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Recording Bagpipes

Hello,

I'm new to the forum, and relatively new to the recording side of music. I came to it via recording the band I play in in my basement, as a lot of people have. One of my first paid gigs will be an interesting one - a local bagpipe band has asked me to record a solo piper. They're going to use the recording mainly for practice purposes so I might be overthinking this, but I'd like to deliver something that sounds as good as possible (all joking about bagpipes aside).

I haven't been able to find much on the topic of recording bagpipes, so I thought I'd share my plans for recording, and see if anyone has any advice to offer.

I have a smaller basement studio that I have recently built and treated, but am not planning to record there. The band has a church sanctuary available to them, and I figure this will be a much better environment acoustically to record. I've considered doing it outside, but don't want to rely on the weather.

Microphone technique: Close micing seems pretty impractical to me as the SPLs are very high, and attempting to individually mic drones seems futile. I'm leaning towards a simple stereo pair a few feet behind the piper, and am considering the below options:
1) A spaced pair of Avenson STO-2 omnis. As my ear isn't tuned to a 'good' bagpipe tone, I figure the flatness of these mics will at least give a natural sound.
2) M/S with an AKG 214 and a modded Apex 460 as the figure 8. These mics might tone down some of the harshness of the pipes.

Of course I'd like to experiment all day, but my client and ears probably wouldn't appreciate that.

Any suggestions people have are appreciated. I'd love to hear from someone who has recorded pipes in the past.

Thanks in advance.
Luke

"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."
- Blaise Pascal

Comments

bigtree Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:08

hehe.

I have to share this,

Back in my performing days, after a show I was riding my road bike around the downtown streets of Calgary. I loved doing that to unwind after performances. Good memories.

One night I heard the sound of a guy playing something that was absolutely amazing. It sounded like bagpipes but not how I heard it before! He had the sound that would engage an army into battle, or bring people together to recharge. The shivers it gave me was nothing less than enchanting but painfulfull at the same time.
I gained a new respect for bagpipes that night, changed me forever. Wow is all I can say. This guy was playing it like he was driving an army proud and noble to save their land. Go at god speed and fight for our freedom!

I followed the sound around those big towers which brought me to an underground car parkade. If only I had a mobile rig to capture that one.

When I hear bagpipes today, I feel and see the music of this beautiful instrument and where it belongs.
If i was to ever have that opportunity to record Bagpipes, I would search for a an underground parkade like that near big buildings and put the mics out in the street, or better yet, find a valley that had the huge sound and bring it all there.
Or, avoid all the fuss and buy a Bricasti which has a valley emulated just for this sort of experience.
To give them the honor they deserve, they sound best in the hills where they glue with the wind.

Cheers

DonnyAir Tue, 07/15/2014 - 04:31

Being of Scottish descent (2nd generation American) and having heard more than my fair share of Bagpipe music growing up (my sister was a Highland Sword Dancer), I can say that - believe it or not -there is a difference between good bagpipes and bad bagpipes.

Also, keep in mind that many bagpipe pieces were meant to be played with a section of pipers... this is where you get the "chill factor" - ( if you are of Gaelic descent, that is).

You've done a nice job here. You would have had my father's approval.... on everything but the choice of music. LOL

He rightly would have cringed at Yankee Doodle Dandy and America The Beautiful, and would have much preferred to hear Loch Lomond or Scotland The Brave - if he was here.
(He isn't.. he's currently playing golf, flyfishing and drinking Dalmore Trinitas in the Great Highlands up in the sky.) ;)

But...being the father of an audio engineer and more than just a little familiar with what the job entails, he would have also realized that the music choices were not yours, and that your job was to capture the performance, and of that he would have approved.

My approval-by-proxy will have to suffice. :)

FWIW

d/

paulears Tue, 07/15/2014 - 23:51

Technically we've solved the problems of recording and can argue about balance happily, because we are now talking about preference or with pipes, the least annoying. I guess the final arbiter has to be a pipe player for the playing authenticity, or a pipe listener for the distance authenticity. Perhaps this then becomes producer choice and moves away from our remit. I've done a few projects over the years that I really didn't like, but the client loved.

