and orchestra, working with Mark Knopfler on his stage adaptation of Local Hero and recording and performing with Craig Armstrong.
This ambitious and intimate composition, commissioned by Celtic Connections festival 2019, is an exploration of Lyall’s own emotion and memory around powerful moments in his musical and personal life.
The Moog synthesiser is central to the sound of Milestone:
“Although I’m probably best known as a double bass player; it didn’t seem to have a place on this album. The Moog is such a great bass instrument. Some of the melody lines are also played on the Moog.”
“I started using a Moog with Treacherous Orchestra when we recorded Grind back in 2014. Ever since, the Moog has become a big part of my sound as a performing and recording musician. It’s so versatile that it works equally well with Kate Rusby’s softer folk songs or Croft No. Five’s punk-folk mayhem”
After a decade of creative drive and collaboration, Lyall left Treacherous Orchestra in 2017 to focus on his solo work.
Milestone follows Lyall’s solo, composition-based debut, Infinite Reflections (2013) Inviting us to imagine our own film to his evocative soundtrack, Infinite Reflections featured the exhilarating musicianship of Ali Hutton, Patsy Reid, Innes Watson, Seonaid Aitken, Gillian Frame, Angus Lyon, Martin O’Neill and Alyn Cosker and earned Lyall a Composer of the Year nomination in the Scots Trad Music Awards 2013.
Grounded in folk and traditional music, Lyall clearly has professional fluency across multiple genres: his own compositions are where this fluency takes flight. Lyall playfully describes his sound as #CINEMATICFOLKELECTRONICAROCKFUNK.
“I’m heavily involved in and influenced by the vibrant Scottish folk and trad music scene. At its core, Milestone is a product of this. But my musical experiences, both as an artist and a fan, reach far beyond. In Milestone, I’m unashamedly wearing my heart on my sleeve with influences like: Daft Punk, Cinematic Orchestra, Bjork, Air, Pink Floyd, Jamiroquai, DJ Shadow, The Foo Fighters, Massive Attack, Craig Armstrong, The Beatles… And influences closer to home include my bands Treacherous Orchestra and Croft No. FIve and the studio compositions of late visionary, Martyn Bennett.”
“One of the things I tried to do sonically was blur the lines between the acoustic and electronic sounds. I did things like place the microphone much closer to Jarlath (Henderson)’s uillean pipe chanter than you normally would, and then using liberal amounts of processing on the sound. Not to make it sound like something completely different, but to place it in the world of the synths. Patsy (Reid) and Lori (Watson)’s fiddles are sometimes blended with sampled strings to give them more depth and again, place them in that same world. Lori’s voice is layered and processed to create a similar effect. And I’m using a talk box on the Moog. It’s essentially a little speaker attached to a long plastic tube. You hold the other end of the tube in your mouth and the sound of the instrument resonates and modulates as you change the shape of your mouth, in a way that resembles speech. It can make the Moog sound more human: Daft Punk are well known for this sound.”
“Some other synths have found their way into the recording too as well as some programmed drum sounds. Stuart Brown (percussion) brought some really cool ‘instruments’ along to the drum recording session, including an old gas stove and this weird steam punky iron thing that created all sorts of clangs and doings. I sampled and mangled some of these sounds for the heavier moments in the album. Stuart is a great, versatile drummer. He can go from super subtle and tasteful, right through to absolute show-stopping technique and innovation.”
As engineer/producer, Lyall is particular about his recording quality. He recorded most of Milestone in his home studio, Red Deer Studios. He then collaborated with creative UK producers and engineers including GloWorm Studio in Glasgow, recording drums with Andrea Gobbi and mixing with Iain Hutchison. The album is mastered by Nick Cooke.
“All three are long term collaborators and friends who have a good understanding of where I’m coming from with my music.”
“The rhythm section is deliberately mixed loud on this album. Obviously I like lots of bass! And so much of the composition is based around what’s going on in the rhythm section. Chas MacKenzie (electric guitar) often bridges the gap between melody and rhythm, moving between power chords, funk rhythms and soaring hook lines. He’s kind of become the secret weapon in Milestone! Angus Lyon (keys/piano) has this incredible knack of understanding what I’m looking for, then taking it the extra mile. He would give me a few takes of pretty much exactly what I’ve asked for, then a few takes where he injects his own ideas. I could choose between moments where keys needed to be ‘straight’ and where they could really shine and showcase Angus’s style. We had a lot of fun experimenting with layering multiple keyboard sounds. The keyboards bring so much depth and vibe to the sound of the record”
Most of the music was recorded pre-pandemic, although the final recordings, mixing and mastering were completed in lockdown.
“Like so many musicians, we found technical solutions to collaborating remotely. Although it was challenging, there were some new skills learned that will no doubt be vital as we move forward post-covid. Releasing an album at the moment is challenging, not least because there are no gigs. I was very fortunate to get support from Creative Scotland, and I had a phenomenal response to the crowdfund campaign I ran. The connections I’ve made through the crowd funder have been heart-warming, life-affirming. It was a welcome reminder of how important music is to so many people.”
Artist’s website: www.duncanlyall.com
‘Titan’ – official video: