Chiff & Fipple's
and some now SOLVED
We've been doing Chiff & Fipple for over five years. During that time, we have been able to identify some enduring mysteries: Often-asked whistle-related questions that are amazingly resistant to definitive answers. Here are the top ones:
1. What exactly is the fluid that accumulates in the shafts of whistles when played for awhile?
As we discuss in some detail elsewhere, there are three major schools of thought on this topic: According to each school, the fluid is:
a) Condensed ambient/atmospheric moisture (The Wishful Thinking School)
b) Condensed lung vapor (People Who Did OK in Biology School)
c) Saliva (The Drool School).
I am sympathetic to b) and c) although I have come to accept, unpleasant as it is, that there are people who drool into their whistles. I do not. Also, I must admit that a number of experienced players are absolutely certain that this fluid is saliva. On the other hand, someone emailed me once and claimed that they had collected a small amount of liquid from the inside of a whistle they played and tried to grow bacteria from it in a petri dish. No kidding. The results led this scientific-type person to believe that the fluid was relatively free of bacteria, meaning, of course, it couldn't be coming from the mouth. I don't think I believe this guy.
Chiff & Fipple Undersecretary for Weird Whistle Science, Les Smith, has recently applied the Scientific Method to this problem. For his results go here.
2. What kind of whistle is Captain Jean-Luc Picard shown playing in two (or three) episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation? SOLVED
It is one of the greatest of all mystery whistles. Jean-Luc Picard / Patrick Stewart pretends to play it in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This whistle had been rumored to have been made by Michael Copeland. Michael himself doesn't know, and I, of late, am certain it is not his.. Pictures I've seen of it don't really resemble any known whistle. It looks vaguely like a Shaw or a Clarke. It's conical. Furthermore, I've gotten email from a couple of people (independently) that had seen this whistle up-close in some kind of Star Trek convention thing. From their description, there's no way the thing would play. The holes are uniformly sized and the size of match heads. This makes no sense.
Photo that pops up occasionally to display what was supposed to be the whistle PIcard pretended to play.
Update April 2002: The Star Trek Mystery is now SOLVED. See here.
3. What the heck is the deal on Davy Spillane's whistles?
Another brainteaser, and this time it gets ugly. Davy Spillane, of course, generated huge interest in the low whistle when he played in the band for RIVERDANCE and then the corresponding video of RIVERDANCE sold sixty zillion copies. The video shows nice close-ups of Davy playing a whistle that resembles an Overton or Chieftain. To my eyes, it looks like an Overton. For some time, questions flew around about what low whistles Davy played. Some insisted he made his own. Some believed he purchased Overtons and then modified them extensively. Others believed that he bought Overtons and made relatively minor adjustments.
A few years ago, Davy, whose email from yours truly he's either never seen or never answered, abruptly emailed me to say that somewhere on Chiff & Fipple was an indication that he played Overtons or Chieftains or something and, his email went on to say, the truth is that he makes his own instruments and always had. In addition, his own website included a whole section about Davy offering for sale his own whistles, which I think he called "D500' or something like that. Should be end of story, right?
Well, maybe it is. But I must point this out: I'm not sure that anyone on the planet has received more whistle related email than I have. In these five-plus years, not ONE PERSON has indicated to me that they have (a) purchased Davy's whistles, (b) played Davy's whistles, or (c) seen one up close enough to describe it.*
Now, there's no compelling reason to believe that Davy is lying about making his instruments. So, I assume that he does and that he has sold whistles to very few players because his touring / recording schedule doesn't allow enough time to make many instruments for others.
*UPDATE October 15 2004: Ok, things have moved along a bit, although the central mystery may never be solved to everyone's satisfaction, including mine. In the Spring of 2004, a musician who I knew to have had some direct contact with Davy let it be known that Davy was in the late stages of producing his own line of low whistles for real this time. I inquired about ordering one. Heard nothing until October 3, 2004, whereupon I got a reply from Davy announcing a new line of plastic-head, metal-shaft Low D whistles, to sell for 200 Euros each, and they're taking orders. We do assume these are going to be available very soon. However, this does not solve the original mystery: What low whistle has Davy been playing all these years? Davy says he made it. Other sources have written me to suggest otherwise. I have corresponded with Davy about this but his language, in my opinion, leaves some doubt about precisely what he means when he says he plays "his own" whistles. At this point, my belief (which I have recently shared with Davy and so I'm not talking about him behind his back) is that he started with a whistle made by someone else, most likely Bernard Overton , and did some degree of modifications on it. My belief is that Davy believes that the modifications were such that he can claim to have "made" the whistle. That said, I can't prove this and I acknowledge the possibility that he made the whistle entirely from scratch (starting with a length of aluminum tube). If so, he made a whistle which, based on videos and pictures I've seen, including the one above, has a mouthpiece that looks like an Overton.
