Thursday, January 29, 2009

Full Bladder?

I just got myself a bladder-pipe from a historic instrument craftsman in the Czech Republic. More pictures are on the way.

The Bladder pipe is one of the rarest medieval instruments to see these days. The earliest references to it are from the 13th century, but it may actually be a lot older. It's not so much an ancestor of the bagpipe, as much as it is a cousin, though, if we find earlier references to it in the future, there might be reason to believe it is at least an ancestor of some smallpipes. However, it's most likely that it was a simplified version of a bagpipe, easier to set up and use, cheaper to make, and smaller than conventional bagpipes. In the later years of it's popularity, it was associated with peasants.

The pipe looks similar to the legendary Indian "snake charmer" instrument, but it is not. The Indian "Been", as it's called, is a completely different instrument, and has no bag or bladder.

Back in the day, the bag of the bladder pipe was an actual sheep's bladder -- when fresh, it was very elastic, and able to be filled so as to expand and allow the player to breathe. Unfortnately, sheep's bladders do not last very long before they need to be replaced, so the modern bladder pipes use a thin leather kid-skin bag. It's less elastic, but it works, and last a lot longer. Until I learn how to play it correctly, I'm sort of usig the bag as a bagpipe bag, smooshing my face into it while closing the hole with my tongue, and inhaling. Maybe that's how you're supposed to do it, but it takes a bit more coordination than bagpipes. By the time I'm done, I might have the skills required to play digeridoo!

Here is a sound sample of my new toy!


Mike (AKA Pops) said...

God help me I just had to play the sound clip! It is an amazing little instrument and you are to be commended for figuring it out sir.

David W. Irish said...

It's not harder than playing a bagpipe. It's just that instead of under your arm, the bag is in your face. Otherwise, it's like playing a recorder, except you have coordinate breaths.

It was much harder to locate the instrument maker than it was to play it. I was pretty much playing it right out of the box, to give you an idea of it's ease. By comparison, I have a set of Bulgarian pipes that sound great, but I've barely figured out how to play them, and they're more similar to other smallpipes I've played.

David W. Irish said...

Bladder Control Issues

Well, I went to an SCA event in New Hampshire called Birka yesterday, which is sort of an indoor medieval market place -- lots of pirates, buxom women with exposed cleavage, and handcrafted wares done in the old medieval style.

I showed my new toy off to the other members of my band, and got some more practice in, and I think I have the bladder control issue under control now. I was able to play extended periods with the new instrument, and jammed with some other people. Everyone loved the sound of the thing. My band members are eager to use it for new songs.

I even jammed with one of our long-time fans, who plays transverse flute. We played Amoroso, and the sound of her flute and the Bladder pipe went well together. I played with an old friend, Festus, who sells music instruments. He had a new Hurdy Gurdy, and it droned in the same key, so we jammed a bit, and found that things sounded okay with each other.

I am liking the simplicity and the weird sound of this instrument more and more. It really is fun. I am going to have to make a case for it, as I don't want it to get damaged bumping around in my bag with all the other instruments.

So I think my bladder is under control now :)

Gaston de Clermont said...

That's you playing in the sound clip?! Outstanding!

David W. Irish said...

Oh, no -- the sound clip is actually from the website of the maker. I haven't got all my stuff hooked up yet to make my own recording, but I will as soon as I do.

What you should know is that my instrument has the exact same pitch and sound as the instrument in the clip, and I've played with the sound clip while practicing, until I can duplicate it.

When I record myself playing, though, I'll be playing a few different songs. I'm actually going to play the song from the Cantigas De Santa Maria that has the illumination of the bladder pipe players, to be more appropriate. I might actually add drums and cymbals.

I could do this this wekend if I am not too lazy.

Sorry for the confusion!

I suppose in the future, I sould actually record myself playing some stuff to go on this blog.

Terra Serpentis said...

Dave, Odd! I literally, 2 nights ago did some research after looking up some old Totentanz wood cuts and found the "platerspiel" or bladder pipe reference. I had always assumed it was another name for a bagpipe until seeing the woodcuts. ...and looking at a representation of the exact instrument you now post here. I was even wondering where the hell I could get one! And now you post this... Uncanny!