The Complete Guide To MIDI Bagpipes; Covering Practice Pipes, Robotic Bagpipers & The Frankenpipe

Q. What’s the difference between a bagpipe and an onion?

A. No one cries when you chop up an bagpipe.

Glamorous MIDI controllers like the Tenori-On get all the press, but MIDI bagpipes are where the real action is.

There’s a significant amount of work being done in the area of bagpipe-style MIDI controllers. And it’s no surprise why: MIDI bagpipes combine two of the world’s most maligned instruments, the synthesizer and the bagpipes, into a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge computer music user interface.

That lets you play Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Here are the latest options for getting your MIDI bagpipes on:

Master Gaita, top photo, lets you use bagpipe fingering to control the MIDI universe.

The instrument made from a PVC tube with nine touch sensors. A 2.5 meter long cable leaving the plastic box carries the MIDI signals to the computer or sound module.

Features:

  • Five selectable with a simple command chromatic fingerings (Galician, Asturian, Scottish, French and Extended (2.5 octaves wide).
  • Compatible with other bagpipes as Gaita de Boto, Sac de Gemecs, Xeremía, etc.
  • Any key/octave performance.
  • Independent control of drones. Tenor drone must be tuned either in first or fifth grade of the scale.
  • Four switchable sound programs with two instruments each.
  • Duete by upper or lower thirds performance.
  • Direct PC connection via joystick plug.
  • Standard MIDI connection using the supplied MIDI cable.
  • MAC or portable computer connection with a USB MIDI converter (not included).
  • Auto-shut off after two or ten (by selection) minutes of no activity.
  • No mouth or legs support needed because of its bagpipe-like held down.
  • No finger moistening needed to activate sensors.
  • Nine volts battery or external power supply.

vPipes is described as Next Generation Bagpipes.

vPipes is an electronic Uilleann Pipes emulator (without regulators) affording the possibility of practising in a variety of situations which would prove to be impractical or impossible with a real set of pipes.

Features:

  • 2 x High-performance, advanced RISC architecture main processors
  • Backlit Mini LCD Display
  • Continuous force sensor for realistic octave change emulation
  • Li-Ion rechargeable battery
  • In system battery charger
  • Compatible with 4 AA 1.5V standard batteries
  • Integrated synthesizer
  • RISC-based digital signal processor (Synthesis/DSP)
  • High-quality wavetable synthesis
  • Serial MIDI in & out
  • Effects: Reverb + Chorus
  • Surround on two speakers with intensity/delay control
  • Four-band parametric equalizer

The Degerpipes is an electronic bagpipe chanter. It’s designed to be a practice instrument, but it’s also a MIDI controller.

Key Features:

  • Same size and finger spacing as a long practice chanter.
  • Dual output: PHONES and MIDI. Headphones and MIDI devices can directly connect to the DegerPipes Chanter. It’s also possible to connect the phones output to an amplifier or a stereo.
  • The chanter contains all electronic components as well as the battery. No external box or additional equipment is needed.
  • Authentic Bagpipe sound including drones generated by wavetable sound synthesis. Highland Pipe and Smallpipe sounds integrated.
  • Perfectly tuned chanter scale and drones by usage of crystal oscillator and microprocessor control.
  • The Pitch is adjustable in a range of more than three octaves. This enables you to play together with other instruments in any key.
  • The drones volume is variable and can also be switched off.
  • Through MIDI output every MIDI compatible tone generator or other MIDI equipment can be used (for example PC with notation program).
  • An extended cromatical scale is available allowing you to play tunes which are not playable on the real pipe chanter.
  • Driven by a cheap standard 9V Battery, Accumulators are also usable.
  • Up to 100 hours of playing with only one battery.
  • Automatic power off after a minute of no activity.
  • A Metronome is integrated within the Chanter.

Fagerstrom makes several pipe-style MIDI controllers, including the Technochanter and the Technopipes.

Technopipes Features:

  • Highly portable. Fits in your pocket: only Ø16 x 249 mm (Ø5/8″ x 10″)
  • Contains all the electronics as well as the battery: no extra box to plug in.
  • Uses standard Ø3.5 mm stereo earphones (not included): perfect to play on buses, trains etc. Ideal for the commuter.
  • Unforgiving at detecting crossing noise.
  • Authentic bagpipes sounds.
  • Drones sound with different drone configurations.
  • Built-in metronome.
  • Adjustable contact sensitivity.
  • Pitch adjustable within a two octave range.
  • Recording capabilities, with variable playback speed.
  • MIDI output (cable included).
  • Runs on one standard AAA 1.5V alkaline battery or one AAA 1.2V NiMH rechargeable battery (not included). Runs for approx. 10 hours on a 1000mAh rechargeable NiMH battery.
  • Touch controls for all settings.
  • Please note that battery, case, and earphones are not included.
  • 1 year warranty.

