Extended Range Instruments
August 22, 2009 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Sure, every band geek has heard of the mythic contrabass sax. But I bet you didn't know there were contrabass clarinets and french horns or subcontrabass recorders, flutes, and... uh... this thing. On the other end of the spectrum you've got the sopranino recorder, saxaphone, clarinet, and ukulele.
posted by phrontist (39 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Does Ollie North know about these?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:42 PM on August 22, 2009

And no sooner do I post this than I notice a soprillo sax.
posted by phrontist at 5:42 PM on August 22, 2009

Holy crap. I bet he could hit the brown note with that.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2009

Not enough sleep and stressing out has tricked my eyes into reading that first bit as "contraband sex", then "contraband sax" several times over.

Now to actually go read the links here, as I used to play clarinet and this is neat stuff.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2009

The contrabass sarrusophone is a weird-sounding instrument.

Roscoe Mitchell uses a lot of these unusual instruments in his compositions.
posted by kenko at 6:07 PM on August 22, 2009

Frequently played by Gerald Oshita, now that I remember.

When I was reading up on double reeds I think I encountered some sub-sub-bass instrument that one needed a ladder to play.
posted by kenko at 6:09 PM on August 22, 2009

aww that sopranino sax is so cute!! i want to pet it.
posted by Mach5 at 6:16 PM on August 22, 2009

There is also the tubax.

Sarrusophone link (played about 2min in).
posted by kenko at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2009

I've played contrabass clarinet parts. Some old wind symphony music doesn't have a baritone sax part (or the bari sax part got lost sometime in the 50 years since the band bought the music), and old contrabass clarinet music is easily transposed; and it's a woodwind part, not a tuba part. A friend plays with a clarinet ensemble that has four different clarinets ('regular', alto, bass, and contrabass). One of the bassoon players in my daughter's high school band plays contrabassoon on occasion, which is a really cool thing.
posted by jlkr at 6:25 PM on August 22, 2009

Ah, here we go:

"The mysterious and lyrical "Prelude" (1981) is a quartet for voice (baritone Tom Buckner), bass saxophone (Roscoe Mitchell), contrabass sarrusophone (Gerald Oshita) and the triple bass viol (Brian Smith)".

It's the triple (contra)bass viol that one needs to play standing on a platform (not ladder which would be highly unstable anyway).
posted by kenko at 6:25 PM on August 22, 2009

Contrabass clarinet.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin occasionally uses contrabass clarinet to pretty sweet effect.
posted by kenko at 6:27 PM on August 22, 2009

The organ featured in the last few minutes of the "this thing" link (starting about 7:00) is beautiful. Anybody know where it is?
posted by Flunkie at 6:31 PM on August 22, 2009

the lower C coming in at 16.35 Hz

Holy crap. Most subwoofers are can only get down to 30 or so. That's nuts.
posted by flaterik at 6:41 PM on August 22, 2009

Anthony Braxton plays contrabass clarinet quite a bit (& quite well)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:51 PM on August 22, 2009

cbass sax as well.
posted by kenko at 6:57 PM on August 22, 2009


If you want to get a bass clarinet to play around with, there are a lot of EE♭ Contra-Alto clarinets floating around Ebay. They are usually listed as bass clarinets, but it's not exactly the same thing. The contra-alto is used in high school marching bands, and there are more of them floating around, especially in low-cost plastic versions suitable for the home experimenter.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:01 PM on August 22, 2009


If you can get past the kooky navigation, there's a bunch of pix and music samples.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:12 PM on August 22, 2009

Best Soprillo Sax player in the WORLD
posted by leotrotsky at 7:47 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I want to hear all of these contrabass instruments on the orchestral version of Big Bottom.
posted by rocket88 at 7:56 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

phrontist, with this post, you've reached a new low.

LOVE this kid on bass sax. Theme from The Adams Family? Oh yes, absolutely. He's won a place in my heart. And with a million-plus views, I reckon a lot of other folks feel the same way.

And that Stefan Keller (bass flute) clip was pretty cool. Love the sound of that thing.

Once or twice, years back, I shared some stage-time with multi-flutist virtuoso Robert Dick, who has an amazing collection of flutes, of course, and who plays the hell out of 'em. Seems there's now a Robert Dick Model Bass flute on the market, so i know y'all are all gonna run out and buy one!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2009

rocket88, here's a start.
posted by kenko at 8:20 PM on August 22, 2009

(That's Edmund Welles, the bass clarinet quartet.)
posted by kenko at 8:24 PM on August 22, 2009

LOVE playing the bass and contrabass clarinets, as well as bassoon and lower saxes, tuba, trombone... The reverberations from the lowest notes can be felt in your chest, it's very comforting.

