• The Only Connect festival in Oslo, Norway, has commissioned the making of a brand-new octobass, to be played by improviser Guro Skumsnes Moe.
The octobass is a giant, 4m-high double-bass; the lowest note it can sound is 16Hz, below the hearing threshold for the human ear. It sounds an octave below the normal double-bass; and since it is impossible for a normal-sized human being to reach the fingerboard and the bow at the same time, the pitch is controlled by a series of levers worked by the player’s left hand.
The instrument originated as a 19th-century oddity, designed in the 1850s by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and praised by Berlioz; only three were built (one can be seen in the Musical Instrument Museum at the Cité de la Musique in Paris). The German maker of the new octobass remains shadowy in the festival’s publicity material, but is thought to be Wolfgang Staab, as credited in the video above.
The festival’s website declares:
‘It has taken about a year to build the octobass. Now it is finished, but it lacks strings and must dry up before it can be transported to Norway from Frankfurt. I talked to the guy who has build it on the phone before Christmas. I was ecstatic and told him that the project felt truly unreal to me. He replied back in a monotone voice: “It feels pretty real on my part”, referring to the mountain of sawdust covering most of his workshop.’
The Only Connect Festival takes place in Oslo, 4-6 June. Thanks to The Wire for this video of the instrument in action…