Bold, tender, full of old truths and distilled modern wit, 365: Stories and Music is an epic narrative built on the beauty of the miniature. It’s a collaboration between artists steeped in tradition but constantly breaking new ground. Now it’s creator, Aidan O’Rourke, heads to Brighton’s Toy Museum on Sat 19 Oct to perform music from 365: Stories and Music with pianist and harmonium player Kit Downes.
In 2013, James Robertson – one of Scotland’s leading authors – set himself the challenge of writing a short story every day for a year. Each story was to be 365 words, no more, no less. It became an enchanting, roaming collection of fairy-tales and memories and provocations published in 2014 by Penguin as 365:Stories. That was only the beginning.
Then in 2016 Scottish fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke (of Lau) wrote a tune every day in response. The result is a major new body of 365 tunes – a significant addition to the Scottish traditional music canon. O’Rourke’s fiddle tunes are sparse and emotive; his playing is renowned for its lyricism, here paired with kaleidoscopic harmonies from Mercury-nominated Kit Downes on harmonium and piano, guitarist Sorren Maclean and harpist Esther Swift.
The album 365: Volume 1 was released in May 2018 and 365: Volume 2 following in August 2019. Now the 365: Music + Stories tour is taking music from both albums around the country. “This project was never meant to be quite so… public!” said Aidan O’Rourke. “Nobody was necessarily going to hear any of it. That wasn’t the point. My 365-tune cycle started as an entirely personal writing exercise – to see what might happen if I imposed a daily writing ritual upon myself. I read James’s stories; I felt a tangible connection. I loved how succinct and emotive he could be with his words. I appreciated the power of his understatement, of saying less in a world when everyone seems to be shouting more. I wondered whether there might be a musical parallel.
Robertson’s stories and O’Rourke’s music now form a touring installation designed by inventor Yann Seznec in collaboration with design team Old School Fabrications. The installation is a piece of art in itself, beautifully crafted from wood and brass with no digital screens in sight encasing the spoken-word recordings of all 365 stories: Robertson reads many himself, and other storytellers provide rich and varied accents from artists, actors and young people around Scotland including; Gerda Stevenson, Cathy Macdonald, Matthew Zajac and Kate Molleson.
The free to enjoy installation, which allows up to six people at a time to browse through all 365 stories and listen through headphones, was commissioned by the Edinburgh International Book Festival supported by Creative Scotland and PRSF, and launched in August 2019 and now embarks on a tour to Linlithgow Palace, Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Shetland Word Play Festival, Orkney Library, Celtic Connections and Huntingtower.
From January 2020, readers can also receive a daily story and tune to be delivered to their email inbox. With no need to buy a CD or book, the 365 Stories and Music will arrive every day free of charge – a daily miniature piece of public art. A son might sign his mum up to receive a tune and short story every day via email. A tourist might fall in love with Scottish fiddle playing. Couples will nod in recognition to one of James’s wise tales; children will get the creeps from his ghost stories; budding composers might feel inspired to create their own 365-day challenge. “I love the way the 365 project has built new layers of creativity and performance on my original collection of stories,” said James Robertson. “It’s been a total joy and privilege to work with these talented musicians, and I am still astonished that my words have provoked such a rich range of responses in Aidan’s compositions. Then there is the installation, a thing of beauty in itself, and all the readers who have lifted the stories off the page, adding such a range of voices and moods. It’s been a huge collaborative effort but also great fun, and I am just grateful to be part of it”.
This project has grown in ways James Robertson couldn’t have imagined when he began writing his stories. It has become a vast, rich and multiform patchwork of fiction woven with stunning melody – an expansive catalogue of public art whose multimedia format means it can be enjoyed in numerous ways.
365: Music + Stories was created in partnership with Edinburgh International Book Festival, with support from Creative Scotland, PRS for Music Foundation’s The Open Fund, the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Literature department, BBC Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Scottish Poetry Library, An Tobar, Reveal Records and Penguin Books.
365: Stories and Music comes to Brighton Toy Museum on Sat 19 Oct 2019.