And then there’s there weird stuff….

McBlare, above, is a robotic bagpipe player developed by the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (pdf). McBlare plays a standard set of bagpipes, using a custom air compressor to supply air and electromechanical “fingers” to control the chanter.

McBlare is MIDI controlled, allowing for simple interfacing to a keyboard, computer, or hardware sequencer. The control mechanism exceeds the measured speed of expert human performers. On the other hand, human performers surpass McBlare in their ability to compensate for limitations and imperfections in reeds, and we discuss future enhancements to address these problems.

McBlare has been used to perform traditional bagpipe music as well as experimental computer generated music.

The FrankenPipe project (pdf) is an attempt to convert a traditional Highland Bagpipe into a controller capable of driving both real-time synthesis on a laptop – as well as a radio-controlled (RC) car.

The chanter is outfitted with photoresistors (CdS photoconductive cells) underneath each hole, allowing a full range of MIDI values to be produced with each finger and giving the player a natural feel. An air-pressure sensor is also deployed in the bag to provide another element of control while capturing a fundamental element of bagpipe performance.

According to its creators, the FrankenPipe “navigates the realm of both musical instrument and toy, allowing the performer to create a novel yet rich performance experience for the audience.”

While the FrankenPipe apparently excels at all the usual musical tasks, it also can control a radio-controlled (RC) car.

The broader concept of the MIDI-controlled car was inspired by the fact that a performance can be supplemented by anything that reacts to a musical instrument. (Some drummers employ lights
that are triggered when they hit their drums, for example.)

By incorporating an RC controller into the bagpipes, music can be generated by the performer during the process of attempting to drive the car through a maze.

Equipping the FrankenPipe with radio-frequency (RF) control of an RC car was straightforward. The transmitter of an RC car was disassembled, and it was discovered that only four different contacts needed to be grounded to move the car forward or backward, or to turn the front wheels left or right.

These four circuits create seven possibilities of motion: forward and left, forward only, forward and right, no movement, reverse and left, reverse only, and reverse and right.

To incorporate the capabilities of the RC Car into the bagpipe design, notes of the bagpipe were mapped to move the car in one of the seven basic ways. According to the creators “amusing results were easily produced.”

MIDI Bagpipe Video Demos

Here are some demos videos showing MIDI bagpipes in action:

Midi pipes & synthesizer

MIDI Bagpipe Electric Guitar

Cillian Vallely playing the vPipes

Bagpipe MIDI Music

Finally, if you ended up at this page simply because you were looking for bagpipe music in MIDI format, check out the massive list at The Whistle.

8 thoughts on “The Complete Guide To MIDI Bagpipes; Covering Practice Pipes, Robotic Bagpipers & The Frankenpipe

  1. Thanks for this presentation. I’ve been wavering between electronic pipes and a set of good, old-fashioned practice pipes. I think I’ll go with the non-electronic version, but the MIDI pipes are certainly interesting. Thanks for your help.

  2. Hi, yes great presentation ideed. I noticed the site does not mention the midi bagpipes by alberto arias. Before the relase of the vpipes, which promise to be the best on the market so far, the pipes by alberto (with samples made by hevia who co developped the pipes) were by fare the most developed and best sounding midi bagepipes! I own a set since 8 years and use it not as a practice set, nor as a replacement for real bagpipe, but as an instrement of its own kind. Anyhow I believ Alberto Arias should not be left out on this blog. There is not much info about it on the web. here are some pics and also videos of myself performing with it:
    http://www.cyberpiper.com/

    hope to hear from you:)

  3. Hi, yes great presentation ideed. I noticed the site does not mention the midi bagpipes by alberto arias. Before the relase of the vpipes, which promise to be the best on the market so far, the pipes by alberto (with samples made by hevia who co developped the pipes) were by fare the most developed and best sounding midi bagepipes! I own a set since 8 years and use it not as a practice set, nor as a replacement for real bagpipe, but as an instrement of its own kind. Anyhow I believ Alberto Arias should not be left out on this blog. There is not much info about it on the web. here are some pics and also videos of myself performing with it:
    http://www.cyberpiper.com/

    hope to hear from you:)

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