Contrabass Digest

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list                           Wed, 29 Jul 1998           Volume 1 : Number 45

In this issue:


Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 18:48:33 -0200
From: (Timothy Tikker)
To: <>
Subject: Re: list V1 #44

Greg Bailey wrote:

>>The reason that clarinets higher than the soprano in Eb aren't written for
>>more frequently is that these instruments, e.g. the Ab clarinet, are
>>extraordinarily rare, at least in this country.
>        It's too bad.  In pipe organs, there is so much variety, and in ones
>nearing 100 ranks, pretty much everything imaginable is there.  But with
>the band, instruments that SHOULD become popular and written for don't

That lament is similar to Percy Grainger's, of course...
>>A contrabass clarinet with a bore comparable in scale to a 32' organ pipe
>>would be a formidable piece of machinery!
>        Well, the tube of the instrument is 8' long, so compare it to the
>lowest pipe of the 16' Doucaine.  I don't know--I've never seen the
>Doucaine pipes before.  What does Doucaine mean, anyway?  It's an
>extension of the Cromorne/Krummhorn.

"Doucaine" used by organ builders is an attempt to render "Dulcian" in
French.  Of course, a real dulcian is a proto-bassoon (curtal, i.e. folded
shawm) thus a conical-bore double-reed, but somehow the organ pipe is
usually a cylindrical-resonatored reed, don't ask me why!  The actual
doucaine instrument may have been a bit obscure, judging from what I read
from Phil Neumann's description.  He made my wife's tenor doucaine, which
is a cylindrical-bore capped double-reed, rather like a straight krummhorn
with a softer tone.  However, he also makes an exposed reed doucaine, based
on the measurements of the instrument found in the wreck of the Mary Rosse
warship which went down in the 1500s.  It's also cylindrical-bore, though.

>>Organbuilders tell me that half-length cylindrical
>>reeds -- i.e. clarinet-type resonators -- are especially difficult to
>>voice.  Sometimes 32' reed stops are made this way, but it's relatively
>>rare -- the flared-resonator reeds are more common in this range.
>        Are you referring to half-length flared resonators?  These are a bad
>idea, because it's a false tone.  The resonator doesn't reinforce any
>fundamental.  If you've ever heard a trumpet player buzz a 16' tone into
>the trumpet, that's a false tone.

I believe that half-length flared reed pipes of 32' pitch may well not have
been used much in organbuilding until the present century.  Even the
medium-small Herbst organ at the Lahm Schlosskirche (played by JS Bach's
nephew, Johann Lorenz Bach) had a full-length 32' reed (cut to half length
in the 1930s - ! - and restored to full-length in the 1980s).  A
half-length flared reed is apparently easier to voice than a cylindrical
one, though, which explains the former's popularity in spite of its crude

Actually, I find that half-length flared reeds somehow emphasize the 9th
harmonic -- go figure...

>[Boehm Bassoon]
>>He then
>>said that he actually played such an instrument, at the museum of the
>>Heckel bassoon factory in Biebrich-am-Rhein, Germany.  He then said "it
>>wasn't a bassoon!"  He said that the instrument worked very well indeed,
>>but had been so transformed in the process that it really had become a
>>completely different instrument, which must be why it never caught on.
>        It couldn't have sounded bad!!  In fact, maybe it sounded even better!
>Change isn't a bad thing, especially if both instruments become widely
>used, like with different names or something.

Well, in theory that may be true, but in practice things don't always work
out so logically.

For instance, I've had a number of very interesting conversations with
trumpeters about instrument by Monette of Portland, Oregon.  One of them
told me recently that a prominent symphonic trumpeter recently gave up his
Monette (in spite of its formidable price tage) and went back to his Bach
trumpet, deciding that the Monette was such a different instrument that it
wasn't a trumpet anymore.  From what I've heard of Monette trumpets, I
prefer them, but apparently the playing technique and musical performance
can be different enough that at least this player finally decided to go
back to the conventional instrument.

So, there are always the two opposite forces at work:  the desire for
improvement and innovation, and the desire for stability and

Remember that when the chromatic clarinet was first invented in the early
19th century. many composers resisted the idea, saying they preferred to
write for the various clarinets in various pitches -- not just A, Bb and
Eb, but in those days also C and D -- because each had a unique timbre, and
they didn't want to lose that.

Wanda Landowska said "in art there is no progress, only change."  Something
to think about...

