Serendipitous North / Music

As Serendipitous North Muscian-in-Residence, Yann Seznac was searching out Helmsdale’s hidden instruments to understand the sound of Helmsdale.

What would all the instruments in Helmsdale sound like? This was the question that Yann Seznac posed at the start of his first visit to Helmsdale as Musician-in-Residence and it is a question that has led him on a journey through the village and beyond, into living rooms, shed, attics, and churches, to discover Helmsdale’s hidden instruments. Each instrument is played and recorded and documented in a photograph. From these varied recordings of organs, pianos, guitars, chanters, pipes and other assorted musical instruments, Yann had created an album that weaves together recorded fragments and encapsulates the “sound of Helmsdale”.  Listen here to his album. 

Speaking about the processes involved in recording this sound, Yann describes the geographical, historical and emotional implications of his project:

“…it can be simply as case of plucking or blowing the dust off a string – it’s all about getting the sound and character of the instrument…even if it’s just a tiny fragment, it’s about sounds connected with Helmsdale. I’ve even brought an underwater recording kit so I can record the River Helmsdale from the inside and I’ve already recorded the sound of a boat leaving the harbour.”

“As well as recording the instruments, I’m tracing their history; The piano in Gartymore has a beautiful inscription under the lid and I’m told it was bought at an auction in one of the lodges on the Strath during World War 2. Instruments are amazing things, they are so physical and I love the way they move the air inside or around – it’s a type of energy and it has been fascinating to reignite the energy of these forgotten instruments, they are associated so strongly with people, places, events, times and memories which can be poignant or happy.”


 Yann was invited to the Janice Forsyth’s Culture Studio on BBC Scotland listen here to the interview and hear some of the music he has composed from the sounds of Helmsdale. 



Some of Yann’s discoveries:

And a blog post (and video) from his first trip North here.



Musician-in-Residence: Yann Seznac


Yann Seznec is an artist, musician, and sound designer living in Edinburgh. Yann studied at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and the University of Edinburgh, receiving an MSc in Sound Design in 2007. His work focuses on interaction, physical sound, and unusual approaches to technology. In 2014 Yann was awarded a PRS New Music Biennial commission in partnership with the Edinburgh Art Festival, resulting in performances at Glasgow City Halls and the Southbank Centre, along with an installation in Edinburgh for the Festival. He has also shown work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Inspace, Chapter Cardiff, AND, MIT Media Lab, CCA Glasgow, the Hannah Maclure Gallery, and Mediamatic Amsterdam. Other recent projects include numerous collaborations with Matthew Herbert, including building a musical pigsty and a project with the BBC Concert Orchestra to build custom software and hardware for the “Baroque Remixed” show at the Roundhouse, a Faster Than Sound residency at Aldeburgh Music, and performances at Mutek Montreal, Deutsche Oper, Melbourne Recital Hall, the Royal Opera House, and Köln Philharmonie.


To see and hear some of Yann’s previous projects, visit


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