Some Thoughts About Bagpipe Pitch

Continuing my recent theme of bagpipe-related posts, one thing I don’t think I could gloss over is an issue that has bothered me for a long time now – the ever-increasing pitch of the bagpipe.

An old grad school friend of mine last night remarked to me that it seemed to her that the pitch of the bagpipe has increased sharply (pun fully intended!) in the modern time. I reassured her that it was not just her ears playing tricks on her. This trend is a real thing and it’s just not a good trend in my view.

As for why this trend is a thing, despite a lot of pipers not being happy with the trend? Well, let’s just say pipe band competition drives a lot of market trends in the industry and pipe bands (particularly at the top levels of competition where minutia can make the difference between a first place and last place finish). For whatever reason, bands tended to note that if they pitched their chanters (and subsequently their drones) just a shade higher than the rest of the field it gave them an edge in scoring, most likely because a higher pitched sound is perceived as louder (well, at least within the normal operating range of the bagpipe). As such, the stage was set for an arms race for who could produce the highest pitched sound.

This trend took an instrument that once pitched a few hertz higher than concert Bb (that’s B-flat for you non-musical people) to one that now pitches right at B (natural). In the last 10 years we’ve seen almost a half-step increase in the pitch.

So why is it a problem, so long as the instrument is tuned well? The answer is the higher up you go in pitch the more of the upper harmonics (upper partials if you will) you lose as they become inaudible to the human ear as they are now in a frequency range the human ear does not detect. What you gain in perception of volume and clarity you lose in richness of tone. In the band scene this might not be a huge issue when you have multiple instruments to fill the sound out, but a soloist at today’s modern band pitch does not sound pleasant. Hell, it’s even so high now that bands don’t sound pleasant anymore.

Let’s do some case in point here. Same band, 10 years apart. One performance from 2008 and one from 2018. The difference in pitch is absolutely shocking.

This has no doubt gotten out of hand. Alas, it’s harder and harder to find lower pitched chanters these days, which is why I was relieved to find one in my perusing of shops last night (designed by a major bagpipe making firm in conjunction with a top-level piper), and no doubt I’ll be ordering one to complete my new set of drones (and to use with my current one). My current go-to chanter was designed for a vintage pitch but along with chanters, even modern reeds are designed higher pitched than they used to be so the pitch of my chanter has creeped up in turn. It’ll be interesting to see how this one compares.

I don’t know. All I do know is that I sure hope the trend reverses soon.

What do you think? Pipers or laypeople, what do you make of this trend?

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Doing Something Nice for Yourself

First things first, you’ll be pleased to know my new tattoo has healed up beautifully as they always do when you use Saniderm/Tegaderm to heal a tattoo. I’ll of course post a healed pic on the “My Tattoos” page once I get ample lighting to take a good picture (not for a couple of days – cloudy, dreary and a chance of snow here for the next two days; yes it even snows in Texas!).

Anyway, aside from that highlight my life has been struck by a bunch of lowlights recently. Job stress, family stress, a health scare, a 30 day Facebook jail sentence, a pet’s death, learning of two close friends moving away, deailng with a punk-ass troll, you name it. When it rains it pours, I guess.

As such, I think I deserve something nice for weathering the recent storm. Just what I didn’t know, until I was browsing FB (yes, I can still browse but I can’t post or send messages) and I saw something I’ve been eyeing for awhile pop up and I’m like “I just got my tax refund, now’s the time!”

As an intermittent hobbyist piper, one thing that has always worried me with our climate in Texas is cracking and warping. Unfortunately, with it being able to go from blistering hot to freezing cold in a matter of minutes around here, this puts an undue stress on the instrument. It isn’t much issue when you’re playing in a climate controlled area, but anytime you play somewhere that it’s very hot, very cold, very wet or very dry you’re going to have problems, and lo and behold I have multiple pieces in my instrument with hairline cracks (all the “stocks” – the bits that actually tie into the bag). It’s inevitable in our climate.

A solution to this is to look at alternative materials, of course – the most popular being a thermoplastic called polyoxymethylene (most commonly sold under the trade names “Delrin” or “Polypenco”). This has been used in the construction of woodwinds for a long time and have been great for that and it makes a very good chanter, but drones are a different story – drones made of Delrin have historically had a very unrefined, loud and brashy tone. Nonetheless I’d always wanted such a set as one I could take anywhere in any climate and not have to worry about it.