>        Well, why do the curves change timbre?  What about when you miter a
>flue pipe, or you coil a bassoon pipe?

An organbuilder who had access to electronic timbral analysis equipment was
able to prove that mitring a reed pipe does cut harmonics out of the tone.
Apparently it has little effect on a flue pipe, though.

>>On cylindrical 32' reed resonators for a pipe organ:
>        What are such stops called?  Contrabass clarinet?????  ContreKrummhorn?

I've seen the names Dulcian, Fagott, and in one case (the builder from whom
I got those scale dimensions) Bombardon (the added "the name doesn't mean

- Timothy Tikker


Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 19:14:47 EDT
From: <>
Subject: pitch notation and quivering eyeballs

Re. pitch notation, maybe we need to spell out which system we're using, when
we talk about pitch.  In researching acoustics and pipe organ construction, I've
found three competing systems that cross international boundaries.  The first is
the system Steve Marcus explained, the one TUBA Journal uses, where middle
c is written c', and so forth.  However, the following is at least equally
accepted among organ builders:

c'  = one octave above middle c (on a keyboard) = 1 ft. pipe =  approx. 512 Hz
c  = middle c = 2 ft. pipe = 256 Hz
C  = the C below middle c = 4 ft. pipe = 128 Hz
CC = two octaves below middle c = 8 ft.pipe = 64 Hz
CCC = three octaves below middle c = 16 ft. pipe = 32 Hz
CCCC = four octaves below middle c = 32 ft. pipe = 16 Hz

I find the system above to be the most intuitive.  I prefer it because the number
of upper-case Cs and the number of hash-marks both correspond directly to the
number of octaves of distance from keyboard middle c.

In terms of modern pitch, those numbers in Hz aren't quite exact, but it's
conventional among organists to use them anyway, because the rounded-off
numbers are convenient to remember.  On a modern, standard pipe organ
manual (hand keyboard), normally 61 notes (not 88 like the piano), both the
lowest and the highest keys play C, hence the terminology "8 ft. register" and
so forth.  (Today's standard pedal board is 32 keys, between C and G.)

The third system is less common:  middle C appears as C and the lower-case c
doesn't begin until an octave above middle C, etc..  I've also seen multiples of
lower-case c substituted for hash-marks in the treble (c, then cc, then ccc, etc.).
but this is merely another way of writing down any of the other three systems.


Playing a wind instrument means that the human body becomes a part of the
mechanism in a rather more intimate way than is the case with, say, a violin.
Never mind if we're doing weird things to our bodies (lousy factory-defective
merchandise anyway), but can RFI from low-pitched instruments damage a
computer or a digital piano?  The letter from Douglas persuades me that some
of what looks like radio frequency interference from low-pitched notes must be
a subjective phenomenon that results from eyeballs quivering or brains
trembling like Jello in an earthquake.  It's possible that when Grant's sister saw
RFI on the TV when he played, she was close enough to the source of the bass
sound for it to affect her eyes, too.  Or maybe he produced real RFI, but it only
affected the picture tube.  We might be able to find out about that, at least.
Here's a simple experiment to demonstrate whether a bass instrument can
produce real RFI that's independent of the picture tube.  Get out a bass
whatsit.  Turn on the TV and the VCR.  Tape a program for a few minutes
while playing the notes that make the TV screen boogie.  Play to an easy-to-
identify rhythm within that fairly narrow pitch range, such as the theme song of
the old Addams Family TV series: duh-duh-da DUH!  (blat blat)  Duh-duh-da
DUH!  (blat blat)  Duh-duh-da DUH duh-duh-da DUH duh-duh-da DUH (blat
blat).  Then run the tape back and watch it, while not playing the instrument.
Will the RFI pattern show up on the tape?  It would be helpful if a lot of
people try this test, because the quality of anti-RFI shielding in electronic
equipment varies.  An effect that shows up on one VCR might not on another.
If an effect independent of the picture tube (monitor) does appear, then
perhaps we shouldn't play bass whatsits near a working computer until we
know more about what's really going on.



Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 22:30:26 -0400
From: (Jim Katz)
To: <>
Subject: Re: Video excitement! Re Greg B.

The contra-fest video sounds like it will is excellent. Take your time
making the copies, and do them at standard speed - I'm happy to wait for
quality, even though your comments have ignited my interest.

