In my first ‘Piping on Another Planet’ blog back in February, I gave a brief introduction to Ascension Island and discussed some of mine and my son, Ryall’s plans for the recording of our album, Mars Bay, a collection of themes developed from field recordings of the island’s sea birds, in particular the ‘wide-awake’ or sooty terns that regularly roost on the south coast of the island.
Since then, clearly, a lot has changed in the world. Due to our remoteness and isolation, the effects felt on Ascension have been different in some ways to those experienced in many other places. In some ways, we were already in ‘social isolation’, while in other ways we’ve retained (for the time being at least) some of the freedoms lost elsewhere. Nonetheless, our plans for the year had to change radically, with a trip home during the summer cancelled, and our eldest Ryall opting to defer his studies and remain here for a further year.
Despite these disruptions, the period since March has been a creative time here in the South Atlantic Ocean. Friends and collaborators overseas have had more time for projects, which proved beneficial for the LSC_PRINT&PLAY project during March and April (about which more, below).
These ongoing collaborations have also influenced my revisions of the ‘full spec’ Lindsay System chanter, and led to my reopening Lindstruments.com for orders in July. Some of those on the waiting list decided to place their deposit for an Ascension-made chanter or set of pipes, work on which is now in progress for completion of the current round of orders by this November.
For those unfamiliar with the LSC_PRINT&PLAY project, this was a remote partnership between Zexuan Qiao and myself. Zexuan is currently studying for a Masters in Design for Performance and Interaction at University College, London. He us focusing on the smallpipes, including the Lindsay System design. The objective was to create a downloadable, 3D printable file set for a revised version of the Lindsay System chanter, which could be printed at home on more or less any desktop 3D printer.
The key requirement for the ‘print and play’ chanter was that there should be no need for any ‘post-print’ finishing. The chanter should play directly off the printer, with only hemping and the addition of a reed required in order to make it ready for use. This puzzle was complicated, due to the tendency of 3D printers to be inconsistent in the printing of circular or cylindrical shapes. Being computers, essentially, the printers can’t actually print a circle as a circle. They need first to generate a polygon with an arbitrary number of sides, sized to closely match the circle. The exact algorithm they use to do this, introduces an element of unpredictability into fine bore sizes such as those used in the smallpipes, which we usually don’t worry about – we rebore/ream the finished pieces as necessary.
For the ‘print and play’, though, we wanted to eliminate this step. The breakthrough came when Zexuan proposed using a square bore, and drew up a prototype which was not only square inside but also used flat faces on the outside, which for related reasons results in a more satisfying external finish from a home 3D printer. It also looks cool, and gives what seems like an appropriate visual expression to the Warhol-esque project of releasing a new traditional musical instrument, as a virtual open source file download, available to anyone with access to the internet and a printer.
Following receipt of this brainwave, we set to work printing, redrawing and fine-tuning on both ends of the Ascension-London telegraph. Within the month, the LSC_PRINT&PLAY was ready for upload, to Thingiverse.com. The release was announced with a video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAniQaHuPqA), and a page article in issue 101 of Piping Today. To date, around 100 pipers (and counting) have taken the opportunity of the files, and already some early player videos have begun to appear on the Lindsay System-related Facebook forums.
It was about halfway through the prototyping process for LSC_PRINT&PLAY, that I received a message from a sailor on St Helena (around 1,300 kilometres away or an air travel distance of 803 miles). Ellen Prieschl, and her husband Michael were two years into a five-year round-the-world voyage in their catamaran, Sleipnir III. Ellen is a piper and, having read on Bagpipe.News about the chanter and my residency on Ascension, wanted to know if they should detour here in order to meet up (and possibly obtain a chanter). A couple of weeks later we met for lunch.
The Prieschls had arranged permission to stay on Ascension for two weeks, and we lost no time in arranging to meet again socially and for tunes on the pipes. Ellen had learned to play in Australia, and had with her a set of John Walsh smallpipes in A. Spotting an opportunity to have the assistance of a Beta tester in developing the LSC_PRINT&PLAY, I ran up a complimentary chanter for her, coloured yellow for high visibility aboard ship – and hopefully to reflect some of the heat of the equatorial sun, it being made of low-temperature PLA filament.
Two weeks later, it had become clear that ports around both North and South Atlantic were closing due to Covid-19 mitigation measures. Ellen and Michael sought permission to wait it out at anchor in Clarence Bay. Over the course of the following three months, we all enjoyed tunes, hikes on the island, and days out in the catamaran with fresh sashimi for lunch. The pipes were out regularly and in three months Ellen made early inroads into the extended range, providing valuable insights and feedback in the process.
When ports began to open in June, the Prieschls set sail again for Brittany, by way of the Azores. On departure they took aboard three chanters, one for cane reeds, one for plastic, and one for delivery to Breton piper and maker, Xavier Boderiou. We played them off to the sound of a ‘wide-awake’ tune on the big pipes, that Ryall and me had earlier collected from the birds and which we’ve taken to calling Sisters, due to the resemblance between the pitch-pattern and one of the central ranges of volcanic peaks on the island called Sisters Peak.
Between June-July, bereft of piping company again, I began to prepare the way for the reopening of Lindstruments.com for the first time since arriving on Ascension. Since arriving, I’d been making enquiries regarding postage, tax, goods shipping, and generally investigating the possibility of making smallpipes for export from such a remote location. As far as I’m aware, I’m the only business on island now manufacturing goods for export in this way. The island’s major export seems to be stamps, as you might expect, and during our first week of trading on island I gather we’ve probably exceeded stamp sales during the same period. If we stay long enough I’m hopeful that 3D Printed Bagpipes may eventually have to be listed as the island’s primary export.
As I write, Mars Bay is still in progress. As noted above, Ryall decided to remain on-island for a further year, rather than return to begin his studies amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic. As a result we’ve decided to extend the recording schedule until next July.
This makes room for us to work with some other interesting discoveries we’ve made, including a large collection of hollow ‘singing’ boulders we’ve found in an area of desert near the village. We’re optimistic about the possibility of developing some of the themes we have into extended improvisations between the pipes and percussion.
In the meantime, Friday saw the release of The History of Sleep, essentially the precursor to Mars Bay and an album I recorded with Richard Youngs in March 2019 in Glasgow. This album contains four extended improvisations between my extended range smallpipes and Richard’s Rickenbacker 480. The first three are original, while the fourth is based on Dorrington from the Dixon MS, as published in Matt Seattle’s book The Master Piper, and includes the 16-part version of Dorrington followed by an improvisation.
Looking ahead, I intend returning to delivering online workshops and tune videos to social media, in which I’ll return to the task of forging a core repertoire and method for the chanter, laying the groundwork for the final draft of Ascension Method to be written before we leave the island next year.
Donald’s experiences on Ascension and beyond can be followed on Facebook and Twitter @donaldwglindsay @lindstruments