J2RKT Mon, 02/16/2015 - 05:18

Howdy all y'alls,
I've been reading this thread with quite some interest because I am a bagpiper and I'm a sound nut, and I want to record my pipes on my own. I was just looking for a simple set up or microphone that won't pop or be overwhelmed by the pure sound level of my pipes and while reading this thread, I noticed.... no bagpipers giving feedback.
Somethings to think about.... the bagpipes are not a melody pipe and a set of drones, they are a single instrument, the chanter (melody pipe) and drones are tuned to each other. I can appreciate that audiophiles are looking for pure sound or tone, pipes don't have that. For instance the recording on this page, the chanter is not too quiet, it sounds far away like 20 feet or so from the drones, the tone is good for the chanter and the tuning is good, and the drones sound good also (a bit too refined and mellow imho), but there is no mixing between the two. The hard part for recording artists is to understand is that "pure" in tune notes are irrelevant with the bagpipes.

Here's the way it works, the notes all have names but no common reference to the western scale. The chanter is tuned as such, High A (the highest note) and the 2nd to the lowest note are called A, these two notes are tuned absolutely to the drones, the second note down is called G it sounds slightly off and has a grieving tone to it but steps down naturally, the third note down F is supposed to have a slightly sharp harmonic, the fourth note down is E and is supposed to be piercing and no harmonic beating, the fifth note down is D and is supposed to have a slightly sharp "chord" to it, similar to the rock and roll E chord (same feel), the next note down is C and is supposed to be piercing slightly sharp with no beating, the next note down is B and is supposed to sound slightly discordant, the next note down is A which is "in tune", and then the lowest note is G which I've never been quite sure what to do with. Some pipers prefer that high A is slightly flat. Anyway if the pipes are tuned properly they will evoke an emotional response from just about anyone and it's not because of pure notes and I'm sure there's been not a few recording artists who have heard the pipe chanter by itself and said to themselves "holy crap! that sounds terrible !". What needs to happen is a balance in volume, distance, and space between the chanter and the drones, in tune and out of tune at the same time LOL.

This is what I think is missing, you need three elevation levels of microphones, one set at chanter level, one set at about neck level, and one set above the drones in order to catch all of the harmonics. What a piper perceives is what is called "being on the inside" they hear the mixed tones of the drones and the harmonics because they are in the middle of the sound (maybe a microphone on top of the headphones?) the piper also feels the tone through the bag and the chanter "communicates" with the drones through the bag, in essence, the piper feels the pipes as well as hearing them, if the piper has done his tuning right the audience won't know it but they'll feel it.

With regard to reverb, something I learned from playing in the fire stair well of a 20 story building.... my pipes sounded terrible at first because the sound waves took a little time to "link up" but maaannn !, once everything synched it was amazing, let the reverb settled before you start recording.

I played the bass fiddle all the way from elementary school to high school and am very familiar with orchestral balanced tuning, and I'm the crazy kid who would have his friends drive his car up and down the road just to hear if his exhaust sounded right on his hot rod and then would change the whole exhaust system if it didn't make the sound I wanted. LOL

Hope that gives some insight on recording the bagpipes.

Reverend Lucas Mon, 02/16/2015 - 12:06

J2RKT, post: 425126, member: 48881 wrote: Howdy all y'alls,
I've been reading this thread with quite some interest because I am a bagpiper and I'm a sound nut, and I want to record my pipes on my own...

Thanks for the input. A piper's input seems like exactly what we were missing on a thread about bagpipes.

Your comments have me wondering about my approach. When you say that there isn't mixing between the chanter and drones, I'm wondering if what you're picking up on is the difference in levels of direct to reflected sound between them. The drones are close miced and picked up from the M/S and room pairs. I had plenty of level on the chanter, so ended up not using its close mic in the mix. I'm wondering if having more reflected sound on it is causing the chanter to not blend naturally with the drone.

