Friday, October 21, 2005

The Beauty in Imperfection

Considering it was the end of semester and we'd all be stressed out about exams I thought an interesting blog on an area of century old tradition that is being modified and changed by technology would be appealing. To most people they are heard at emotional times-wedding, funerals, ANZAC day parades, and while many may not be excited about their exceptional volume and tendency to jump out of tune at will, the humble bagpipe hold a special place in all our hearts.

I am no exception to this rule, in that I have been playing them since I was about 13. While I can personally vouch that they are a great instrument indeed, they do have their shortcomings. Firstly they are quite hard to get sounding decent (although playing actual songs is fairly simple), added to this is the volume, which over years of use is not to healthy for the ears not to mention the next door neighbours who have to put up with the daily screeching as they are warmed up(and also, did I mention the handmade price starting at about$1500 a set).
It is in acknowledging these shortfalls, that technology has moved in with an answer- the electronic bagpipe. While filling a small market the electronic bagpipes have never been as effective as other instruments such as the electronic keyboard in emulating the success of the original instruments (which is illustrated by the fact that traditional bagpipe sales still far outweigh those of the modern electronic bagpipe). Why is this? As a bagpipe player I can totally relate to the appeal in electronic bagpipes in defeating the problems that have always been evident with my bagpipes. The appeal of playing a perfect song every time, knowing that my bagpipes would not fail me is obviously great. But there’s something about a traditional bagpipe, with all it’s faults, thatfor me makes it vastly better than it’s electronic version. It is in it’s faults that lies it appeal. When I don’t know that a song is going to come out perfect, and it does the feeling is immense which is something that the electronic bagpipe cannot offer.

This problem with bagpipes raises wider questions for all areas of technology, as it is in their abilty to be perfect (eliminate noise could be a way of describing it) that they can loose their appeal. In the case of the bagpipes their beauty lies in their imperfection, and technology, in the form of electronic bagpipes, eliminates this imperfection and thus their beauty. So next time you hear a set of bagpipes going out of tune, don't block your ears but rather take a moment to contemplate the fact that you that you have just witnessed what makes the bagpipe what it is- imperfection.


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