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A different note

The young Kintyre piper Lorne MacDougall, who unveils this year's second New Voices commission at Celtic Connections next Sunday, is a man on a mission.

"The conventional wisdom about bagpipes is that they can only be played loud, they can only play in B flat, and they've only got nine notes," he says. "That's always really frustrated me, and made me want to prove how much more there is to them - which is how I've ended up with the career I have, the style I have, and is also essentially where this new music came from. I'm trying to push the pipes in as many different ways as possible, to show what they're really capable of."

Not that MacDougall disavows the rigorous discipline of piping's more regimented dimensions: his own boldly innovative approach rests on those same cast-iron technical foundations, laid down by playing in Grade 1 competitive bands from an early age. He was one of the earliest bagpipe graduates from the then RSAMD's Scottish Music degree course, and is a three-time finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition.

However, he has certainly taken his instrument into some arrestingly new environments - and not just in a musical sense, with recent notable performances ranging from the red carpet at the European premiere of Brave (he is also lead piper on the soundtrack), to last summer's Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Prom. He made an appearance in BBC One crime drama Shetland, and features on Susan Boyle's recent Christmas album.

With this kind of schedule - also including advertising and theme music commissions, occasional studio production and a busy teaching workload, as well as performing with his own band - it's small wonder that MacDougall's New Voices composition, Collisions, is his first big solo project since 2010's critically acclaimed debut album, Hello World.

Its original concept "was to highlight and explore all the different worlds inside piping, including solo competition, pipe bands, Gaelic music, contemporary folk, world music and even gothic rock".

He adds: "To begin with I envisaged the piece's different sections each representing one of these aspects, but pretty quickly they all started to merge and mingle together in all sorts of unexpected ways, but I think it's actually ended up as a fuller realisation of the ideas I started out with."

While MacDougall will feature on at least five different varieties of bagpipe, including an electric bass chanter - an "entirely fake, made-up instrument" pitched an octave lower than the Highland pipes he'll be duetting with - he has also relished the chance to stretch himself more widely as a composer. Together with electric and acoustic guitars, bass and percussion, his chosen line-up also features a string trio, which he has foregrounded during sizeable sections of the piece.

As regards his own instrument, though, that passion for pushing its boundaries remains front and centre, and is clearly evident in MacDougall's relish as he talks about his methods this time. "I'm using some pretty unusual scales," he says. "And there are least three notes I'll be playing rather a lot, which definitely aren't in the College of Piping tutor book."

To anyone unfamiliar with that august publication, three extra notes might not sound like much - but as an advance on nine, it's quite some leap.

Lorne MacDougall plays the Mitchell Theatre, on January 26, 1pm

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