Pipe-Shamed

I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make:

I’m getting interested in bagpipes...

There, I said it.

I’m not sure if it “feels good” to come clean or not. It’s kind of like admitting to your friends that you’ve decided to become an unrepentant asshole and there’s no talking you out of it. Okay, well if not an “asshole” per se (maybe that’s going too far), then at least a windbag

Backstory

This journey began long ago, in a faraway place called Maine. Some six years now.

The last place I stayed in the US before relocating farther north was a ‘Celtic heritage farm’ run by a wonderful couple — a piper and a singer/preacher — with a passion for Celtic music and culture.

The experience stayed with me, hidden, smoldering in the background. I’d entertained thoughts here and there since of taking up piping lessons locally as a way to connect with the Anglophone community. But when I inquired about it, I found out the lessons are in French, and the Scottish ‘garrison’ group responsible seems really obsessed with dressing up like soldiers of 200 years ago. That doesn’t interest me at all. Wrong kind of weird.

Somehow recently, as I passed again that time of year where I stayed on the “Celtic” farm, the sense memories came flooding back, and I started exploring online the sounds and culture of bagpipes.

Borders

I admit there’s something fun about how culturally-borderline/potentially socially unacceptable bagpipes are. It’s most definitely one of those things you either love or hate. But either way, it’s sure to get a reaction.

Now, I’m not about to dress like Darth Vader, and start riding a unicycle around while piping, but I have been delving into kind of a comparative history of the pipes. For anyone who is remotely interested in the subject, I found these two videos a good starting point for understanding the different types.

Because it turns out piping is pretty much a global phenomenon. So that’s weird. Wasn’t expecting that. And I do like things that are weird… So maybe you could say I’m predisposed — I’m in a high risk group for catching bagpipes.

I actually have a pet theory I’m cultivating that piping is an outgrowth of the domestication of goats and/or sheep, but you can read about that at the link, rather than cluttering up this article with pipespiracy.

Aside: This is a fun first-person video, if a bit long, about bagpipes in Southern Italy:

After that, the next most pivotal video I watched online was this BBC documentary about the Irish Folk Music Revival from sort of the 1960’s on:

It basically makes the case that the Irish folk music revival was a more or less intentional thing, and was cultivated as an expression of Irish nationalism, this idea of a “Celtic” identity apart from the British — a probably obvious point, but one which I’d never consciously considered, despite having heard the likes of U2 and Enya growing up.

Training the algorithm

I’m a pretty much constant listener of music. You could say, that, where I’m from, there’s always music in the air… So getting into Apple Music has been great — except for the fact that it seems to have a pretty narrow idea of what I might find interesting.

I guess you could call it algorithmic.

It’s making some calculations on what I will like based on what I have liked, and what other users it determines are like me have also liked.

So I tried to train it. From the BBC documentary embedded above, I made a list of especially Irish bands with sounds that I liked. Then I went onto Apple Music, and found the top three albums from each of those bands, and pressed the “Love” ❤️ button.

Because that should give it a pretty clear signal that I’m interested in hearing more like this…

Instead, it blithely ignores my burgeoning pipe problem, and continues to serve me up a mix of lukewarm, aging hipster fare:

This is outright denial. And it’s rampant.

I mean, I get that they want me to want what they want me to want. But it’s not enough. How many thousands of times have I heard all this shit? Isn’t there anyway a surfeit of creative talent in the world? Why must we be so locked into one tiny fraction of it all the time? It drives me nuts — but no matter what I do, I can’t seem to break out of the filter bubble this app offers me.

It’s been a solid two weeks now, where I’ve been seeding this new interest algorithmically into my music stream. You’d think that’d be enough time, and a consistent enough signal to serve me up one or two popular albums that match my interests…

But no.

Pipe-shamed.

Even by Apple Music.

It’s bad enough your friends will likely make fun of you for getting into bagpipes, but my trusted algorithms too? The very things I’ve been promised will enable me to “Follow my interests?”

This is going too far — The hate has to end.

We will not be silenced.

Bagpipes are people too.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store