I would like to try a serpent someday, they fascinate me!

Great linkies, love this!!!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:30 PM on August 22, 2009

posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:46 PM on August 22, 2009

This one might as well be subtitled Blue Man Flute.
posted by oaf at 11:06 PM on August 22, 2009

Love this post! Such amazing extremes in music, it is eye/ear opening to know that actual concert music exists for these instruments as well.
posted by baxter_ilion at 11:22 PM on August 22, 2009

obligatory Nuclear Whales video. (It's a real shame there isn't more of them on youtube, they have a lot of really great arrangements and covers.)
posted by Rhomboid at 1:36 AM on August 23, 2009

link FAIL... Nuclear Whales on youtube
posted by Rhomboid at 1:37 AM on August 23, 2009

About the "this thing" link; the presenter was right that the contrabass serpent or anaconda did not really catch on. However, the serpent most definitely did. It was broadly similar to the cornett family, and both serpents and cornetti were quite common in their time.

The ophicleide was the direct successor to the serpent, and belonged to roughly the same family as the keyed bugle. A number of famous works, including trumpet concertos by Haydn and Hummel, were written for these instruments. Berlioz, in particular, makes prominent use of the ophicleides in his Symphonie Fantastique. (Wikipedia claims the score originally included a serpent as well; I did not know that.)

The invention of practical valves brought the brass family into the modern era. The keyed trumpet and bugle were replaced by the modern trumpet family. The ophicleide was replaced by the modern tuba family. Today, keyed trumpet parts are often performed on modern trumpets, while ophicleide parts are often performed on modern tubas, so many listen to music written for these historical instruments without realizing it.

I should also mention that Thein Brass makes a bass trumpet (used by Wagner and Strauss, but, like the Wagner tuba family, rare today), alto, soprano, piccolo, and contrabass trombones (of which only the alto trombone is moderately common), the cimbasso (which exists primarily for Verdi operas), and a variety of other interesting instruments.
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:13 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I played the contrabass clarinet in high school band. Had to sit on two chairs (stacked) to play it, and if I wanted to take it home I had to fold my back seat down to put it in my trunk. I did enjoy playing it, and I never had to worry about competing for first chair because it was just me. Good geeky band girl times there!
posted by MultiFaceted at 6:34 AM on August 23, 2009

The organ in the "this thing" link is the instrument in Eton College chapel. But it can't have been played for the 64' sound sample, because it doesn't have a 64' pedal stop. That was sneaky.
posted by paperpete at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2009

From musicinmybrain's link: "Bass trombone with "Bartok" Valve section: The basstrombone that finally makes the, Bela Bartok "Concert for Orchestra" GLISSANDO, a cinch!"

I remember a music teacher playing a recording of that piece, but adding that if we ever hear it live, to expect some flubbed notes in the brass. No more, I guess.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:09 AM on August 23, 2009

Berlioz would dig this post.
posted by BogusPomp at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2009

The "this thing" link introduced me to the "How Music Works" series, which was new to me and that I've now completed: Melody, Bass, Rhythm, and Harmony. Very interesting to see the progression in the various aspects of music, their roots, and how today's music, regardless of genre, often still reflects it's origins.

Each series has 5 parts and is available in 10 minute segments via YouTube...

It's well done and kept interesting even for those that aren't self-proclaimed band geeks :)
posted by deemer at 11:40 AM on August 23, 2009

New York Metafilter's Alright If You Like Saxaphones.
posted by Rangeboy at 1:00 PM on August 23, 2009

At first I thought the serpent player was playing "Dies Irae," which on reflection was probably made for that instrument.

I was impressed that the kid with the clarinet managed to make "A Whole New World" even more annoying.

Love this post! Listening to the Vivaldi concerto a second time.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:31 PM on August 23, 2009

... If You Like Saxaphones

Hey, watch your spelling. It's "saxamaphones", OK?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:06 PM on August 23, 2009

kenko: "The mysterious and lyrical "Prelude" (1981) is a quartet for voice (baritone Tom Buckner)

I've met Tom Buckner (he commissions a lot of modern music that he then performs in.) The story he told was that his grandmother got him into music at an early age by telling him, "always listen closely for the lowest note, everything else will come alive if you can keep that note in mind."
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:32 PM on August 23, 2009

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