Well US bagpipe maker Roddy MacLellan introduced an all-new design a couple of years ago he calls his “Revelation” bagpipe that elevates the Delrin instrument to a new level – it gives you the resiliency of Delrin but the sound of wood by lining the bores with a cellulose polymer material. This design features some other innovative solutions for moisture control, including silica gel cartridges in the drone stocks to keep your drone reeds dry and maintain tuning stability. Roddy talks about his new design a bit here:

Ever since this design was introduced I have absolutely been drooling over it – it’s so unique they actually applied for a patent on it. I already own and play a 2008 MacLellan bagpipe in African Blackwood and it is hands down the best bagpipe I have ever played. Alas, it does still have the issues that wooden bagpipes are prone to, granted it’s held up really well despite the abuse I’ve put it through. I could never part with this beautiful instrument. To have a twin in Delrin will complete my stable in every way. Of course, as with any of his bagpipes, you can choose any of his drone profiles and doll them up however you wish, as I have.

Now obviously I won’t be retiring my ABW set. I could never do that. Alas, I will probably just pop the stocks from the Revelation in and use those with both sets of drones on account of the hairline cracks in them and the moisture control built into the Revelation stocks. For practices and performances in climate controlled environments where the wooden pipe would be “comfortable” it will still be my go-to instrument, but anytime I have to be outdoors in the elements for any length of time or any time I have to travel the Revelation will be my instrument of choice as I have no desire to go through the permitting process for my now CITES listed ABW bagpipe – if caught with them without the proper paperwork they would be subject to confiscation! Of course, I have the same two chanters and blowpipe I’ll use with both sets of drones so that doesn’t change one way or another.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten myself a gift so I figured it was about time. It’ll be approximately 4-6 months before it arrives but that’s OK. Quality can’t be rushed. When they do arrive I hope to finally be over a little health problem that has prevented me from playing at all recently and I’ll be ready to assemble and give them a test drive.

Until then, the anticipation begins!


PS: It looks like maybe the immediate threat of the troll has passed so I’m re-opening comments. Let’s hope I can keep them open.

Cigar Review: PCC Room 101

This offering is available exclusively from the Privada Cigar Club. You can read the description here (middle column):

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plentiful medium/full body smoke. Flavors of nuts, earth and leather are the prominent notes. There’s a bit of a pepper on the nose and lingering on the finish.

The flavors are much the same into the first third but we also see a semi-sweet dark chocolate enter the draw. I’m also detecting a faint vanilla extract on the tip of the tongue. Everything is exceptionally smooth and well blended together. Smoke is very thick and chewy on the palate.

Into the 2nd third the same smooth, rich flavors remain but are joined by a fleeting hint of pineapple and the pepper dialing down a bit. The final third sees another slight shift as the pepper morphs into an aromatic rose petal which is very prominent on the retrohale. I now also get more of the citrus notes described also. Ending at 1 hour flat for a solid burn time for a corona size and entering just a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Absolutely flawless construction featuring a near razor sharp burn for most of it. I did have to give it a large touch up about halfway but likely due to the weather conditions. Ash holds on about a third at a time. Poor quality paper band with lots of glue though. It shredded when removing it but did not damage the wrapper.

All in all this was a beautifully crafted cigar. Smooth, rich and complex flavors. Blender Matt Booth and Brian Desind of PCC did a spectacular job with this one. Rating: 4.5/5.

Ink As Therapy

Right on schedule, the Saniderm was ready to come off of my new tattoo and it has now entered the peeling phase, which will last about another week or so. From there I’ll have a finished tattoo that’s ready to show off.

Alas, as any ink enthusiast, ideas have already been swirling in my head for my next one and I think I have a rough concept of what I’ll be getting next. I’ll need to play around with certain design elements but as a matter of “balance” I’ll likely choose placement on the other side in the same spot (since I am all about balance and symmetry – it’s the mathematician/engineer in me). The only one I’ve not yet balanced out is my rib panel but I’m in absolutely no hurry to have my other ribs tattooed – that was a pain unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

Anyway, I digress. Obviously I’ve done the whole gamut for “therapy” – some of it forced upon me by those who also forced existence upon me, some of it voluntarily. I’ve done the whole counseling, behavioral modification and even antidepressant/antipsychotic medications. Nothing ever worked. Nothing was able to quiet my tortured mind. I guess that’s a challenging element of autism – it seems a lot of traditional treatment methods don’t work on us. Maybe this further signifies that autism should not be classified as an illness or disorder? That’s something to chew on for a later time.

Back to the topic at hand. Ink as therapy. Tattoo enthusiasts throw around the term “ink therapy” all the time. Alas, as weird as it sounds, there might be some truth to that statement. As I’ve eluded to it in previous posts, but for me, being in the hot seat is when I’m most at peace. For me, when Jade is working her magic on my human canvas is the only time my mind is ever “quiet” as it were. All the rest of the time it’s racing, typical of those in my tribe. I even have trouble sleeping due to it. Sleep? Hah, what the fuck is that?