*UPDATE May 2005: While this Mystery has not really been solved, it is worth mentioning that the first Davy Spillane whistle has now been obtained by a senior Chiff & Fipple member, Bloomfield, who has seen it, touched it, played it, and reviewed it. It's a plastic top Low D, similar in configuration to the Howard and to the plastic-top Kerry (by Phil Hardy). See Bloomfield's fine review here: Bloomfield's Review
4. THE MANUFACTURE OF GENERATIONS
No one can doubt the significance of the Generation whistle. It's been around forever (but not as long as the Clarke). It's widely available in music stores. It remains favored by many top players. So, what's the mystery?
Actually, it's three mysteries wrapped up together.
a. Who makes them? SOLVED I get this question a lot. I've never had any kind of contact with the makers of Generations. But, this mystery is now solved. Generation whistles are made by Barnes and Mullins Manufacturing Ltd. of Grays Inn House, Unit 22, Mile Oak Industrial Estate, Oswestry, Shropshire, SY10 8GA ( Phone number is:- 44 1691 652 449). This is confirmed at their website: http://www.barnhide.co.uk/index.html . Thanks to Norman Dannatt and Rick Wall for this information.
b. The search for the "good" Generation. Generations are very popular among traditional players, including Mary Bergin and Paddy Moloney and many others. But everyone agrees that you have to look hard to find a "good one." Turlach Boylan tells me that he has heard of people buying a box of dozens in hopes of finding one "good one." Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, in his recent chiff & fipple interview told me "I think Generation whistles have to be sort of “blown in” and tampered with. You’ve got to take that edgy business off. Reduce the aperture a bit so it takes less wind. "
I'm not sure I really follow that. Anyway, this last Generation mystery, related to a) and b):
c) Why don't the makers of Generations do something about their quality control problem? I'm sure it comes down to money. But given the universal observation that most of them are almost unplayable and, yet, the occasional "good one" is a treasure, why don't they do something about this?
5. The Titanic Whistle and Player SOLVED!
The Titanic soundtrack is, of course, enormously popular and got a lot of people interested in the whistle. The love theme 'My Heart Will Go On" features gorgeous whistle, as does much of the soundtrack recording. These should have been easy questions: What whistle is that and who plays it.? It's not been so easy. Only since this "mysteries" page was originally posted in March 2002 did we receive what appeared to be the definitive answer. Acting on a tip from Chiff & Fipple subscriber Bruce Babcock, we emailed Eric Rigler of the band "Bad Haggis" and asked him about the rumor that he, Eric, had played whistle on the soundtrack. We got this helpful response:
Thanks for the website info. I'm looking forward to checking it out.
Actually, you're very close. I played all the uilleann pipes on TITANIC
soundtrack, and my good friend, Tony Hinnigan, from London, played the low
whistle. We've worked together for James Horner on the soundtracks of
BRAVEHEART, THE DEVIL'S OWN, TITANIC, and the CD follow-up, BACK TO TITANIC.
Before we did the soundtrack to TITANIC, I made a trip over to London to
pick up some whistles that I had made for me by Phil Hardy. I brought Tony
along, they struck up a friendship, and Tony got a whole set of Chieftain
whistles from Phil.
When we got together with James Horner to do the soundtrack, James heard the
whistles, loved them, and assigned Tony the task. So, yes, it is a
Chieftain whistle played by Tony Hinnigan.
That has the ring of authority and, so far as we're concerned, this case is closed.
Got more mysteries? Got answers, theories, comments about the big 5? Email Dale
Having trouble remembering the five great mysteries? Try this simple mnemonic device:
The starship Enterprise goes through a time warp and enters earth orbit just prior to the sinking of the Titanic. Captain Picard beams down onto the Titanic and meets a girl and draws pictures of her naked. The bad guy is played by Davy Spillane. They get into a fight and Spillane, fighting dirty, slings a Generation whistle in Captain Picard's face and temporarily blinds him with the drool / lung vapor / ambient moisture that comes out of the whistle. Then the ship sinks. The end.
"Star Trek IX: Capt. Picard and Davy Spillane On the Titanic" story idea copyright 2002 by Dale Wisely