What do you mean by 'letting the reverb settle before you start recording?' I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this. Are you suggesting something like warming up an instrument, but warming an acoustic space?

The piper I recorded has expressed interest in doing another project, this time with the rest of the band! Any advice on recording pipes as a band? It'd likely be in the same space, or possibly outdoors, as much as I'd like to avoid setting up gear outside.

J2RKT Tue, 02/17/2015 - 07:42

Reverend Lucas, post: 425140, member: 48050 wrote: Thanks for the input. A piper's input seems like exactly what we were missing on a thread about bagpipes.

Your comments have me wondering about my approach. When you say that there isn't mixing between the chanter and drones, I'm wondering if what you're picking up on is the difference in levels of direct to reflected sound between them. The drones are close miced and picked up from the M/S and room pairs. I had plenty of level on the chanter, so ended up not using its close mic in the mix. I'm wondering if having more reflected sound on it is causing the chanter to not blend naturally with the drone.

What do you mean by 'letting the reverb settle before you start recording?' I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this. Are you suggesting something like warming up an instrument, but warming an acoustic space?

The piper I recorded has expressed interest in doing another project, this time with the rest of the band! Any advice on recording pipes as a band? It'd likely be in the same space, or possibly outdoors, as much as I'd like to avoid setting up gear outside.

Yes .. warming the acoustic space and wrong choice of word on reverb, but letting the echo synchronize. I just remembered a radio recording I did once and the sound actually turned out nice, it was in a small news studio with carpet and a flat ceiling about two feet above my drones and a single mic about three feet in front of me and about waist height, it wasn't focused right at me but pointed more toward the ceiling, the sound was "dry" but the mix was really good imho. I know the sound engineer had never recorded the pipes before, maybe setting up mixing more toward making a good human voice interview would help, I know I was surprised my pipes sounded that good (not necessarily my playing) lol.

PiperD Tue, 12/29/2015 - 08:55

Hello everyone, first post here. I joined the forum because of this thread. Thanks Rev Lucas. I thought you did a decent job on your first go at recording a solo piper. I see that some have thought that there may be too much drone, but I'm not sure if it's too much or just enough. The thing about the Great Highland Bagpipes is that the whole instrument works together with all kinds of resonances and interactions. Like others have said, forget about pure tone! I think the challenge is to capture the whole of the instrument, and the space in which it's played.

Great explanation of the pipes, J2RKT. Probably the best explanation of the individual notes that I've read.

For you non-pipers, the Great Highland Bagpipes are generally not tuned to concert pitch. We will call an 'A' something between about 472 and 480 hz. In pipe band settings, we will often tune to 476, 477 or 478 as determined by the Pipe Major. It's the Pipe Major's job to tune everyone to his chanter. When piping solo, we just go for a good, balanced sound on the chanter and tune the drones to that. 440 is the standard concert pitch for 'A', and Bb is 466, so what we call an 'A' is sharp of a concert-pitch Bb. Our chanters are on a D major scale, with a C# and F#, but we usually just refer to them as C and F. Our music is written on a staff with #'s at C and F. On the occasions where pipers play with other instruments, we can use a special, Bb chanter (where our low 'A' is actually Bb at 466hz), and may put a short extension tube on the drones to lower the pitch because one only has so much room to tune the drones. The chanter has 9 notes, from what we call low G to high A. The tenor drones are tuned to the chanter low-A, an octave down. The bass drone is tuned to the tenor drones another octave down.

If you want to hear a rock band that plays the pipes, look for records by The Red-Hot Chili Pipers. For solo piping, look for records by the late, great, Gordon Duncan who was the Jimi Hendrix of the bagpipes.