Greg Bailey, I think, asked if I was related to a Ben Katz. I have never
heard of him, and nobody by that name has showed up at family reunions, so
I guess not a close relative, but "Katz" is supposed to be the oldest
surname (it's a Hebrew acronym, actually) and all are thought to be related
if you go back far enough. Bad lot, the bunch of 'em.

Jim Katz


Date: Wed, 29 Jul 1998 10:35:07 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Nuclear Whales tour?

Does anyone know when/where the next Nuclear Whales SaxOrch gig is?


Date: Wed, 29 Jul 1998 17:03:52 EDT
From: <>
Subject: organ pipes

Gregg Bailey asked:
>Have you ever tried producing a note in a large reed pipe?

Nope.  My only reed pipe is a skinny little tin thing, made with power tools,
probably early in the 20th c., since it plays sharper than its marked pitch of F.
(Depending on how hard I blow into it, I get anywhere from f#' to a flat g'.)
The "junktiques" dealer who sold it to me had marked it, "Duck Call."  It's easy
to blow, with a loud, piercing tone, similar to an oboe but more shrill.  It's
bigger around at the top than at the bottom.  The top ends in a separate bell,
soldered on, shaped like a miniature Sno-Cone cup.  The pipe is 6-15/16" long,
including the bell but not including the footing.  The bell is 1-1/8" in diameter
at the top, and the top of the tube where it attaches to the bell is only 7/8" in

Gregg asked:
>What's the lowest pipe you own?

My biggest is a 7'10" flue (not counting the footing, which I have to leave off
to store the pipe leaning against the wall under my 8' ceiling) with a scale of 5"
square.  It's made of spruce, lined with something black that looks like enamel,
with a sharply bevelled block, nicked lip, metal ears and a metal roller bridge.
This pipe may be a Violone, but something is missing that left a 1" (approx.)
scar all the way around the outside top.  Maybe the missing part was only a
tuning collar, as I assumed when I bought the pipe.  However, although the
pipe is marked B (i.e., BBB, using c=middle c; generally the multiples of the
pitch aren't marked on the pipe itself--also, this may be the German BBB-flat),
it plays on the flat or sharp side of GGG#, more or less, depending on how
high I crank up the air compressor.  (Lung-power won't do the job on this
one!)  The pipe was made with power tools, and is therefore too young to have
been tuned to a pitch that's so extremely flat by today's standards.  Maybe the
missing apparatus in effect shortened the pipe, perhaps while stopping it to
double the pitch.

I won't be buying anything larger because it would have to lie flat on the floor
in a house with small rooms.  I'm not (NOT!) collecting these things, after all,
and I have to leave space for the saxophones....  But I've had the odd fantasy
(no doubt the irresponsible fantasy, considering that I don't drive and that my
husband would have to deal with the resulting traffic hazards) of strapping a
really big daddy, like a Contra-Bombarde, to the roof rack of the station
wagon, with the footing over the hood.  I wonder what wind pressure 65 mph.
on the freeway would produce...?

Unfortunately, in real life (if any), plenty of air would rush in through the
mouth, not just the foot, so the pipe might sound about the same as any other
boring old load of lumber up there.   Phooey, I never did like physics.

I wrote:
>> (The tenor sax is about 54 inches of pipe--body plus neck, not counting the
>>mouthpiece--if it were unbent; but because not all of the bell functions as
>>speaking length, its lowest Bb is the approximate equivalent of a 4' C on an

Gregg asked:
>What do you mean that not all of the bell functions as speaking length?

First, I should clarify that I wrote the pitches backwards there.  The tenor sax
low C (written as treble clef middle c) is the organ Bb, not the other way
round.  I later sent another post which reversed and "corrected" a different
measurement which I had in fact got right the first time, whereas I should have
corrected this one instead.  Grant (and Tristan, by e-mail) corrected the
incorrect correction, but when I replied, I forgot to correct this one!
Sorry if I caused confusion.

But it's true that the entire length of the sax tube doesn't "speak".  The
speaking length refers not to the actual footage of the pipe, but to the length of
the column of air that vibrates inside the pipe to create a note of a particular
pitch.  In a straight flue pipe such as a Diapason, the speaking length and the
length of the pipe above the block are the same.  However, because of the way
a saxophone flares out abruptly at the end of its pipe, that last inch or two of
the bell (I'm not sure exactly how much of it) contributes to tone quality and
projection, but not to pitch.  The entire sax pipe (neck plus body) is a little bit
longer than the pitch that the lowest note would be if the horn were straight or
conical all the way, instead of flared.



End of list V1 #45

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