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The Bagpipe Society

The Eskin Bagpipe Apps

I’m a music enthusiast and Swedish säckpipa player, originally from the Pacific Northwest. I like musical apps on my phone, especially at points in my life where I’ve had a long subway commute, or other chunks of time where I need to keep busy with what I have on-hand. I’d been speaking with musician and app programmer Michael Eskin on a tangential issue and also to The Chanter editor and we concluded that quarantine downtime would be a great time for people to consider music apps, given the delays in overseas shipping, and people being stuck at home.

So I shot Michael Eskin a line to ask him to answer a few questions for Bagpipe Society members about how he got into making bagpipe apps, of all possible avenues to pursue in life, and he was kind enough to lay out some of his thoughts on apps and bagpipes, and how he’s brought those two worlds together.

How did you come to decide to make bagpipe apps for smartphones and tablets?

My Uilleann pipes Regulators app was my very first iOS app. I was playing my set of pipes at a session and realised that my iPhone screen was about the size of the key span of a full set of regulators. I realised that I had the programming, audio engineering, and musical skills to build such an app and if I didn’t do it, probably nobody would.

Considering that a full set of regulators can cost several thousand dollars, I thought it would be a very inexpensive way for Uilleann pipes students to learn to play the regulators as well as, with appropriate mounting on a set, could actually be used for live playing. I also made it so that you could play along with recordings on the iPhone to learn to use the regulators in the context of the music.

Later on, as I gained more experience with iOS programming, I developed my iPad Uilleann app, which is a full set of Uilleann pipes, including regulators that play using exactly the same fingerings as a real set of pipes. It’s fully tuneable and emulates both concert pitch and flat sets in all the common keys. Once I had a platform for building bagpipes-like apps, it was just a matter of coming up with graphics and sound samples for other styles of bagpipes.

The Scottish pipes apps use samples provided by The Swedish bagpipes samples were provided by Jonathan Parker.

How many bagpipe apps have you made?

About a dozen in total, primarily on iOS but with some for Android, and these include Uilleann for iPad, Bagpipes Pro and Bagpipes Pro + MIDI for iPad, Bagpipes (keyboard), Regulators, Sackpipa, ePipes Drones, JustDrones and Celtic Sounds. I also have a bagpipes-based MIDI controller for the iPad.

Which of your bagpipe apps do you personally have the most fun playing?

My iPad Uilleann app. I have many videos on YouTube showing what it can do. What’s the main challenge you’ve faced in emulating a bagpipe on a flat screen? One of the fundamental problems you have to deal with is the number of simultaneous touches that are supported by the underlying hardware. The iPad supports ten, so you can support real Uilleann and GHB fingerings. The iPhone supports only five so it is impossible to support real chanter fingering. As a result, the iPhone apps have to use something more like a keyboard interface. I have several apps that are just bagpipes drones in various styles and keys that many players find useful to practice with.

The other issue was specific to the Uilleann pipes, you need a way to trigger the jump to the second octave. I decided to use the little finger of the left hand as an octave switch, since it is the only finger not used on the real chanter. It takes a bit of getting used to, but works well in practice.

Coming up with workable systems for pitch bending and finger vibrato as well as adding support for tuning and pitch shifting on my iPad Uilleann app was a real challenge.

Finally, it was a huge challenge to have the iOS apps respond as quickly as required for fast bagpipes ornaments.

What are the coolest uses of your apps that you’ve heard customers have done?

I hear a lot of stories of Uilleann pipes instructors using my iOS Regulators app in their classes to help teach their students about playing the regulators.

What kind of musician (or even novice) would you be most likely to recommend your bagpipe apps to?

The Scottish bagpipes apps are pretty accessible to anyone. The Uilleann pipes app is really targeted at those who already play the instrument. All of the apps are great to use in places where playing a real set would be problematic, like on public transportation, or late at night when others are sleeping. You can also connect your iPhone or iPad to other equipment to amplify or record the music you play on the apps.

A real full-set of Uilleann pipes sells for about $10,000. If you want to play in multiple keys, you’d need to buy a set in each key. My Uilleann app for iPad emulates full sets in the five more common keys of D, C#, C, B, and Bb and sells for $4.99 on the iOS App Store. It is an amazing value.

All of my apps are based on per-note samples of real instruments so they sound great. On the iPad specifically, because of the robust multitouch hardware, I’m able to use real chanter fingerings to play the app. This provides a uniquely authentic experience of playing the instruments for about the price of a cup of coffee.

My full catalog of bagpipes and other traditional instrument apps is available at: