The Wire


Oslo's Only Connect festival has commissioned a new octobass to be built for the festival, to be played by Norwegian improvisor Guro Moe

In this short clip, Norwegian improvisor Guro Moe plays a newly built octobass for the first time, commissioned for Only Connect festival in Oslo. The instrument, a four metre high double bass, was originally designed in the 1850s by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, when only three were produced. Since then a limited few replicas have also been produced, largely kept in museums and rarely played.

Tuned two octaves below a cello, the lowest note it can produce is 16Hz, beneath the lower level of human hearing. Its strings are controlled from a set of levers mounted on the side, and players access the instrument via a small platform.

"I have had some weeks with that monster now and there's a new world to discover," writes Moe. "The C string which goes as low as 16Hz is a mystery. Because it's so low the note or sound wave doesn't want to work the same way as the other strings. It's supposed to vibrate back and forth, but because it's so low the movement just wants to continue the same way it started. I need to develop a new bow technique, relearn how much pressure and speed is needed. It's also creating sounds that are all new to me, so I also have to develop my listening.

"The overtones it can produce are so heavenly rich," she continues. "It feels very much like a thunder storm playing the low C and G with two bows! The overtones this monster creates enriches the whole sound in a way I was not prepared for."

Moe will be performing on the octobass at Only Connect festival on 4 June. She will be playing with noise musician and violin composer Ole Henrik Moe. Guro also curates the All Ears festival with Paal Nilssen-Love.

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