With as much negative stigma as there still is around tattoos, the benefits I’ve reaped from my favorite hobby have been incredible. I feel like my overall pain tolerance has improved (day-to-day bumps and scrapes aren’t as bothersome to me as they used to be) and maybe I’ve even gotten an immune boost because I don’t get sick like I used to. There are studies suggesting such too.

In that light, ink has been the one thing that has been able to do what counseling, drugs, etc. were all unable to do. It centers me. It’s meditative. It makes me feel “good.” Shit, as they seem to be the only form of “treatment” that works for me it seems to me my health insurance should fucking pay for my ink. It’s better “medicine” than any of the poison that criminal enterprise known as Big Pharma peddles as such.

I’ve found something that works for me, so at the very least that should be respected and tolerated. Whether or not you even like my tattoos is of no never mind to me (art is subjective after all – a masterpiece to person A could be butt-ugly to person B) as I’ve now transcended past tattoos solely for meaning to the point of just getting them because they look cool and feel good. Call that hedonistic as it were, I admit it is. I’m not hurting myself or anyone else in the process so I fail to see where that’s a problem.

Stay cool and ink it up!

In Violent Times…

…just get a sick new tat!!!

What do you think? Of course I’ll get a better pic when it’s healed and out of the Saniderm but there you go.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten a song lyric tattooed on you?

Edit to show an artist’s pic, before the Saniderm was applied. She was good – she even got a tiny bit of my fabulous meggings in the pic:

My Pre-Ink Routine

So with my appointment coming up in about 5 hours, I’ve begun my pre-ink routine to get me into the tattoo mind frame. As much as it’s old hat to me by this point, there’s still some level of nerve involved for what’s about to come. Ink enthusiasts will tell you that never really goes away, no matter how many tattoos you get.

Of course, being on the autism spectrum and liking “order” as it were, I have my routine down pat to get me into that mind set and get me on my game to endure the pain and resulting adrenaline/endorphin rush of the tattoo process. It’s calming and reassuring, as is every set routine we autists have (whether we’re inked or not) as deviating from order and structure is unduly stressful to us.

So my pre-ink routine starts with the morning of the session, with some meditation to center my thoughts and usually over a cigar and coffee. This routine starts to prep me for what’s to come mentally, while I recite affirmations to myself. “You will overcome the pain and you will have a beautiful piece of art” or something similar.

Then a couple of hours before the session I’ll eat a fairly sizable meal from a favorite restaurant. This gives me the fuel I need to endure the session, but enough time to start digesting so I’m not feeling lethargic or weighed down by the time I get to the hot seat. Comfort food, for me usually in the form of a nice meal from my hometown’s top 100 Chinese restaurant (yet, whoever thought podunk Abilene, TX would be home to one of the top 100 chinese restaurants in the US?).

While I’m processing my meal I usually stop for another cigar, which I smoke while rocking out to my jams. Music motivates me, and especially music I emotionally connect to. Admittedly that usually means my TFF with some others mixed in. By this point I’m in a state of “alert relaxation” and am ready for the process to begin.

After the first couple of lines have been completed the nerves have worn off and I’m usually settled into my zone to carry me through the session. I’ve now entered that state of pure meditation where I feel most at peace. As odd as it sounds, when I’m in the hot seat is when I’m most at peace, at any given time during my life.

So that’s it. That’s my pre-ink routine. I’m not saying this works for everyone, but it really works for me. Maybe even neurotypicals have a similar routine? Maybe some autists also have something similar? Let me know!

Cigar Review: Aganorsa Leaf Maduro

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Welcome to another one of The Inked Autist’s cigar reviews! Today we are taking a look at this offering from Casa Fernandez featuring a Mexican San Andreas Maduro wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and long fillers. The size reviewed today is the 5″ x 54RG box pressed Robusto Extra vitola.

The first light revealed a slightly loose draw putting off big puffs of thick, chewy, medium/full body smoke. Big pepper and earth blast right up front. Tinge of a nuttiness on the finish. A little bit of grit to the texture.

Getting into the first third we have largely the same but the pepper dials back a bit allowing a spicy, unsweetened vanilla extract to enter the draw flavors. There’s also a tiny hint of espresso on the finish going into the retrohale. Still that same grit to the texture.

The 2nd third sees no further changes, holding everything except for a tinge of strength entering the mix. Only a slight shift into the last third as the vanilla morphs more into a nutmeg. Ending at 55 minutes for a slightly better than average burn time for the size and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

Flawless construction with a near razor sharp burn all the way down. High quality self-adhesive bands that were easy to remove and did not damage the wrapper. Ash holds on about a third at a time.

A lot of the prototypical Mexican San Andreas flavors in this stick. High on body and an overall savory, earthy experience. Enjoyable flavors, though personally I would have liked a tinge of sweetness in the mix to round out the package, but that’s just me personally. This would go well with a hefty red wine or a bourbon. Rating: 4/5.