A ghostly encounter with the carnyx

As a band, Snow Ghosts, have always been interested in the meeting of the modern and the ancient. Times may change but humans face the same challenges in different contexts.

Our new album, A Quiet Ritual, focuses on how people deal with loss in their own way. It’s a theme that is ubiquitous throughout time so we wanted to find an instrument that was used in a ritual context.

Snow Ghosts. Image by Steve Gullick.
Snow Ghosts. Image © Steve Gullick.

We came across the carnyx through a TV documentary appearance by John Kenny, and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. It’s an enigmatic instrument, because of both how it sounds and its appearance. It can be loud and terrifying, suggesting its use in battle, but also quiet and nuanced, alluding to a more ceremonial purpose. With its bronze boar head and articulated tongue, it is not only visually impressive but also imbibed with a personality. This was amusingly highlighted by Ross’ dog, Indy, who was convinced it was some kind of being and directed his barking at the instrument’s head, not the player. As the Deskford Carnyx was ceremonially deposited and ‘sacrificed’ as a votive offering, it suggests a strong connection with the ritual. Peat bogs were seen to be sacred places in the Iron Age, possibly because they were seen as a portal between worlds or because of their preserving powers (as bog bodies attest to).

The Deskford carnyx
The Deskford carnyx, on display in the National Museum of Scotland.
Replica of the Deskford carnyx, on display in the National Museum of Scotland.
Replica of the Deskford carnyx, on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

When we were writing and recording the album, John Kenny brought two carnyces, a replica of the Deskford and one in the Tintignac design to our studio. Seeing and hearing them in real life brought home how otherworldly they were and what a dramatic effect they must have caused, either in battle or part of a ceremony. John has a unique knowledge, and his insight added so much context and depth, in the same way that experimental archaeology can inform us about how tools were used in the past.

Our fascination with the instrument led to it being incorporated throughout the album in many different ways. It has an enormous range and can produce delicate high tones and thunderous low notes that we balanced against modern elements.

The artwork for the album, etched by the amazing Irish artist David Rooney, features the Deskford Carnyx pierced by a stake, an interpretation of how it may have been sacrificed and laid to rest.

Artwork for the Snow Ghosts' album A Quiet Ritual
Artwork for the Snow Ghosts’ album A Quiet Ritual.

Find out more at www.snowghosts.net.

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