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Octobass is one of rarest, strangest instruments at the MIM

Dropping the bass like it’s 1850

By Adam Waltz

PHOENIX – Standing at an impressive 12-feet-tall is one of the largest and rarest string instruments in the world, but don’t let its grandeur fool you. Its sound is best described as the opposite of a harp.

The massive three-string “octobass” narrowly misses the ceiling at the Musical Instrument Museum, towering over smaller six-string counterparts.

“The last time we moved this one into this building it took ten people,” said Colin Pearson, curator at the MIM.

It takes a step stool to reach the octobass. You’ll also need a custom bow that weighs more than a pound and giant levers that press the notes for you to play it. Despite all that work, the sound is not what you’d expect.

“This was never meant to be a solo instrument. It’s not a nice sounding instrument,” said Colin.

With a low rumbling bass, the octobass produced long and low notes, meant to act as a subwoofer in a larger orchestra, adding rumble and drama when needed.

The octobass at the MIM is a replica of the originals created in the 19th century by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume.

It’s meant to be heard from farther away, and there is a science lesson to be learned here as well.

“As a player, because the wavelengths are so long, I don’t get to hear them,” said Colin.

The length of the string creates a note so low that it’s inaudible by human ears.

This one goes down to what we call “C-Zero” or a little bit below the range of human hearing,” said Colin.

You can see the octobass at the Musical Instrument Museum all summer long.

Content courtesy of Your Phoenix CW6. See more stories like this here. CW6 KASW

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