Invented in 1850 by French violin maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, the absurdly oversized viola called the Octobasse, standing almost 3.66m tall, dwarfs anyone who tries to play it. But it’s a real instrument, designed to produce low, rumbling notes to accompany the rest of an orchestra.
The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, has one of two playable copies of the Octobasse, which requires quite a bit of skill, even though the instrument only has three strings. And strength, since the bow is gigantic even compared to the one used on a regular sized bass.
Do you recognise John Williams’ famous Jaws theme being played here? You’ll need to really crank your speakers because the lowest note the Octobasse can produce actually falls below the threshold of human hearing. But there’s no doubt your dog is enjoying its dulcet tones.
The Octobasse’s sound is so unique that back in 2011 a world-renowned double bass musician named Nico Abondolo was hired to play the instrument while samples were recorded for use in film scores. The recordings were eventually used in films like the original The Hunger Games, although your home theatre will need a good subwoofer to actually hear them.
On its own, the Octobasse’s sound is… unique.
We’re not even sure what’s going on here.
But when you add another instrument into the mix, you start to get a better idea of what Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume had in mind when he invented the instrument.
When played alongside a regular-sized bass, which itself is the largest stringed instrument in the world, you get a better sense of why the Octobasse never really caught on. Imagine trying to wrestle that thing into a taxi on your way to a performance.
But Vuillaume’s creation isn’t a complete absurdity. When playing a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach you almost wish it was a staple in every orchestra around the word, and not just a musical oddity confined to museums and private collections around the world.