Musical instruments have insect-like ‘life-cycles’, sheathed in hard-casing they’re dormant most of the time, then burst into life when picked up and played. And they can ‘live’ 100’s of years. “The Yellow London Lady” – gifted to Duncan Robertson in 1774 – has lost its casing (nearly lost its neck, but that’s another story) and currently resides under glass. It was gifted to Robertson by Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne, who after arduous months on Schiehallion observing the night sky, then surveying by day (when weather permitted), organised a big last night bash in his bothy; at some point flames broke out and bothy burned to the ground taking Robertson’s original fiddle with it.Since then the replacement fiddle has remained within the Robertson family, passing from one Duncan to the next. The original recipient, delighted with his new fiddle composed a tune to it, leaving us wondering: what would it be like to hear that tune played on the instrument it was composed for? Present-day musician – and all round gudd’en – Munro Gauld is working to release it from its museumy bonds so we can hear it, record it (then hopefully return it unscathed to dormancy).
Please forgive me, I know this blog is ostensibly devoted to contour lines, and this fiddle is quite tangential to that story. But here’s the thing, for me it aids thinking about processes: how we remember, how we archive, how materials, maps and resources can be dormant and then ‘activated’. How sometimes in order to understand the history we are exploring we need to be active: follow the map in its landscape, re-draw it to understand it. Like Maskelyne, I am an outsider to Schiehallion, my experience of the mountain is of limited value compared to those who live within sight of it. Hopefully the next few weeks in residence will be a lively opportunity to learn, to share and explore, and to hear that fiddle revived.