A website by Barnaby Brown


There is nothing primitive about Sardinian launeddas music; "folk" gives the wrong impression. Archive recordings of Efisio Melis and living masters like Luigi Lai demonstrate that a Bronze-Age instrument made of cane, beeswax, and cotton has potential beyond the folk and early music worlds.

Here Luigi Lai plays the Fiuda bagadia, a type of launeddas or traditional Sardinian triplepipe:

Luigi Lai: Fiudedda in Fa (1997)

Given this instrument's prominent representation in medieval art, and the high esteem for Irish instrumental music expressed by Geraldus Cambrensis, the northern triplepipe tradition was surely as rich as launeddas music. Here is one of my own compositions, reviving a tradition which died out in Britain and Ireland 700 years ago. I play an "Ardchattan" triplepipe designed in 2002, based on the Highland bagpipe scale:

Barnaby Brown: Adiutor laborantium (2004)

All triplepipes have a drone and two chanters. This allows the player to use two hands independently, like an organist. This opens up musical possibilities unavailable on wind instruments where the fingerholes are all on the same tube — like the oboe, whistle, or most bagpipes.

Its organ-like sonority is produced by the combination of one fixed drone, two movable 'virtual' drones, and eight melody notes: four on each hand. As on Bulgarian, Greek, Asturian, and Northumbrian bagpipes, an expressive variety of note lengths is achieved by lifting and replacing the fingers one at a time. This "covered" fingering technique reiterates a lower, quieter tone, producing a virtual drone in the gaps between any melody note played staccato.

When playing legato, these gaps and the virtual drone disappear, simplifying the texture and raising the volume. When both hands play staccato, the volume drops to its minimum and the three drones blend, harmonics interlocking, to sound as one.

The two virtual drones can be made to move by holding a lower finger open and playing staccato with the fingers above. This moving-drone technique is shared with double-clarinet traditions like the Iranian neyjofti, and is likely to have been used by double-pipe players of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. The limitation of four fingers on each hand means that these virtual drones tend to alternate between two adjacent tones. This may be the origin of the binary measures (also known as "double-tonic") which characterise Scottish bagpipe music.

On the triplepipe, the scale of the two chanters often overlaps. While this reduces the melodic range, it increases the richness of sound and potential for hypnotic textures. This is not an instrument which lends itself to "tunes". Instead, its strengths lie in the intoxicating sound quality, rhythmic games, and subtle, sophisticated patterning of textures which, in expert hands, entrance the listener.


Here is Andrea Pisu, recorded live in 2007, playing a variety of launeddas called Mediana a pipia. The effect is like gazing on an Oriental prayer rug or carpet page from the Book of Kells. It doesn't matter that only five notes fill large sections of auditory canvas. Quite the opposite: on the triplepipe, the fewer the notes used, the more effective the result. Virtuosic use of limited resources — reserving colours for a dramatic splash later on — is what characterises this instrument's most powerful music.


This page first published 5 Oct 2003 Revised 30 Dec 2007
Supported by The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama
Contact: barnaby(at) +44 (0)78 1000 1377