Some experienced Scottish pipers say that the bag has a lot to do with your sound, and that a sheepskin bag has the best sound. It makes sense because the bag could function as a resonating chamber. Pipers play various types of bags. Most use a synthetic Gore-tex lined bag, some use hide bags, some sheepskin, and some use a hybrid hide/synthetic/Gore-tex bag.

I'm enjoying the bagpipe hate as well. Pipers don't mind people hating on the pipes, we're used to it, we do a fair share of hating on the pipes ourselves, and we know all the bagpipe jokes. All in good fun. It is a wicked difficult instrument to play and tune, full of variables where one thing affects the others and it can be quite frustrating achieving a good overall sound on all notes.

I've always thought it best to record the pipes from a distance, and to mic the room instead of trying to mic the pipes. I used a sound level meter in the middle of the circle once, and it showed 105db.

I also do instructional recordings for our band, recording our instructor on the practice chanter. These are nothing special. I record using a Tascam DR 44WL hand-held or on a tabletop stand with a shock-mount about a foot from the end of his chanter, and I like to monitor with headphones and set the levels carefully.

Reverend Lucas, recording the band will be a challenge. Indoors would probably be best. Too many variables outdoors. You have to find a great space to do it. Not too lively, not too dead. A pipe band can sound awesome live in a cathedral or church, but capturing that might present a challenge.

paulears Tue, 12/29/2015 - 09:37

Thanks for that - jokes aside, it did answer some of my questions from over the years - especially about the tuning method. Makes a lot of sense now you explain it. There used to be a fire station next to my house and every sunday one of them practiced in the empty garage, and it sounded great.

Sean G Tue, 12/29/2015 - 13:48

I thought it a great idea being a second generation Scot from the Highlands to discover my roots and take up the bagpipes a couple of years ago, as we have great local pipe band near where I live.....and there is nothing more impressive than a full pipe band in full swing

But all my playing seemed to do was attract the neighbourhood cats...:( so I put them away after a month or so for another time when I have more patience and the neighbourhood less cats.

They would have to be one of the hardest instruments to learn to play IMO

PiperD Tue, 12/29/2015 - 17:21

Sean G, post: 434742, member: 49362 wrote: I thought it a great idea being a second generation Scot from the Highlands to discover my roots and take up the bagpipes a couple of years ago, as we have great local pipe band near where I live.....and there is nothing more impressive than a full pipe band in full swing

But all my playing seemed to do was attract the neighbourhood cats...:( so I put them away after a month or so for another time when I have more patience and the neighbourhood less cats.

They would have to be one of the hardest instruments to learn to play IMO

I've been at it for almost 3 years. One year on practice chanter and another 1.5 years up on the pipes to be good enough to pass the audition to join our performing band. You just have to stick with it. Be persistent and focused. I'm able to do some things now that I never thought I'd be able to get the hang of. My neighbors tell me I've gotten a lot better. I'm glad our houses are not too close together!

Once I made the commitment to learn the pipes, I immersed myself in all the aspects of piping. I read everything I could find, took lessons, and attended a couple of week-long schools held here in the US by the College of Piping from Glasgow. It's an instrument that requires a full, nearly fanatical commitment if you wish to become competent.

DonnyThompson Wed, 12/30/2015 - 08:14

PiperD, post: 434746, member: 49626 wrote: You just have to stick with it. Be persistent and focused. I'm able to do some things now that I never thought I'd be able to get the hang of

No different than with any other instrument. ;)

Except that if not played right, bagpipes can be fatal. No to the player, but for those who are forced to listen.:p

I say that as a 2nd Generation Scot, by the way; having grown up travelling to every Scottish Games and Gaelic Festival Event within 8 states between 1972 and 1980.

My parents went to support my sister, who was a sword dancer.

I went because I have an incurable addiction to Scottish Pasties, as well as to good looking Lass's in short skirts.
There's just something about an attractive girl who wears a sgian-dubh on her ankle, ( pronounced "skien-due", it's a type of dagger) that is incredibly provocative and arousing; knowing that she could both rock my world and kill me at the same time. :confused: LOL

d.

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