Real Bagpipe Sounds for BMW Gold / Bagpipe Music Writer
Throughout this document the term "BMW" refers interchangeably to "Bagpipe Music Writer Gold" (Robert MacNeil) and/or "Bagpipe Player" (Doug Wickstrom). Both software programs are exactly the same,
having been published separately after a not-very-well-documented falling out between the original authors of BMW...........
The original BMW software has a nifty rarely-used feature: Instead of playing music with a pretty crappy sound setup (aka "Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth"),
the program authors incorporated real bagpipe sounds. While pretty cool, this required a CREATIVE AWE-class sound card, with an EMU-based engine and capable of using "soundfonts".
Older CREATIVE cards worked, as well as newer cards sold through the later 1990's such as the AUDIGY 2 ZS. The bagpipe sounds were enabled by loading up a bagpipe soundfont file, and then
tweaking the playback options of BMW to use instrument #109. The "soundfont" file was essentially individually-digitized notes from someone in the SFU Pipe Band. It was created in 1996.
While the use of soundcards was pretty prevalent in the 1990's, they're simply not needed today with the exception of perhaps professional audio engineers or some high-level gamers who
make use of a card's high-fidelity capabilities. Audio chips included with most modern PC motherboards work just fine. This is further compounded by the fact that CREATIVE no longer
sells EMU-based sound cards, and even if you get your hands on a used one, the final nail in the coffin is that true proper drivers for those cards is a thing of the past. Up until a few
years ago, a guy known simply as "Daniel K" provided GREAT drivers for these cards - allowing the cards to function on modern Windows environments and thus, soundfonts could still be used.
Sadly, Daniel K stopped his work a few years ago, and it's only a matter of time before all of those really great soundcards simply cease to function in Windows 10. No thanks to both
CREATIVE and MICROSOFT for pretty much killing off some great stuff.
THE SOLUTION - SUMMARY
The first part of the solution to this problem is a really nifty piece of FREEWARE, known as "VirtualMIDISynth". VirtualMIDISynth essentially provides a SOFTWARE solution to the complex hardware solution previously provided by the folks at CREATIVE.
Not only is this software outright free, but it also works on any modern Windows setup. NO special soundcard required.
IT WORKS! OK, well maybe not........ Or not YET.
When I first tried this out, I was really excited. I installed the VirtualMIDISynth software, loaded the old bagpipe soundfont, fired up my BMW software and played a tune. It worked! And sounded great!
At least.... initially. Then I discovered a really weird issue. It worked, but not consistently. Some times it played JUST like it used to on the creative cards.
But then the next time it played the chanter note REALLLLY flat. And then the next time no drone sound. And then sharp. And then OK again. UGH. Unusable.
GETTING TO A WORKING SETUP
So, here is where I have to add a little more background. The original soundfont is actually pretty well done. With a freely-available soundfont editor ("Viena"), I was able to
see how it was all set up. There's 10 sound samples- the 9 bagpipe notes, and a tenor drone. (The authors never got around to doing a bass drone in BMW...) And eash individually configured
as a separate MIDI note - designed to match the MIDI notes
that BMW uses. But there's somehting in this setup that just does NOT work with the multiple mapped notes and samples. My working theory
is that it's a flaw in the code of BMW itself, and since there's been NO work
on that software in the last decade, I don't see it ever getting fixed...
So I experimented. I played with soundfont parameters. I created new fonts. After a week, I still had no working solution. Then when I looked at the soundfont used by some other bagpipe software, I saw... ONE note. What? Then
it dawned on me. One note works as well as many notes. Specifically, with a single-note MIDI soundfont, the MIDI engine is capable of raising or lowering the pitch so long as the
sound sample is configured as a note RANGE and not just a single note.
The single-note setup worked. It sounds extremely close to the hardware-mapped many-note-samples setup managed by the sound card hardware. It's not exact, but damned close. Works for me.
MORE SOUNDFONT GOODIES
With the single-note soundfont working, I decided to try my own thing. I created a soundfont of my own bagpipes, but instead of a "tenor drone" sound, I actually recorded all drones going.
And then for a bit of fun, I created a final soundfont using my Walsh smallpipes. (Side note: In my opinion, the smallpipe soundfont is AWESOME. The Greate Highland Bagpipe chanter is a simply a bitch to digitize, because you just cannot easily capture the clarity and volume on a computer as a sample. But holy cow, the smallpipe soundfont worked out very well.)
OK, THIS HAS ALL BEEN VERY EDUCATIONAL. HOW THE HELL DO I USE IT?
- STEP 1: Download VirtualMIDISynth and install it. https://coolsoft.altervista.org/en/virtualmidisynth
- STEP 2: Download the soundfont I created. It is available here: http://celticnationspipeband.com/BMWSOUND/bagpipes-kcb.sf2 . Save it on your computer somewhere permanent.
- STEP 3: Run "VirtualMIDISynth Configurator". You will be presented with a window where soundfonts are listed. The list will be empty. Click on the green "+" button on the top
right hand side. Browse to the location where the bagpipes-kcb.sf2 file is, choose it and click "Open". If successful, you will see the soundfont listed, and it will have a bright
green box to the left of it, indicating that it's active. On the lower part of this same window, click "Apply" and then "OK". This should be the last time you need to run this software.
From now on the soundfont will be loaded each time you fire up Windows.
- STEP 4: Run BMW and load up a pipe tune. To use the soundfonts, Click "Configure..... "Set Play Options". In the lower right side you'll see numbers entered for the "Chanter Instrument" and "Drone Instrument".
Change these numbers according to your preference: Set them to "0" for my own bagpipe sound creation. Set them both to "1" for my own smallpipe sound creation. Or set them both to "109" for the original SFU Bagpipe sounds created 20 years ago. If you SAVE the tune after this step, you do not need to repeat this step.
- STEP 5: When PLAYING the tune, Make sure to choose the "VirtualMIDISynth #1" device at the top of the BMW window. This usually defaults to "Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth".
Voila! If you have SAVED a tune after step 4, the only thing you have to do each time after opening a tune is STEP 5. While the various play options (MIDI note mappings etc) are SAVED with the tune file, the choice of output device is not saved and has to be chosen each time to use BMW.
Final note: While the soundfonts above allow for three choices (My bagpipe, My smallpipe, SFU bagpipe), there are actually six (6) combinations available.
Within the BMW play options, you can also choose "Low A at B flat" or "Low A at A natural". I believe the latter is the default. These 2 settings multipled by 3 soundfonts = 6 sound combinations. Try all combinatins and see what you like.
Enjoy! -Kent C. Brodie, Celtic Nations Pipe Band (kent dot brodie at gmail dot com)