Dirk Campbell


music played on them has not changed much, although there are distinct variations in regional style today as it is reasonable to assume there were then.

I was born in Egypt in 1950 and lived in Kenya till 1961, experiencing two ancient cultures just before westernisation took over. This is probably what drew me to study a number of ancient musical traditions, predominantly from the countries of the near East, the Balkan peninsula and East Africa, with some study of India, Indonesia and the far east. I have acquired skills on the wind instruments of these areas: flutes, shawms, reedpipes and bagpipes, and to some extent stringed instruments and percussion. I have also made a special study of the wind instrument music of Ireland and Scotland, particularly the music of the uilleann pipes, Highland pipes and flute, and the close structural relationship of this music with Celtic knotwork design. (See Gaelic Music and Art on this site.)

How can one know that a tradition is really old, since cultures are, and always have been, porous and changeable? There are a number of analytical tools that can be used. The music is not old if it features European harmony (simultaneous triadic note relationships) or the European pitch system. These elements are relatively recent inventions in European art music, and did not spread to the rest of the world until the colonial era. Non-European music is not polyphonic or homophonic, but monodic or heterophonic, and there are many hundreds of pitch systems different from European 12-semitone equal temperament. Other differing elements include melodic architecture, pitch range, embellishment, and vocal production.

We can deduce that where musical instruments similar or identical to those of the ancient world are still played, the music itself is likely to be similar. And where a pitch system heard today is widespread across a number of very old cultures or reflects an ancient aesthetic (such as equal hole-spacing), then that system is likely to be very old. Using these tools we can reconstruct the music of the ancient world with a reasonable degree of accuracy. One can never claim that the music of traditions still extant resembles that of thousands of years ago, but the more similar instrumental design and performance behaviour are to those of ancient times, the more likely it is that the music itself is similar.

Music in Remote Antiquity is fully illustrated by slide presentation, showing the earliest musical instruments to be discovered, dating back 36,000 years, and featuring comprehensive iconographic material particularly from ancient Egypt. Strong similarities are noted between these depictions and traditions of performance that still exist in North Africa, along the Nile, and in other parts of the Mediterranean and the middle East.

Music in Remote Antiquity has been presented at Brighton Early Music Festival (October 2010, October 2011), Out of the Ordinary Festival (September 2007, September 2008), Stars and Stones (April 2008, November 2008), Megalithomania (May 2008), Ancient History Forum (February 2009), Changing Times (March 2009) the Theosophical Society (February 2010) and the Deerfold Centre Eastbourne (May 2013)


In 1997 I proposed a radio series to the BBC World Service

entitled 'Bagpipes of the World'. The idea was rejected on the basis

that it would be 'too excruciating'. The following year BBC television ran

a series called 'Bagpipes of the World', presented by Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell. Which demonstrates that a) great minds, but not commissioning editors, think alike; b) although you don't have to be well-known to be taken seriously, it helps a lot.

Bagpipes are a pan-European phenomenon and not, as most people believe, indigenous to Scotland. In fact Scotland was one of the last places to be reached by the bagpipe, which was invented in Greece some time around 500BC and spread throughout the Greek- and Latin-speaking world of Europe, the near East and North Africa. They never reached further afield until the nineteenth century when the British Army with its Highland regiments spread the sound of the Great Highland pipes around the world, and the instrument has now been adopted for military and folk music purposes in Palestine, Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, India, Nepal and other places, not to mention former colonies of Britain such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

During the middle ages in Europe, bagpipes achieved a level of biodiversity similar to that of the Cambrian explosion. I have compiled a bagpipe map of Europe that positively teems with phyla, but even so there is only room on it to show about 20% of known species. I play some of them to a pretty good standard: the Algerian mezoued, the Turkish tulum, the Greek tsabouna, the Balkan gaida, the Slovak dudy, the Italian zampogna, the Irish uilleann pipes and the Scottish píob mhor or Great Highland Bagpipe (GBH as it is sometimes mischievously called). I also play those still extant precursors of the bagpipe, the Egyptian/Palestinian arghoul and the Sardinian launeddas.

The first known literary reference to bagpipes is in the Greek playwright Aristophanes: 'You pipers who are here from Thebes, with bone pipes blowng into the posterior of a dog.' (The Acharnaians, c 400BC). There is some evidence of a Hittite bagpipe engraving at Eyuk dated 1000BC, though this is not conclusive. The development of the bagpipe principle from the ancient double pipe is its most probable origin. Bagpipes using original double-pipe materials (cane pipes and reeds) are still played in north Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and as far away as Bushehr in southern Iran and the mountains of Afghanistan.


Many composers attempt to incorporate non-western instrumental

colours into their scores. Most of them in my experience have not

absorbed the rather necessary information that different musical

traditions employ different pitch systems – that there are, in other words,

intervals in non-western music which can't be reproduced on a piano. It

seems simple enough: you can't combine western and non-western pitch

systems without one of them sounding out of tune.

The easiest way round this problem is to use only a drone and percussion as accompaniment. Many composers opt for this solution. Another is to make the non-western instrument agree with the 12-semitone system. This solution is normally possible only where the non-western instrument is without fixed pitches, e.g. lutes and fiddles. Some fixed-pitch instruments have been adapted, such as the equal-semitone Balkan kaval (developed from the Turkish kaval), Greek bouzouki (from the Turkish buzuk saz), and central American marimba (from the west African instrument of the same name). Thumb pianos (kalimba, sansa), harps (kora, kamalangoni) and lyres (nyatiti, enanga, krar etc.) have adjustable tuning mechanisms.

Where a non-western pitch system corresponds with the western, as in the case of some Indian ragas or Chinese pentatonic scales, a limited musical entente is possible, as one can hear in Indian or Chinese restaurants. This is a compromise in which the syntactical difficulties are removed from both musical languages in order to create a pidgin. The same is largely true of the modern idiom known as 'world music'.

The 'bolt-on' technique exemplified by the 1990s acts Enigma, Deep Forest, Afro-Celts Sound System and other 'fusion' efforts is non-integrative and has few redeeming qualities other than novelty, which of course quickly wears off. By contrast, Shahem Nazeri's expansion of Iranian classical music into the western genre is based on a deep understanding of Iranian music and a reasonable familiarity with the western orchestral palette.

There are few genuinely integrative efforts in this area. Those that succeed are by composers who are sufficiently familiar with all the elements involved.

(Lecture first given to ethnomusicology students at Goldsmiths College in 2006.)

In addition to my work as a composer, session player and sample library creator, I lecture on subjects such as Music in Remote Antiquity, Gaelic Music and Art, Bagpipes of the World and Introducing Ethnic Music into Western Composition.


Connection of present-day instrumental traditions to earliest known instruments. Vibration, natural amplification and the harmonic series. Origin and geographical spread of instruments, rhythms and pitch systems. Monophony and heterophony.

We can have a good idea of what music was like thousands of years ago by plotting certain 'triangulation points': pitch systems, instrumental techniques, and instrumental designs that are similar or identical to those of ancient times, and that exist to this day in non-western traditions.

One example is the famous Silver Pipes of Ur, discovered in a grave in the excavation of Ur in 1927. They are a pair of parallel-holed pipes designed to be played simultaneously by one musician, exactly as we see in the iconography of Greece and Egypt. They have been dated to 2,500 BCE. The finger holes are equidistant and of similar dimensions to reeded pipes of that part of the world in use at the present day. We can fairly reliably assume that, as the instruments have not changed much in the last 4000 years, the type of


Probably the two most consistently admired forms of Gaelic traditional culture are its music and its art. Even without any analysis there is such a strong perceived congruence between the two that, for example, hardly any collection of Irish dance tunes is ever published which does not feature examples of Irish knotwork design on its pages. I do not claim any priority in drawing attention to the parallels; this study is intended as a contribution to the Gaelic construction method and its underlying unity of thought.

By 'Gaelic' I mean Irish and Scottish. (Until someone comes up with a better word it will have to do; I know of no single word that refers to this particular cultural stream, which includes the Picts.) Although I will analyse and give examples of music primarily from the Irish tradition, the same principles hold good for the Scottish tradition. Modular repetition, particular forms of variation, subtle embellishment and so on are particularly evident in the piping traditions of the Highlands, Lowlands and Borders. There is, however, a greater tendency towards standardisation in Scottish traditional music as compared with the freer use in Ireland of invention within the parameters which I will try to clarify.

My aim in doing this is to give weight to the idea that different artistic forms of expression can be corollaries of each other in actual fact, rather than in any metaphorical sense. If so, this must be because they contain or arise out of principles which are not intrinsic to a created form but exist independently of it, and therefore inform other areas – perhaps even the whole range – of human activity.

(from the illustrated article Gaelic Music and Art on this site)

Illustration from the Book of Kells (actual size 23mm x 10mm)

Map shows about 20% of the number of bagpipes in Europe and the Near East.

9,000-year-old bone flutes found in China